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Jules van Schaijik

Man: the dressing animal

Oct. 13, 2009, at 1:38pm

Apparently, the Disney company is going to update its retail stores. One new feature, inspired by Apple’s “Genius Bar,” will be called “WWTD: What Would Tinkerbell Do?” It is a place where you can ask all sorts of Disney related questions. This, for instance, is the question Macworld reporter, Scott McNulty, has been dying to ask:

“Why does Goofy wear pants while Pluto doesn’t? They’re both dogs.”

That’s a question that never occurred to me. But now that it’s been pointed out, I find it rather interesting. It’s true: Goofy wears pants, Pluto doesn’t. Why the difference? Is Pluto a moral libertine? a nudist? Does Goofy have some sort of a hang-up about his own body? Not at all. It turns out, as Luis Alejandro, a Macworld reader, shows, that there is actually a personalist reason for it: “Pluto, as a character, is a dog. Goofy, as a character, is a person. Persons use clothes. Goofy uses pants.”

So, whoever at Disney came up with these two characters had a good intuition into the difference between persons and animals. Draw a dog with pants on, and it’s no longer just a dog. Perhaps we can make a new entry in the long list of lighthearted definitions for man:

• Man is the animal that dresses

The habit of wearing clothes is not as central or illuminating a characteristic of human persons as that of being rational or free. But it is revealing nevertheless, especially in light of the phenomenon of shame (as analyzed by Scheler or Wojtyla, for instance). It can be compared, in that respect, to other definitions such as:

• Man is a talking animal (C.S. Lewis makes much of this feature in the Chronicles of Narnia. Also Disney: i.e. Goofy can, whereas Pluto cannot, talk.)
• Man is a laughing animal
• Man is an animal laughed at (Cf. Bergson’s interesting essay on Laughter.)
• Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called
upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason (Oscar Wilde)

Are there any others that I am leaving out?


By the bye, during my extensive research into the Pluto - Goofy question I discovered that the question has been asked before. See this page for some other answers.


Matthew Chominski • Oct 21, 2009 - 10:42 am

Man is the animal that dresses other animals, i.e. terrible sweaters from grandmom for both children and dogs.

Jules van Schaijik • Oct 21, 2009 - 11:01 am

Great addition! Unlike the definitions I mentioned this one highlights the capacity of human persons to be concerned for others, to be good Samaritans. (This includes concern and care for the lower animals, as the case of your grandma shows. I hope, by the way, that she does not keep up with your contributions to the Linde. Otherwise no more sweaters for you, bub!)

Matthew Chominski • Oct 21, 2009 - 11:34 am

I do know Grandmom knows how to use the internet, so I should watch out about sweater criticisms.

Thinking a little more about man dressing animals, not only is it done for pragmatic reasons, for warmth primarily I would assume, but also for humor and/or cuteness appreciated by humans; i.e. the poodle in the tutu or the monkey in the tuxedo.

It seems like the dressing up of animals for humorous ends is a sign of man’s dignity, however muddled a sign it may be.

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