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.
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.