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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.

Philosophizing Aliens, UFOs, and Astrobiology – April 24th 2022

In this illustrated lecture Dr. Asma will examine the essential philosophical issues surrounding the existence of alien life, UFOs, and contact. Scenarios and risk-management responses will be discussed, as well as questions of epistemology, philosophy of mind, and evolution.

Popular mainstream alien-mania quickly settles into sci-fi tropes that, albeit fun, obscure more serious questions about the biology, psychology, and the philosophical meaning of alien life. But in the Academy, scholars also avoid these serious questions in favor of a purely cultural analysis of alien reports, preferring to study the human history and cultural impact of alien storytelling while taking a somewhat dismissive stance toward the possible reality of extraterrestrial life.

In this lecture, Professor Asma will not try to convince skeptics or true believers to change their minds, but rather consider the interesting evolutionary questions about alien bodies, brains, cultures, and technologies. Would aliens have similar anatomies or emotional palettes with mammals for example? Would they converge on the same science as humans? Given what we know about large civilizational human clashes, can we infer anything about the political consequences of contact?


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.

Tickets are for this lecture only – please book the rest in the series separately

Philosophy of Monsters Series – Prof. Stephen Asma

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