Review of Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper Than Swords

This is a review of Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper Than Swords (2012, henceforth GoTP).

GoTP is a fascinating read. It fulfilled my desire to read a title that is both fiction I enjoy and philosophy. I tend to avoid the fantasy or science fiction shelf in the book store and always find myself browsing the philosophy and religion section. But GoTP offers the reader a blend of proper philosophy and fantasy. I am a huge fan of the Game of Thrones series having watched all episodes. What GoTP did for me was to allow me a means for engaging two things I greatly enjoy: Game of Thrones (the series) and philosophy.

GoTP contains twenty essays written by various authors. Each author shows a familiarity with the Game of Thrones series, its characters, events, and narratives. Importantly, since the book was published in 2012, the authors only have a familiarity with the first or two seasons. The authors also combine philosophy with the Game of Thrones with great skill and successfully employ the series as a case study to elucidate important insights of various well-known philosophers.

If you have some familiarity with the names of philosophers you will recognize many of them ranging from Thomas Hobbes and Friedrich Nietzsche to Michel Foucault, Plato, and Aristotle, and others. Each philosopher offers insight that the authors masterfully weave together with the world of Westeros.

When it comes to Hobbes (p. 6-18), the author has us reflect on what Hobbes would do if he were a Maester (these being individuals who are well studied and advisors to rulers) in Westeros. What advice would Hobbes give to the ruler who sits on the Iron Throne to centralize power? We need only recall Hobbes’ pessimistic view of human nature being in perpetual conflict and “solitary, poor, nasty and short”. Indeed such a life is not in short supply in Westeros with its various civil wars, conflicts, threats to human life, and deadly struggles between hopeful rulers vying for the Iron Throne. What type of social contract would Hobbes recommend Westeros’ peoples live by?

Another interesting perspective draws on insights from Michel Foucault (p. 265-277). Foucault was interested in how power is inherent in the way we classify, name, and categorize people, such as being mentally ill, mad, or insane. How we classify others engenders various ways of how we are to treat and view them, such as institutionalizing a mentally ill individual in an asylum. The author compares this insight to how Joffrey, the callous, juvenile king in King’s Landing, named Ser Dontos a mad fool in his court and how this classification drastically changed Ser Dontos’ identity from that of having been a knight to something far more stupid, namely a mad fool. As Foucault penned, “He is mad because that is what people tell him and because he has been treated as such…”

GoTP has an essay dedicated to physicalism (p. 115+), which is the “philosophical view that there are only physical things”, that “everything that exists is physical”, and that “the world depends on arrangements of this physical stuff” (p. 130). The author rules out supernatural phenomena (ghosts, souls, etc.) and mind-body dualism because “We know that our conscious experiences, for example, are affected by drugs, alcohol, and blows to the head; our mental states are altered by the chemical changes that occur in our brains” (p. 131-132).

No doubt will dualists strongly disagree with this author. For example, physicalism, the author states, is based on “two statements: 1. For something to exist, it must have an effect of some kind. 2. Every physical effect has only a physical cause”. But theists will disagree that “every physical effect has only a physical cause” because this removes God from the picture. The theist believes that the physical universe does not have a physical cause but an immaterial one in a God who is not physical but incorporeal. He argues this is supported by Big Bang cosmology that shows that the physical universe had its origin in a singularity. Hence, whatever caused the universe cannot be physical since physical stuff came into existence at the Big Bang.  

GoTP is generally a light read. Its philosophy is presented in a very accessible manner and is not at all complicated. This can be both a good and bad thing. One might wonder if presenting philosophy in a simple way does justice to the nuances and complexities of various philosophical worldviews. That said, as an introduction to philosophical views, GoTP does well to keep beginner readers interested and engaged throughout. 

The above are only a few insights drawn from GoTP and there are many other discussions on the nature of justice (p. 63+), free will (p. 158-166), questions regarding moral behavior (p. 169+) and character (p. 186+), cultural and moral relativism (p. 194+), virtue ethics (p. 237+), a feminist engagement with chivalry (p. 205+), and game theory (p. 250+).

To conclude, GoTP is a fascinating read that anyone with a keen philosophical mind and a love for Game of Thrones is sure to benefit from and greatly enjoy. 

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