Archives for category: Philosophy

Huge spoilers for The Good Place. Just a heads up. Really you shouldn’t read this if you haven’t seen the show.

As is made explicitly clear within the show, the Good Place/Bad Place distinction is inherently an immoral system. Frequent reference is made to the need for a Medium Place for those whose behaviour does not lie at either extreme. The show also raises the question about the potential for change within every human, and how their ethical existence might evolve if they evade death and are given enough time and opportunity to do so. Eternal punishment for sins committed in a finite world is thus grossly disproportionate.

There are further problems that the show does not illustrate. For example, Chidi has no intention to harm, but his actions nonetheless cause harm to those around him. He is qualified for eternal punishment. Tahani raises considerable amounts of money for charity, but does not do so out of pure altruism. She too “deserves” eternal punishment. This means that both the intent and the consequences must equally be measured, and there seems to be no margin for error.  Preventing every harmful accident is an extreme that few if any would be able to accomplish. This system also heavily disadvantages those not born into privilege, as the obstacles to walking the tightrope of sufficient morality would become nigh insurmountable. Stealing to eat has both negative intentions and consequences, reserving the hottest spot in the Bad Place for those unlucky enough to be born into poverty. Immanuel Kant, Chidi’s go-to moral philosopher, famously stated that ought implies can, which means that in order for an action to even be measured morally, one must possess the capability to perform it in the first place. If ability is neglected in moral measurement, that measurement ought to be rejected.

The Good Place - Season Pilot

Kant went to the Bad Place for telling the truth to a killer at the door.

Chidi ought to be smart enough to reject the Manichean dichotomy of the Good Place, but he does not. His aim, once he learns he is not in the Good Place, is to get in. He wishes to participate in this unjust system; not only participate, he believes he is entitled to benefit from it. Chidi wishes to benefit from a system that privileges an arbitrary elite at the expense of the vulgar majority. The question is why. The show, amazingly, answers this question as well.

Chidi was born in Nigeria, and was raised in Senegal. Chidi’s parents likely would have been alive and young enough to intimately experience the civil war that tore Nigeria apart shortly after it won its independence out from under British colonialism. They emigrated to Senegal and spoke French, which likely means that his parents would have been supporters of the Biafra and would have fled shortly after the war ended due to their position on the losing side. They chose Senegal, a former French colony used to bolster their slave trade. Chidi must have been raised by parents who spoke of an enlightened France that sought to protect the Biafra minority, all the while ignorant of France’s motives to maintain a competitive edge in their African imperialism against the waning British Empire.

Chidi is an intellectual, and a moral philosopher, raised in a former French colony, and it is almost certain that he would have read Frantz Fanon, an intellectual raised in the French colony in Algeria. Similarly he would have read Albert Memmi, from Tunisia under again, French colonialism. Fanon describes the reaction to the unjust system of colonialism as necessarily revolutionary, often violent, while Memmi offers one alternative: assimilation. Given his exposure and his race, Chidi would have had a reaction toward these calls to rebel given by his peers.

Chidi taught at universities in France and Australia: his colonizers, and another colony that effectively eliminated its colonized. Every single philosopher he mentions throughout the show is European. This shows that he rejects revolution against unjust systems, and indeed prefers to assimilate. What he must have missed, or purposefully ignored, in Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized is that those who choose to assimilate neglect the fact that the racism of the colonial system will never allow complete assimilation. The colonized, the Other, will never be welcome in the colony because the system was designed around the notion of their inherent inferiority. His constant global migration could be a reaction to the racism he continued to face, even in the academic elite, as he battled the cognitive dissonance of European exceptionalism against his lived reality.



Chidi, on the road to the Good Place, believes he is entitled to finally benefit from an unjust system. He had been trying to assimilate for so long that when he finally reaches what he believes is the Good Place, he never once questions it. In the 800+ reboots that the “Good Place” endures, Chidi is never the one who ever raises the question of the Good Place’s legitimacy. Even Jason figures it out, but Chidi is so blind by his desire for assimilation that he embraces his position within it every time. Chidi has internalized colonial racism to the extent that he can no longer question obviously and explicitly illegitimate systems.

The ethical response to an unethical system is revolution. Fanon quotes the famed Good Place entrepreneur Jesus Christ, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Rather than attempting to obtain a position of privilege over the oppressed majority, Chidi should voluntarily walk among those in the Bad Place, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and organize them against the Architects of their fate. Chidi would be quite happy in a library reading books for eternity, but to quote Fanon (referencing Marx) in Black Skin, White Masks, “What matters is not to know the world but to change it.”

I mean, that would never happen because the Good Place is written by liberals who think that charity is the epitome of moral excellence, but hey. Season 3, prove me wrong. Vive la révolution!

Meat Loaf is known for three things: being the sole visible casualty of anarcho-conformism in Fight Club, singing songs about doing anything for love except for one thing, and going great with ketchup. The philosophy of Fight Club is soul-crushingly tedious, sugary tomato paste isn’t particularly scintillating either, but I am dead set on writing a blog about Meat Loaf, so I guess we’re stuck with that one song of his that everyone thinks is about anal.


But I won’t do that!

Meat Loaf is pretty clear about all the things he would do for love.  He would run right into a metaphysical plane of existence, for instance, and then come back. In addition, he would never lie to the person he loves, and that’s a fact. When pressed about his commitment to doing anything for love, Meat Loaf agrees to all sorts of conditions: coordinating his lover up or down according to which direction is most suited for the occasion, helping her move, and adjusting the thermostat.

What’s less clear is what he wouldn’t do. Near the end of the song, Lorraine Crosby accuses Meat Loaf of eventually cheating on her, just like every other man. Meat Loaf says that he won’t do that. This makes the song somewhat confusing since saying that you’ll do anything for love except screw around on your partner isn’t the most conventional vow.


“If you *REALLY* loved me, you’d have sex with that woman!” “Nah babe, I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that!”

I mean, unless there’s a silent third party in the song that Meat Loaf is in love with, but he won’t have sex with this third party while he’s still in a relationship with Lorraine? Let’s just assume for the sake of this blog that Meat Loaf and Lorraine Crosby have a weird swingers thing going on. In any case, Meat Loaf has made a vow, and regardless of how far his relationship goes, he will not give up this one part of his autonomy.

Let’s get real for a moment here. To give you all a tantalizing glimpse into my own love life, I once had an argument with a past girlfriend where she was upset because I had asked her to pay for bowling after I had paid for supper. It was her belief that as the man, I should pay for the dates to their completion, and in return, she, as the woman, would prepare home cooked meals for me. I’m not the biggest fan of gender roles, personally, so we got into a bit of a tiff. The relevance here is that she exclaimed, “I would do anything for you!” and my reply was that this clearly was not the case, as she wouldn’t pay for bowling.

People make this claim all the time, despite the fact that most people have limits, be it screwing around, paying for two rounds of bowling, or having anal sex. Even the most devoted person probably wouldn’t kill their parents for love. “But Lorraine Crosby would never ask me to do such a thing!” Meat Loaf might exclaim, “She’s not that kind of person!” Who decides what kind of person Lorraine Crosby is? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not Meat Loaf. My ex-girlfriend believed me to be a man’s man, which I am definitely not, so she would do anything for me only insofar as I adhered to that mold. We make this claim of eternal devotion if, and only if, we have confined our partner into a box that we define.

The importance of this analysis is obvious when we look at cases of desperation. If a man will only treat his partner well if she acts in such a way that conforms to his idea of what a lady should be, for instance. Or the unrequited stalker who would do anything for his obsession except leave her alone. I would do anything for love, but I won’t allow self-determination or independence.


I would sing for her, kill Beasts for her, but only so long as she doesn’t read books! She might start getting ideas, thinking…

Jean-Paul Sartre posited that any relationship is about transforming your partner into an object, or becoming the object they wish you to be. The person who would truly do anything for love, including killing their parents, has abandoned themselves completely and exists only as their partner’s whim. On the flip side, we are fully prepared to give the entirety of our autonomy only after we’ve convinced ourselves of our partner’s objectification.

Jean-Paul Sartre is a miserable sod, so let’s ignore him. Let’s focus on Meat Loaf. Meat Loaf is clear in his boundaries. There is no way he is going to screw around, no matter how much her love might depend on it. Meat Loaf is also great at communication: the entire song is a dialogue between two partners hashing out their expectations for the relationship. Both are allowed their autonomy, but this hinges on fundamental respect and a commitment to overcoming ambiguity with dialogue. Meat Loaf would not, in fact, do anything for love, and it is only for this reason that those two love birds might have a shot after all.

Keith Burgess-Jackson, a name literally no one will recognize, wrote an article that whined about how nobody in ethical circles takes egoism seriously. Why can’t we just look after number one and claim to be acting morally? Ayn Rand had some valid points, right? Now, most people would say, “Of course not! Ayn Rand was a psychopath and should be relegated to the Young Adult Fiction section of the library next to the Twilight Saga.” Unfortunately, the ethical beliefs of Ayn Rand, much like the Twilight series, has gained mind-boggling popularity, so I will grant Burgess-Jackson his request, and take the time to explain why egoism fails as an ethical system.

Burgess-Jackson’s main thesis is dependent on the comparison between egoism and utilitarianism. Utilitarianism, even when rejected, is shown academic respect, but egoism is laughed out of the cafeteria. Both are consequentialist, but one measures the consequences as they relate to the group, the other as they relate to the self. Egoism takes the utilitarian maxim of “the greatest good for the greatest number” and turns it into, “the greatest good for the greatest guy: this guy!” The egoist would then point at himself with his two thumbs.


Jack Black: A stand-in for the abstract concept of ethical egoism

This isn’t as stupid as it sounds. There are plenty of problems with utilitarianism (to the point where I consider it an invalid system), but the difference between maximizing the benefit for all and the benefit for the self is just arbitrary preference. If a reason were demanded, all a utilitarian could say is that it’s “nicer” than only looking out for the self, but that would certainly not be enough for the egoist, who is only nice insofar as it would work for their personal benefit.

Let’s look at the same ethical dilemma as Burgess-Jackson: should one steal the pensions from a bunch of old people, and then retire to some sandy beach island with your ethically-gotten gains?


You know your ethical system is a winner when something like this is considered a dilemma

Luckily, Burgess-Jackson says no, and I’m sure we’re all breathing a sigh of relief. His reasoning is a little different than most people’s, though. We shouldn’t steal the pensions from retirees because we might get caught and go to jail. Consequentialism, remember? The egoist ought to weigh the possible outcomes and act according to maximum utility. Not for the pensioners, mind you, just for himself. He posits rule-egoism, comparable to rule-utilitarianism, which suggests that the egoist ought to follow rules that would in general maximize his personal utility, like the law and common social norms.

Much like rule-utilitarianism, however, rule-egoism has the same flaw: if it maintains its original consequentialist principles, it cannot truly exist. If an act would, on its own, create greater utility than following the rule, one ought to act on it. For example, if our egoist had an opportunity to rob senior citizens with a guarantee of escape, he certainly would. Alternatively, if he could obtain their pensions legally (such as by lobbying for tax cuts that are paid for by cutbacks to social security), then he’s going to do that. Hobbes’s sovereign (Burgess-Jackson’s exemplar of rule-egoism) is only obeyed insofar as those underneath don’t see a way to thwart their sovereignty. If the rules are deemed absolute, then the system abandons consequentialism and becomes deontological.

Albert Camus, a philosopher with a lot more name recognition, said, “Every ethic based on solitude implies the exercise of power.” If you’re seeking to make things right only for yourself, you’re going to need power to do it. This is where egoism fails as an ethical system.

Donald Trump

You might think it’s odd that robbing seniors of their pensions didn’t disqualify egoism as an ethical system, but just remember, who’s got two thumbs and became president after bragging about sexually assaulting women?

When everyone is looking out for themselves, those with more power will always succeed over those with less. If I’m looking out for me, and you’re looking out for you, and we come into some kind of conflict, and you possess more power than me, I lose. It’s pretty simple. That’s not great if I’m an egoist who wants to maximize my personal benefit, now is it? Within the egoist system, egoism itself does not provide the maximum utility. It cancels itself out. Perhaps you might argue that it can still survive if only I am an egoist, and I successfully convince others to be, say, utilitarians, then my personal utility is again maximized. However, a system of ethics is a social system. If it cannot function on a macro level, it is no longer a system. If it only works when one person does it, it’s no longer a morality, it’s just selfishness.

So throw Ayn Rand back on to the garbage fire that is her metaphorical equivalent, and think about how your dumb actions impact other people for once in your God damn lives.