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Harry Potter & Philosophy Schedule

Philosophy 276
Section A

Winter/Spring 2010


Introduction: Literature, Philosophy, & Modern Disenchantment

January 19:
  • JRR Tolkien – “On Fairy-Stories” (from Essays Presented to Charles Williams, Eerdmans 1947)
  • What does Tolkien mean by "fairy stories" and how do they differ from dream stories, beast fables, and traveler's tales?
  • Explain Tolkien's views of "sub-creation," "Secondary Worlds," "escape," and "eucatastrophe."
  • How, for Tolkien, does the creation of secondary worlds of fantasy help illuminate our world and how does he relate fantasy to theology?
  • Gareth Matthews – “Finding Platform 9¾” (in Harry Potter & Philosophy, ed. by D Baggett and SE Klein, pages 175-185 - hereafter HP&P)
  • What other fantasy tales does Matthews compare to the wizarding world of Harry Potter?
  • What does Matthews see as the function of fantasy literature?
  • Kristina Karin Shull – “Is the Magic Gone?” (from Anamesa, Fall 2005:61-73)
  • From what Schull tells us, how would you summarize Weber's theory about modern disenchantment?
  • To what degree do you think books like Harry Potter assist us in seeing the possibility of a re-enchanted world?
  • To what degree do you think even Harry Potter succumbs to the forces of modernity and commodification?
  • Supplemental Reading: Travis Prinzi - "The Tales of Rowling the Bard" and "Between Two Worlds" (Chapters one and Two in Harry Potter and Imagination, pages 1-42 - hereafter HP&I)
  • Prinzi's discussion in these two chapters provides further discussion, particular in connection with Tolkien's notion of "Faerie," but also drawing connections to George MacDonald, GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, and Madeleine L'Engle.
  • Being and Knowing: Creatures of Fiction and Hermeneutics

    January 26:
  • Peter Van Inwagen – “Creatures of Fiction” (from American Philosophical Quarterly 14:4, Oct 1977:299-308)
  • What does van Inwagen mean by "Meinongian" and "anti-Meinongian" approaches to creatures of fiction?
  • How does van Inwagen's own position construct an alternative approach?
  • Based upon van Inwagen's discussion, in what sense do you think Harry Potter, his world, and the other characters exist?
  • Jeffrey Stout – “What Is the Meaning of a Text?” (from New Literary History 14:1, Autumn 1982:1-12)
  • Stout alludes to a variety of hermeneutical theories about the meaning of texts. Which of these have you encountered before?
  • If various notions of meaning are really talking about different concepts, does that mean we can't make any discernments about meaning at all?
  • As we proceed through the semester, we will encounter alchemical, Stoic, Christian, feminist, socialist, and other sorts of interpretations of Harry Potter. What implications does Stout's article have for this diversity of interpretations?
  • Metaphysics: Alchemy, Magic, & Science

    February 2:
  • Lynn Thorndyke – “Medieval Magic and Science in the Seventeenth Century” (from Speculum 28, 1953:692-704)
  • Stanton J. Linden – “Francis Bacon and Alchemy: The Reformation of Vulcan” (from Journal of the History of Ideas 35:4, Oct-Dec 1974:547-560)
  • What do these two articles teach us about the origins of modern science and the relationship of early modern science to "magic"?
  • In what ways does Rowling exploit the connections between science and magic in Harry Potter?
  • How is magic in the wizarding world more akin to technology in ours than it is to, say, occult practices?
  • John Granger – “The Alchemist’s Tale: Harry Potter & the Alchemical Tradition in English Literature (from Touchstone 16:9, Nov 2003)
  • What is the goal of alchemy, both in terms of physical metals and in terms of the soul of the alchemist?
  • In what ways does Granger suggest that Rowling is using alchemy as a literary device/motif in Harry Potter?
  • BJ Lipscomb & WC Stewart – “Magic, Science, and the Ethics of Technology” (in HP&P, 77-91)
  • What sorts of ethical issues does the practice of magic raise in Harry Potter?
  • How do these features of the wizarding world illuminate the role and use of technology in our world?
  • Metaphysics: Time-turning, Prophetic Futures, and Freedom

    February 9:
  • Augustine - "The Nature of Time" (from Confessions, Book 11)
  • Why is time a puzzle for Augustine? Why is its nature so difficult to grasp?
  • What is Augustine's view of the reality of time and the relation of past, present, and future?
  • Michael Silberstein – “Space, Time, and Magic” (in HP&P, 186-199)
  • What sort of view of time does Hermione's use of the time-turner presuppose?
  • What are some other ways of viewing the nature of time?
  • Gregory Bassham – “The Prophecy-Driven Life” (in HP&P, 213-226)
  • Do you think that human beings enjoy genuine freedom of the will, that is, the ability to act in a way that is not determined by the sum of causes preceding a choice?
  • What problems might the possibility of predictive prophecy pose for the exercise of genuine freedom?
  • Are there ways of resolving these problems?
  • David Baggett – “Love Potion #9¾” (unpublished paper)
  • Is the use of a love potion consistent with genuine freedom of a subject?
  • Is love that is determined by a love potion an authentic sort of love?
  • First Debate Round - Slytherin vs. Ravenclaw.
  • Metaphysics: Personal Identity and Death

    February 16:
  • Jason T Eberl – “Why Voldemort Won’t Just Die Already” (in HP&P, 200-212)
  • What is it that makes you the same person today that you were 10 years ago? Physical continuity as an organism? Psychological continuity?
  • Through the use of horcruxes Voldemort preserves his identity through death and bodily destruction. What constitutes that identity in the wizarding world?
  • John Locke - “Of Identity and Diversity (from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Chapter 27)
  • What, according to Locke, accounts for the identity of human persons over time?
  • Kevin Corcoran – excerpts from Rethinking Human Nature
  • What is the "constitution" view of human persons in relation to their bodies?
  • How does Corcoran account for the possibility of surviving the death of the body?
  • Epistemology: Knowing Self and Others

    February 23:
  • Diana Mertz Hsieh – “Dursley Duplicity: The Morality and Psychology of Self-Deception” (in HP&P, 22-37)
  • According to Hsieh, what are the liabilities of falling into self-deception?
  • How do you think self-deception is possible? What is the structure of thought in a self-deceived mind?
  • Beyond the Dursleys what other examples of self-deception can you think of in Harry Potter?
  • Shawn E Klein – “The Mirror of Erised: Why We Should Heed Dumbledore's Warning” (in HP&P, 92-104)
  • According to Klein, what are the dangers of living in a fantasy world or in our dreams?
  • How can we overcome the possibility of being caught up in an imaginary world, disconnected from reality?
  • What does the pensieve suggest about the nature of memory? Does it make sense for memory to leave a record that others can access? Does the pensieve reveal what happened "objectively" or only as remembered.
  • What is the role of dreams in the wizarding world? How does Voldemort's ability to penetrate Harry's mind raise skeptical doubts about Harry ability of perceive reality rightly? How do these parallel Descartes' skeptical doubts?
  • In what ways does Rowling deploy narrative misdirection in order to lead us to interpret data in an inaccurate manner? What has to happen for us to interpret things aright? What does this tell us in general about the role of bias in the pursuit of knowledge?
  • S. Joel Garver - "The Magic of Personal Transformation"
  • In this essay I connect up and develop a way of approaching issues of knowledge, deception, hermeneutics, time, and virtue.
  • In what way do we see characters in the books grow and develop in their understanding of themselves and their worlds? What contributes most of their growth?
  • How does Rowling bring the reading into this process of maturation?
  • What does this suggest, in general, about the nature of knowing ourselves and the world around us?
  • Second Debate Round - Gryffindor vs. Hufflepuff.
  • Aesthetics: Fan-Fiction and Wizard Rock

    March 2:
  • Henry Jenkins III – “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching” (from Close Encounters: Film, Feminism, and Science Fiction, Univeristy of Minnesota 1991:171-202)
  • In his essay, Jenkins explores the phenomenon of fan-fiction and fan-art in relation to the Star Trek television series and films. What similarities and differences do you see between Trekkers and Harry Potter fans?
  • According to Jenkins, in what ways does fan literature relate to the social experience of those who produce it?
  • What are the implications of fan art for notions of intellectual property, licensing of characters and images, and so forth?
  • Why do you think music plays such a large role within Harry Potter fandom, but was far less prominent in earlier fan cultures?
  • Julie Flynn – “Is This Fanon or Canon?” (unpublished paper)
  • What is the distinction within fan fiction between het, gen, and slash as forms of shipping fic, to which Flynn alludes several times?
  • How does Flynn understand the phenomenon of fan fiction? Why do you think ship fic is such a large part of fandom?
  • To what degree do fandom and similar phenomena shape our own sense of place, community, and identity?
  • Mid-Term Essay due in class - a 5-6 page critical analysis essay, based upon one of the articles we will have read, in relation to the content of the Harry Potter series
  • Spring Break Week

    March 9:
  • No Class - Spring Break
  • Religion: Wizarding and Faith

    March 16:
  • Jerry L. Walls – “Heaven, Hell, and Harry Potter” (in HP&P, 63-76)
  • What is the possible conflict that Walls suggests might arise between being good and acting in our own self-interest?
  • How does the notion of heaven or eternal reward help resolve that conflict?
  • John Granger – “The Sacrificial Boy Wizard” (from Looking for God in Harry Potter)
  • In what ways does Granger suggest that Harry is himself a sort of Christ-figure or that Christian motifs shape the plots of the books?
  • Do you find Granger's analysis plausible? Do you think he over-interprets the books?
  • The Granger exceprt is based upon the first five books in the series. Do you think the final two books lend further evidence to his thesis or do they undermine it?
  • Ken Jacobsen – “Harry Potter and the Secular City”
  • Jacobsen outlines a variety of responses to Harry Potter on the part of people of faith? Do any of these responses surprise you?
  • What do you think of Jacobsen's analysis now that Deathly Hallows has been published? Do his arguments still hold up?
  • Andy Crouch – “Of Wardrobes and Potters” (from Christianity Today, October 2005)
  • What sort of distiction does Crouch suggest exists between CS Lewis' Narnia chronicles and the Harry Potter series?
  • What differences do you see? How do you think these differences affect how the respective books are received within a contemporary context?
  • What do you think the "hiddenness" of the wizarding world to the eyes of Muggles might suggest about the relationship of the transcendent to our experience of reality?
  • Supplemental Reading: Travis Prinzi - "Christ in the Forest" (Chapter Six in HP&I, 101-120).
  • Literature and/as Moral Philosophy

    March 23:
  • Lynne McFall – “Inventing the Truth: Fiction as Moral Philosophy” (from The Henry James Review 18.3, Fall 1997:217-222)
  • McFall, a novelist and philosopher, is building upon some insights from Martha Nussbaum about the relationship of fiction to moral philosophy. How does McFall conceive of that relationship?
  • What is it about literature, according to McFall, that makes it especially helpful in embodying moral philosophy?
  • Veronica L Schanoes – “Cruel Heroes and Treacherous Texts” (from Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays, Praeger 2003:131-145)
  • In what ways does Schanoes suggest that the narrative structure of the Harry Potter books embody the morally ambiguous character of the situations narrated within them?
  • What does the need for interpretive discernment of the Harry Potter texts suggest about the nature of moral discernment in the real world?
  • David Baggett – “Magic, Muggles, and Moral Imagination” (in HP&P, 158-171)
  • How is Harry less than a fully idea moral exemplar? Does this undermine the moral stance of the book series?
  • In what ways does Baggett suggest that the Harry Potter books help broad and cultivate our moral imaginations?
  • Third Debate Round - winners of first two Rounds debate.
  • Supplemental Reading: Travis Prinzi - "The Postmodern Potions Master" (Chapters Eleven in HP&I, 207-220).
  • Ethics: Virtue, Knowledge, and Character Development

    March 30:
  • Edmund M. Kern – excerpt from The Wisdom of Harry Potter
  • What are the main features of the ethical universe of Harry Potter that Kern highlights?
  • According to Kern, the ethical outlook of the Harry Potter books is exemplary of a Stoic approach to ethics. How so?
  • Do you find Kern's thesis plausible?
  • Tom Morris – “The Courageous Harry Potter” (in HP&P, 9-21)
  • Aristotle – “Courage” (from Nicomachean Ethics III.6-9)
  • How does you think Harry and his friends stack up against Aristotle's understanding of the virtue of courage or bravery?
  • What is the role of fear within bravery on Aristotle's account?
  • What elements of courage does Morris see as exemplified by Harry and his friends?
  • What evidence do you see that Harry (or his friends) are cultivating courage as a firm habit of character?
  • Supplemental Reading: Travis Prinzi - "Worthy of Hallows," "Harry Potter, the Phoenix," and "The Life and Love of Albus Dumbledore" (Chapters Five, Seven, and Nine in HP&I, 85-100, 123-148, and 165-190).
  • Ethics: Evil and Vice

    April 6:
  • Steven W. Patterson – “Is Ambition a Virtue? Why Slytherin Belongs at Hogwarts” (in HP&P, 121-131)
  • How does Patterson describe the notion of a virtue as Aristotle explains it?
  • Do you agree with Patterson that, given Aristotle's definition of virtue, that ambition is in fact a virtue and has a rightful place at Hogwarts?
  • How might Severus Snape, as a Slytherin, be an example of ambition? How might you interpret that differently from the viewpoint of the end of Deathly Hallows than you might have before?
  • What about the Malfoys? Is there any sense in which they might, in the end, be seen as possessing qualities approaching virtue?
  • Augustine – "Evil as Privation" (from Confessions, Book 7 and Enchiridion, 10-12)
  • According to Augustine, what is evil? Is evil some "thing" that exists on its own?
  • If evil is a privation or absence of a good that ought to be there, then evil is nothing in itself. But how can something that is nothing in itself be such a strong force in the world?
  • David & Catherine Deavel – “A Skewed Reflection: The Nature of Evil” (in HP&P, 132-147)
  • On the Deavels's account of the wizarding world, in what way do the Harry Potter books represent an Augustinian understanding of evil as a privation?
  • How, according to the Deavels, does evil protect itself and grow? How does this connect to privation?
  • What is the role of free choice in the creation of evil? How does choice face the characters in Harry Potter? Might Voldemort have chosen to be a different sort of person?
  • Jennifer Hart Weed – “Voldemort, Boethius, and the Destructive Effects of Evil” (in HP&P, 148-157)
  • According to Weed, what is Boethius' view of the destructive effects of evil? How does this fit with a privation view of evil?
  • In what ways does Voldemort demonstrate Boethius' viewpoint?
  • Supplemental Reading: Travis Prinzi - "Dehumanization" and "Harry's Shadow" (Chapters Four and Eight in HP&I, 71-84 and 149-163).
  • Fourth Debate Round - Losers of first two Rounds debate.
  • Ethics: Politics and Justice

    April 13:
  • William MacNeil – “‘Kidlit’ as ‘Law-and-Lit’: Harry Potter and the Scales of Justice” (from Law and Literature 14.3:545-564)
  • What does MacNeil suggest about the legal system in the wizarding world - the Wizengamot as administered by the Ministry of Magic?
  • In what ways is Hogwarts itself not free from the kinds of race and class distinctions that characterize the wizarding world?
  • Noel Chevalier – “The Liberty Tree and the Whomping Willow: Political Justice, Magical Science, and Harry Potter ” (from The Lion and the Unicorn 29:3 September 2005)
  • In what ways does Chevaliar suggest that Harry is a "radical" or possibly even "Jacobin"?
  • How does Chevalier assess the exercise of power in relation to magic in the wizarding world? What parallels do we find in our world, particular as power is exercised in relation to science and technology?
  • Benjamin H. Barton – “Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy” (from Michigan Law Review 104, May 2006:1523-1538)
  • According to Barton, the wizarding world and especially the Minsitry of Magic, represent the worst possibility of bureaucracy run amok. What examples does he give?
  • Barton suggests that Harry Potter can be read as a libertarian text. Do you agree?
  • Supplemental Reading: Travis Prinzi - "Of Fountains, Fabians, and Freedom" (Chapter Twelve in HP&I, 221-244).
  • Fifth Debate Round - Winners of the Third and Fourth Rounds debate.
  • Ethics: Class, Gender, and Race

    April 20:
  • Mimi R. Gladstein – “Feminism and Equal Opportunity: Hermione and the Women of Hogwarts” (in HP&P, 49-59)
  • What sorts of stereotypes can you think of with regard to female characters in fantasy fiction?
  • Do you think Hermione and the other female characters of Harry Potter fit with these stereotypes?
  • What positive message does Gladstein find regarding women in the character of Hermione?
  • Suman Gupta – excerpt from Re-Reading Harry Potter
  • Gupta is more skeptical about the liberationist message of Harry Potter with regard to issues of race, class, and gender. What criticisms does he level against Rowling's portrayal of the wizarding world?
  • Do you agree with Gupta's analysis? Do you think he goes too far or reads his own interests too much into the text?
  • Steven W Patterson – “Kreacher's Lament: SPEW as a Parable on Discrimination, Indifference, and Social Justice” (in HP&P, 105-117)
  • What do we know about the lives and place of house elves in the wizarding world?
  • What parallels or analogues to house elves do you think exist in our own world?
  • Why do Hermione's attempts at elf liberation seem to fail? What does she do that is ineffective? What might she have done differently?
  • Supplemental Reading: Travis Prinzi - "How Half-Bloods Became Purebloods" and "The Witching World" (Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen in HP&I, 245-276).
  • Tentatively, this class will be conducted by Travis Prinzi, who will also be visiting campus to give a talk earlier in the day on the topic of Harry Potter and issues of economic justice.
  • Ethics: Friendship and Sacrifice

    April 27:
  • Harald Thorsrud – “Voldemort’s Agents, Malfoy’s Cronies, & Hagrid’s Chums: Friendship in Harry Potter (in HP&P, 38-48)
  • Aristotle – “Friendship” (from Nicomachean Ethics VIII.2-4, IX.9)
  • What are the different kinds of friendship that Aristotle outlines?
  • Looking at the various relationships within the wizarding world - Harry and his friends, Malfoy and his cronies, Voldemort and his agents, as well as others - how would you categorize these various relationships? Are they all genuine forms of friendship?
  • In what ways does Aristotle see complete friendship as necessary for virtue and happiness? Do we see this perspective portrayed in Harry Potter?
  • John Milbank, "The Ethics of Self-Sacrifice" [Downloadable Word document file] (from First Things 91, March 1999:33-38)
  • Milbank suggests that completely disinterested self-sacrifice is, in fact, not possible and certain not the epitome of morality. What do you think of his thesis?
  • What is Milbank's alternative vision of self-giving as involving reciprocity and return?
  • Do you think Harry's acts of self-sacrifice fit more closely with the ones Milbank critiques or the ones he commends?