The Course Awakens: Philosophy in Star Wars
For fans of Star Wars, the attraction is not only the technology and special effects but the epic drama of the characters, the forces acting upon them and the choices they must make. The themes of good and evil, light and dark, the idea of characters choosing their own paths and the far-reaching consequences of those decisions, are appealing and engaging because they are rooted firmly in classic drama and tragedy. The conflict the characters have with their own destinies is central to the franchise, and it is appropriately riddled with philosophical and spiritual questions. So much so, in fact, that the philosophy of Star Wars has produced books, blogs and a religion.
Parallels with Buddhism are obvious. When Master Yoda tells Luke ‘Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose’ and ‘Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering’, George Lucas is giving us a thinly-veiled introduction to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. Much blogging has been done on the Buddhist Dharma of Star Wars. More recently, the song ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen has hit on a similar vein with its exhortation to free oneself from the shackles of attachment in order to lead an enlightened life.
All this is fertile territory for exploring concepts of Western philosophy pertaining to moral choice and free will. The University of Glasgow has a keen interest in exploring philosophy through popular culture, and has produced philosophy courses based on The Simpsons, Dr Who, Game of Thrones and other media juggernauts. They have just introduced a philosophy dedicated to the second most popular media franchise in history, Star Wars (the first is Pokémon. Its philosophical depth has yet to be seriously explored, though some are trying).
The Glasgow course Star Wars and Philosophy: Destiny, Justice and the Metaphysics of the Force explores the philosophical ramifications of destiny and free will. What is the relationship between there being a preordained, fixed future, free will, and moral praise or blame? If a person has a destiny, then how blameworthy, praiseworthy or otherwise is he or she, when acting within that framework? If destiny is fixed, then what place does free will have? Is there indeed such a thing as free will, or is it an illusion? The focus of this course is the metaphysics of causality in Star Wars.
Dr John Donaldson, the lecturer giving the course, said: "It's a way of making philosophy more accessible. It's an unfortunate fact that philosophy tends to be hidden away in universities.
"You don't get programmes about philosophy on TV for example, which you do about other academic subjects.
"You don't tend to get books that deal with philosophical ideas. It's not that accessible.
"We hope it will engage people and encourage them to take philosophy further."
May the course be with you.