Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts

By David Baggett; Shawn E. Klein | Go to book overview

2

Dursley Duplicity:
The Morality and Psychology
of Self-Deception

DIANA MERTZ HSIEH

Honesty and persistence in the pursuit of knowledge has long been a central moral ideal of Western philosophy. The study of philosophy itself was born in ancient Greece as the love {philo) of wisdom (sophia). Socrates fittingly spoke of the need to “know thyself’ and to understand the nature of virtue in pursuing a moral life. Aristotle famously began his Metaphysics with the claim that “All men by nature desire to know.” Modern philosophers have explored the many ways in which people sabotage this natural thirst for knowledge through rationalization and self-deception. Sartre argued that we conceal our fundamental responsibility and freedom from ourselves through “bad faith.” Ayn Rand explained human evil as the natural consequence of the mental fog and chaos created by evasion of the facts and refusal to think. Similarly, psychology has generally viewed accurate understanding of the self and the world as a hallmark of mental health.

In recent years, however, philosophers and psychologists have increasingly challenged this longstanding vision of the role of knowledge in human life. Some have merely claimed that self-deception is necessary or unavoidable, while others have further argued that it can be a moral strategy for preserving a positive outlook given the inevitable setbacks of daily life. Oddly enough, the magical world of Harry Potter points to fundamental weaknesses in these arguments in favor of self-deception. In particular, the trials and tribulations of the Dursleys—

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