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,

CreativePhilo

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