We will watch episodes 11,12,13 of season 1 tonight and chat about them on Netflix Party. You need to download the extension for Netflix party on google chrome. Afterwards we will have compline on zoom. Get in touch through our contact page for more information.
A few thoughts about our episodes for tonight.
Episode 11 finds Eleanor trying to earn her place in The Good Place. An immediate question within the morality of the show, and also within certain understandings of Christianity is: can she continue to improve after death? There is, as is immediately seen, a challenge to trying to gain enough points because there’s no real options for good actions in the Good Place that would achieve the kind of point haul required. But Eleanor has to start somewhere. We see that her points can decrease when she acts or thinks selfishly but when she offers Chidi some advice that is, perhaps against her own interest, she increases in points. Yet, ultimately she realizes that all of her actions are clouded not by being too late but because they are entirely motivated from self interest. A strict Kantian view holds that one must act out of duty to the principle of right or wrong and it seems that our moral framework is pretty strictly Kantian here. However, as always, we are in tension with the Aristotelian idea that one practices at one’s virtuous behavior. From this standpoint, even if she isn’t feeling it, holding the door is practicing some degree of virtuous selflessness. Ultimately she makes the sacrificial decision to save herself by surrendering herself. She upholds the supreme duty to the good.
Eleanor receives her desire to see a medium place, the “Cosmic Cleveland.” It might be tempting to view this as a purgatory if purgatory is simply a point between hell and heaven, but purgatory implies some sort of moral improvement. This is a place in which there is no movement at all. Everything is stasis. It is total isolation. The choice presented to Eleanor by Mindy St. Clair is not unlike that raised by C.S. Lewis in “The Great Divorce.” At the start of the novel the narrator is in very much a medium place. It is always some sort of twilight and just a little bit misty. No one is really happy or unhappy, just a little bit grumbly. It’s not great, but it’s not hell. What is discovered, however, is that one can choose heaven. And in making that choice one finds that one’s actions going backwards were either the beginning of heaven or the beginning of hell. Eleanor is told she should abandon her friends but realizes that the demands of her relationships to them (she has brought “What We Owe to Each Other” with her to read) means she will be tortured—in hell—forever by the knowledge that she abandoned them to hell. Her choice to go back, then, is truly one of love. Jason says he’s scared of the bad place. Eleanor admits the same. But she also embraces the fact that it’s time, in spite of how her parents treated her, to claim responsibility for her own actions. She is now practicing the virtue of courage while claiming the virtue of goodness that she has already been practicing. On returning to the Good Place, Eleanor and Jason discover they are too late. The judge, somewhat shockingly, abdicates his judicial responsibility and tells the group they must decide which two of them go to the Bad Place. What is the correct moral stance in such a situation. Are the moral stakes changed by the fact that it is an eternal decision?
Jason surprises everyone, coming out of the gate in the last episode. He states that Chidi is a bad person because he helped Jason, knowing that Jason was a bad person. The only morality, under this rubric of basic consequentialism, is determined by the consequences of the action. How should we read this back into the rest of the story arc? Eleanor reveals the depth of her changed personality. She is fully prepared to go and surrender herself. She says to Chidi that she was dropped in a cave and he was her flashlight. For me, it is impossible to read this and not think of the allegory of the cave. In short, it is Plato’s idea that people live in a cave with their backs to a fire. Against this fire objects pass casting shadows onto the wall. The people looking at the wall see the shadows and mistake them for reality. Once one is freed from the cave then one discovers the real light and the real things and no longer looks at the shadows. St. Paul adapts this idea when he says that in this world we see things only dimly as through a darkened glass but we will one day see face to face. Eleanor has been shown something beyond the shadows and illusory comforts of a very disappointing life. She cannot turn back from that life, even if it means going into hell.
One final point is the idea of virtue vs. love. Christianity is not really a faith concerned with virtue, thought virtuous action has an important place in the Christian faith. Our ultimate command is not to be good, it is to be loving. What do you think of this and how does that shape moral behavior?