Harry Potter’s Magical Metaphysics

Hey everyone.  Just four more days before I leave Canada to start my Masters Program.  I’m pretty excited, and I expect to be posting more regularly once I’m back in an academic environment.

First I want to thank Grace for nominating me for the Liebster Award (http://ift.tt/ZM8yPl).  The Liebster Award is designed for bloggers to promote other bloggers with fewer than 1,000 followers to gain recognition for their amazing blog writing.  Unfortunately I cannot accept the reward because to accept it I have to nominate five other blogs, and I don’t actually read any other blogs.

Now that that’s out of the way, onward to today’s topic: Magic!

As I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fantasy fan.  My interest in philosophy and fantasy seldom meet.  Philosophy is often pretty barren in fantasy stories.  This is not the case universally, but when philosophy does make its way into the story, it is usually distinct from the fantasy element of the story.  Take the works of Abercrombie or George R.R. Martin.  I find both of these authors to write intellectually engaging stories.  However, it is not the magic that is interesting, rather it is the characters and their struggles.  Another of my favorite fantasy authors, Brandon Sanderson, makes aesthetically pleasing and original magic systems.  But there’s still little that is philosophically provoking about the magic systems.  They’re artistic in a mostly non-intellectual way.  I think that fantasy authors are often extremely inattentive to the metaphysics that their magic system implies.  I’m inclined to attribute this to lack of metaphysical reflection to two devils, the reuse of magical cliches and a reliance on intuitive metaphysics (and, maybe, the fact that most people aren’t looking for metaphysical reflection in their fantasy book and it would generally probably ruin the flow of the story).

I’m going to use Harry Potter as a case study, for two reasons.  First, it is a series that is likely more familiar to my readers then most, and the series is also so drenched in magic that I can find many examples of how messed up the world’s metaphysics are.

First example: spells are cast in Latin, and pronunciation matters (Wingardium Leviosa!).  This suggests that spells are not just being cast with words as some kind of focusing agent, but that the words themselves are magical.  Spells therefore seem to be something discovered, not created.  Magical latin phrases are an ingrained part of reality.

Souls are real.  No one seems to reflect on how huge this is.

Time travel exists.  This has some significant implications for the nature of space and time.

Our greatest fears, our strongest desires, these are actual things.  The Mirror of Erised shows us our hearts desire, while that funny poltergeist thing in book 3 takes on the form of our greatest fear.  This has important ramifications for the nature of our identity and soul, as well as our psychology.

The universe has forms or kinds.  In book 2 that poser wizard removes all the bones in Harry’s arm.  Ergo, the bones in Harry’s arm are metaphysically distinct enough from the rest of his body that they can be specified and removed.  Also, injuries can be healed.  This suggests that there is some kind of metaphysically existent telos of health that magic can move us towards.

I’m sure there are more examples, but I think that’s enough to get my point across.

Let me know what you think,


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Is Lying Ok (Part 2!) and Other Matters of Morality in my System

Nine months ago I made this post examining whether lying was ok.  I did not really finish the thought.  If you do not want to go back and re-read the original post, I go over some of Kant and Hegel’s ideas on the matter, provide a rough definition of lying (intentionally deception), say that I’ve danced around the question, and then tell you to come back next time.

I’ve spilled a lot of digital ink since that post, and now I feel that within my framework I can answer the question quite easily – if a lie is deemed necessary by an autonomous person, then so be it, and I’m not inclined to judge them harshly for it.  Then again, I’m disinclined to harsh judgements in general.  Much more pertinent within my system to understanding my general moral outlook is how I comport myself (or, how I think I should comport myself).  Unfortunately, these general rules of comportment aren’t actually very interesting.  I think I’m generally utilitarian on the matter, with a little bit of Kant or Plato thrown in (I’ll sometimes intentionally deceive on small matters if they make life easier, but sometimes on larger issues I will not deceive because I believe that deception is harmful to the system itself).

I think that this non-prescriptive tendency pervades the ethical aspects of my system.  There are ethical theorists that I like (e.g. Existentialism, Heidegger’s phenomenology) and these strongly inform my more reflective ethical thinking.  I do not really proscribe these as tenants to others though.  My ultimate ethical imperative is that I think it is important for people to reflect, research, and not be ambivalent on the subject.  My system really only makes one ethical argument, and that argument is that ethics is a fundamental and inescapable aspect of our being, therefore we can only choose to moralize actively or passively (I.e. autonomy vs slavery).

So, I’m ok with you lying as long as you think carefully about it first and decide that it is the right thing for you to do,

Thanks for reading,


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“Real Men are Gentlemen” – The Rhetoric of Normative Epistimology

There is a phrase or idea that I’ve seen popping up lately which I find interesting.  The phrase is something like ‘real men are good people’.  Now, I’ve mostly been seeing these kind of phrases on those somewhat silly internet lists that I waste my time reading on Facebook.  Things like the following: pictures of real men, Traits of Real Men, etc.  I’d be surprised if you haven’t seen something of the sort before.  However, the concept does permeate beyond the internet.  For example, Obama uttered similar sentiment somewhat recently

I get hung up on words.  It’s a regular part of my humor.  Even if I know what someone means, I will often joke about what they actually said.  In this particular case, I’m pretty sure what the authors mean is something like ‘these are good things to do’.  What they’ve actually said though is something quite different – they’ve made a normative definition of what it means to ‘be a man’.

The clear cut dichotomy of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ is something that I perceive as under review in liberal society at large.  For example, one of the recent (post 1970 according to this article) conceptual moves  has been to divide sex and gender.  Though there are almost certainly some clear and articulate thinkers who have written on the topic, I would not say that anything I’ve encountered so far has made it clear to me how all of this cashes out (on any side).  I’ve bought the notion that even defining sex can is fuzzier then most would think (and almost certainly the dichotomy is one with very shallow metaphysical roots).  When it comes to how sex and gender relate to each other, I’m honestly quite lost.  I’m somewhat inclined to think that the moralizing of the concept of man (I’m guessing most people mean the word in both the sexual and gender identity sense) comes out of similar confusion in others.  Then again, I don’t think that this moralized definition of man fits well with the common project of defining gender.  I’m inclined to say that the whole thing is really just playing with language – real just means good.  The authors are clearly not claiming that people who lack their list of traits are women or intersex individuals.  However, the authors are clearly not making universal moral prescriptions.  I would liken their idea to something like an Aristotelian telos.  They are describing how a man should act, but they are not actually providing much insight into the nature of man.

As a political move, however, the phrase is very interesting.  It is a kind of linguistic annihilation which makes those who fail at being a man into nothing.

Let me know what you think,


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The Critic and the Criticized

Hey everyone, I’m back.  I am unemployed and ready to write!

In one month I am going to be starting my masters degree in philosophy and public policy, and I’m pretty excited.  However, the program, by its very nature, poses a philosophical/psychological problem to some of the work I’ve previously done.  One of the themes in my past musings is that we should be primarily preoccupied with our own beliefs and actions instead of the beliefs and actions of others (e.g. Ethics of Excellence).  The problem is that I’m not wholly dedicated to the notion that we should be completely inward focused, but turning our attention outwards seems in many ways a fruitless enterprise (if the goal is to have rational discourse with others in order to come to some kind of agreement.)

Here is what I would describe the problem.  I have suggested in many of my previous posts that we should be focused on our own beliefs instead of the beliefs of others because when we focus on the beliefs of others it is extremely easy to slip into a non-autonomous mode.  When our goal is to press our beliefs, it is very easy for the actual issue to be lost in the face of the contest.  So easy that the slide seems almost inevitable, as demonstrated by many political debates and internet forums. 

There are political topics of immense importance, but conversation on these topics is loaded with emotions for participants which interfere with autonomous engagement on the topic, especially since the participants in these debates often come to see each others as opponents or enemies.  It is a tenant of my philosophical disposition that something has been missed if politics is merely the better rhetorician or politician browbeating their opponent, since there is likely only the most tentative connection between autonomy and political savvy.  If the actor who is exercising their will through the political power is not autonomous, then the laws that they implement will be arbitrary.

The problem, to me, seems wrapped up in the ways that we deliver and receive criticism.  The main factor is the relationship between the communicators – if two conversationalists are hostile towards each other, then non-arbitrary (or rational) outcomes seem nearly impossible.  Perhaps, then, relationship needs to be a central aspect of politics – specifically that non-arbitrary politics requires contesting politicians to be on good terms with one another.

I’ll work on the idea more.

Let me know what you think :),