Thursday, June 02, 2005

Voting for Snoopy and Thomistic Peanuts

Back when I was a wee bit younger, my elementary school had its own election for U. S. President. Our choices were the then-current President Carter, the soon-to-be elected Ronald Reagan, and Snoopy. Well, after some morning reading, I now know why Snoopy won. Read on.

Dr. Raymond Dennehy, professor of philosophy at USF, has a fun and good read in his recent "Peanuts and Thomists."

Peanuts and Thomists By Raymond Dennehy June 2, 2005

This sapient contribution needs a running start. So here goes.

One of the Jesuits who taught me undergraduate philosophy insisted that the author of the "Peanuts" comic strip, Charles Schultz, was a Thomist. I don’t recall what reasons he gave for this pronouncement and, in any case, I never got around to asking him about it.

Still over the years the question has visited me more than once. What is Thomistic about Linus, Lucy, Charlie Brown, and Snoopy? Was it the kinds of things they did or said? By utterance or action did they imply a philosophy of moderate realism? A natural law ethics? Did the strip’s plots presuppose final causality? No doubt I could put these questions to rest by consulting Father James Schall, S.J., at Georgetown University. For many years he’s been referring to one or another "Peanuts’ comic strip in his writings to concretize a philosophical or theological point he was arguing.

Left to my own devices in the interim, I can see that the "Peanuts" characters unfold the drama and comedy of their lives against a background of unpretentious but uncompromising realism, the kind that Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas defended: Charlie Brown takes a pitch from Linus and blasts the ball to where Lucy stands with arms stretched upwards to catch the ball; only she misses and it lands on the ground. There it all is: cause and effect, well-meant intention, chance, personal responsibility, the sketch of human community as Lucy offers her excuses.

One might wonder why "Peanuts" and not other comic strips, especially given Schultz’s minimalist drawings of the characters and their simple, straightforward conversations. Yet this very simplicity, penury even, and directness of speech are what connect with Thomistic realism. Whether or not Schultz was a Thomist, those traits make his characters and plots a perfect setting for expressing the very principles and ideas that Thomism takes as the starting point of philosophy.


G.K. Chesterton noted that the glory of Thomistic philosophy is its grounding in the real world, unlike modern philosophy which, in his words, has turned the world upside down and then tells the common people that that’s reality. All of which is not to say that the claims and methods of modern philosophy are in principle false or, worse yet, nonsensical. One can agree with A.E. Taylor’s observation, uttered as a challenge to his perceived triumphalism of Thomists, "Mankind has not been playing the fool since 1277." Modern Thomists have increased their philosophical wherewithal by incorporating methods and principles from phenomenology and linguistic analysis into their moderate realism.


Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and even the dog, Snoopy are comic strip reflections of Chesterton’s common folk. Children and animals are blest with a lack of sophistication. Their naïve assessment of the things around them protects them from mistaking nonsense for truth. As children, we have much to learn about the world, but how much would we learn if we started out with the prejudices and perversity of the sophisticated?

Nietzsche exhorted us to become like children because childlike innocence was needed to construct a morality worthy of the new man. Ironically, the very one whose Lordship he denied and reviled presented that truth centuries before him. Christ warned his disciples that they must become as little children if they wished to enter heaven. And what about Aristotle? He was no naïf, but he nevertheless had the child’s innocence and joy at beholding nature; so he didn’t suffer fools gladly, as is clear in his advice to avoid philosophical discussions about "foolish questions" such as whether change is real. Thomas Aquinas displayed the same childlike openness to reality, which is why his writings on profound theological and philosophical subjects are so remarkably lucid.

Thomists are an endangered species and our existence is all the more precarious for its lack of defenders. Unlike the Monarch butterfly and Blue-Fin Dolphin, we have no powerful groups, such as the Sierra Club, lobbying for our protection. At our present rate of decline, Thomists will soon be as scarce as gay bulls in a cow pasture. No comic strip, however Thomist-friendly, can stop the decline. Still, "Peanuts" serves as a good-humored reminder that the important truths are simple and what’s real is right in front of us.

We could do a lot worse than enlisting Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy for support.

Go here to read the whole article.

1 comment:

BP said...

We didn't even get the Snoopy option. Although I think I know what my next write-in will be.