In his recent book, “Seinfeld and Philosophy,” Dr. William Irwin cleverly pieces together a collection of articles showing the similarities between the sitcom “Seinfeld” and philosophy. This impressive volume sets forth a new way of looking at this all around funny show; it is not only amusing but also informative. Both the advanced philosopher as well as the serious “Seinfeld.”
A section is devoted to reconsidering the traditional interpretations of the main characters. It pairs up each character with a philosophy and shows how the philosophy fits the character’s life. At first glance the connection may not appear clear, but after careful reading you’ll see the similarities.
The most popular character, Jerry, is compared to the most popular philosopher, Socrates. Socrates’ most memorable quote, “…the unexamined life isn’t worth living,” can be seen as an incredible insight into Jerry’s world. The pair sees life as something that should be fully analyzed. However, one can see that Jerry and Socrates have different analogies on what life encompasses. Jerry analyzes the world around him by nit-picking his surroundings and always taking the pessimistic view of things, while Socrates chooses to find the good in things and help others find it too. You can say Socrates was an optimistic Jerry, long before being Jerry was fashionable. In the end Socrates as well as Jerry were sentenced and condemned – Socrates to death and Jerry to prison. Even at his deathbed we see how admirably Socrates lived. However, at the end of the series, we know Jerry lived in any way but admirably.
Jerry’s friends each have philosophical connections also. George is analyzed with an Aristotelian view on his failed quest for happiness. He once decided to do the opposite of everything his instincts normally tell him to, and soon things start to work out for him. However, this isn’t a result of reason being found in his life, but a temporary spout of good luck. It’s then questioned whether Elaine is a feminist and we later realize that indeed she is not, but is certainly affected by a feminist view of the powerful woman. She’s clearly the most independent of the group, never relying on a man for financial or emotional support. Then we have the funnyman of the show, Kramer. Kramer is portrayed here as being stuck in Kierkegaard’s aesthetic stage of life. He seeks only to gratify his immediate urges, which can only lead to despair.
The main philosophy the show itself represents is the idea that you could get something from nothing. We all know “Seinfeld” is a show about nothing. But, is nothing actually something? Parmenides once said since nothing does not exist, nothing significant could be said about it. However, other philosophers felt that there is something within nothing as the creators of “Seinfeld” suggest. In one episode we find Jerry and George proposing a show about nothing to the executives of NBC. They think this idea will never work, which is simply another irony found in a show having lasted nine seasons as a show about nothing.
Ethics is another issue on the show, oddly enough. How many times have we seen these characters discuss what the right things to do is in any given situation? This happened on every episode. However, their ethical ideals are far different from most, if not all major philosophers. Then again, I’m sure most of ours are also.
Typically, people call “Seinfeld” “the show about nothing.” Many ever propose it’s a show that means nothing; however, it’s proven quite well by this book that “Seinfeld” demonstrates something completely the opposite of that. “Seinfeld” isn’t about nothing at all. It’s about everything!