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On Moral Formation: Becoming More than Puppets (Yet Without Becoming Asses)

Mark Linville considers the necessity of Pinocchio’s moral agency for becoming the real boy for which his father longed. He presents Disney’s Geppetto as a creator able to manipulate puppets to any end, yet a kind soul longing to express love for a son. This, of course, requires a son with the free will to be able to choose to love him back. Thus, even in fairyland there is a backdrop of rational order; freedom is prerequisite to moral agency and accountability. Moral formation, then, involves an agent carving our his/her character. To become more than one finds oneself to be requires looking to something beyond oneself—namely the good. The question posed by Linville is whether we are becoming more real or only making asses of ourselves. Pinocchio teaches us that a condition accompanies the promise to become real—learning to distinguish right from wrong.

“The Fairy explains to Pinocchio, “To make Geppetto’s wish come true will be entirely up to you.” …But why would she leave the fulfillment of Geppetto’s wish… in these freshly carved and painted wooden hands and this little wooden head? Why not make Pinocchio into a real boy with the simple wave of a wand? ….The answer, I think, is in the Fairy’s explanation that connects being a real boy with being good. She implies that the latter is necessary for the former, and whether Pinocchio is good is entirely up to him. Magic can bring a puppet to life, rendering it conscious and able to speak. Magic might even be able to make that puppet behave in some desired manner. [However,] “An act is voluntary only if “the moving principle is in the agent himself.” …. Interestingly, the very word character is from a Greek word that refers to a tool used for engraving or carving. As skilled as Geppetto was in carving Pinocchio’s body, it was entirely up to Pinocchio to carve his own character, whether good or bad, and this is achieved by learning to choose between right and wrong. Not even the Blue Fairy can do that for him. She could bestow the Gift of Life, but as an old saying has it, character is a victory, not a gift.”

The boys [on Pleasure Island] had foolishly believed that freedom is freedom from rules or restraint and that liberty is license, and so they threw off all authority and all rules and restrictions as unwanted shackles and obstacles to their happiness.

If a life given to pleasure is slavish and suitable for beasts, then those “bad boys” suffered the natural consequences, for they were transformed from boys to donkeys and then sold into slavery as beasts of burden.... It is worthy of note that Pinocchio barely escaped the same fate by finally following the dictates of his conscience: “This way, Pinoch! It’s the only way out!”


This post is meant simply to offer a glimpse into our Disney & Apologetics project. Excerpts alone, however, cannot stand for an entire chapter, nor can they stand as representative for all the other ideas to be explored and arguments to be made in this 500-pp, two-volume work. There is much more to ponder within these pages! If you want to think more carefully about morality, about using the formative artifacts of pop-culture to approach Christian apologetics, and about the connections between imagination, aesthetics, and theology, buy this book! You can see what others say about it here and here.


Mark D. Linville holds a PhD in philosophy from University of Wisconsin-Madison. He serves as Senior Research Fellow in Faulkner University’s PhD program in the humanities. He is co-editor (with David Werther) of Philosophy and the Christian Worldview (Bloomsbury) and has written numerous articles on moral philosophy and philosophy of religion, including “The Moral Argument” in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

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