Zombie Philosophy

Dean's book tackles ethics in the world of the undead


Bryan Hall, Ph.D., dean of the College of Contemporary Liberal Studies, has united zombies and philosophy in one of academia’s most unlikely marriages. Hall’s new book “An Ethical Guidebook to the Zombie Apocalypse: How to Keep Your Brain without Losing Your Heart,” which publishes today, Dec. 12, is part graphic novel, part short story collection — and is all about what the study of philosophy can tell us about grappling with age-old, wrenching moral dilemmas.

The difference is that in this book, those dilemmas are zombie-wrought: When your community is attacked by zombies, how do you choose whom to save if you can’t save everyone? Is it OK to sacrifice one victim to an undead horde to save more people?

Hall said he hopes the book will attract people who don’t ordinarily read about philosophy. 

“It’s hard to get people engaged in philosophy through the ways it’s traditionally been presented,” he said. With students and with the public, “different modes of communication can be more effective than the modes we use to communicate with colleagues,” — such as academic papers, he said.

Into zombie-apocalyptic scenarios, Hall introduces the foundations of moral philosophy, as well as the theories of philosophers from Aristotle to John Stuart Mill.

Hall, a longtime horror fan — “Shaun of the Dead” is his favorite movie — may be the only scholar of 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant to speak at Denver Pop Culture Con, formerly known as Denver ComicCon.

Participating in a Pop Culture Con panel on how pop culture can raise issues rooted in philosophy, Hall said, is another way to bring consideration of ethics and morality to a wider audience.

But Hall isn’t after shock value. His goal is to inspire serious examination of how to live ethically, and how moral values guide us in a complex world. How better to get readers’ attention than with zombies? 

“Philosophy, I think, has tremendous power to do good in the world,” Hall said.

Sometimes, though, it needs a little help from zombies.