Dead Serious: Evil and the
Ontology of the Undead
I don’t know whether Undead beings exist. I also think it is an open question whether anyone is evil in, say, the way bad guys are depicted in supernatural horror films and serial killer movies. I do think it’s nevertheless puzzling that the Undead are frequently portrayed as evil in that way. I’m inclined to think that if we were to stumble across any Undead they would be less likely to be evil than any random live person we stumble across. Consider this a call for some Undead understanding.
Common-sense conceptions of the Undead aren’t perfect, but they are a good place to start. Without a good supply of Undead to study, it simply isn’t possible to proceed by studying them as scientists might. I’ll therefore begin with our ideas or concepts of the Undead.
Some philosophers (the editors of this book, actually) have proposed this account of what we mean by Undead: it refers to “that class of beings who at some point were living creatures, have died, and have come back such that they are not presently ‘at rest.’” This definition seems like a good place to start. It is a perfectly reasonably construal of how we tend to think about the Undead, to the extent that we do, and it is consistent with how the Undead are portrayed in literature, movies, television, video games, and other aspects of popular culture.
On the account we’ve started with, it is a requirement that there be some death involved prior to Undeath. Something