Michael Schur shares tips for moral perfection in Brendle Recital Hall

Michael Schur spoke about his new book, “How to be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question”


Sophie Guymon

Ann Phelps (left) speaks with “The Good Place” creator Michael Schur in Brendle Recital Hall.

Will Zimmerman, Senior Writer

It’s not often that Hollywood comes to Wake Forest, and even less so that it comes in the form of a discussion about the philosophy of morality and ethics. Michael Schur — creator of “The Good Place” and author of “How to be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Questionis the exception. 

On the evening of Monday, Oct. 17, Wake Forest students, professors and faculty filed into Brendle Recital Hall to hear Schur in “How To Be Perfect”. The event, hosted by the Program for Leadership and Character and moderated by the program’s Director of Programming Ann Phelps, featured the former writer of “The Office” and co-creator of “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn 99” discussing, among other topics, the widely debated topic of what it means to be a “good” person. 

“At the least you would say these ideas are subjective, and at the most, that they are subjects of intense, furious debate,” Schur said in a conversation prior to Monday night’s event. “These philosophers espousing different schools of thought — oftentimes they hated each other, they thought that the person espousing the other school of thought was a fool, a moron.”

From the get-go, Schur knew he didn’t want “The Good Place” to feel like a lecture that took one specific side. 

“If we did it properly, it wouldn’t feel like homework…it would feel like a bunch of funny people debating about a bunch of complicated ideas in a funny and entertaining way,” he said. “The benefit of [having these conversations comedically] is that people pay attention.”

A comedic approach to poignant moral dilemmas succeeded through the show’s four seasons on NBC. This success prompted Schur to utilize this tactic both within his new book and throughout Monday night’s conversation. Wake Forest philosophy professor Dr. Christian Miller described how Schur humor allowed him to connect with his audience. 

“In ‘The Good Place’ and with his talk, Schur has succeeded in translating difficult concepts for a general audience in a fun, interesting and entertaining way,” Miller said. “He could have taught the ethical theory course I’m teaching right now.” 

Schur’s book can be purchased from both the university store and major booksellers. While discussing the moral dilemmas that are prominent in Schur’s book, Miller compared the accessibility of the recent release to texts from prominent philosophers. 

“The study of ethics in philosophy is often abstract and technical,” Miller said. “Writers like Aristotle and Kant have really deep and profound things to say, but frankly, they are inaccessible to most readers.”

And while it’s too early to say with certainty that Wake Forest will become a collective of better, more upstanding citizens as a result of the event, as of now, all signs point to yes. As I emerged through the auditorium doors, I watched as a fistfight practically broke out — a sign promoting the event had been toppled by the wind, and a dozen students all seemed to feel an ethical obligation, at the same time, to be the one to return the sign to its proper upright position. 

 A recording of Monday’s event can be found on The Program for Leadership and Character’s YouTube page.