The Simpsons and Philosophy course at the University of California, Berkeley was founded in 2003, and since then has been offered to thousands of students over the years. The purpose of the course is to offer students an introductory look into philosophy, provided in a uniquely fun and engaging way through The Simpsons. During the course of the semester, students could expect to read Plato, Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and other major figures of western philosophy. The class is fun, but intellectually challenging – as one would expect any course at UC Berkeley to be.
The Simpsons can be a way for students new to philosophy to find it more relevant — yet the reason for The Simpsons and Philosophy class says as much about the nature of philosophy itself as it does about The Simpsons. As Julian Baggini puts it very well: “why cartoons are the best form in which to do philosophy is that they are non-realistic in the same way that philosophy is. Philosophy needs to be real in the sense that it has to make sense of the world as it is, not as we imagine or want it to be.”
Along the way, the course has drawn a surprising amount of popular attention, often cited as an example of the ways in which The Simpsons has become construed as a cultural phenomenon beyond the ordinary bounds of simply a popular long-running television show. The class seems to appear with some frequency on lists for “coolest/most bizarre/college classes we wish we’d taken” — a testament of sorts to Berkeley’s proud tradition of academic freedom and intellectual creativity.
The Simpsons class has welcomed a number of visiting lecturers during its history, including distinguished Berkeley faculty members as well as an annual tradition of inviting directors from the show to visit the course at the Berkeley campus. Past lectures have featured visits from longtime Simpsons director David Silverman; as well as directors Edwin Aguilar and Raymond Persi.