In the movie Forrest Gump, the titular character gets labeled as stupid because he was born with a mental disability. When he goes to register for grade school, his mom has to use her “feminine influence” just so he could get a proper education. Society misunderstands his disability and he gets taken advantage of multiple times throughout the movie. He goes along with his catchphrase “stupid is as stupid does” whenever someone verbally attacks him with a remark reminding him that he has a disability. Even though his book smarts are not very sharp, his street smarts and his friendly personality provide him with what he needs to succeed in life.
Despite the discrimination Forrest faces in the movie, many philosophers would be even more critical towards his mental abilities. In a different historical context, Aristotle would not allow Forrest to live independently in his ideal city. According to Aristotle, Forrest would be considered a “natural slave” who is destined to serve the needs of the intellectuals. He also states that “the citizen should be molded to suit the form of government under which he lives … The character of democracy creates democracy, and the character of oligarchy creates oligarchy” (Politics 1337a). In this case, Forrest Gump would only learn how to be a servant and nothing else. Even though Aristotle generally supported education for all the citizens, women and the mentally disabled were not considered worthy to be taught.
Another interesting thought about Forrest Gump is how he was able to learn street smarts and politeness. In Plato’s Meno, Plato exclaims that education was just a recollection of experiences from past lives (Meno 81d). I wonder what Forrest Gump’s past life would have been if Plato’s theory holds true. Would he have also been mentally disabled in his past life? Did his personality carry over from the experiences of his immortal soul? While Plato’s theory has some holes in it, it does ask important question of how knowledge is obtained. If Forrest Gump could learn despite his disability, it gives me hope that people can change their personalities for the better through experience.
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