Groundhog Day is a 1993 comedy classic that chronicles an egotistical weatherman whom, after covering an annual Groundhog Day event, gets stuck in a time loop where he repeats the same day over and over again. The protagonist, Phil Connors, with this new-found experience, transitions from hedonism to nihilism to suicide and eventually to a utilitarian, saving the lives of those in the city and taking actions that benefit the community as a whole.
The definition of philosophy is often simplified into the somewhat cliché phrase of ‘thinking about thinking’ (https://www.philosophybasics.com/general_whatis.html). In a strict sense, a dictionary meaning of philosophy looks at the study of knowledge (https://www.philosophybasics.com/general_whatis.html). To me personally however, and from what I’ve learnt in this course, philosophy is simply a reflection of the base levels of human experience. It takes universal aspects of humanity, whether that be death or morals, and rigorously analyses them, building and testing hypothesis for what the optimal approaches are. For example, Mill’s work, Utilitarianism provides a framework for evaluating the morality of actions through his greatest happiness principle (Mill 2). It looks at what the usual consequences of an action are and judges the morality of an action based on the consequence that would produce the greatest amount of happiness, measured in terms of pleasure and reduction of pain (Mill 2). However, per my definition, these perspectives are in the end, hypothesis and approaches that are up for debate as well as for counterarguments. For example, Kant also provides a framework for evaluating the morality of actions through his categorical imperatives (Kant 6). However, contrastingly, Kant evaluates from the intent or will behind the action rather than the consequence (Kant 1). Also, rather than approaching morality from the perspective of maximizing happiness, he instead looks at whether the intentions behind an action are universal; this is the first formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative (Kant 6). It is the open-ended nature of philosophical perspectives that ultimately reflect its oxymoronic nature. They are universal aspects of humanity that have contrastive views and opinions.
Groundhog Day is an effective philosophical piece as it investigates how an individual would respond to a change in the base level of human experience. In removing death, consequence and the relentless forward moving nature of time, the protagonist is exposed to a novel experience of humanity and we are able to see how he responds and develops to this. In doing so, Groundhog Day provides commentary as to how an individual should approach life. Under the definition provided above, it is, in a sense, an experiment of various philosophical hypothesis.
We see initially, the protagonist, Phil, respond to the situation of repeating the same day with complete hedonism; stealing money, manipulating women to have sex with him and binging on food and cigarettes. However, this approach soon proves unsustainable, as Phil grows increasingly nihilistic and suicidal, walking in front of buses and electrocuting himself in vain as he inevitably wakes up the next morning on the same day, repeating the cycle. The film invites a philosophical analysis of why this selfish approach does not bring the protagonist happiness. One perspective is that Phil was looking only to vain, baseless desires such as greed and sex, which are insatiable by nature and do not bring true, long term happiness. This perspective would be in line with Epicurean beliefs which propone that although the ultimate aim in life should be to maximize pleasure (Cicero 1); that these pleasures should come only from necessary desires (Cicero 4). Necessary desires are those that bring pain if not fulfilled, such as friendship, food and rest (Epicurus 3). Another perspective that the film invites is that Phil does not find happiness because it is incongruent with his moral sensibilities. He is using everyone as mere means to an end, being his own pleasure, rather than treating people as ends in themselves. This perspective is in line with the second formulation of the categorical imperative of Kant, whom propones to never use people as a mere means to an end, but only as ends in of themselves (Kant 9). It is only after Phil is continuously rejected by Rita, Phil’s love interest, after spending countless days understanding what she does and doesn’t like to try and manipulate her for sex, that Phil spirals into depression. The film conveys that Phil is upset because he begins to realize that using people is not only morally apprehensible but also that he is unable to find happiness as result of this.
The turning point of the film centers around the character change in Phil, whom begins to find joy again in his unique situation by helping others in the community rather than selfishly focusing on himself. Phil uses his ability to exactly predict events to feed the homeless and save the lives of those in precarious positions throughout the day. Phil is portrayed as an individual whom is happier and loved by those in his community. He is also successful now in courting his love interest, Rita. Philosophically, the film presents a perspective similar to that of Mill’s greatest happiness principle. Ultimately the film conveys that, given the situations and the tools at our disposal, one should aim to maximize the happiness of those around us (Mill 2). This is similar to Mill’s perspective in that it takes a utilitarian approach to the way in which we should approach life. However, it diverts in that Mill takes this from a moral standpoint whereas the film approaches the utilitarian approach from an individual’s happiness. That is, rather than maximizing the pleasure of those around us because one should be morally obligated to do so, the film portrays that one should do so because it will make the individual himself, happiest.
In summation, Groundhog Day is a philosophical work because it takes a unique, fantasy situation in order to explore human behaviour and what will bring one happiness. Whilst it has similarities to the philosophical pieces studied in this course, it also provides contrasting, unique perspectives to the optimal ways to approach life. This ultimately, is what philosophy means to me. It presents unique perspectives toward how one should approach various aspects of life that are universal in nature.
One way in which I engage in philosophical activity outside of class is when choosing what career to pursue. Following my own definition of philosophy, I take a universal aspect to modern humanity in choosing a career and I worked through multiple potential optimal approaches in doing so. These included: what career would make the most money; which would provide the greatest work and life balance and what would be most aligned with my interest. I would then analyse, what in my personal opinion would be most important and based my field of study for my career off of this. Like philosophy in general however, I do not expect for this to be concrete. I expect for my perspectives on what I value to change over time through my own personal experiences as well as through interacting with people with contrasting perspectives. What I hope in the end, is that my perspective on this issue will contain enough nuance and context that it will be in of itself, a unique hypothesis as to how to choose a career. In doing so, this would, in essence, capture my definition of philosophy.