Episodes 2:6 Non-fungible Friends and 2:8 The Leap to Faith

Please join us this Monday, Nov. 1, from 4:30 to 5:30pm to discuss episodes 6 “Janet and Michael” and 8 “Leap to Faith” of the Good Place, Season 2. We’ll meet in the Strange Lounge of Main Hall.

Episode 6 “Janet and Michael” Episode 6 gives us Janet’s origin story and a big chunk of background on her and Michael’s relationship. Most of the episode is devoted to Janet and Michael trying to figure out why Janet has been glitching (producing errant earthquakes and six-foot hoagies, etc.) Ultimately, she and Michael figure out that her malfunctions are stemming from her past relationship with Jason Mendoza, who she loved and who she now has to try to help in his new relationship with Tahani. Her expressions of happiness for Jason and Tahani’s relationship are fundamentally incompatible with her actual feelings, and this underlying dishonesty seems to be resulting in the glitches. Fortunately, Janet has a solution! All Michael needs to do is kill her! Well, actually he needs to initiate her self-destruct sequence, which will reduce her to a lifeless marble that can then be launched into space. He can then get a new Janet—indistinguishable from this one—and go on with his project. However, Michael is reticent. As he ultimately explains, it’s because he considers Janet his friend.

Michael : The reason is friends! You’re my friend, Janet. That’s why I can’t kill you. We have been through so much together. I mean, yeah, sure, for you, each time I rebooted you, you met me all over again, but for me, our — our relationship has become important. You’re my oldest, my truest, my most loyal friend. I can’t just get rid of you and replace you with some other Janet I don’t even know.

This is a good opportunity to consider the non-fungibility of friends. We may explain our friendship with someone by pointing to their individual traits and qualities. However, we don’t seem to think an individual friend is simply replaceable by some other person who has those same traits and qualities. (In the case of Janet, any replacement would be literally type-identical with her pre-rebooted self!) Why does it seem that our friends are non-fungible?  Why does it seem we can’t simply replace an old friend with a new friend, who has the same traits as the old friend, with whom we like to do the same things we liked to do with the old friend? Notice: Eleanor seems to express a markedly different perspective on romantic love, since she suggests Janet find a new guy to get over Jason Mendoza. And, indeed, Janet seems to take this advice, creating her new boyfriend, Derek Hostetler, ex-nihilo.

Episode 8 “Leap to Faith” In Episode 8, Michael’s plan to psychologically torture people seems to be paying off. Shaun points out that “your humans are experiencing emotional torture the same level of physical torture caused by our squiggliest eyeball corkscrews.” In light of these results, he wants to expand Michael’s neighborhoods and put Michael in charge of the whole project. Michael then explains to Eleanor and the gang, in Shaun’s presence, that they will soon be studied and tortured by demons. Uncertain about how to respond to this news, the gang considers different possibilities. But, Eleanor suggests that they take a leap of faith and actually trust that Michael won’t cause them any harm.

Eleanor: When Michael was mocking us about trying to become better people, whose name did he use, huh? Kierkegaard. I think he was sending us a message to take a leap of faith, ’cause that was Kierkegaard’s thing, right?

Chidi: Yes, although it’s probably better translated as a leap into faith.

Eleanor: It’s so hard to be your friend.

Chidi: Yep, sorry.

Eleanor: Michael was telling us to trust him. I had a long talk with him the other night about the whole Derek incident. Dude was shook, talking about ethics and all spiraling about human stuff. I think he’s on our side.

Tahani: Or maybe he’s a supernatural demon designed to torture people, who just got offered his dream job, and has flipped on us like a ten-stone griddle chip. It’s a large pancake. Come on, people, you can get these from context.

Eleanor: Look, maybe Michael jumped back to the dark side, but I don’t think so. I think he’s gonna help us escape. I know it sounds crazy, but if it weren’t crazy, they wouldn’t call it a leap of faith. They would call it a… sit of doubting.

We make a leap to faith when we are forced to take a certain action—perhaps to trust in someone else—without having a rational justification to do so. Let’s spend some time considering this idea and thinking about instances in which we are forced to act without having complete and compelling reasons to do so.

Season 2! Ethics, Hypotheticals, &Trollies (oh my). Episodes 4 ,5 & 6, October 25th.

The Good Place S2.E06 “The Trolly Problem”

Our Strange Philosophy Thing discussion will focus on Chidi’s ethics class, particularly Michael’s new involvement in it in episodes S2.E04, S2.E05 and S2.E06.

Some issues to think about as you watch:

Why is Chidi teaching about false ethical theories?  (False, given what we know about the ethical truths in the show.)

               Is there a difference between moral knowledge and moral understanding?

                              If so, how is this difference important?

What are good (and bad) methods for gaining moral knowledge and/or understanding?  (The show contrasts, for instance, “theoretical/abstract” and “concrete” approaches.)

               Does this tell us anything about the subject matter of ethics?

               Does “human ethics” refer to something different than “ethics”?

The Good Place, S2.E06 “The Trolley Problem”

Episode S2:E06

Michael: I know for a fact that if you steal a loaf of bread, it’s negative 17 points. 20 if it’s a baguette because that makes you more French.

Chidi: Sure, but philosophy is about questioning things that you take for granted, and I just don’t think that you’re doing that.

Chidi: I just don’t feel like you’re engaging with the material. Like with the trolley problem.

Michael: that was just tricky that’s all. Why don’t you just tell me the right answer?

Chidi: that’s what’s so great about the trolley problem, that there is no right answer. …

Chidi: Michael, trust me. When it comes to human ethics, I just know more than you. I’ve been studying it my whole life

Michael: It’s just that it’s so theoretical, you know. I mean, maybe there’s a more concrete approach. Here, let’s try this.

Chidi: Oh god! Michael what did you do?

Michael:  I made the trolley problem real, so we can see how the ethics would actually play out. There’re five workers on this track and one person over there. Here are the levers to switch the tracks. Make a choice.

Chidi: the thing is… I mean … ethically speaking…


Chidi: well, it’s tricky! If you subscribe to a purely utilitarian point of view….

[smash & gore]

Eleanor: Look, see buddy, none of this was real.

Michael: well, they’re fake people, but their pain is real.  There have to be stakes, or it’s just another thought experiment.

Episodes 10-13: Hell is other people. Soulmates, love, the medium place, and the bad place (plus more Janet!); October 18th

“Michael’s Gambit” Season 1, episode 13

Please join us this Monday, Oct. 18th from 4:30 to 5:30pm to discuss the final episodes (10-13) of The Good Place, Season 1. We’ll meet in the Strange Lounge of Main Hall, unless it’s nice out, in which case we’ll likely be at the picnic tables in front of the building.

Episode 10 “Chidi’s Choice” Everyone is bonding: Jason and Janet get hitched, Real Eleanor loves Chidi, Fake Eleanor loves Chidi, Chidi loves Tahani (according to Tahani), Eleanor and Tahani have a weird forked-up friendship, maybe Jason is Eleanor’s soulmate? Chidi remains undecided. We’ll discuss the conditions for love (romantic and friendship), and whether failing to decide is a type of decision.

Episode 11 “What’s my Motivation” So far on The Good Place, getting to the Good Place is all about the consequences of one’s actions when on Earth. However, this episode highlights the importance of motivations and intentions as Eleanor tries to justify her spot in the Good Place. Jason and Janet’s love blossoms:

Michael : You two are married?

Jason Mendoza : Hells yeah, homie. We love each other.

Jason Mendoza : She makes the bass drop… in my heart.

Janet : And Jason is a person who was near me, and then he asked me to marry him, and there is nothing in my protocol that specifically barred that from happening. So I agreed.

Jason Mendoza : Love you too, babe.

And later:

Janet : Jason, you are all that I care about, possibly because I did not have the capacity to care about anything before you. I love you.

**Spoilers** Episode 12 “Mindy St. Claire” There’s a medium place, and a bad place…

Eleanor: It took me a while to figure it out, but just now as we were all fighting and yelling at each other and each one of us demanding we should go to the Bad Place, I thought to myself, “Man, this is torture.”

Episode 13 “Michael’s Gambit” In Sartre’s play No Exit one of the characters claims “Hell is other people.” We’ll discuss Michael’s gambit and the extent to which hell is other people (on The Good Place). In Sartre on Theatre Sartre explains:

. . .“hell is other people” has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, vitiated, then that other person can only be hell. Why? Because. . . when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves, . . . we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. We judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves. Into whatever I say about myself someone else’s judgment always enters. Into whatever I feel within myself someone else’s judgment enters. . . . But that does not at all mean that one cannot have relations with other people. It simply brings out the capital importance of all other people for each one of us.

Episodes 6-7: promises, lying, friendship, and Janet-style entities; October 11th

Please join us this Monday, Oct. 11th from 4:30 to 5:30pm to discuss episodes 6 and 7 of The Good Place, Season 1. We’ll meet in the Strange Lounge of Main Hall, unless it’s nice out, in which case we’ll likely be at the picnic tables in front of the building. We encourage you, too, to attend the celebrations for Indigenous Peoples’ Day that begin just afterward on the Library Plaza and Main Hall Green.

Focusing on episodes 6 and 7, we might wonder about some of the claims and assumptions that are made about promise-keeping (and -breaking) and lying. Is it the case that all promises should be kept? Is lying always wrong? Is it easy to live with telling lies, as Eleanor asserts, or is a self that lies somehow unsustainable, as Chidi suggests? Moreover, do friendships bring their own sets of expectations, that undermine some of these broader ethical obligations? In other words, is it reasonable to expect special treatment from our friends (treatment that isn’t necessarily moral)? Think here about Eleanor’s friendship with Michael and Chidi’s friendship with Henry. Regarding episode 7 more specifically, we could inquire whether anyone has actually murdered Janet, in the sense of: is Janet the type of entity that can be murdered? (We could expand out and wonder if it’s possible to wrong Janet at all—in any ways.) These are just possible starting points, and there are lots of directions to go in.

The Good Place series is available on Netflix. This season is also on reserve in the Mudd Library under “Philosophy Strange Thing”, abbreviation “PHILStrange”.

We look forward to the conversation!