The idea of a good place where people go when they die is present in almost all moral systems throughout the world. For many people, this place is known as Heaven, and the opposite of it is Hell. It works in a simple manner: If you live a good life and are good on Earth, you go to Heaven when you die. Otherwise, you go to Hell. This is the basic idea behind the series The Good Place.
I only recently started watching this series, and although I’m still missing the last season at the moment of writing this, I can say that it is one of the best discoveries I’ve stumbled upon in the past year. I had never heard of it before, and I’m sort of surprised by that because it really is a philosophically interesting and fun series to watch.
If you are into series that stimulate your thoughts with lots of laughs in between, this might be worth giving a try.
The Idea of a Good Place
When you think about it, the idea of a place where we go after we die seems very simplistic. I don’t know about you, but the way it was taught to me had some serious loopholes. It basically went something like ‘be good to others and when you die you will go to heaven.’ Religion aside, I’m pretty sure that this is what many of us were brought up to believe. However, supposing this is true, how does this system really work? I mean, is there a point in keeping a system that analyzes each of our deeds on Earth so that once we die we are evaluated? Who gets to define how this system works? How can the system evaluate each of our actions?
When you think about it, there’s a lot to consider for this explanation to work without any logical inconsistencies. Any minor detail might render the entire system flawed. For example, what if someone with bad intentions ends up being categorized as being good because their actions unintendedly result in good for others. Does this count as a good deed or is it just an unexpected consequence undeserving of moral recognition?
Consider this other example. What if someone who’s considered a morally good person is having a bad day and screams at someone at work, and right after that they get killed in a car crash. Would this automatically erase other good deeds they might have performed throughout their lives? On a different note, what about drinking almond milk? I mean, it’s great to think about cows and the way they are treated, but what about the amount of water needed for almond milk? Isn’t that, in a sense, worse?
Life is complex, and life after seems to be even more. Philosophers have tried to decipher the idea of a good place for centuries, and not surprisingly, we still don’t have an answer to some of the fundamental questions about what happens to our souls after death. This leaves us with mostly just assumptions when it comes to defining what it means to be moral as seen from a ‘life after death’ perspective.
The Utilitarian Life
For me, The Good Place is all about a thought experiment to try and make sense of how the idea of a good place might actually work in practical terms. Following the adventures of four humans who die and end up in the good place, apparently by mistake, The Good Place explores the different possibilities of life after death.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the series delves deeply into the idea of a utilitarian system of points that defines who goes to the good or bad place. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. After all, utilitarianism is a great way for us humans to make sense of moral matters in a way that can be somewhat easily understood, given our limited experiential capabilities of reality, the universe, and that sort of stuff.
In case you are not familiar with it, utilitarianism is a moral philosophy that focuses on weighing moral actions; If this sounds strange, think of it as a cost-benefit analysis to guide our moral actions. To do so, utilitarianism considers different criteria, being the most common one the possibility to produce happiness from our actions. So, in that train of thought, utilitarianism might help us analyze if we should or should not do a specific action based on what its results will be in terms of happiness. Some actions will be preferred to others because they will produce more happiness, while others should be totally discarded based on their negative outcomes in terms of happiness.
Watch The Good Place
The Good Place explores this idea deeply, and it does so in a way that is not only rich in humor, but also in philosophical reflections. I’ve rarely found an episode where I haven’t laughed hard. Most importantly, it always makes me think hard about a somewhat philosophical topic. Each of the characters is unique and has its own moral problems, making it a sure way to identify with their moral dilemmas.
I think philosophy is of great value. Whether you like philosophy or not, I think that watching The Good Place is a great way to learn about some of the most important philosophical problems of the last centuries, like the trolley problem, what a happiness pump is, and the infamous Kantian is/ought morality. Give The Good Place a chance and see why philosophy is actually more important to our lives than what traditional moral systems have taught us. Even if we can’t formulate clear answers, moral progress is possible. We can always become better persons.
Whether a good place actually exists or not becomes a secondary question once we see that living a good life is actually more of an important concern. After all, that’s what philosophy is all about.
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