What Being a Good Person Means Is Harder To Define than You Might Think

What Being a Good Person Means Is Harder To Define than You Might Think August 10, 2019

I have talked several times before about the Netflix show, The Good Place. It’s a great show that popularises philosophy and packages it for the mass market. This can only be a good thing, in my eyes.

As the show comes to an end, the shows creator talks about the evolution of the idea for the show:

“I pitched this show as an investigation of what it meant to be a good person and found over the course of working on it with the writers and the actors and the entire crew that that’s an even more complicated question than I thought it was,” Schur said. “I thought in the beginning that the show could, if given the chance, describe what it meant to be a good person. That was my hope. And that didn’t mean do this and not that, it meant, ‘Here’s what a good person looks like in the world. Here’s how a person can feel like he or she led a good life.'”

But Schur’s intentions for the show shifted as he and the writers studied the work of philosophers who have expounded on what it means to be good. “What we found as we discussed it and wrote it and executed it is some very, very smart people over the last 3,000 years have had a lot of opinions about that question,” he said.

So the show’s true message evolved. It became: “We’re going to give you a bunch of options, and by the way, there are plenty more that we didn’t describe, but what’s important is that you try one of them,” Schur said. “That was sort of my internal shift over the course of making the show, a sort of newfound belief that the important thing wasn’t actually — and it’s counterintuitive to say this — being good. The important thing was that you’re trying. Because it feels like the huge problem, from my point of view, is that not enough people are trying. And trying means failing. Everyone fails all the time, even the people with the best intentions will fail. It doesn’t matter whether you follow this theory that or that theory or this belief or whatever — you’re going to fail a lot. We all fail all the time at this. And so, this is a long-winded saying: At the beginning, I pitched it as ‘what it means to be a good person,’ and at the end, I think I would describe this as a show that makes the argument that we all ought to try harder than we are, and as long as you’re trying, you’re on the right path.”

If you haven’t watched it, definitely check it out.

Morality is a massively complex field about which I have written a huge amount. If you have seen my recent pieces on conceptual nominalism with regard to rights (qua morality), you can guess where my feelings lie.

H/T C Peterson.


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