Lately, I’ve been working on a journal article about ethics in The Good Place (awesome show, check it out if you haven’t!)
There are so many arguments for and against each doctrine, with so many arguing the nuances and expressions necessary to truly understand each approach.
Epictetus argued that the greatest good was contentment, which can only be achieved by self-mastery over your emotions and desires, while Humanists argue that the dignity and worth of all people should be the primary deciding factor in whether an act is moral or not. Virtue Ethics focuses on the inherent character of a person, while Consequentialism focuses on a person’s actions, while Moral Nihilism basically argues that all ethical judgments are pointless*.
The more I read about moral approaches to life, the less I can comfortably argue whether an action is moral or not.
When I saw Chidi’s character weigh up the ethical ramifications of various soups, I thought he was taking the ethics thing a bit too far. Now, I’m starting to get it.
Really, whether or not you can be considered a ‘good’ person depends on which philosopher you listen to.
And, I would argue, that’s ok.
It’s ok that we can’t agree. If we all agreed, then we would end up in a monoculture where everything thinks and acts the same, and that’s no fun. Plus, if we could agree on a system of ethics, then that system would have to be pretty damn flawless. Which, so far, no system seems to be.
For example – Chidi seems to be pretty Kantian in his approach to ethics. Granted, he isn’t a perfect Kantian (as I will be arguing in my article) but Immanuel Kant does seem to be at the core of his ethical framework. Yet he spends a lot of his time considering what other philosophers – like Aristotle and David Hume – would think of certain actions. Plus, his Kantian ethics can and will be overruled when he decides that they’re inconvenient (consider how he helps Jason deceive Tahani). Eleanor even uses his tendency to consult various philosophers to guide him towards Moral Particularism while he’s in the Bad Place.
But the thing is: when Chidi explores other philosophies and concepts, he’s engaging with a diverse range of approaches to life. That makes him more well-rounded then if he simply stuck to Kant for his entire life.
When we explore and incorporate other ideas into our philosophy, our philosophies become richer. By engaging with others, we’re able to patch the holes in our ethical frameworks and stop ourselves from walking into the moral problems that can and will arise.
No one ethical framework is right. As long as we can agree on that (as if we could ever agree on anything) then we’re in a good place** to work on getting the proper mix.
*I’m simplifying a lot of these, but you get the general idea.
** accidental pun!