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Serial Killers - Philosophy for Everyone: Being and Killing

Fritz Allhoff (Series Editor), S. Waller (Editor), John M. Doris (Foreword by)
ISBN: 978-1-4051-9963-6
248 pages
October 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
Serial Killers - Philosophy for Everyone: Being and Killing (1405199636) cover image
Serial Killers - Philosophy for Everyone investigates our profound intrigue with mass-murderers. Exploring existential, ethical and political questions through an examination of real and fictional serial killers, philosophy comes alive via an exploration of grisly death.
  • Presents new philosophical theories about serial killing, and relates new research in cognitive science to the minds of serial killers
  • Includes a philosophical look at real serial killers such as Ian Brady, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and the Zodiac killer, as well as fictional serial killers such as Dexter and Hannibal Lecter
  • Offers a new phenomenological examination of the writings of the Zodiac Killer
  • Contains an account of the disappearance of one of Ted Bundy's victims submitted by the organization Families and Friends of Missing Persons and Violent Crime Victims
  • Integrates the insights of philosophers, academics, crime writers and police officers
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Foreword (John M. Doris).

Acknowledgments (S. Waller).

Introduction: Meditations on Murder, or What is so Philosophical about Serial Killers? (S. Waller and William E. Deal).

PART I I THINK THEREFORE I KILL: The Philosophical Musings of Serial Killers.

1 Man is the Most Dangerous Animal of All: A Philosophical Gaze into the Writings of the Zodiac Killer (Andrew M. Winters).

2 A Philosophy of Serial Killing: Sade, Nietzsche, and Brady at the Gates of Janus (David Schmid).

3 The Situation of the Jury: Attribution Bias in the Trials of Accused Serial Killers (Mark Alfano).

PART II CAN YOU BLAME THEM? ETHICS, EVIL, AND SERIAL KILLING.

4 Serial Killers as Practical Moral Skeptics: A Historical Survey with Interviews (Amanda Howard).

5 Are Psychopathic Serial Killers Evil? Are They Blameworthy for What They Do? (Manuel Vargas).

6 Sympathy for the Devil: Can a Serial Killer Ever Be Good? (Matthew Brophy).

PART III DANGEROUS INFATUATIONS: The Public Fascination with Serial Killers.

7 The Allure of the Serial Killer (Eric Dietrich and Tara Fox Hall).

8 Dexter's Dark World: The Serial Killer as Superhero (Susan Amper).

PART IV A EULOGY FOR EMOTION: The Lack of Empathy and the Urge to Kill.

9 Killing with Kindness: Nature, Nurture, and the Female Serial Killer (Elizabeth Schechter and Harold Schechter).

10 It Puts the Lotion in the Basket: The Language of Psychopathy (Chris Keegan).

11 Are Serial Killers Cold-Blooded Killers? (Andrew Terjesen).

PART V CREEPY COGNITION: Talking and Thinking about Serial Killers.

12 The Serial Killer was (Cognitively) Framed (William E. Deal).

13 Wolves and Widows: Naming, Metaphor, and the Language of Serial Murder (Wendy M. Zirngibl).

14 An Arresting Conversation: Police Philosophize about the Armed and Dangerous (S. Waller (with Diane Amarillas and Karen Kos))..

PART VI PSYCHO-OLOGY: Killer Mindsets and Meditations on Murder.

15 Psychopathy and Will to Power: Ted Bundy and Dennis Rader (Richard M. Gray).

16 The Thread of Death, or the Compulsion to Kill (J. S. Piven).

A Solemn Afterword: A Message from the Victim's Network (Mary Miller).

A Timeline of Serial Killers (Amanda Howard).

Notes on Contributors.

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Editor
S. Waller is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Montana State University Bozeman. Her areas of research are philosophy of neurology, philosophy of cognitive ethology (especially dolphins, wolves, and coyotes), and philosophy of mind, specifically the parts of the mind we disavow.

Series Editor
Fritz Allhoff is an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at Western Michigan University, as well as a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian National University’s Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. In addition to editing the Philosophy for Everyone series, Allhoff is the volume editor or co-editor for several titles, including Wine & Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007), Whiskey & Philosophy (with Marcus P. Adams, Wiley, 2009), and Food & Philosophy (with Dave Monroe, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007).

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"I found this book enlightening in many ways and on some things I'm not going to make too many mistakes if I use such people in any of my stories. I should also point out that none of the material is too graphic and centres mostly on what makes serial killers tick even if there is no precise pattern." (SFCrowsnest.co.uk, 1 April 2011)

"If you're a Dexter fan looking for someplace to start in learning about real-life serial killers, this is a solid and fairly complete volume to start with. At a slim 248 pages, it's also ideal for those who don't have the time to invest in a larger volume. As the title of the series implies, this really is a book that's accessible to everyone." (Digital Air Waves, November 2010)

"There is very little to complain about here. The language used is simple and it certainly leaves the reader with plenty of food for thought." (Curious Book Fan, November 2010)

"One thing I can say about this book, is it stays in your head, at least parts of it. Weeks after reading Serial Killers, Philosophy for Everyone, I still can't help but come back to the section concerning Dexter and how peoples outlook on a serial killer changes based on what they know of a serial killers background and family life. The book is definitely a conversation starter, having many since adding it to my coffee table books. You can always tell whose interested and who tries to pretend they don't see it." (Gatekeeper Chronicles blog, November 2010)

"This pathbreaking volume deepens our understanding of human nature by exploring its most chilling aberrations.  Each essay bring brutality to bear on enduring topics in philosophy, including questions such as: Do serial killers have free will? Are they morally responsible? Do descriptions of extreme violence evoke emotions that cloud our judgment? And, why are we so captivated by the macabre?  At last, a book that goes beyond the gory details and investigates what murder means."
Jesse Prinz, Distinguished Professor, City University of New York

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November 08, 2010
Serial Killers: Being and Killing: Philosophy for Everyone

“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”—Friedrich Nietzsche

The popularity of television shows such as Dexter confirms that we just can’t get enough of serial killers: their motivations, their biographies, their biopic films, and their Lifetime channel style based-on-a- true-story novelistic treatments. Their ability to terrify us causes the darkly lit areas of our imagination to spring to life, and tickle our more sadistic pleasure centers, and yet this is usually ignored in the pop culture atmosphere. The gruesome, horrifying acts of real-life and fictional serial killers hold a deep and disturbing lure.

 Serial Killers: Being and Killing investigates our profound intrigue with serial-murderers. Authors from various academic fields, as well as true crime writers and police officers delve into the reasons behind their behavior, the strange and questionable idea that a serial killer can work for good (“Sympathy for the Devil: Can a Serial Killer Ever be Good?” and “Dexter's Dark World: The Serial Killer as Superhero”), and the endless fascination that “classic” serial killers hold: Ian Brady, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Hannibal Lecter, Dexter, and the Zodiac killer (“The Allure of the Serial Killer”).

Drawing from contemporary theories in cognitive science, philosophy (Nietzsche), phenomenology (applied to the writings of the Zodiac killer in “Man is the Most Dangerous Animal of All: A Philosophical Gaze into the Writings of the Zodiac Killer”), law (“The Situation of the Jury: Attribution Bias in the Trials of Accused Serial Killers”), psychopathy (“It Puts the Lotion in the Basket: The Language of Psychopathy”), and real-life accounts (a chronicle of the disappearance of one of Ted Bundy's victims submitted by the organization Families and Friends of Missing Persons and Violent Crime Victims), the essays are a must-read for pop culture and crime investigation buffs.

The question of moral responsibility and blame are unavoidable when discussing the acts of serial killers. In essays such as “Are Psychopathic Serial Killers Evil?  Are They Blameworthy for What They Do?” and “The Thread of Death, or The Compulsion to Kill,” these questions are vigorously debated. 

The contributors provide an engaging account of the serial killers, and yet also provide a heartfelt and sobering look at the real-life dangers associated with their existence in society. The last essay, “A Solemn Afterword: A Message from the Victim's Network,” and the last entry, “A Timeline of Serial Killers,” both strike home in their ability to remind us of the stark, grisly horror that is at the heart of our dark attraction to serial killers.

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