Harry Potter's Magic

The Potter controversy shows that the struggle between science and magic isn't entirely settled.

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In Harry Potter's world, scientists think of magic in precisely the same way they do in our world, but they are wrong. The counterfactual "secondary world" that Rowling creates is one in which magic simply works, and works as reliably, in the hands of a trained wizard, as the technology that makes airplanes fly and refrigerators chill the air--those products of applied science being, by the way, sufficiently inscrutable to the people who use them that they might as well be the products of wizardry. As Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, "Any smoothly functioning technology gives the appearance of magic."

The fundamental moral framework of [J.K. Rowling's] Harry Potter books, then, is a familiar one to all of us: it is the problem of technology. . Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is in the business of teaching people how to harness and employ certain powers--that they are powers unrecognized by science is really beside the point. But the school cannot ensure that people will use those powers wisely, responsibly, and for the common good. It is a choice, as the thinkers of the Renaissance would have put it, between magia and goetia, between "high magic" (like the wisdom possessed by the magi in Christian legend) and "dark magic."


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