5 Moral Philosophy Concepts Featured on The Good Place

William Jackson Harper and Kristen Bell in The Good Place.
William Jackson Harper and Kristen Bell in The Good Place.
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

NBC’s The Good Place could be the most compelling comedy on network television based purely on its clever non-curse words and Ted Danson’s extensive bowtie collection. But it also happens to cover some impressive philosophical ground in a way that advances the plot and adds intrigue without weighing the story down or feeling like you're trapped in a classroom. If you’ve watched all three seasons, you probably have a pretty good understanding of the moral philosophy tenets that recur throughout the series—Aristotle’s virtue ethics and Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism, for example, lay the groundwork for much of the narrative and character development. Other terms, however, are delivered via quick character dialogue or single-episode arcs that might leave you under-appreciating the artful manner in which creator Michael Schur has just fed you a giant, delicious meal of moral philosophy.

To prepare for the fourth and final season of The Good Place, brush up on five important moral philosophy concepts that you might have missed.

*Spoiler alert: Spoilers for the first three seasons of The Good Place below. Proceed with caution.*

1. Moral Imperative

After Kristen Bell’s Eleanor first realizes she doesn’t belong in The Good Place, she asks Chidi to teach her how to be a good person. Chidi has some qualms and questions about such a morally ambiguous undertaking, including: “Is there a moral imperative to help you?” He’s referring to Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, or the idea that we must all act according to an unwavering moral code that has nothing to do with situational variables.

By Kant’s rationale, lying, stealing, and other immoral behaviors can never be justified—even if you’re lying to spare someone’s feelings or stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child. Chidi, then, is trying to figure out which decision is most in accordance with Kant’s moral code. On one hand, Eleanor doesn’t belong in The Good Place, and helping her might be considered a violation of the categorical imperative if it’s considered a form of cheating. On the other hand, Eleanor is asking for help in becoming a better person, and denying someone help—especially when their morality depends on it—seems like the opposite of “doing the right thing.” The moral imperative to help Eleanor wins out, of course, which is the first of many times we see Chidi make a choice based on Kant’s very uncompromising system of ethics.

2. The Doctrine of Double Effect

In season 2, episode seven, Janet has created a doltish rebound boyfriend named Derek to help her get over her lasting feelings for Jason—feelings that generated a slew of malfunctions like spontaneously summoning a roughly 10-foot-long sub and vomiting thousands of pennies. While Jason and Tahani bask in a love-drunk paradise, Michael, Chidi, and Eleanor struggle to devise an ethical strategy to fix Janet and prevent Derek from blowing their cover to the very meddlesome demon Vicky. All of their potential solutions, however, call for one of two decidedly immoral behaviors: Killing Derek, or wrecking Jason and Tahani’s happy relationship. So Chidi offers up an ethical loophole called the doctrine of double effect, coined by Thomas Aquinas.

According to the doctrine, you can act in a way that causes an immoral side effect, as long as your primary intention is morally sound. For example: Michael could tell Jason that he was married to Janet in a previous reboot, knowing that this would cause emotional pain for Jason and Tahani (and could also result in Janet’s decision to off Derek in favor of Jason), as long as his primary goal in spilling the beans is to spare them all from Vicky’s future wrath and Janet’s potentially catastrophic future glitches.

Though the doctrine of double effect fuels that episode-specific plotline, it also subtly advances the story of Eleanor and Chidi’s relationship by prompting Eleanor to show Chidi the video footage from an earlier reboot in which they confess their love to each other. Her primary intention is the hope that it will rekindle their romance, and if she also unwittingly (OK, wittingly) serves Chidi a big bowl of emotional turmoil with a side dish of stomachache at the same time? Aquinas would say that’s a morally acceptable combo meal.

3. Moral Desert

In the season 2 finale, a dispirited, drunken Eleanor confesses to a bartender (Michael in a Cheers-inspired disguise) that her six months of commitment to good behavior after her near-death experience left her woefully unfulfilled. In other words, she had expected to receive some type of cosmic reward for her virtue that would make it all worth it. Michael identifies her mindset as an expectation of moral desert (pronounced like dessert); i.e. if you’re a good person, you deserve something in return. But, to quote every parent everywhere, life’s not fair—and, as Eleanor discovered, the pride of a job well done isn’t really enough to sustain a lifetime of unerring virtue. So, if you can’t count on moral desert, why even try to be a good person?

For self-centered Eleanor, the idea that the answer might be related to our relationships with other people is more than a little mind-blowing. After looking up What do we owe to each other?, a pointed question that Michael dropped during their conversation, Eleanor stumbles upon a video lecture that Chidi gave on the subject, which prompts her to pay him a visit in Australia and drives forward the plot of season three—and Eleanor’s character development—in a big way.

4. Happiness Pump

When Janet and Michael meet Doug Forcett in episode eight of season 3, they’re horrified. After accurately predicting the afterlife points system while high on mushrooms (but having no confirmation of his hypothesis, of course) decades ago, Doug has dedicated himself to the type of utilitarian existence so often mentioned throughout the series: Act in a way that maximizes the overall good. In doing so, Doug eats only radishes and lentils to preserve the environment, tests harmful cosmetics on his own face to spare animals from pain, and completely unravels when he accidentally steps on a snail. While living so selflessly sounds good in theory, Doug illustrates how such a severe commitment to utilitarianism is actually a terrible idea. He has become what Janet calls a happiness pump; in other words, he’s trying to pump as much happiness into the world as possible at his own expense.

In his book Moral Tribes, Harvard University professor of psychology Joshua David Greene argues that being a happiness pump might create more societal harm than good. If you contribute to the greater good while still remaining happy and comfortable, he explains, then other people will recognize that charity and service can enrich their own lives, too. “If, instead, you push yourself just shy of your breaking point, you may do more good directly with your personal donation dollars, but you may undermine the larger cause by making an unappealing example of yourself.” And nobody could possibly look at Doug and decide it’s worth modeling their behavior after his. Though the series has always heavily hinted that being a good person isn’t as easy as racking up as many brownie points as possible, it’s our introduction to the human happiness pump that really spells out the beginning of the end for The Good Place’s utilitarian system.

5. John Locke’s Theory of Personal Identity

John Locke believed that personal identity is based on a continued consciousness, i.e. memories. For most of us, this seems logical: We grow into ourselves as individuals by learning and changing based on past experiences. For Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani, however, it’s not so straightforward. Over the course of hundreds of reboots, they’ve read books, fallen in love, made mistakes, and eaten lots of mediocre frozen yogurt of which they have no memory. Chidi mentions the theory in episode nine of season 3, while the four humans are in Janet’s void and Eleanor is struggling to retain her personal identity. To prevent her from utterly losing her sense of self, Chidi starts listing her memories back to her in a clear endorsement of Locke’s theory.

That episode isn't the only time Chidi leans on the Lockean line of thought—he also uses it to rationalize why his previous romantic love for Eleanor doesn’t count anymore, since it happened in an earlier reboot that he no longer remembers. In a slight philosophical plot twist, the way Chidi finally brings Eleanor back to herself is by kissing her, suggesting that personal identity somehow exists on an even deeper level than memory, and Eleanor and Chidi are inherently wired to be together. For viewers, that idea is a thread of hope that sustains us through the devastating season 3 finale, when Chidi decides that their only chance at succeeding in their new Good Place neighborhood experiment is if he gets rebooted, losing all memory of his most recent and meaningful romantic relationship with Eleanor. If the fairytale logic behind their redemptive kiss holds up, Chidi and Eleanor will likely find their way back to each other in season 4.

11 Lively Gifts for Plant Parents

Blue Q/Amazon/Picnic Time/World Market
Blue Q/Amazon/Picnic Time/World Market

Many folks have been showing off their green thumbs this year thanks to the pandemic, so why not encourage their hobbies? There's a special gift for every kind of plant parent out there—think starter grow kits to gardening tools to cute cartoon socks. If the Christmas tree in the living room isn't enough greenery for your gift recipient's taste this festive season, we have some great gift options below.

1. Back To The Roots Garden In A Can Herb Growing Kit; $25

Back to the Roots/World Market

Herb gardens are compact, useful, and easy to maintain. If your giftee lives in an apartment and doesn't have outdoor space for a large garden, Back To The Roots's Garden In A Can Herb Growing Kit—a three-pack of basil, cilantro, and mint—is a great place for them to start their indoor horticultural journey.

Buy it: World Market

2. Plants Rock Cactus Growing Kit; $13

Plants Rock/World Market

Another option for small spaces is cacti, which do not require much water or attention. This kit makes it easy to start growing cacti in your gift recient's home. The tools are all included, so all your giftee has to do is plant the seeds and set the ceramic pot in a sunny spot.

Buy it: World Market

3. Picnic Time Folding Garden Stool With Tools; $69

Picnic Time/World Market

For more experienced gardeners, tools are essential for helping plants thrive. This stool with tools might solve the problem of sore knees and backs from kneeling in dirt. Not only is the seat portable and lightweight, but it also includes a storage tote and five pockets for tools like the included trowels and garden forks.

Buy it: World Market

4. Green and Pink Ribbed-Glass Plant Misters; $26

World Market

Indoor plants need as much care and attention as their outdoor cousins, but lugging around a watering can may cause a mess in your giftee's home. Using this set of two plant misters is an easy way to keep moisture-loving plants like orchids and Boston ferns nice and dewy.

Buy it: World Market

5. Cotton Macramé Plant Hanger; $18

World Market

Macramé plant hangers were all the rage back in the '70s. They've made a comeback this year as people have become craftier at home. This plant hanger is great for showing off plants that grow long, curtain-like tendrils and helpful when your giftee lives in a small space. With the roof as the limit, they can pack in as many plants as they want.

Buy it: World Market

6. Can't Kill Me 2021 Calendar; $8

TF Publishing/World Market

If your gift recipient loves plants but can't keep real ones alive, give them this mini wall calendar. It features, well, plant arrangements they can't kill, like succulents, bonsai trees, and snake plants. This calendar will surely add a dose of green to their home office.

Buy it: World Market

7. The New Plant Parent: Develop Your Green Thumb and Care for Your House-Plant Family; $17

Harry N. Abrams/Amazon

All gardeners want one simple thing: to know more about keeping their plants alive and thriving. This book has all the essentials for cultivating houseplants. It's full of tips and tricks for repotting a plant, taking care of certain types of plants, and adjusting light for your plant baby's survival.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Homenote Bamboo Plant Labels; $14

HOMENOTE/Amazon

Plant labels are a great way for your giftee to remember where they planted their rosemary versus their parsley before they sprout. This 60 label set comes with a pen, so the labeling process is a breeze.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Blue Q Proud Plant Mom Socks; $13

Blue Q/Amazon

Proud plant moms want to show off their love for their greenery any way they can. That's why these crew socks will be a hit with any of your green-thumbed friends. Blue Q also donates 1 percent of its sales revenue to Doctors Without Borders.

Buy it: Amazon

10. EuroGraphics 1000-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle; $20

EuroGraphics Toys/Amazon

This 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle will occupy your gift recipients from the fall harvest to the spring planting season. The challenging design of multiple succulents features each plant's common and scientific name.

Buy it: Amazon

11. AeroGarden Indoor Hydroponic Garden; $124

AeroGarden/Amazon

If seasons don't matter to your giftee and they want to start their herb garden right now, then the AeroGarden is going to be their best friend. They'll be able to grow herbs like dill, thyme, and mint indoors in the middle of winter. Thanks to the LED grow lights, there is no need to worry about plants getting enough sunlight. They can grow up to six plants at a time, all year round.

Buy it: Amazon

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15 Facts About A Nightmare on Elm Street

Robert Englund as A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger.
Robert Englund as A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger.
New Line Cinema

Enrich your annual Halloween viewing A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven’s 1984 horror classic, with these fascinating tidbits.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street is Johnny Depp’s film debut.

During casting, it came down to Johnny Depp, who was then 21 years old, or another young actor to play Glen. Director Wes Craven asked his teenage daughter which actor he should cast as the heartthrob boyfriend—she chose Depp.

2. A Nightmare on Elm Street was inspired by real-life events.

Craven decided to make A Nightmare on Elm Street after reading a series of Los Angeles Times articles about a group of teenage Khmer immigrants who, after moving to the U.S. from refugee camps, died in their sleep after suffering from disturbing nightmares.

3. Freddy Krueger is an amalgamation of Wes Craven’s childhood terrors.

“Freddy” was the name of a bully who beat Craven up in elementary school, and his signature hat was based on one worn by a neighborhood drunk who scared Craven when he was young.

4. Freddy Krueger’s sweater is scientifically scary.

Craven designed Freddy’s striped sweater after reading in Scientific American that the human eye has difficulty recognizing those particular shades of red and green side by side. Therefore, looking at it is subliminally unsettling.

5. Freddy Krueger’s weapon of choice was inspired by house pets and infomercials.

Craven didn’t want Freddy to wield a simple knife like Michael Myers in Halloween or Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th, so he drew on his fear of his own cat’s claws and a series of late-night commercials selling sets of knives to create Freddy’s iconic knife glove.

6. Wes Craven’s other influences include surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel and director Roman Polanski.

He drew on their works, particularly Polanski’s The Tenant and Repulsion, for the dream sequences in the film.

7. A Nightmare on Elm Street was shot in just 32 days.

Principal photography began in June 1984 and wrapped in July.

8. The boiler room in A Nightmare on Elm Street was an actual boiler room—in the basement of a jail.

The scenes where Freddy attacks his victims in a boiler room were shot in an actual boiler room in the basement of the Lincoln Heights Jail in Los Angeles. Soon after shooting ended, the building was condemned because of asbestos.

9. It took A Nightmare on Elm Street's makeup artists three hours each day to apply and take off Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger makeup.

The makeup consisted of 11 separate pieces applied to Englund’s face and upper chest.

10. Robert Englund based his performance as Freddy Krueger on a horror icon and musical theater star.

Englund was inspired by Klaus Kinski’s performance in the 1979 remake of Nosferatu and the work of actor James Cagney.

11. British actor David Warner was originally supposed to play Freddy Krueger.

He was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts.

12. One of A Nightmare on Elm Street's most famous scenes was inspired by Stanley Kubrick.

The famous scene in which a geyser of blood shoots out of Glen’s bed was inspired by a similar scene of blood pouring from an elevator in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. To create this effect, the blood was created from 80 gallons of water mixed with red paint, which was then was poured through a set built upside-down.

13. Nancy was almost killed by breakfast foods in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The sticky substance that keeps her from running up the stairs away from Freddy was in fact a mixture of oatmeal and pancake batter.

14. The movie that Nancy watches to try to stay awake is Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead.

Craven added the nod to Raimi because Raimi had previously included a poster of Craven’s second film, The Hills Have Eyes, in a scene in The Evil Dead. Raimi eventually returned the favor by hiding Freddy’s knife glove in a scene in a tool shed in Evil Dead II.

15. The sleep doctor who tries to cure Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street is played by Charles Fleischer.

Fleischer provided the voice for Roger Rabbit.

This story has been updated for 2020.