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.

Philosophy in the World: MLB Opening Day and Baseball Players

For me, philosophy is all about questioning our lives and the things we do. In my opinion, it is essential for us to believe that our lives have a purpose and that they are meaningful because if they don’t then why are we here and what are we doing? If we don’t think our lives have any meaning then we are simply just going through the motions and doing random things for several years. In this regard, I would say that my definition of philosophy is similar to what Susan Wolf discusses in her book “The Variety of Values: Essays on Morality, Meaning and Love”, specifically in the chapter called “The Meaning of Lives.” In this chapter Susan discusses what she believes we must do in order to live a meaningful and purposeful life. Although Susan goes into much more depth, she briefly gives a quick explanation of what she believes a meaningful life is when she says “A meaningful life is one that is actively and at least somewhat successfully engaged in a project (or projects) of positive value” (Wolf, pg. 7).

This past Monday was the Opening Day for the 2017-2018 MLB (Major League Baseball) season. As I am someone who is a huge fan of the MLB, and baseball in general, this day has been marked on my calendar for a long time. On Monday, Opening Day caused all of my social media feeds (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat) to absolutely blow up because it was all everyone was talking about. This prompted my teammates and I to begin talking about the upcoming MLB season at the hockey rink before our practice. During our conversation, one of my teammates walked into the dressing room and made a comment saying that Opening Day shouldn’t be such a big deal and how it’s actually sad that this is one of the world’s biggest concerns when there is so many more important things going on in the world. After discussing Susan Wolf and her ideas of what it means to live a meaningful life earlier that day in our lecture I thought this was the perfect moment for me to start asking my teammates if they thought athletes, specifically baseball players, live meaningful lives in regards to the context that Susan Wolf explains.

When going into more depth, Wolf focuses on three main aspects that she believes determines if your life is meaningful or not. Those three aspects are passivity, useless and bankrupt (Wolf, pg. 6-7). When referring to passivity she explains that this is someone who is achieving nothing and isn’t connected to anyone or anything (Wolf, pg. 6). An example of this that she gives is a couch potato, someone who sits on the couch all day and just eats, drinks and watches television all day (Wolf, pg. 6). She then goes on to explain her concept of useless by stating that these people “can all be characterized as lives whose dominant activities seem pointless, useless, or empty” (Wolf, pg. 6). She says that someone who can exemplify uselessness does things to fight off boredom like shopping, going out to eat and travelling (Wolf, pg. 6). Finally, when referring to bankrupt she explains that this is someone involved in a project, or projects, that fail (Wolf, pg. 7).

After reading and considering these features that Wolf discusses in her article I believe that athletes, specifically baseball players, do live meaningful lives. When referencing passivity, you can definitely say that baseball players aren’t couch potatoes since they practice and play frequently. Also, they are connected to something, baseball. Baseball is their passion and that’s what gets them up and out of bed every morning. Secondly, I wouldn’t say that what baseball players are doing is useless. It isn’t something that they do because they are bored. For most of them I would say that the reason why they play is to win a World Series which is something they have been dreaming and aspiring for since they were little kids. This goal is what gives them meaning to what they’re doing, this is their motivation. This is what makes what they’re doing meaningful and not useless in my opinion. Lastly, Wolf’s idea of bankrupt is the only one I find tricky. In the MLB there is 30 teams and only one team wins the World Series which means that technically all of the 29 losing teams seasons have been failures since everyone’s goal is to win the World Series. But, to justify this for the losing teams I would say that if the team has made progress from the previous season then it’s not a failure. For example, if the team has moved up in the standings or got more points than the previous season then I wouldn’t say it was a failure of a season since progress has been made. Other than that, I guess it could be argued that the losing teams have participated in a failed project. But, we should remember that these players love baseball so regardless if they win the World Series or not they are doing what they love so for them it might not be seen as a failure.

Like I stated earlier, for me philosophy is about questioning our lives the everyday things we do so that we can see if there is meaning behind what we are doing. I think by doing this and living with this philosophical mindset we can ensure that we are live a meaningful and purposeful life, which in my opinion is what philosophy is all about. This past year I was an assistant coach for a kid’s hockey team where the kids were in between the ages of seven to nine. Whether it be during practice, during a game, or in the dressing room I believed that what I was doing was meaningful. Every day I went to the rink with the mindset that I was going to do everything I can to make these kids better so that one day they can hopefully fulfill their dreams of playing in the NHL (National Hockey League). For me, this is doing something philosophical because it checks off Wolf’s criteria of what living a meaningful life needs to consist of. I wasn’t being passive because I was going to the rink multiple times a week for practices and games, it wasn’t useless because I was emotionally connected to that team since I truly believed I was making a difference in these kids’ lives and lastly it wasn’t a failure since we ended up finishing first place in our league. That is why I believe my coaching was a philosophical act.