I studied philosophy for two years as part of my degree. Once, I was in an exam where the compulsory essay question was: “I say the curtains are red. What do I mean?”
Even as a slightly pretentious 19-year-old, I remember thinking someone, somewhere was having a laugh at our expense. I thought philosophy had no practical application in real life. But, as it turns out, I was wrong.
Only today, I found myself considering the conflict between two central ideas of moral philosophy: the utilitarian school of thought that moral value is to be found in the consequences of actions, versus the categorical imperative of Immanuel Kant, who said actions can have no moral value if your motives aren’t right.
I pondered this philosophical question as my four-year-old called to me from the top of the stairs: “In THAT case Mummy, I think you have made me a LOT sad.”
The cause of this immense sadness was that I’d bought Flea a new Lego toy today after school, as a treat because she got an amazing report from her teacher. It was a Toy Story car, with figures, and she wanted to put it together the very moment we got home. Unfortunately, I had to cook dinner, so I asked her to go and play while I put the pasta on to cook, then I’d help.
Five minutes later, I found my daughter sitting on the floor, surrounded by approximately 500 pieces of Lego, in tears. “Buzz Lightyear’s head isn’t here Mummy and I definitely haven’t touched it,” she sobbed, thereby confirming that she not only touched it, she probably also threw it somewhere while making Buzz fly. Scrabbling around on the floor, I noticed there were only three tyres for the car, too.
Fifteen minutes of searching didn’t turn up the tiny pieces, so I took the box back. I’m not a shouter, but I explained to Flea that I knew she hadn't done anything deliberately wrong, but she hadn’t done as she was asked, she had been careless with her new toy, and I wasn’t inclined to give it to her just now.
There were big eyes. There was a trembling lip. There was even a whispered, “I love you Mummy, more than the whole world and everything in it.”
“Well, I understand you’re disappointed but I’d like you to understand how important it is not to be careless with your toys,” I said.
So there was stalking from the room and a loud declaration of her complete sadness, followed by 15 minutes of noisy weeping in her bedroom.
I was deeply concerned, of course, but hid the pain by taking the opportunity to watch an episode of True Blood. When I went upstairs to say goodnight, Flea told me that she was very sorry and she wouldn’t be careless if I let her take one of the Lego figures to bed with her.
I decided, on reflection, Flea didn't intentionally lose the figures, and meant well, even if her plan went awry, so she's curled up now with a 2-inch high Lego Woody. And let's face it, even Kant wouldn't be able to resist a four-year-old in dinosaur pyjamas.