Fun/Entertainment: August 2008 Archives

[cross-posted at Prosblogion]

I'm working on a chapter for the forthcoming Blackwell Philosophy and Harry Potter on the topic of destiny, and one of the things I'm trying to do in the chapter is distinguish between different metaphysical analyses of prophecy. I've come up with three, and I'm inclined to think that it might be exhaustive enough for the purposes of a popular-level work like this, but I'm curious if anyone here can think of any others.

Here's what I've got (and how I'm presenting it in the draft I'm writing):

1. They involve mere likelihoods. No one has access to the actual future, but someone might have magical access to information that's derived from what's likely. Given what's true about the various people involved, it's very likely that a certain outcome will happen. That means prophecies, even the ones Dumbledore is inclined to call genuine, are not infallible. They can turn out get it wrong.

2. They do not derive their content from the actual future. Rather, they make the future happen. When a genuine prophecy occurs, it influences those who hear it in such a way that they end up doing things that will fulfill the prophecy. This kind of prophecy is self-fulfilling in a very literal sense.

3. The seer has some intuitive connection with the way things will really happen, such that the words of the prophecy are true about a future that really will be that way. If it's a genuine prophecy, it can't be wrong, because its origin lies in the very future events that it tells about. In the same way that a report about the past can bring knowledge about the past only if there's some reliable connection with the actual events in the past, a genuine prophecy in this sense must derive its truth from a reliable method of getting facts about the future.

My understanding of J.K. Rowling's view of prophecy, judging by this interview and my sense that the Albus Dumbledore character represents her views when he discusses this issue with Harry Potter, is that she wants to treat Professor Trelawney's two genuine prophecies as the first kind, a kind of prophecy an open theist could accept.

There are hints in at least two of Dumbledore's conversations with Harry that he thinks something like the second kind is going on, but it's clearly not a reduction of prophecy to what happens in #2, because the characters in question (mostly Lord Voldemort) still make free choices and aren't simply caused by the prophecy to do anything the way some ancients thought Laius was caused by Apollo's prophecy to do what he did that led to Oedipus eventually killing him.

My argument at this point is that there isn't really a way for Dumbledore to distinguish between Trelawney's two genuine prophecies and all her vague predictions that can often be interpreted as coming true unless the genuine ones are of the third kind (because the pseudo-prophecies are of the first kind, and the genuine ones can't be completely explained by the second kind). Rowling doesn't seem to want to accept that, and Dumbledore is clearly with her, so there's a consistency issue here both for the character and the author. But my argument depends on the options I've listed being exhaustive. Is that true?

Bush or Batman?

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A friend sent my brother a link to Bush or Batman?. It's a pretty funny juxtaposition of quotes from President Bush and the Adam West version of Batman, and the people they find on the street can't seem to distinguish which are which. A moments reflection and a quick look here show that they've clearly picked quotes by each that sound like something the other might have said, but the fact that there are so many is pretty interesting. So does Bush talk about evil the way the superheroes he grew up watching on TV did?

(I should say that I'm not sure why some of the YouTube commenters think this entire video is an attack against Bush. There is one line about the Bush not believing the Batman quote about the Constitution, but I could see a Bush supporter even saying something like that, intending it ironically because so many people do think such a crazy thing about Bush. Anyway, I thought the comparison actually reflected well on him.)

I was originally going to connect this with yesterday's post on Obama and Evil because it relates to the way President Bush talks about evil, but I decided not to do too many things in one post. That does raise an extremely important issue. A lot of people complain about the way the current president talks, but they don't realize how grateful they ought to be. If he's modeling his speeches on Adam West's Batman, then we may have just narrowly missed having a president who talks like the Burt Ward version of Robin.

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