Looking for new ways to teach the intellectual capital of humanity to its students, Glasgow University is offering a philosophy course based on the character of Homer Simpson from the legendary animated series The Simpsons.
The course, entitled “D’oh! The Simpsons Introduce Philosophy,” is described this way in course materials:
“The Simpsons is one of the modern world’s greatest cultural artefacts, partly because it is so full of philosophy. Aristotle, Kant, Marx, Camus, and many other great thinkers’ ideas are represented in what is arguably the purest of philosophical forms – the comic cartoon. This day-school will explore philosophy’s most inspiring ideas as presented in Matt Groening’s monument to the absurdities of human existence. Come along for a day of learning and explore some of philosophy’s most inspiring ideas as presented in The Simpsons."
The Simpsons is a true American institution. It was created by Matt Groening in 1987, initially as part of The Tracey Ullman Show. After its broadcast debut in 1989 in a half-hour format for Fox, the show has had 603 episodes air, making it the longest-running American sitcom, the longest-running American animated program, and the longest-running American scripted primetime series. The beloved show received countless awards, like 31 Primetime Emmys, and The Simpsons Movie, the feature-length film based on the series, grossed a sizable $527 million when it released in 2007.
The show features a satirical take on the life of a working-class family living in the fictional town of Springfield. The family of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie has parodied American life but also had Homer pontificate about deeper questions in his peculiar fashion. This feature of the show harkens back to the interests of its creator. In his 1991 interview with Jay Leno, Matt Groening said that when he was getting started on his career, he “studied philosophy and doodled so I had to be a cartoonist.”
If you are wondering, how specifically a philosophy course based on a satirical cartoon can function, The New Statesman compared some of Homer’s lines to famous philosophical statements:
- “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is never try.” (Homer Simpson)
- “All human actions are equivalent and all are on principle doomed to failure.” (Sartre)
- “It takes two to lie: one to lie and one to listen.” (Homer Simpson)
- “Man permits himself to be lied to […] men do not flee from being deceived as much as from being damaged by deception.” (Nietzsche)
- “How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?” (Homer Simpson)
- “To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.” (Socrates)
It’s not the first time The Simpsons was looked at as a philosophical text worth exploring. The British philosopher Julian Baggini wrote an essay in 2006, where he analyzed the show as philosophy, highlighting, for example, how Homer talks about religious institutions in the episode “Homer the Heretic”:
- "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?"
Baggini also went on to describe the show as “an Anglo-Saxon comedic take on the existentialism which in France takes on a tragic hue.” He also called the show “the most insightful and philosophical cultural product of our time,” praising its creator, Matt Groening, as “the true heir of Plato, Aristotle and Kant.”
The Simpsons has also been in the news recently for predicting the election of Donald Trump all the way back in a year 2000 episode: