Mon Oct 13, 2003

God is Undead

The website of the American Philosophical Association is a quiet affair as a rule, but its section on Calls for Papers turns up the odd gem:

Philosophy and The Onion. Now soliciting proposals for projected philosophical anthology on any aspect of The Onion, America’s leading satirical newspaper.

This is followed by,

The Undead and Philosophy … Abstracts are sought for a collection of philosophical essays on the theme of the undead.

A link to further information helpfully explains that “We define ‘the undead’ as that class of corporeal beings who at some point were living creatures, have died, and have come back such that they are not presently ‘at rest.’ This would include supernatural beings such as zombies, vampires, mummies, and other reanimated corpses.”

The two projects might be combined: Once the Undead and Philosophy is published, someone from The Onion can whip up something pretty quickly.

To be fair, it’s clear there’s plenty of philosophical mileage in the undead. There are tricky definitional problems —Do vampires count as “reanimated corpses”, for example?—which raise the question of whether “the undead” admit of a reductive analysis. My friend Dave Chalmers is a noted authority on zombies, though the zombies he has in mind are rather different from common or garden Hollywood Zombies. Philosophical zombies are roughly defined by the fact that they, unlike Dave, can’t have anything in mind, ever.

Apart from metaphysics and philosophy of mind, the organizers are also interested in bioethics, “cultural theory and globalization studies”, and existentialism. Some of these practically write themselves. Bioethics, for instance. The basic line is that it’s OK to turn someone into a Zombie, as long as you get them to sign an informed consent form beforehand. I can see the press coverage now: “The new Zombie technology will force us to ‘rethink our attitudes towards life and death,’ Dr Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania said today. ‘Socially acceptable levels of body odor are going to be up for debate, too,’ he continued. Meanwhile, University of Chicago Bioethicist Leon Kass said that Zombies—especially cloned Zombies—are ‘repugnant to human dignity’ for reasons which are at once intuitively obvious to all and difficult to articulate clearly.”

So get writing. The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2003. In the first place this should of course be an undeadline, and anyone from the Southwestern United States could tell you the date should be set at November 2nd. On the other hand, the call for papers comes from Weber State University, which though not a noted center of eldritch activity is located in Ogden, Utah, where it’s probably pretty dead most of the time.