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Philosophy of Monsters Series – Prof. Stephen Asma

General Course Description

The category “monster” disrupts the borders and boundaries of what we consider natural, normal, and even intelligible. Our rational systems of order are upended by the monstrous. In this lecture series Dr. Asma examines the role of monsters in cognition and knowledge, the ethical and political uses of monstrosity, the relation to personal identity, and the problem of evil. A philosophical “monsterology” is committed to the idea that we can better understand the human condition by examining what scares us–what makes us vulnerable.

Inner Monsters: Psychopaths and Psychologizing Monsters – March 6th 2022

In this illustrated lecture, Professor Asma will examine the transition from traditional external monsterology (e.g., creatures, demons, etc.) to our contemporary fascination with psychopaths and inner monsters of human psychology. Why has the 20th and 21st century focused so heavily on monsters of the mind?

Asma will describe the “subjective turn” in philosophy during the Modern era that eventually gave us an aesthetics of the “sublime,” Schopenhauer’s monstrous “will” and Freud’s view of the mind as an alienated and conflicted psyche. We will focus on a few famous cases including the Leopold and Loeb trial, the cases of John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer, and some reflections on narcissism in Incel mass shootings. These cases will be examined in light of recent psychological work on empathy.


Stephen Asma is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago, where he is a Senior Fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science and Culture. Asma is the author of ten books, including On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears (Oxford Univ. Press), The Emotional Mind: Affective Roots of Culture and Cognition (Harvard Univ. Press), The Evolution of Imagination (Univ. of Chicago), and The Gods Drink Whiskey (HarperOne). He writes regularly for the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Aeon magazine.

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