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The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy: Hogwarts for Muggles


Author: William Irwin and Gregory Bassham

Publisher: Wiley


Publish Date: September 14, 2010

ISBN-10: 470398256

Pages: 304

File Type: Epub

Language: English

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Book Preface

Harry Potter and the Enchantment of Philosophy
Let’s play a little word-association game. What comes to mind when you hear the word philosophy? Deep. Dense. Complex. In short, heavy stuff, right?
So, what’s the connection between philosophy and the Potter books and films? How can there be any real philosophy—or any good philosophy—in fantasy works aimed primarily at kids? Easy!
Philosophy, as Plato said, begins in wonder. And kids wonder about everything. They’re naturally curious, questioning, and eager to learn. Often they understand a lot more than adults give them credit for.
That’s why J. K. Rowling—like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and other great children’s writers—doesn’t hesitate to raise complex issues and pose challenging questions. Of course, Rowling realizes that most of her readers won’t grasp all of the subtleties and complexities of the issues she raises. But she also knows that young readers—like Fang gnawing on a large, meaty dragon bone—can get a great deal of nourishment from foods they can’t completely digest.
This book is for Rowling fans who want to explore some of the deeper issues posed in the Potter books and films. What is love? Is it, as Rowling says, the most powerful magic of all? Is there an afterlife? If so, what might it be like? Is death something to be feared—or “mastered,” as Harry ultimately was able to do? Do people have souls? If so, how are they related to their bodies? Can souls, if they exist, be divided, as Voldemort fragmented his by means of the Horcruxes? What can shape-shifters like Animagi and boggarts teach us about personal identity and the self? Does power inevitably corrupt? Is Hogwarts a model school, or are there real shortcomings with the education students receive there? Is it true, as Albus Dumbledore says, that our choices reveal far more about us than our abilities do? What can the complex and intriguing character of Severus Snape teach us about moral conflict, character judgment, and the possibility of redemption? Would it ever be ethical to use a love potion? Is it true, as Kingsley Shacklebolt proclaims, that “[e]very human life is worth the same”? Is it true, as Dumbledore says, that something can be real even if it exists only inside a person’s head?
This is a book written for Potter fans by Potter fans, most of whom happen to be professional philosophers in their nine-to-five lives. Like other volumes in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series, it uses popular culture—in this case, the Potter books and films—as a hook to teach and popularize the ideas of the great thinkers. Some of the chapters explore the philosophy of the Potter books—the basic values and the big-picture assumptions that underlie the series—while others use themes from the books as a way to discuss various philosophical ideas and perspectives. Like others involved in the popular culture and philosophy movement, our hope is to bring philosophy out of the ivied halls of academia and make its methods, resources, and critical spirit available to all.
Several of the philosophers who contributed to this book also contributed to Harry Potter and Philosophy (Chicago: Open Court, 2004; coedited by David Baggett and Shawn E. Klein). In some ways, this book is a follow-up to that earlier volume. The earlier book covered only the first five volumes in the Potter series. Some of it, therefore, was guesswork, because many of the important revelations and plot developments occur only in the last two books of the series. This volume covers the entire seven-book saga and focuses particularly on developments in the climactic final two books.
So, the wait is over. The faculty has assembled for one last time; the Great Hall, ablaze with light, is buzzing with excitement, and the long wooden tables groan with delectable things to eat. Once more, it’s time to don your robes, take a generous nip of Baruffio’s Brain Elixir, and prepare for a philosophical feast. It’s going to be a great year.

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