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ISBN 978-0-8126-9764-3


x + 242 pages

Spring 2012

Breaking Bad and Philosophy

Badder Living Through Chemistry

Edited by David R. Koepsell and Robert Arp
Volume 67 in the Popular Culture and Philosophy® series

“Whether a pusher of the show, a recreational user, or someone who tweaks during the hiatus, every fan of Breaking Bad will get satisfaction from this thoughtful discussion of the philosophical implications of the most dangerous and compelling of all TV shows.”

—Paul Booth, author of Time on TV and Digital Fandom

“More scrumptious than the chicken from Los Pollos Hermanos, more mind-tripping than Blue Sky crystal, Breaking Bad and Philosophy is the ultimate score for addicts of this amazing TV series.”

—Matthew Brophy, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, High Point University

“Koepsell and Arp know just how to cook it: a little metaphysics, add some explosive ethics, cut it with a dose of heavy existentialism—Breaking Bad and Philosophy is a real blast for any thoughtful fan of the show.”

—Wayne Yuen, editor of The Walking Dead and Philosophy

“There’s a lot more here than chemistry! What responsibilities, beyond building the Death Star, does an outlaw have? Do social constraints prevent us from being our authentic selves? What exactly are our “meth-ical” obligations to our families and communities? Breaking Bad and Philosophy reveals just what it means to live at the speed of White.”

— Joseph J. Foy, editor of Homer Simpson Goes to Washington

“How bad can you get? Whether you’re trying to decide if drug use is morally permissible or how you should look at your own death in terms of your life, fans of Breaking Bad will be blown away by this questioning of morality, mortality, and motivation.”

— Ronda Levine, consulting philosopher in private practice

“In Breaking Bad, X-files alumnus Vince Gilligan created a Kafkaesque morality play for the twenty-first century. Breaking Bad and Philosophy explores the ethical and philosophical dimensions of one of the best-written and most innovative shows in the history of television.”

— Paul A. Cantor, author of The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs Authority in American Film and TV

“The editors of Breaking Bad and Philosophy have done an absolutely brilliant job at bringing together wisdom and wit in this fabulous book where philosophy meets popular culture.”

— Charles Taliaferro, co-author of A Brief History of the Soul

David A. Koepsell is Associate Professor of Philosophy, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, and author of numerous books, including Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes (2009) and Science and Ethics (2007).

 Robert Arp is co-author of What’s Good on TV: Understanding Ethics through Television (2011) and author of Scenario Visualization: An Evolutionary Account of Creative Problem Solving (2008).


Breaking Bad, hailed by Stephen King, Chuck Klosterman, and many others as the best of all TV dramas, tells the story of a man whose life changes because of the medical death sentence of an advanced cancer diagnosis. The show depicts his metamorphosis from inoffensive chemistry teacher to feared drug lord and remorseless killer. Driven at first by the desire to save his family from destitution, he risks losing his family altogether because of his new life of crime.

In defiance of the tradition that viewers demand a TV character who never changes, Breaking Bad is all about the process of change, with each scene carrying forward the morphing of Walter White into the terrible Heisenberg.

Can a person be transformed as the result of a few key life choices? Does everyone have the potential to be a ruthless criminal? How will we respond to the knowledge that we will be dead in six months? Is human life subject to laws as remorseless as chemical equations? When does injustice validate brutal retaliation? Why are drug addicts unsuitable for operating the illegal drug business? How can TV viewers remain loyal to a series where the hero becomes the villain? Does Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty rule our destinies?

In Breaking Bad and Philosophy, a hand-picked squad of professional thinkers investigate the crimes of Walter White, showing how this story relates to the major themes of philosophy and the major life decisions facing all of us.

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