Simpsons fans, rejoice: your binge-watching and decades of devotion to Springfield, USA now qualifies as higher learning—or at least it does in Scotland. The University of Glasgow announced yesterday a new course called “D'Oh! The Simpsons Introduce Philosophy.” The course is a primer on major philosophers and will focus on dissecting whether Homer Simpson should be considered a virtuous character.
This isn’t the first time a college has used The Simpsons as a lens through which student can study philosophy. In 2010, University of California, Berkeley offered a class called “Simpsons and Philosophy” and San Jose State offers a course called “Simpsons as Social Science.” In fact, British philosopher Julian Baggini once called Matt Groening, who we interviewed in 2007, the “true heir to Plato.”
The University of Glasgow’s class—which is only one day long, unfortunately—was designed to appeal to members of the public who are interested in learning about the basic tenements of philosophy.
The philosophies of Aristotle, Kant, Marx and Camus have all popped up in the long-running cartoon, which has been on the air since 1989 and aired its 600th episode last month. This course is most interested in examining whether or not Homer follows Aristotle’s model of the virtuous man. For the Greek philosophers, virtue was equivalent to excellence, and if a “rational soul” acted with virtue, according to Aristotle, he would achieve the “supreme good.” That’s already a lot of pressure to put on Homer from the start. But the virtuous man must also possess a moral character, and that’s where Homer gets in even bigger trouble.
On the one hand, Homer is indulgent and gluttonous (his addiction to donuts and beer is one of the most iconic aspects of his character), not to mention selfish and lazy, but as Dr. John Donaldson, a professor of philosophy at the University of Glasgow told the BBC, “He’s a character that’s hard not to like.” That’s putting it lightly: the show’s massive cult-like following includes a man who recreated Springfield in his office.
Homer, like the rest of us, is a complex figure: He embodies a suburban working-class father figure who is dedicated to his family but isn’t without his vices. It’s that combination of goofball lovability and bad behavior that almost anyone with a pulse can relate to and which makes him such an enduring figure. We see ourselves in Homer’s failures and can’t help but cheer him on when he achieves the smallest victories—even when that victory is his revelation that if he does a drunk dance on the street outside of Moe’s Tavern, passersby will give him money.
Students in the University of Glasgow class have plenty of philosophical Simpsons material to work with. For starters, in the episode “Dead Putting Society,” Lisa teaches Bart epistemology. In “Homer the Heretic,” Homer gives up on church and invents his own way of worshipping God.
These complex ruminations on the nature and purpose of life are peppered throughout the show; as a credit to its cleverness, the cartoon proves once again that it’s much deeper and more complicated than what meets the eye.