Chapter 26 – Is Being Good its own Reward?

At the end of season 2, the Judge says that the fact that our humans continued to improve after death does not count because they could be doing it out of self-interest.  People should do good because it is good and not for a reward or to avoid punishment.  Michael argues that if they had just gotten a push in the right direction on Earth, they would have become good people while still alive.  Thus, history is altered with Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani not dying.

After her now near death experience, Eleanor seeks to be a good person.  She quits her job, tells the truth even when there are bad consequences, and has employment at a job where she is trying to save the planet.  However, she gives up on being a good person.  The reason why is that she is not rewarded for good actions.

Thus, The Good Place presents us with two possibilities.  We either perform moral actions because they are moral or we do moral actions because of a reward.  However, why can’t they be both true?  Why can’t we do moral actions because they are good and also be rewarded for them?  It is very difficult for someone to do good if one does not have an incentive to keep doing the good.

Aristotle has another option.  Aristotle is concerned with how can humans live a happy life.  Part of a happy life is being morally virtuous.  However, Aristotle makes a distinction between virtuous action and having a virtue.  Having a virtue requires doing the right action for the right reason.  However, this needs to be accompanied by the appropriate emotion.  For example, generosity is a virtue.  To have the virtue of generosity, one must donate money appropriately and for the right reason.  If one has the virtue of generosity, then one will feel pleasure at being generous.   If you do not feel pleasure at being generous, then you lack the virtue of generosity.  One simply performed a generous action.

The problem for Eleanor is that she was expecting an external reward for her good actions.  A truly moral person will do good actions because they are good and derive emotional pleasure from doing so.  While Eleanor says doing good felt OK, it was not enough.  This would indicate that while she is developing the virtue, she is not there yet.  Part of proper moral development is developing the emotions so that when she acts virtuously she will feel good.  At least this is if Aristotle is correct.

My prediction for Season 3 is that The Good Place will continue to go in the direction of virtue ethics as the correct account of ethics as well-being and away from consequentialism and deontology.