The prospect of children’s hero Harry Potter appearing on a #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 thinktank which rates his contribution to moral thinking as highly as that of the great Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith - soon to replace Elgar on the new #20 note.
The National Association for Pastoral Care in Education (NAPCE), based at Warwick University’s Institute of Education, has published report 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 NAPCE, believes it justified. In a paper entitled Smith, Hume and the Moral Imagination: Sympathy and Social Justice, 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."
* Is the young wizard a worthy icon for the younger generation? And shouldn't the credit really go to JK Rowling? Tell us your thoughts at the messageboard.