Tag: Plato

The Good Place and Ethics

Posted January 13, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Film & Television, Philosophy / 2 Comments

I discussed the moral dilemma in the HBO television show Westworld, and I have since discovered a show that looks at ethics. The Good Place is the story of Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) who dies and finds herself in the afterlife, designated into ‘the Good Place’. Only problem is that she is not a good person and does not belong. In fact it is another Eleanor Shellstrop that should be in ‘the Good Place’, but she does not want to end up in ‘the Bad Place’ so she sets out to learn how to be a better person, in essence, to earn her place.

‘The Good Place’ is basically heaven, but the show is written to be as neutral as possible when it comes to religion. To do this, the architect of this ‘Good Place’ neighbourhood Michael (Ted Danson) states that all religions only guessed 10% of what the afterlife is like. Joking some random guy from the 1970’s managed to guess 91% of what happens after you die in a inebriated rant. While this might be considered a mockery towards religion it does allow the show to explore ethics in a stripped back way. Without getting bogged down with the religious aspect, the show explores different schools of thought when it comes to ethics.Beneath the low-brow humour the show is almost like an introduction to moral philosophy, exploring ideas from people like Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, Jeremy Bentham and of course the obvious Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. These ideas are explored thanks to Eleanor’s soulmate Chidi (William Jackson Harper) who was a professor of ethics when he was alive. One of the major ideas that is explored is that of utilitarianism, I expect as a critique to society’s pleasure seeking ways.

The idea of utilitarianism is the idea that an action is considered right if it promotes happiness. The show focuses on the paradoxical nature of utilitarianism, mainly the idea of punishing an innocent person for the greater good. Eleanor’s presence in ‘the Good Place’ has a negative effect on the neighbourhood, where actions that are not inherently good manifest in terrifying ways. There is also the conundrum of Eleanor staying in ‘the Good Place’ may promote her happiness but it is at the cost of the other Eleanor who is suffering in ‘the Bad Place’.

“He who would criticise all human acts, movements, relations, etc., by the principle of utility, must first deal with human nature in general, and then with human nature as modified in each historical epoch.” – Karl Marx (Das Kapital)

While this show does more than name drop philosophical ideas of ethics, but rather try to explain them, I still find the show too simplistic. It is as if The Good Place is attempting to introduce the idea of moral philosophy to the viewers but a show like Westworld wants you to work for it. I do enjoy the philosophy and the way it explores ethics but I much prefer having to work towards understanding; then again, I am just pretentious like that. We started watching this show because my wife and I are big fans of Kristen Bell and I will continue to watch because of the philosophy, even if it is overly simplified.


Becoming a Philosopher

Posted August 11, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Philosophy / 2 Comments

Friedrich NietzscheWhile watching videos from the School of Life YouTube channel recently, in particular the video on Friedrich Nietzsche. I found myself feeling so envious towards people like Nietzsche and Alain de Botton (who was a founder of School of Life) because they are so smart, talented and make me feel like I have so much to learn. This is interesting, since Nietzsche believes envy is an important part of life; it is useful for understanding what we want to achieve and what we are working towards. In his 1887 book On the Genealogy of Morality (Zur Genealogie der Moral) Nietzsche theorises that the concepts of morality are controlled by the powerful (in his time, the clergy), therefore the concept of good and evil is subjective. While he never talks directly about envy, Nietzsche has often criticised the church for portraying envy as a sin and something we should feel guilty about. This is not the current teaching of the church regarding the seven deadly sins, these are just gateways we should be wary about because they can lead to sin. However this misconception can lead to an emphasis on envy which is leading people to feel insufficient with themselves, and that tends to leads to guilt rather than driving ambition.

Luckily in my case, my envy towards people like Friedrich Nietzsche is making me feel ambitious. I was thinking about life, and I asked Twitter how to become a philosopher and the first response I got back was “Be a dick to Plato”. This may not sound helpful but it really does cut to the core purpose of philosophy. If you look up philosopher in the dictionary you get something along the lines of “a person who offers views or theories on profound questions in ethics, metaphysics, logic, and other related fields.” Critically questioning ideas and theories, even the ones Plato wrote about, in essence would make you a philosopher.

My wife, in all her wisdom, said without thinking that everyone should be a philosopher. The ideas behind philosophy are to think about life and the world around us and to assess, accept, reject or expand on the ideas that have been presented to us. Granted, I have not worked out a way to make a career out of philosophy but the reason I started this blog was to story my thoughts and ideas in the one location. Literature has been a huge part of my life and has helped me to critically question the ideas I am faced with.

I have no formal background but I do believe academia does not have all the answers when it comes to philosophy. In the past education was the job of the clergy and the church. Universities were originally created during the decline of religion as a place for people to find meaning to life, ask questions, share ideas and be part of a community. However if you look at the state of today’s universities, you may not even find anything close to this idea. Rather, it feels like a place to tell people what they need to do in order to be qualified for the degree they are pursuing.  I have been in many classes where there is no questioning, no sharing of ideas and no community; you are given a print out and you get assessed on how well you align to the ideas found on the page. Can you imagine going to university in the hopes to become a teacher and then being taught how to teach a class with methods that are never recommended for a classroom setting?

While it is true that you’ll learn something by reading a piece of paper and writing about it (that is essentially what I do here), academia does not seem to be promoting a philosophical lifestyle. My autodidactic journey feels like it aligns with what I want to achieve more than academia does. I question what I read but when it comes to writing about it, I am doing so for myself. I am not being assessed on how well I align to the teacher’s ideas. Rather, I write to practise expressing my opinions and document my learning process.

Granted, if you want to make a living in philosophy, then working in academia would be useful but I often question the way academic papers are written. Reading some philosophical ideas that are written in an academic format can be very difficult, it makes me feel stupid and question my own intellect. I know I have a lot to learn but I think academic writing is more designed to sound smart so people will think the author knows what they are talking about. If I was to say “God is a woman” you might agree or reject my statement without any thought. However if I say “God is a woman and I have a hundred page academic paper to back that up”, your reaction might be a little different. You may think I am still wrong but it might take longer to reach that conclusion. If you disagreed with me but still chose to read the hundred pages, things could be different once again; you might question your own beliefs before accepting or rejecting mine. The purpose of a paper like this would be to express opinions and challenge ideas, however I prefer a more casual approach to writing.

I believe we can start a conversation about ideas without the need to alienate people with overly complex academic papers. If people are willing to share and exchange ideas there are people willing to listen and challenge. I call myself a philosopher because I like to question ideas and explore my thoughts via my writing. Also my twitter bio says I am a philosopher so it must be true. I hope to continue to learn and explore ideas, to question and challenge my way of thinking and if needed, I will be a dick to Plato.