Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Harry Potter and Philosophy

Many years ago (somewhere around the Cretaceous) when I was still earning my bachelor's degree I took a philosophy class. It was just one of those required fields of study, and I chose the business ethics class (which was required anyway but also met the philosophy requirement). We had a teacher who acted cool and insisted we call him "Joe." On the first day he passed out the syllabus and there was nothing about business or ethics. Instead, we would be discussing philosophical things like gun control, euthanasia, abortion... in other words, controversial stuff.

But what I remember most was his confident prediction that by the end of the semester many of us would question our religious beliefs. Yeah, that's what he said. I'm not sure why he thought he would be so persuasive that he'd make students doubt their convictions. And I don't think anyone had a crisis of faith over the class, but the school did not ask him back for another semester (I wonder if the teacher evaluations we filled out had anything to do with that?).

The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy: Hogwarts for Muggles (The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series)So, although I think and wonder about many things, I've never been much of a fan of Philosophy. But when you mix it in with Harry Potter it might be interesting enough to have a look, right? The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy: Hogwarts for Muggles is part of the Blackwell series of pop culture and philosophy. It's a series of essays written by different philosophical people that explore the ideas and themes of the books and how it relates to philosophical concepts. It might be fun... or at least interesting... right?

Unfortunately, things didn't start off well. Chapter 1 talks about the nature of the soul (bor-ing!, besides, I've got my own religious thoughts on that). Chapter 2 got worse by asking "is Sirius Black a man or a dog?" (who cares?). Chapter 3: destiny and prophecy (are you kidding me?). I was ready to quit, but then things got better. Chapter 4 talked about how powerful "love" is and how it relates to Severus Snape - and it was actually... interesting!

On the whole, the book is certainly uneven - a consequence of each chapter being written by different persons on different topics. I found some chapters interesting: love potions, patriotism, choices vs. abilities, memories, etc... and I skipped those that didn't catch my interest right away. And that was what I was looking for: short discussions with an intellectual viewpoint. Also, the level of content from the books varied - more connection was better, but some only used the books to illustrate points and ideas (which was boring). And I was surprised that none of the writers seemed to bash religion; some even quoted religious thinkers. It's probably not for everyone, but I thought it was kind of fun to read the thoughts of other HP fans. (If you look for it, be sure to get this one which goes through book 7. Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts was only written through book 5.)

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