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For Goodness’ Sake: How ‘The Good Place’ is Making Philosophy Fun

Why do we do good? Is it for a moral incentive, spiritual fulfillment, recognition, or the promise of a good afterlife? The Good Place, a popular existential situation comedy on NBC, examines this very issue as its four human characters go through various moral quandaries. The four lead characters on the show led flawed lives on Earth, but through an apparent oversight in the screening process, they ended up in the “good place.” Even in the “good place,” these four characters are trying to become better people. The instruction manual for their self-improvement, as it were, is ethical philosophy.

Ethical philosophy is the philosophy that determines the true meaning of what is right and wrong. For example, the character Chidi, who was a moral philosophy professor on Earth, adheres very closely to the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant, whose moral imperatives include: never lie and always keep your promises. However, there are flaws with those rules in some situations. The character Eleanor demonstrates one flaw by raising the question of when a promise might need to be broken. Her example includes a person making a promise to go to the movies with a friend who later finds out that a relative of theirs has a medical emergency and needs their help. In that situation, the ethical choice would be not to go to the movies and instead to help their relative. This is an explanation of the philosophical concept of moral particularism, or the notion that there is no absolute ethical code that we must adhere to in all circumstances.

Ultimately, one of the best parts of this show is that it prompts people to think about right and wrong and to question their behavior and its ramifications. Even better, the show demonstrates that philosophy is not a mystical practice of old men with long beards; it is a part of our everyday lives.