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As great a wizard as Adam Smith?

Byline: By Shahid Naqvi Education Correspondent

The prospect of children's hero Harry Potter appearing on a pounds 10 note may seem as far-fetched as a plot from one of JK Rowling's best-selling tales.

Not, however, according to a Midland education think-tank which rates his contribution to moral thinking as highly as that of the great Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith - soon to appear on the new pounds 20 note.

The charity has published an article in an academic journal which claims the boy wizard is helping to shape moral thought in the 21st century, just as Smith did in the 18th.

It maintains Potter's contribution to the ethical development of the race will some day be judged as important as Smith's, credited as the founder of modern capitalism.

Comparing a fictional children's character to the man whose seminal work The Wealth of Nations paved the way for the world's dominant economic structure is bound to upset purists.

But Dr Emery Hyslop-Margison, of the National Association for Pastoral Care in Education (NAPCE) based at Warwick University's Institute of Education, believes it justified.

In a paper entitled Smith, Hume and the Moral Imagination: Sympathy and Social Justice in the organisation's journal, Dr Hyslop-Margison argues Potter's plight against his evil arch-enemy Lord Voldemort shows children how to problem solve moral dilemmas.

He writes: "The extreme popularity of the Harry Potter series provides another example of how the imagination of children and youth promotes moral responses to circumstances and events often significantly removed from daily lives.

"Children eagerly enter into the world of wizardry, sympathise with mistreated characters, wrestle with issues of difference and economic disparity (Muggles and Wizards and Ron's family), examine the forces of good and evil, and explore matters of justice."

Dr Hyslop-Margison believes the books exhibit the same spirit of inquiry that allowed Smith and his colleague David Hume to give birth to the Scottish Enlightenment 200 years ago.

"JK Rowling effectively captures the sympathy and imagination articulated by Smith and Hume and combines them with the uncertainties and fears of children by creating adventures, mysteries, and moral dilemmas for Harry and his friends to resolve," he said. "Children witness Harry using his imagination to explore moral issues to triumph over the dark forces that surface at Hogwarts.

"By vicariously entering Harry's world and experiencing a world that resembles their own, children and adolescents might imagine possible solutions to their moral dilemmas."

Dr Hyslop-Margison believes the mass audience a fictional character like Harry Potter attracts is a powerful force in showing children how to deal with life.

The academic, who teaches at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, added youngsters can also learn about moral issues and unfairness through real-life catastrophes, such as the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina or war in Lebanon.

However, Dr Iain Law, from the department of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, questioned the "Potter theory".

"I don't see any evidence he's a 'leading moral thinker'," he said. "He's merely the most prominent moral hero.

"That doesn't make him comparable in any interesting way to Adam Smith or David Hume."


Fictional character and star of one of the most popular children's book of all time. The son of wizard parents murdered when he was a baby, Potter is the star pupil at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

His fantastic adventures with his friends Ron and Hermione have inspired four smash-hit films.


Scottish philosopher and economist born in 1723. Smith won scholarships to Glasgow University and then Balliol College, Oxford.

Best known for his book The Wealth of Nations, a vast and stinging critique the crippling regulation commerce and trade.

The work had a profound influence, laying the foundation for the era of liberal free trade and the capitalist system that now dominates the world. Comment, Page 10


Laurence Hardie reads a Harry Potter book. But is JK Rowling's character as much of an influence on the world as the 18th century economist Adam Smith?
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 12, 2006
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