Final Fantasy and Philosophy: Final Fantasy and the Purpose of Life

Greg Littman is our first returning author from Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy (technically the other way around – D&D&P was 2014, FF&P was 2009). In our previous foray into Greg Littman’s literature, he tried to convince us that no one could be held responsible for anything because the universe is deterministic, and then implored us to change our perspective/behavior based on this, something which he’d just got done telling us was impossible. This time he’s gong to try and discover the meaning of life.

This essay examines the moral philosophies of Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, and Aristotle by examining whether they would approve of the actions of the protagonists of various Final Fantasy games. It actually examines the actions of the protagonists of all main line Final Fantasy games released at date of publication (so, up to XII). Thomas Hobbes believes that all humans are fundamentally self-interested and that, in a state of nature, exist in a constant war of all against all, with a life that is nasty, brutish, and short. According to Hobbes, civilization is only possible because people give their absolute obedience to monarchs, and no matter how terrible a monarch’s rule, it is always better than civil war or revolution. Apparently he wasn’t familiar with Athens or Rome. Final Fantasy heroes get a poor grade from Hobbes, what with all the ecoterrorists, rebel alliances, and sky pirates.

John Stuart Mill generally approves of Final Fantasy heroes for all the world-saving they get up to. There’s an aside in each of these sections, more notable here than in Hobbes’, about Final Fantasy XI, the MMORPG, where it’s entirely unclear whether or not the vast and diverse army of PCs behave for one reason or another, but there’s also a discussion about whether or not the players themselves are moral for playing the game. According to Mill, kinda sorta, in that playing the game is fun and therefore increases utility, but probably players could get more utility helping other people even if they personally found it unpleasant. That’s true, but it’s not like John Stuart Mill didn’t live a life of idle leisure his entire life while the industrial working class lived in squalor, so what the Hell, man.

Aristotle claims to define his virtues as the balance point of moderation between two extremes, and like a lot of ancient Greek philosophy, this falls down under careful scrutiny because I guess once Diogenes bit it there were no more sardonic Devil’s advocates left in the entire Greek-speaking world and you could get away with practically anything. The flaw in this one is that you can redefine the extremes to push the middle wherever you want. Aristotle claims that courage is the balance point between recklessness and cowardice, but running away could just as easily be the balance point between fighting and being paralyzed with fear. Aristotle’s claim that being well-educated is the secret to virtue is not an easy one to evaluate Final Fantasy characters with. How did Cloud do in high school? How much education is involved in Yuna becoming a summoner? Even laying aside the fact that Aristotle’s virtue ethics are ultimately circular, we don’t actually know enough about Final Fantasy protagonists to determine if they’re keeping with the specific set of virtue Aristotle endorsed in the first place.

Overall, the essay is an exploration of three pretty well known philosophers through the lens of Final Fantasy. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a pop philosophy book and unlike Littman’s last essay it never ends up cutting off the branch of logic it’s sitting on.

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