Rightly Formed & Otherwise

I am suspicious enough of the Disney empire to feel skeptical that it will prove an ally in the moral education of my new son. Take Disney’s Pinocchio. In this version of the classic Italian children’s tale, Jiminy Cricket advises the puppet Pinocchio who aspires to become a real boy: Always let your conscience be your guide. As an ethicist and parent, what quarrel could I have with this advice?

For one thing, once anointed as Pinocchio’s conscience, Jiminy is not very reliable. His first day on the job he oversleeps, allowing the unwitting Pinocchio to fall in with a scheming pair who promptly sell him to a puppeteer. Why always follow conscience, if conscience is unreliable?

There is another thing about Disney’s Pinocchio that bothers me. When the Blue Fairy animates Pinocchio, she tells him that to become a real boy he must be brave, truthful, and unselfish. Jiminy Cricket proceeds to instruct Pinocchio on how to do that by stressing the importance of resisting temptation. This instruction assumes that temptation is the basic challenge of the moral life. It seems to me that just as often, if not more so, the challenge we face is moral confusion. If temptation is the phenomenon of attraction to what we know is wrong, hasn’t conscience already done its work? Isn’t the rest left to deciding—to the will? Moral confusion, though, is exactly the arena of conscience. Conscience is meant to dispel the confusion and determine the morally best...

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About the Author

Darlene Fozard Weaver is an assistant professor of theology at Villanova University, where she teaches Christian ethics. She is the author of Self Love and Christian Ethics (Cambridge University Press).