Peter Pan; the Boy Who Couldn’t Grow Up

One of my favourite stories is that of Peter Pan, written in 1904 by author and playwright J.M Barrie. He tells the tale of a mischievous boy gifted with the ability to fly, and most importantly, to stay young forever. His misadventures with pirates, mermaids, and lost boys have thrilled audiences for generations, with numerous adaptations to date. There is something in this story that captivates and truly enthralls the reader, which may be the magic and whimsy in staying young forever. Barrie wrote the character Pan based on his younger brother, who died at the age of 11 and was frozen in memory as forever young. Even though the character has unhappy roots, Pan himself is the gleeful picture of childhood innocence and imagination. His ability to stay young is one that many people waste away chasing after, and is one of the reasons this story is so popular.

To me, philosophy is the study of and search for knowledge and truth. It is inquisition into the deepest aspects of reality and existence. One does not have to consider themselves a philosopher, take a class in the subject, or even know what philosophy is to be able to participate and contribute to the pool of knowledge created by those with an interest to learn more about the world around them. This is similar to how Socrates defined the word, and what he based his life around accomplishing. In the Apology, Socrates explains that he was sent by the gods in order to teach, learn and search for the truth in every situation (Plato, 33d). Based on this definition of philosophy, I see myself engaging in this search for wisdom. I often contemplate and discuss with friends what we believe our meanings in life are, and have studied many religions and belief systems. While I have my own convictions as to what is truth in the case of meaning in life, I still want to expand my knowledge of the topic, and continue to learn more.

The original story of Peter Pan, which goes by Peter and Wendy, Peter Pan; the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, contains the famous quote “to die would be an awfully big adventure” (Barrie, 1904). The 1953 Disney adaptation of the movie, however, altered this to say: “to live would be an awfully big adventure” (Peter Pan, 1953). What is the reasoning and motivation behind this modification? Is it simply for the younger audiences watching this movie, that they not be upset over the use of the word “die”? I think that actually, there is deeper reasoning, with roots in philosophical concepts. Humans have long argued over notions of life after death. The use of the word “die” in this quote is I believe a play to the very human fear of mortality. It is implying some sort of continuation of experience post life, which may have made it a controversial line to include in the movie. Substituting the word “live” in the place of its forerunner may make this quote friendlier and more inviting, but it very much removes the original meaning Barrie seemed to be attempting to convey.

This story falls into the philosophical realm as it is an inquisition into mortality, the primary threat to the existence of man. Socrates himself would, I believe, be very intrigued by Peter Pan and his perpetual youth. As a person, whose death sentence was ordered because of his search for truth, Socrates would be able to appreciate Pan’s lack of fear in the face of death. Socrates faced death without fear as well, and did not see the reasoning in being afraid of something that did not concern the living.

Another philosophical theme evident in the story of Peter Pan is that of the meaning of life. It is often discussed that if there is no God, nothing awaiting us after we die, that there is no meaning to existence. The aforementioned quote however points to an afterlife, and therefore enters into this conversation. There is insufficient evidence as to whether Barrie himself was religious, but his indications through his show the hopefulness that he held for both himself and his deceased brother that in some sort of way their adventures would continue in the future. The story of Peter Pan raises the question of life having meaning if there was a way that one could live forever. Whether Peter Pan’s eternal youth is an allusion to an afterlife is unclear, but it makes one consider the possibilities of finding purpose if time was no factor. The story of Peter Pan, when carefully examined, holds many interesting philosophical themes that contribute to the greater pool of understanding of knowledge concerning the world and truth within it.

 

Works Cited

Barrie, James M. Peter Pan. United Kingdom: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911. Www.readprint.com. Web. Apr 2017.

Peter Pan. Prod. Walt Disney. Dir. Clyde Geronimi. Perf. Bobby Driscoll. Disney, 1953.

Plato. “The Apology.” The Apology and Related Dialogues. Broadview Press. Peterborough, Ontario. 2016.

Philosophy in the World: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

Aldous Huxley, a novelist of great renown, is often referenced in terms of his book Brave New World. Published in 1932, it broaches the topic of a futuristic dystopia – though not in the traditional sense. Whereas one might picture a dystopia as the militaristic and totalitarian society of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Huxley ostensibly describes a society of peace and happiness. Set approximately 500 years in the future, the nations of the world are united under the government known as the World State and society has been engineered to be happy. Through the distribution of antidepressants known as soma; the use of psychological manipulation; and the invention of artificial birth and genetic engineering, the World State’s motto of “Community, Identity, Stability” is upheld. Though perverse and strange from the reader’s viewpoint, this is Huxley’s bleak depiction of what the future might hold in the pursuit of community, identity, and stability across the world.

I consider philosophy as the study of knowledge and wisdom to achieve enlightenment. A philosopher is one who analyzes the mundane parts of life and applies that knowledge to reach greater harmony. As one of Utilitarianism’s most distinguished philosophers, John Stuart Mill adheres to this definition through his Greatest Happiness Principle. He reasons that happiness must be considered in the scope of the entire world if one is to act ethically. Through the application of a logical argumentative process, he believed it is possible to maximize the amount of happiness produced from every action (Mill 2). The philosopher whose ideas most contrast the themes found in Brave New World is Socrates. Placing value on the examined life, knowledge and awareness are of the utmost importance in being happy. As this science-fiction novel is an example of society gone wrong, it provides both a malevolent interpretation of Mill’s Utilitarianism and the consequences of a society devoid of deeper meaning.

Conditioned and controlled since birth; lacking freedom in both speech and mind, the society of Brave New World does not seem to promote happiness as per Mill’s Greatest Happiness Principle. However, through a confrontation between two major characters – Mustapha Mond and John the Savage – Mond reveals why the World State is considered moral despite their manipulative ways. Mustapha Mond and John the Savage act as character foils – the former being one of the 10 overseers of the World State and the latter being a young man raised separate from society, possessing Shakespearean views on lifestyle.

Mond argues that freedom in academics, art, and thought could not coexist with the maxim of “Community, Identity, Stability”. With technological advances, world peace could only exist through the control of a totalitarian government. He states that the presence of choice and free will enabled chaos, therefore, every moment of a citizen’s life is occupied by drugs, sex, and work. If Utilitarianism, as Mill describes, advocates for the measurement of an action’s morality proportional to the happiness provided worldwide, the World State’s actions are unmistakably moral (Mill 2).

John, however, refutes this reality. His entire moral code is based off the works of Shakespeare; therefore, he cannot accept stability has greater value than freedom to express one’s self. Similar to the arguments of Socrates, John believes that the superficial happiness of drugs and bodily pleasures encouraged by the World State is not sufficient for a happy life. Though he is not aware of it, John exemplifies Socrate’s analogous gadfly in his attempts to spread awareness of the morally bankrupt state of society (Plato 69). Through his beliefs, John acts as the vessel for the reader’s disgust with Huxley’s depiction of the future.

While Aldous Huxley’s dystopian society can be considered philosophical, I cannot accept it as an ethical world under my definition. Through the lenses of Utilitarianism and a consequentialist/objective stance on morality though, it can exist morally as it promotes happiness. The reader is left questioning: is absolute stability worth the deprivation of culture and free will? Huxley’s Brave New World is one of my favourite novels as it provokes debate of government ethics, the shallowness of consumerism, and the societal impacts of technological advances. Its message, since its publication in the early 1900’s, is becoming increasingly relevant as we approach greater leaps in technology.

In my own life, philosophy is present in all my actions. I think of it as the process of accumulating experience and learning from my mistakes to become a stronger person. Reading books is one activity I find very philosophical. I find that by reading books – be it non-fiction or fiction – I can derive some deeper meaning from the author’s words. By reading of a character’s exploits or learning of a new concept, it promotes the ability to think from different perspectives. This is partially why I chose Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World for a philosophical example. Reading has been an activity that I have done since I was a kid, and something I will continue to enjoy for the rest of my life.

 

Works Cited:

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. 1st ed. 1863. Print.

Plato. (2016). The Apology and Related Dialogues. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

Philosophy in the World – Harry Potter

Harry Potter is a book and film series written by J.K Rowling, depicting the life of boy wizard Harry Potter as he attempts to kill the infamous dark wizard Voldemort, a mass murderer whose victims have included Harry’s own parents.  Harry is believed to be the ‘Chosen One’, the only wizard that can defeat Voldemort.  To do so, Harry sets off on a mission to find Horcruxes, or parts of Voldemort’s soul he had hidden away, and destroys them thus destroying Voldemort.  Throughout the novels, Harry contemplates whether his a life or his actions are meaningful – does his objective of killing Voldemort provide a meaningful life?

Philosophy, to me, allows for the exploration and discussion of human nature and the world we live in.  Philosophy acknowledges questions pertaining to the purpose of who we are and what we do, including whether or not anything we do in our lives has meaning outside of ourselves.

In her essay, Wolf argues that if there is no God, there is then zero meaning to life or human existence whatsoever (4).  However, even if there is no meaning to life, there is still a way to live a meaningful life (Wolf 4).  In order to determine what a meaningful life is, Wolf begins by brainstorming characteristics of a meaningless life.  For example, she gives the illustration of ‘The Blob’, a passive beer drinking, television watching couch potato (Wolf 6).  Then there is the corporate executive, whose life is full of useless activity, such as earning the most money possible (Wolf 6).  Finally, there is the one who is actively engaged in a project which turns out to fail (Wolf 6).  Therefore, Wolf is able to deduce that a meaningful life “is one that is actively and at least somewhat successfully engaged in a project (or projects) of positive value” (7-8).  Wolf defines projects as “ongoing activities and involvements” that engage a person, not solely objective-oriented undertakings (8).  She also suggests that a project of positive value is one that is of objective value, implying that living a meaningful life is possible without the existence of God (Wolf 21).  In other words,  an objective value allows one to still engage in projects with meaning despite the fact that God may not exist to provide a higher and larger purpose for those projects (Wolf 22).  If one was to engage in activities with subjective value, such as for one’s own sake or happiness, one does not acknowledge that “things other than the self exist” (Wolf 15).  In addition, an immoral life may still be meaningful – morality is not a factor when determining a meaningful life (Wolf 11).  Thus, Wolf distinguishes a meaningful from a meaningless life by one that “realizes value and [one] that is essentially a waste” (22).

I argue that, according to Wolf, Harry Potter does live a meaningful life according to her definition of it being “one that is actively and at least somewhat successfully engaged in a project (or projects) of positive value.”  Firstly, Harry, on his project of defeating Voldemort, is actively looking for Horcruxes while battling other dark wizards in order to so do, thus he is definitely not passive.  Second, through many impediments, Harry eventually does succeed in killing Voldemort.  While some may see killing, under any circumstances, as being immoral, he is still successful in his project, hence adding meaning to his life.  Lastly, Harry does engage in a project of positive and objective value.  Due to Wolf’s definition of ‘objective’ being extremely vague, it is up to each person to consider what is objective.  In this case, Harry killing the dark wizard and mass murderer Voldemort is potentially saving millions of lives of wizards and muggles (non-magical people) alike; I believe that most would consider saving lives to be objectively valuable.  Harry is able to see beyond himself and even the wizarding world and care about the lives of muggles, paralleling Wolf’s belief that being engaged with projects of objective value acknowledge both that the self is not of sole importance, and one’s smallness in the universe.

Philosophy is often associated with being a topic that is purely debated in academic settings and institutions, yet it is all around is, for example in our discussions with friends and family, and in the media.  In my life, I enjoy reading books that examine philosophical content present in the media, and I enjoy watching televisions shows such as Lost that have strong philosophical ties through character names and scenarios.  I think that it is important to have underlying philosophical content in your daily lives because it allows people who perhaps do not have access to philosophy classes in a university setting to still engage in the discourse of life’s greatest questions.

 

Bibliography:

Wolf, Susan. “The Meanings of Lives.” The Variety of Values: Essays on Morality, Meaning, and Love, 2015, pp. 1-25. DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195332803.003.0008.