NBC sitcom creator speaks at Notre Dame, makes connections to philosophy coursework
Matt Fleming | Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Writer, producer and actor Mike Schur spoke in Washington Hall on Monday as part of a lecture discussing the role television plays in a society’s morality.
Schur created or worked on a wide variety of popular shows, including “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” and “The Good Place.” He was invited by Paul Blaschko, who teaches the philosophy course “God and The Good Life” at Notre Dame.
Blaschko said Schur’s shows are often “deeply philosophical.”
“‘The Good Place’ is an obvious example of this,” he said. “It’s a show about a moral philosophy professor guiding others through a journey of moral growth in the afterlife. But the other shows [‘The Office’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’] can be very philosophical, too. Indeed, the best television — especially comedy — almost always is.”
Blaschko said he believes the lecture will help his students to relate what they have been learning in class to real and contemporary concerns.
“‘God and the Good Life’ takes on big philosophical questions each day,” he said. “We’re just finishing our unit on morality and the good life, and Mike’s talks will help students apply these issues, and the moral theories we’ve been talking about, to practical questions. How should you watch television? Can we do philosophy while making good entertainment? Is there a way of approaching big philosophical questions through a career in entertainment?”
Laura Callahan, assistant professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, said “The Good Place” helped to bring “philosophical theories to life for an extraordinarily wide audience.”
“This is also one of the central ambitions of ‘God and the Good Life’ — making philosophical theories and questions feel relevant to students’ lives, making philosophy have an impact,” she said. “We’re beyond thrilled that this extraordinarily talented person is coming to share that energy and perspective with our students.”
Sullivan said in addition to being “totally hilarious,” Schur’s shows have several parallels to the curriculum of the “God and the Good Life” course.
“We invited him to speak to the philosophy students because his shows raise many of the same questions we wrestle with in our ‘God and the Good Life’ course — how do we become better people? What do we owe each other? What does it mean to have faith … in God, in your friends, in your fellow citizens?”
Sullivan said she hopes her students walk away with three major ideas.
“First, it’s a key part of virtue ethics that we should feel joy at pursuing the good life,” she said. “I want them to give some thought to how and why morality can also be quite funny. Second, I want them to see a writer and producer who is arguably at the top of his craft and who simply could not do this incredible work without curiosity about philosophy. Third, we hope to keep the conversation going for the rest of the year in class about what exactly we need to do to make sure we don’t end up as medium people … [and] we end up as good people.”