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Michael Schur, creator of ‘The Good Place,’ discusses new philosophy book at WBUR CitySpace

Michael Schur, co-creator of “Parks and Recreation” and creator of “The Good Place,” can now add author to his long list of achievements, with the release of his book “How To Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question.”

Michael schur event
Michael Schur, creator of “The Good Place,” speaks with Lydia Moland at a WBUR CitySpace event. CitySpace hosted Schur April 4 to discuss the release of his book, “How to be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question.” CLARE ONG/DFP STAFF

On Monday, WBUR CitySpace hosted Schur and Lydia Moland, a professor of philosophy at Colby College and graduate of Boston University, for a live event and book signing. The two conversed about Schur’s new book and personal philosophies to navigate everyday ethical dilemmas.

“How To Be Perfect” is about how to live an ethical life based on thousands of years of philosophical thinking with an added humorous touch to it.

Schur’s inspiration for the book came when he found himself on a “weird bridge between the world of TV comedy writing and the world of philosophy” while working on “The Good Place.”

“The ideas and concepts and philosophies that the world’s smartest people have spent three thousand years working through and writing down could be of great use to more people if their writing wasn’t so boring,” Schur said.

In an interview at WBUR, Moland described Schur’s process in preparation for the book as an exercise in “fierce humility” and emphasized several important themes throughout the book.

“One of them is the emphasis that he puts on the luck that most of us have experienced that has gotten us to where we are today,” Moland said. “I think that’s a wonderful model for all of us to think about how much we owe to others in the successes that we also worked really hard for.”

Moland then spent a portion of the event asking Schur ethical questions submitted by the audience members.

“Someone who asked ‘should I stay in a profession that pays well and leads to a stable career or go into a more meaningful field that is harder, doesn’t pay as well, but will actually help people directly?’ ” Moland said.

Schur responded with an example of philosopher Peter Singer’s concept of effective altruism.

“The question maybe has a couple vectors,” Schur said. “One of them is if your only goal is to help people, you need to figure out like which version of helping people you want to go after.”

Other questions asked by Moland on behalf of the crowd were: “Is it moral to be a Dodgers fan if they have all the best players in baseball?” or “Every day I try to be nice, but people just drive me crazy because they are so stupid,” both of which were met with laughter from the audience.

Moland and Schur also discussed Schur’s latest show released on Peacock, “Rutherford Falls.” Schur said the show is about “showing Native people as just normal people,” in the face of stereotypes.

“The ethics portion of it is deep in the background, and what’s in the foreground is very specific contemporary issues facing Native communities,” Schur said.

Amy Macdonald, director of CitySpace, who organized the event with Schur and Moland, wrote in an email that she looks for programs that will “illuminate, entertain and educate.”

“After two years of virtual events, it is exciting to be back in person with events,” Macdonald wrote. “There is nothing like seeing interesting people in conversation live on stage. You have to be there.”

Audience member Fatima Shahzad said she attended the event as a writer hoping to find “inspiration.”

“I really enjoy somebody so accomplished delving into very relatable topics that build you up into thinking about bigger things in life,” Shahzad said.

Moland said she hopes the event shows the audience how to use philosophy to deal with the “really hard questions that we’re facing right now.”

“There are better and worse ways to think about moral dilemmas,” Moland said.“And just knowing how philosophers through history have grappled with those questions is really empowering because it can make you feel less helpless and less overwhelmed in the face of whatever moral dilemma you’re facing.”

She added that the book shows the value in “taking a more humorous approach to ourselves.”

“I think if we have more of a sense of humor about our own fallibility, it can make us more open to thinking broadly about what solutions there are,” Moland said.

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