The Simpsons as Philosophy? Easy to say when your philosophy stinks.

Philosophy Philosophy of Religion

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According to Juilan Baggini, the cartoon show The Simpsons wrestles with serious philosophy, and does it well. What?

No, it’s true, apparently. Here’s an example:

We now know we’re just a bunch of naked apes trying to get on as best we can, usually messing things up, but somehow finding life can be sweet all the same. All delusions of a significance that we do not really have need to be stripped away, and nothing can do this better that the great deflater: comedy.

The Simpsons does this brilliantly, especially when it comes to religion. It’s not that the Simpsons is atheist propaganda; its main target is not belief in God or the supernatural, but the arrogance of particular organised religions that they, amazingly, know the will of the creator.

For example, in the episode Homer the Heretic, Homer gives up church and decides to follow God in his own way: by watching the TV, slobbing about and dancing in his underpants.

Throughout the episode he justifies himself in a number of ways.

  • “What’s the big deal about going to some building every Sunday, I mean, isn’t God everywhere?”
  • “Don’t you think the almighty has better things to worry about than where one little guy spends one measly hour of his week?”
  • “And what if we’ve picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder?”

Homer’s protests do not merely allude to much subtler arguments that proper philosophers make. The basic points really are that simple, which is why they can be stated simply.

Of course, there is more that can and should be said about them, but when we make decisions about whether or not to follow one particular religion, the reasons that really matter to us are closer to the simple truths of the Simpsons than the complex mental machinations of academic philosophers of religion.

I guess this explains why Baggini thinks The Simpsons is good philosophy. It takes the kind of prejudices he happens to hold, namely the prejudice against religious faith, and states them in a way that he likes, even though no philosopher of religion or theologian would ever utter them with the hope of feeling any sense of intellectual satisfaction.

In other words – this is crap philosophy, but since real philosophers don’t say the things I want them to, I’m going to say that this crap philosophy is good philosophy. Search around until some fat yellow cartoon bozo says what you’re thinking, and it’s good philosophy. It’s a bit like the guy who says “dude, my drunk neighbour who always rants about politics is actually brilliant. Send all them illegals back, put up border fences a mile high and string up all them non-patriots! He says what the political scientists are afraid to say!”

Yeah…. there may be a reason they’re not saying it.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Tuckster June 25, 2006, 2:27 pm

    Well, the thing is, Glenn, that the first sentence in your last paragraph is correct. People buy these arguments because they *want* to. This is why, with many, many people, *good* philosophical arguments don’t work. I know that can be frustrating when you’ve spent your academic career learning philosophy, but it’s true.

    I used to get frustrated when, as a new Christian, I’d bring good apologetic arguments to my group’s bible study meeting or whatever, and nobody was that interested in them. It’s just the way it goes, I guess.

  • tony c. February 15, 2012, 10:05 pm

    Real philosophers? I hope you mean non-cartoon rather than some ill defined standard of authenticity or seriousness.

    Also I wonder why you just dismiss Homers comments as prejudiced. How are they not legitimate opinions almost entirely a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam (forgive spelling, working off memory).

    Or to rephrase it as; choose no unnecessary burden, avoid argument, make no distinction between sacred and mundane. You’r looking at daoism less the metaphysics. that’s the book of Chung. Tzu almost.

  • Chris February 15, 2012, 10:49 pm

    “I hope you mean non-cartoon” Yes, or those widely regarded as experts in their field (in this case philosophy of religion focusing on the Christian faith). Homer Simpson is neither of those things, as it turns out.

  • tony c. February 16, 2012, 2:15 am

    I wonder though how many philosophers of religion enjoy Mat Groenigs work, especially his LIFE IN HELL series, precisely for its lack of pretention.

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