Magic, Science, and the
Ethics of Technology
BENJAMIN J. BRUXVOORT LIPSCOMB and W. CHRISTOPHER STEWART
In this chapter, we take the grand, ready-made thought experiment of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and use it to try to get a better grip on a difficult, real-world issue: the ethics of technological adaptation.1 If, as we think, the use and abuse of magic in Rowling’s books is a close analogue for the use and abuse of applied science—technology—in our world, then the ethical judgments her heroes make concerning magic may have something to teach us about an appropriate ethics of applied science. In the first part of this chapter, we establish a connection between the magic of Harry’s world and the science of our own world. In the second part of the chapter, we outline RowJing’s ethics of magic and consider what it might be saying to us about the ethics of technological adaptation in the real world.
The likelihood that the Harry Potter books offer readers a helpful lens through which to consider the ethics of technological adaptation depends on the closeness of the analogy between the magic we encounter in the books on the one hand, and
1 In so doing, we are following up on a faiitful suggestion by Alan Jacobs. His
review of the first three Potter books in First Things (January, 2000, pp. 35–38)
started us thinking about this topic. We owe to Joshua Hochschild the sug-
gestion to follow up on Jacobs in this way.