Chapter 11 – Not All Good Actions Count

Chapter 11 is focusing on Eleanor trying to earn her way into The Good Place by raising her point total.  Sean, the judge of disputes between The Good Place and The Bad Place will soon arrive to decide Eleanor’s fate.  While your official number stops at death, Tahani suggests they factor in her actions after death as a way to convince Sean that Eleanor deserves to stay.  The neighborhood’s average total is 1,221,821 points, and Eleanor stands at -4008 based on her actions on Earth.  Eleanor sets out to earn enough point to stay.  No matter what she does, her point total barely raises.  This is because her actions lack moral worth.

In Chapter 1, we are presented with a straight utilitarian account.  People earn their way into The Good Place or The Bad Place by the consequences of their actions.  Each action has a positive or negative point total.  However, in Chapter 11, the goal posts are moved.  In order to gain points, one’s action must have moral worth.  There is a distinction at play between moral worth and moral action.  Moral action is simply an action to conforms to the requirements of morality.  Moral worth, on the other hand, is whether a person should be praised or blamed for performing the action.  In the case of the afterlife, it is whether her action deserves points.

Traditionally, in order for an action to have moral worth, one must do the right action for the right reasons.  Of course, as you learn from watching the show, knowing what the right actions are is difficult.  Additionally, in the world of philosophy there is a dispute over what motivations count morally.  Immanuel Kant, for example, says that the only motivation that counts is the motivation to do one’s duty.  For Kant, saving a person out of compassion does not count.  However, saving a person’s life because one realizes that it is one’s moral duty to do so does count.

The Good Place seems to hold that unselfish actions count while selfish actions do not.  Eleanor tried to improve her point total by apologizing to the rest of the neighborhood.  However, this did not raise her point total.  The reason why, is that her motivation for apologizing was selfish.  On the other hand, we she decided to leave the neighborhood her point total climbed to 1,362,322.  Once she stopped acting out of self-interest and instead out of concern for others, then she earned points.  As Eleanor herself puts it, in order to be here she must be a good person, but she cannot become a good person unless she leaves.  Her action of self-sacrificing herself is what presumably earns her the points.

This view is a rejection of the straight utilitarianism presented in Chapter 1.  It is only the consequences that count for utilitarianism.  Thus, it does not matter why a person does something that produces positive consequences, just that their actions do produce positive consequences.  The importance of this change is moving us towards evaluating the worth of a person based on their actions and instead, the worth of a person as a person.  This is done by factoring in the motivations of the person as well as the action.