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16 November 2016

Why a Homer Simpson philosophy course isn’t as strange as it sounds

A The Simpsons course at Glasgow University, “D'oh! The Simpsons Introduce Philosophy”, actually makes a lot of sense.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

It seems every now and then the public are shocked and surprised by academic courses on popular culture. Be it a Tupac class at Berkeley, a Harry Potter module at Durham, a “Kimposium” on Ms. Kardashian West, or a Beyoncé course at the University of Texas, the idea that mainstream culture might be worthy of academic analysis always seems newsworthy.

The latest is a The Simpsons course at Glasgow University: “D’oh! The Simpsons Introduce Philosophy”. Course tutor Dr John Donaldson writes that “The Simpsons is one of the modern world’s greatest cultural artefacts partly because it is so full of philosophy.”

He adds, “Aristotle, Kant, Marx, Camus, and many other great thinkers’ ideas are represented in what is arguably the purest of philosophical forms: the comic cartoon.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that there is something to be gained in a philosophical study of one of the most popular TV shows of our time – and not just because creator Matt Groening was himself a philosophy student. Mainstream culture reflects – and shapes – the most prominent narratives and norms of mainstream society, and as such is fertile ground for analysis.

But if you need more persuading – here are seven Homer Simpson lines with analogues in quotes from some of the most well-known thinkers in history.

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 “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

“Kids are the best, Apu. You can teach them to hate the things you hate.” – Homer Simpson
“No one is born hating another person […] People must learn to hate.” – Nelson Mandela

“Life is just one crushing defeat after another until you just wish Flanders was dead!”- Homer Simpson
“Since all life is futility, then the decision to exist must be the most irrational of all.” – Emile M. Cioran

 “What’s the point of going out? We’re just gonna wind up back here anyway…” – Homer Simpson
“The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started.” – T S Eliot

 “Cheating is the gift man gives himself.” – Homer Simpson
“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.” – Machiavelli

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