His Dark Materials and Philosophy
The new TV series, His Dark Materials, is based on the series of novels by Philip Pullman, depicting a young girl's adventures in an imaginary world with similarities and dissimilarities to our own. The story tells of world domination by a religious body, the Magisterium, with malevolent intentions, serving a really existing God who is evil and who can be killed. The story, in all its manifestations, as novels, movies, and television shows, has received fierce criticism from religious organizations, especially because its criticisms of religion are aimed primarily at children. While the story is a thrilling adventure yarn, enjoyed by millions of children and grownups alike, it raises many philosophical issues. In the world of His Dark Materials (or one of its many worlds) humans have an animal companion to which they are emotionally linked and which is like an external 'soul'. This provokes questions about the human personality and the way we think of humans as having bodies, minds, and maybe also souls. Human psychology can be analyzed by psychoanalysis and other theories, some of which are explored in His Dark Materials and Philosophy. Questions of social and political philosophy are also prompted by the story of His Dark Materials. The malignant Magisterium has similarities with the various churches and other religious organizations which have wielded tremendous power both politically and culturally, throughout human history. The relation of the Magisterium to the mysterious dust which pervades the universe helps us to understand the relationship of science, religion, and metaphysics. Ever since Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed that God is dead, the question of what Nietzsche meant and what are the consequences of the death of God has agitated many thinkers, and so the story in which God is actually killed enables a closer look at the death of God. A popular theme in philosophy and in modern fantasy stories, is that of possible worlds, including how possible worlds relate to parallel worlds. His Dark Materials has many alternative worlds (one of which happens to be our own) and is filled with rich materials for discussion of these questions. His Dark Materials is a good example of a good story, and therefore provides materials for the branch of philosophy called aesthetics, especially the aesthetics of storytelling. We can learn what makes a good story from thinking about specific stories such as His Dark Materials. One chapter looks at the existentialist implications of the story, another at the feminist implications, and another at the Marxist interpretation. Other chapters focus on specific aspects of metaphysics and epistemology, as well as controversial topics in ethics and philosophy of religion.