My argument supports the claims that Voldemort was alive despite his curse rebounding off of 15-month old Harry Potter. Voldemort says, “I was ripped from my body, I was less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost…but still, I was alive.”
In the world of Harry Potter, there is a clear distinction between souls and a physical body. Souls are represented as the personal identity of a living being. On top of this, souls can be separated from the body by either a Dementor’s kiss or by constructing a Horcrux. In the case of Voldemort, he split his soul into seven Horcruxes. On the night of October 31 at Godric’s Hollow, the killing curse rebounded onto Voldemort which destroyed his physical body, but not his soul. Due to his Horcruxes, he was still alive. In order to further understand how this pertains to the real world, we must explore the different theories on soul, life, and personal identity.
Some ancient Greek philosophers developed the Life Source View which states that life and soul cannot be separated. Having a soul leads to being “alive.” In order for a being or object to be considered alive, it must have a soul. Due to this, every living organism has a soul, even the smallest bacteria. This theory is not supportive of the Harry Potter universe because it states that life cannot exist without a soul, however we clearly see that in the Potter world that this is not the case. One example of this is that humans continue to be physically alive after their soul has been sucked out by a Dementor, therefore we know that soul is not necessary for life. The second view is the Sentience View which argues that the soul gives organisms the ability to feel the environment around them. The soul is responsible for sentience, and environmental awareness. This would rule out plants, bacteria, and microbes from having souls. However, this view would suggest that magical beings such as Whomping Willow and the Sorting Hat have souls.
Rene Descartes took it a step further and thought that the soul is responsible for the ability to use language. This Cartesian View would exclude all organisms except humans from having souls, assuming that animals do not possess higher level thought. In Harry Potter, there were creatures with higher level thought which could possibly counteract this argument. For instance, magical pets such as Fawkes the phoenix and owls clearly have conscious thought and can understand humans. These magical animals could create some ambiguity with the Cartesian View in the Harry Potter world.
The Materialism view states that immaterial objects, such as the soul, do not exist and all mental functioning is due to the physiology of the brain. This view also says that when our physical body dies, we cease to existence, and there is no afterlife. Despite this view closely agreeing with science in our world thus far, it is not a correct view in Potter’s universe. We know this because in Harry’s world, souls are material objects which can be separated from the body, and some form of afterlife exists whether it be as a ghost, or as a portrait, etc.
The theory about soul and personal identity that best fits Harry Potter is the Sentimental View. In this view, the soul represents qualities that make us most human and gives meaning to life. The idea of the soul is closely connected to our deepest emotions, the ability to love, and our moral compass. The term “soulmates” suggests that two people share deep connections and deep emotions that closely tie them together. It goes further than just possessing higher level thinking or ability to understand language, but gives us the emotions that make life worth living. This makes sense in Harry’s world because when a person loses their soul through the Dementor’s kiss, they become a shell of their old self and lose all of the qualities that once made their life meaningful. When Voldemort splits his soul, it can be argued that he loses the deeper emotions such as love. This view of the soul supports all of the characteristics of Harry Potter.
Now that we have established that the Sentimental View is the theory about soul, life, and personal identity that fits most closely with Harry Potter, we can explore how Voldemort was alive and what does it mean to be alive.
In our world, the definition of being alive is fairly simple. As long as one’s physical body is still functioning, they are considered alive. However, in the Potter universe, this definition of being alive is slightly more complex. In J.K. Rowling’s world, if one’s soul is tied to the physical world, for example a Horcrux, then they are technically alive and have the potential to possess a physical body. In the case of Voldemort, his soul is tied down to seven places, so even though his original body died from the killing curse, he is still alive. Using the Sentimental View, we see that the soul represents the essence of who he is, and that part of him is not yet dead.
The most serious challenge to the argument that Voldemort was alive is the fact that the Sentimental View’s description of the soul is purely metaphorical. The word “soul” is used in discussing the aspects which make us human, and is not a physical object that can be tampered with as described in Harry Potter. The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy book characterizes this view as: “Everyday sentimentalists uses of the word soul need not be taken to imply any particular metaphysical view. That is, they don’t commit one to any view on which the soul is an actual substance existing independently of the body.” This description perfectly highlights the counter argument because it states that the soul is not a physical material that can exist outside of the body. According to the Sentimental View, Horcruxes would never exist. Therefore, if Horcruxes never exist, then Voldemort will not be alive, and should be considered dead.
Despite this compelling counter argument, it can be addressed by re-iterating that the soul in Harry Potter is more about what it represents than what it physically is. Even though, the Sentimental View technically counters what a Horcrux is, the important aspect is that the soul is the sense of the individual and what makes them human. This “humanness” is consistent in both the Harry Potter world and the Sentimental View. On top of this, we must account for J.K. Rowling’s implausible metaphysics with the sentimental view of the soul because they allow for the physical embodiment of objects such as souls. Therefore, the Sentimental View is the best view of soul and personal identity in the Harry Potter world. This view allows Voldemort to be alive because his essence of individuality is still alive and tied to the physical world, and if one’s individuality is still alive then they themselves must be alive.