Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Harry Potter

Over the past two weeks I've been re-reading the seven Harry Potter novels. A lovely way to spend long summer afternoons.

I've been thinking how much fun it would be to teach a year-long course that involved reading and talking about all of the novels, perhaps to fifth or sixth grade students. The stories are so full of philosophical suggestiveness. It would be interesting to teach them together with an English teacher, and read the novel from both literary and philosophical perspectives.

As I read the final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I created a list of some of the philosophical questions that occurred to me as I read:

The "Mirror of Erised" is a mystical mirror that shows the “deepest and most desperate desires of our hearts.” What do you think you would see looking into the mirror? Would the mirror be able to tell you something you don’t know? If you are not sure of the “deepest desire of your heart,” can it be really be your deepest desire?

What does it mean to trust other people? What must be true for us to say we “trust someone?” Can we ever trust someone completely? What would that mean?

Is bravery the absence of fear? Is it action despite fear? Is courage an act or a quality of a person? What does it entail?

What are the obligations of friendship? Do they vary based on circumstances? If so, what circumstances?

“Horcruxes” are objects used to split a person’s soul and thus seek immortality. There is a comment in the novel that for Voldemort, splitting his soul is the same as splitting his mind. What does this mean? Are the soul and the mind the same thing, or only for Voldemort (and if so, how would that work)? What are the soul and the mind?

How do you prove something is not real?

If something is happening to you, is it real?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of Eye –
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

Emily Dickinson

August Birthdays

August 6 Nicolas Malebranche (French, born 1638)

August 7 Nelson Goodman (American, born 1906)

August 10 Jean-Francois Lyotard (French, born 1924)

August 16 Catherine Trotter Cockburne (British, born 1679)

August 19 Gilbert Ryle (British, born 1900)

August 20 Paul Tillich (German-American, born 1886)

August 22 Max Scheler (German, born 1874)

August 23 Jakob Friedrich Fries (German, born 1773)

August 25 Karl Joseph Hieronymus Windischmann (German, born 1775) and Johann Gottfried von Herder (German, born 1744)

August 27 Johann Georg Hamann (German, born 1730) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (German, born 1770)

August 29 John Locke (British, born 1632)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

And the Pursuit of Happiness

Maira Kalman writes a wonderful illustrated New York Times blog, "And the Pursuit of Happiness," about American democracy, with a new post on the last Friday of every month. In March she wrote "So Moved," about tolerance, the democratic process, civility and compromise. It is a marvelous piece to use to broach these issues with high school students.