Uncle Iroh, from Fool to Sage -- or Sage All Along?Eric Schwitzgebel and David Schwitzgebel
in J. De Smedt, H. De Cruz, W. Irvin, and A. Ehasz, eds., Avatar: The Last Airbender and Philosophy, Blackwell (forthcoming)
Book Three of Avatar: The Last Airbender portrays Uncle Iroh as wise and peace-loving, in the mold of a Daoist sage. However, in Book One, Iroh doesn't always appear sage-like. Instead, he can come across as lazy, incompetent, and unconcerned about the fate of the world. We will argue that Iroh's Book One foolishness is a pose, and Iroh's character does not fundamentally change. In Book One, he is wisely following strategies suggested by the ancient Chinese Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi for dealing with incompetent leaders. His seeming foolishness in Book One is in fact a sagacious strategy for minimizing the harm that Prince Zuko would otherwise inflict on himself and others -- a gentle touch that more effectively helps Prince Zuko find wisdom than would be possible with a more confrontational approach. We will also present empirical evidence that -- contrary to our expectations before collecting that evidence -- Iroh's wisdom-through-foolishness is evident to most viewers unfamiliar with the series, even on their first viewing. Viewers can immediately sense that his superficial foolishness has a deeper purpose, even if that purpose is not immediately apparent.
By following any of the links below, you are requesting a copy for personal use only, in accord with "fair use" laws.
Raw data and all supplemental materials available here: https://github.com/dschwitz-PSL/Avatar-Schwitzgebel-Repository.
Click here to view the final manuscript version as a PDF file: Uncle Iroh, from Fool to Sage -- or Sage All Along? (pdf, August 10, 2022).
Click here to view the final manuscript version as an html file: Uncle Iroh, from Fool to Sage -- or Sage All Along? (html, August 10, 2022).
Or email eschwitz at domain: ucr.edu for a copy of this paper.
Return to Eric Schwitzgebel's homepage.