The ethics of magic

Today I wrote the material for the next week of online ethics classes, on the topic of magic! I’m using several examples of things from the Harry Potter stories, and posing questions like:

  • Would it really be okay for children to use hexes to affect other kids, even if no serious harm was done?
  • Harry uses one of the Unforgivable Curses in his fight against Voldemort and his followers. Is that okay or should he be punished for it?
  • Is the Killing curse (Avada Kedavra) any worse than shooting someone with a gun, or is it similar?
  • Why would a small group of people who could do magic want to hide from everyone else?
  • What could happen if the rest of the world found out about wizards and magic?
  • Can you think of any legitimate, ethical uses for Polyjuice potion?

I’ve just run the class with three groups of kids this evening, and so far every student has been familiar with Harry Potter, so that’s good. I have enough explanation that if any student isn’t familiar with Harry Potter, they’ll still be able to get enough context to answer the questions.

That’s about half the class. The other half discusses how real world historical societies who believed in magic made laws regarding the use of magic, and if those laws would make sense in a world where magic is real.

In other news, Sydney had two consecutive days with no rain, yesterday and today! This is the first time this has happened in over a month. But it won’t last… we’re predicted to have another 100mm or more of rain over the next four days.

And today I decided to extend my usual 2.5k run to 5k. I haven’t done a 5k since just before Christmas. It felt tough, but I did my second best time over that distance, despite doing it on the street route with hills, rather than around a flat oval. So yeah, maybe my fitness level is still improving, which is nice.

New content today:

7 thoughts on “The ethics of magic”

  1. Using polyjuice potion for legitimate reasons was described in the books – get a confession from a suspect in the 2nd book and protect an assassination target with lookalikes in the 7th book. Considering it hurts to transform, I guess the obious use for entertainment is discarded.

    You should ask what happens if a society believes in magic, decrees that doing it is illegal (witches cursing people), but it’s not real, and the witchhunt ends up torturing and killing innocent people. Consider people may look like they’re doing harmful magic by accident (dancing at a hilltop at midnight), while it’s not actually hurting anybody. What age do children learn the play “the crucible” thses days anyway?

    1. That’s a great idea! Too late to include it in this class, but perhaps it will be useful later.

  2. Apparently there is also mind-affecting magic, and some people know how to do that. Is that worse or better than physically painful spells?

    Also, what’s the justification of not having healing spells more available? Even though they couldn’t heal every person, magic could be a great help in that.

    Then what’s the magic creature status? House-elves are apparently very much like humans, but nobody outside the magical world knows they exist and their rights are somewhat murky even in the books. Having some people who just say “I’m just happy to work with no salary and basically no rights” sound a bit… wrong.

    1. I also have a question about healing in my class that explores that very issue. I don’t mention anything about the house-elves though. I may save that example for a future lesson on a different topic.

  3. Genuinely curious about the ethics of using Harry Potter in an ethics course given all the bigotry associated with its author these days.

    1. I had a previous lesson all about that issue – whether it’s okay or not to enjoy a creator’s works if the creator is a bad person, and related questions.

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