I have a huge stack of books around here, begging for my attention, but I couldn't pass by this title on the library shelf the other day: "Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts."
I have been reading a lot about Aristotle in English 5361, Theories of Invention in Writing, and simultaneously reading the Harry Potter series, so I naturally was curious about what David Baggett and Shawn E. Klein had to say in combining the two. I've just been skimming at this point, but I did spend some time looking over the indexed parts related to Aristotle, which seem primarily related to his moral philosophy. Aristotle judged people on actions, the authors argue, not words (hear that sophists?!), especially when good deeds are done because they are good and right, not because they bring some sort of reward. Another interesting point the authors made was that all of the important decisions we encounter in life take place in an emotional context. Aristotle would say, the authors contend, that a reasonable person gives emotions the "appropriate" weight, and to be virtuous, via the Doctrine of the Means, a response should not be too excessive or deficient in terms of emotions. Relating that to rhetoric, I think of the balance Aristotle creates in his artistic proofs of Ethos, Logos and Pathos. In Aristotle's view, the perfect rhetorical argument provides an ideal balance of those proofs, addressing authority of the viewpoint, a logical expression of the information and emotional touchstones. I hadn't really thought about this before, because emotional rhetorical appeals seem to be the default for many, if not most, people, but what happens to rhetoric without emotions? Is such expression even possible? Building or degrading authority or character -- the ethos -- seems to inherently provoke an emotional response from the audience, such as "that's not fair" or, "yeah, that person is a bum," even if that's not a core part of what's delivered. An argument without logic would provoke an emotional response of, "someone is trying to trick me." I can imagine many arguments without logic. In fact, those seem to come up quite often. And I can imagine many arguments that strip away the ethos, purposively, to get to the "root" of the issue, as in, it doesn't matter who is saying this, it just matters that it is being said. But emotions, and pathos, seem practically unavoidable. Another interesting point made by this book is that evil can be intelligent, such as Lord Voldemort, but it can't be wise. Dumbledore is quoted as saying that Voldemort's knowledge of magic is "perhaps more extensive than any wizard alive," but Aristotle argues that a person must be knowledgeable and do noble deeds for the sake of being good to truly be wise (and virtuous). Many of the, ahem, highly flawed characters in the books I have read so far -- Gilderoy Lockhart comes to mind -- wield rhetoric in self-serving, sophistic ways. So is Dumbledore, then, really a veiled representation of Aristotle? Hmmm ...
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