A Philosopher Talks About The Good Place

I’ve been remiss in my role as a pop-culture philosopher in being a late-comer to the the show “The Good Place,” one of the most high-profile, pop-culture oriented pieces of media to ever make a serious attempt at addressing and incorporating genuine philosophical debates into an entertainment centered format (the dialogues of Plato notwithstanding).

I’ll be running my own piece on The Good Place shortly, but in the meantime, please enjoy this excellent interview of one of the show’s current philosophical consultants, Todd May of Clemson University, by Skye Cleary, on the American Philosophical Association’s blog. Note: The below excerpt contains no spoilers for those who have not watched the show. The full interview, linked below is also largely spoiler-free. It does, however, allude briefly to plot elements of the first season, but in a vague, detail-free way.

What value do shows like this – that explain ideas primarily discussed in academic circles for the public at large – have for society?

I’m not really sure. The Good Place incorporates certain philosophical ideas and dilemmas into its structure, but not in a way that would be obvious to non-philosophers. After all, it’s a sit-com. I’m sure it’s possible to watch it without being aware of the particular philosophical issues and positions that are making an appearance. On the other hand, if it brings folks into philosophical dilemmas in a way that provokes conversation, so much the better.

What challenges does a show like this face when trying to speak philosophically to a general audience?

The show has real characters in particular situations. If they are not to be flat representations of ideas, they have to be folks viewers can relate to, so they have to display a complexity of personality as well as relate to philosophically challenging situations. But, you know, this is a challenge that is being grappled with in philosophy as well. We’re all familiar with the complaints that philosophers often do thought experiments that are unrealistic or overly simplified, and there is some pressure to create more nuanced scenarios for philosophical reflection. This is why some philosophers turn to literature when they want to think through certain philosophical issues.

Complete interview at https://blog.apaonline.org/2017/06/21/philosophy-on-tv-the-good-place/

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