Now go out and enjoy every second of the journey, try to be a “good” person along the way and maybe cook up a huge pot of “Peeps & M&M Chili“! If you are looking for a “meaning” to life, that’s a good a place as any to start. As an arm-chair philosopher one of my favourite shows is The Good Place (an afterlife – “Heaven”). The premise of The Good Life is simple. A character named Eleanor dies and finds herself in “The Good Place” (metaphor for an afterlife akin to “heaven”) in spite of feeling she should be in the “Other Place” (metaphor for the place akin to “hell”). So she meets and confides in a fellow afterlife-dweller – a moral philosopher named Chidi – who decides to try and teach her how to be a “good” person. With the help of a couple of consulting philosophers (Pamela Hieronymi, PhD & Todd May, PhD), the show does “an exceptional job of presenting philosophical issues in an accessible manner” (Todd May, PhD).
The Good Place has done an excellent job of presenting philosophical issues in an accessible manner. “These guys just get it right,” he says. Philosophy has a reputation for being impenetrable, but The Good Place shows that it can be both accessible and funny. In an early philosophy lesson, Eleanor asks Chidi, “Who died and left Aristotle in charge of ethics?” In a perfectly-timed response, Chidi deadpans: “Plato.” ~ Todd May, PhD
After falling behind on an entire season I restarted watching The Good Place lately. When I saw the title of Episode 4, Season 3 (Jeremy Bearimy), I thought it was going to be a spoof on the 18/19th Century moral philosopher Jeremy Bentham, known for being the father of utilitarianism. Basically what serves the greatest number of people is what is determined to be morally “right”.
“it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” (Jeremy Bentham – 1748/1832)
As it turns out, “Jeremy Bearimy” is a model of nonlinear, entropic time in The Good Place. However, this was/is apparently one of the more popular episodes, and I see why. After accidentally stumbling across Michael and Janet (Ambassadors of “The Good Place”) as they were using their “Magic Door”, the group eventually learns of their real plight – they are dead and caught in this moral-time-warp where they get repeated challenges to make moral choices and earn points which can get them into the “Good Place” (ie: Heaven), or if they don’t earn enough points, the “Bad Place” (ie: Hell). Keep in mind this show is NOT about any form of Christian philosophy or theology, it is about existential (life, death, meaning) and moral (“right” vs “wrong”) philosophy 101. The show basically tries to address questions like “what is a good life” or a “good person”, “how to live a good life” and how we deal with complex moral choices and find meaning. Yes, these philosophically complex concepts CAN be presented in an approachable and even entertaining manner – The Good Place does an EXCELLENT job of this!
Well, in Episode 4 of Season 3, each of the characters had their own unique reactions to learning about their plight (dead) and having to earn points to get into the “Good Place” (an “afterlife” metaphor). The gorgeous but narcissistic Tahani (Jameela Jamil) gives up half of her wealth for instance, in the pursuit of virtue ethics.
But the moral philosopher of the show – Chidi – took a radical nihilistic turn. If there is no meaning in life, if values are useless, if there is no “God”, if we are already dead, then what’s the point? Do what you want, it makes no difference! So in a hilarious existential despair, Chidi takes matters into his own hands, goes shopping and then cooks up a giant pot of “peeps” and M&M’s chili in his philosophy class. And when approached by a homeless guy inviting him embrace God, Chidi scares him off when he quotes the existential philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche!
“God is dead. God remains dead, and we have killed him. Who will wipe this blood off us? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent?” (Nietzsche, 1844/1900)
This is utterly brilliant edutainment with VERY REAL and practical tips or cues as to how we might make “good” moral decisions, lead a meaningful life and respond to some of the major existential issues faced by all humans. How we make these decisions, how we reason morally, how we deal with mortality, all play a HUGE role in where our sense of meaning in life comes from. And the science is clear on this – “meaning”, the values we adopt and how we deal with (or ignore) mortality, all play a significant role in happiness. Can’t wait to watch the next episode!