Why does the horror genre
serve as a source of pleasure, given its aim to induce fear in the audience? I
examine two general solutions to this phenomenon, referred to as the paradox of
horror, which differ based upon their position regarding the possibility of
deriving pleasure from fear. Each of the possible solutions contains
significant flaws. I argue that, by adjusting a meta-theory originally proposed
by Susan Feagin, it is possible to craft a solution that addresses the paradox
while preserving the idea that, at times, fear can be enjoyed. The article
concludes by considering the moral status of macabre fascination, which is
often subject to recrimination. Given that such fascination is a driving force
behind the willingness to engage with horror, does it follow that these works
ought to be viewed as morally problematic? Drawing upon the concept of a moral
saint, I argue the lack of macabre fascination is problematic. Exercising this
fascination is beneficial to the development of character traits. Thus such
indulgences are, within reason, morally acceptable.
ethics, horror, macabre,
meta-response, pleasurable fear, reactive attitudes
Introducing the paradox
The macabre is often
regarded as a source of significant fear and anxiety. Events and objects
belonging to the macabre contain elements of violence, decay, and, notably,
death. Typically, these are seen as undesirable, horrific, and disturbing
occurrences that one should avoid whenever possible. Although seemingly
straightforward, this brings to light an intriguing question. If the macabre is
viewed with such trepidation, why is its artistic representation a popular
source of entertainment? Why seek out in the arts what are otherwise terrifying,
real-world occurrences, and how can we explain such pleasurable fear? This
phenomenon most clearly manifests in our interaction with works of horror. A
genre designed around provoking fear, horror nonetheless enjoys a sizable audience,
and notable success.
I consider horror art as
delineated by Andrea Sauchelli, "a work is a sample of art-horror if it is
designed to evoke a specific H-mood using the artistic means peculiar to the
form of art to which it belongs…generally marked by a morbid attention toward
(principally) death, murder, and evil through the artistic means appropriate to
the specific art form.” I
will open by examining prior solutions offered within the philosophical study
of horror, a juncture of aesthetics and philosophical psychology that explores
this phenomenon with the greatest depth.
I consider two distinct
tactics utilized to dissolve this seeming paradox. The first asserts that
pleasure does not stem from the sensation of fear but from a separate
intellectual satisfaction. The opposing viewpoint contests fear can be enjoyed,
thus negating any paradox. I propose that both fail to offer a wholly
comprehensive explanation, and will present an account of my own design
inspired by Susan Feagin's often-overlooked account of horror.
If successful, this new account raises an additional question regarding the
moral status of macabre fascination. Namely, is indulgence morally acceptable,
given that it is often met with recrimination? I argue indulging macabre
fascination is acceptable given its value in cultivating vital character
Fear as universally abhorrent
One method of addressing the
paradox is to deny that fear can serve as a source of pleasure. Noël Carroll
offers perhaps the most widely-known formulation of this account. He asserts
pleasure found through engaging with macabre works is not due to fear. Such
emotional states are intrinsically unpleasant, and therefore impossible to
Macabre fictional objects are unnatural, as their existence implies a kind of
categorical violation. For example, Dracula is simultaneously alive and dead.
This interstitial quality arouses fear, but also transforms the object of
horror into a source of curiosity, which can only be sated by continued
narrative engagement. It is this revelation of details that causes pleasure, as
it sates our intrigue.
Fear is not enjoyed for its own sake. Rather, it is the price to pay for the
satisfaction of narrative curiosity.
Carroll's account, while
valuable as a contribution to the philosophy of horror, has faced many
objections. It relies too heavily upon satisfaction of narrative curiosity as
the sole source of pleasure from horror. Pleasurable fear can persist even in
the near or total absence of such curiosity. Carroll maintains different horror
fictions will contain enough variance in subject matter or content to pique
sufficient intrigue. However,
this fails to explain how identical, or largely similar works of horror can
still produce pleasurable fear. Two such specific instances come readily to
mind. It is not uncommon for an individual to engage with a narrative and,
finding it enjoyable, reengage with it at another time.
Furthermore, doing so continues to produce pleasurable fear, for example,
making a tradition of watching Hellraiser
every Halloween. The horror franchise presents a similar obstacle. Franchises
consist of multiple installments featuring a similar, if not identical, object.
Oftentimes, the narrative of each successive work is also similar. Given
Carroll’s theory, audiences should find continued installments uninteresting,
given the dearth of mystery with which to pique curiosity. Nonetheless, many
retain interest, engaging with each installment despite the lack of significant
An additional, frequently
critiqued aspect of Carroll’s theory is that the source of pleasurable fear
does not need to be interstitial.
Construed as such, the genre of horror and resulting pleasurable fear will
apply only to works of art that include a monster.
Critics have drawn attention to the fact that this places problematic
limitations on what constitutes horror and, by extension, the phenomenon
itself. Horror fans “clearly expect monstrosity, though in quite what form is
open to question. The genre encompasses monsters present only through
suggestion or inference through to graphic portrayals and the excesses of their
depredations, while audience reactions run the gamut... .”
Monsters need not be revealed, nor necessarily be interstitial. Objects based
in reality are perfectly capable sources of pleasurable fear.
Norman Bates is not an interstitial object. His actions and insanity are
monstrous, yet such individuals exist. The experience of watching his actions
still produces both fascination and fear. It is hard to distinguish how this
differs from the intrigue and disgust found in an interstitial object such as
Leatherface of Texas
sympathetic to Carroll have offered alternative explanations that share the
premise that the pleasure of horror is not rooted in terror. Feminist film
philosopher Cynthia Freeland proposes that pleasure stems not from fear or
narrative curiosity but from intellectual intrigue towards evil.
The concept of evil is disturbing, yet compelling enough to arouse a desire for
investigation. While "Ellen" may consider Aliens a
frightening film, she derives pleasure from analyzing evil, which the narrative
explores through themes such as rape, corporate greed, prejudice, and murder.
While Freeland’s theory is structurally similar to Carroll’s, it does not
require the object to be interstitial, nor does it discount that pleasurable
fear can be found via repeated engagements. However, it still encounters a
similar objection. Simply put, there are many instances in which pleasurable
fear is not the result of deep, detached, academic meditation on an abstract
concept. The audience at a midnight slasher film, eager for the visceral thrill
of watching the killer enact horrors upon a victim, are unlikely dissecting
thematic intricacies. Instances of self-testing, where individuals engage with
horror simply to discern their capacity for tolerance, also lack such a
While some approach horror academically, claiming all fans of horror do so at
all times is problematic.
A further explanation posits
that horror evokes pleasure by reinforcing or reaffirming a status quo.
Proponents of this account interpret the object of horror as representing a
threat to predominantly held values, causing fear. When this deviant object is
defeated by the heroic protagonists, normalcy is restored, creating comfort and
instance, the vampires of Stoker’s Dracula
embody the unchecked libertine sexuality and communicable foreign illnesses
commonly feared in eighteenth century England. The
creatures are eventually defeated by members of proper society, triumphing over
the foreign and the repellent unknown, restoring mainstream societal ideals.
Again, fear is not the source of pleasure, which instead stems from reaffirming
social and cultural identity. As with the previous arguments, this explanation
encounters a problem of scope. The argument necessitates that works of horror
reinforce a predominant ideology. However, many works of horror serve to
critique social norms. It is also worth noting that, contrary to what the
argument implies, individuals who prescribe to supposedly predominant
ideologies will not necessarily find a horror narrative enjoyable. Conversely,
many who find such norms disagreeable may count themselves horror fans.
Additionally, too many works of horror conclude with the object of horror still
present, if not triumphant. Texas
Chainsaw Massacre concludes with all but one of the
protagonists murdered, while the cannibalistic family responsible remains free
to continue butchering the innocent. According to the proposed theory, such a
work should give viewers less pleasure, if any, as the predominant ideology is
undermined. However, the work remains a well-received staple of the genre.
Solutions based around the
premise that pleasure lies external to the sense of fear are problematic. The
resulting explanation will be too narrow in scope. At best, it may plausibly
explain a minority of specific occurrences. More importantly, these solutions
cannot overcome the notion that most individuals drawn to horror want to be
frightened, a position that possesses intuitive appeal, alongside substantial
supporting evidence. The physiological symptoms that accompany successfully
engaging with horror, such as alertness, increased heartbeat, muscle tension,
and adrenaline, are not intrinsically unpleasant.
Rather, positive or negative evaluation is dependent on context. Furthermore, those who appreciate horror
self-report that these sensations are pleasurable. Fright is a crucial
component of the genre, so much so that a work that fails to elicit sufficient
fear will likely be deemed unsuccessful. It is not uncommon for an audience
member to suggest he or she did not enjoy a work of horror because it was not
scary enough. If so much of horror’s success is judged by its ability to evoke
terror, does it not seem that audiences are eager to be frightened?
In direct opposition to the
previous theorists, Susan Feagin proposes those who take pleasure in macabre
works do so because they enjoy a good scare. If this were not the case, fear
and disgust would be accidental to the narrative, while common sense suggests
they are not only central to such fictions but also vital for their enjoyment.
Fear is not a price one is willing to pay for alternative complex cognitive
rewards but, rather, the source of pleasure.
Feagin further asserts that
the pleasures of horror derive from meta-responses, second-order emotional
reactions that stem from analyzing one’s initial emotional response towards a
work. When engaging with horror, individuals often feel fear. If a work
provokes such reactions, it means the individual has the capacity to respond
appropriately to the stimulus. Recognizing
this causes the individual to positively evaluate his or her initial reaction.
Conversely, if one believes taking pleasure in horror is appropriate, then one
positively evaluates the pleasure, creating a second tier of enjoyment. The
third type of meta-response occurs when an individual recognizes they have
become psychologically flexible enough to enjoy horror when they previously
There is significant
inconsistency between Feagin’s initial claim and subsequent emphasis on the
explanatory power of meta-responses.
Feagin begins by arguing that fear is enjoyable but abruptly shifts focus onto
the role of meta-response. In two of the cases Feagin describes, the pleasure
is not due to the sensations of fear. Rather, it is what the presence of fear
indicates about the individual. In her first meta-response, pleasure results
from positively evaluating one’s reaction of disdain for terror. This does not
require that one enjoys fear but necessitates that one does not. The third
meta-response derives pleasure from becoming comfortable with the work.
Pleasurable responses only come from learning to overcome distasteful feelings
of fear. If, given Feagin’s initial premise, fear itself is enjoyable, there
would be no flexibility involved. We
would simply enjoy the display, and the second level evaluation would never
come to pass. When "James" decides to play an installment of the Silent Hill
video game series, he finds the artful use of graphics and sound produce a
terror that is enjoyable on a visceral, first-order level. He
acts as Feagin first proposes, simply enjoying the way the work makes him feel.
He does not overcome any initial distaste and thus never alters his
Perhaps Feagin is arguing that
the horror consumer enjoys both: sensations of fear alongside their
second-order response. This would be a dubious assumption regarding her first
and third meta-responses, as they require that fear be undesirable.
Nonetheless, it is presented as the second possible meta-response. The individual engages with horror and enjoys
the fear brought forth. Upon reflection, he or she believes they have reacted
appropriately, arriving at a pleasurable second-order evaluation. For Feagin’s
characterization to be successful, it would assume we categorize enjoyment of
horror as appropriate. However, this claim is frequently contested.
Works of horror necessarily encompass
disturbing subject matter including disgusting constructs, threatening acts,
and displays of violence. Many object to horror as entertainment and argue
against such media practices. Notably, the argument from reactive attitudes is
that consuming horror for
pleasure will gradually skew what one takes to be morally repugnant.
Indulging to a sufficient degree will go so far as to degrade one’s perspective
on right and wrong.
Thus, deriving pleasure from horror presents a threat to the individual moral
Such arguments demonstrate the controversial nature of Feagin's unsubstantiated
assumption and may cast aspersions on the viability of this meta-response.
Feagin’s attempt to address
the horror paradox occupies a unique position. While others have argued that
fear can be pleasurable, Feagin is one of the few to combine this premise
alongside a meta-response explanation. Despite the unique style of her
approach, it has received comparably little significant scholarly recognition
or analysis since its publication nearly a quarter-century ago. While Feagin’s
use of meta-response has been discussed at length, most have emphasized only
its capacity to address the paradox of tragedy. Given the differences between the
emotions of fear and sadness, such discussions cannot adequately address the
phenomenon of pleasurable fear.
proposal is not without flaws. The proposition that it is possible to enjoy
fear promisingly characterizes the horror experience. Yet, while Feagin claims
to embrace this premise, it is contradicted by her chosen meta-responses. For
her solution, fear is instrumental to
one's experience of pleasure but not the source. It only serves as a means of
furthering self-awareness, producing self-satisfaction that is a step removed
from feelings of terror. Despite these limitations, it would be unwise to
simply dismiss the meta-response structure in its entirety. If one were able to
reconcile Feagin’s initial premise of fear as pleasurable within a meta-theoretical
framework, the end result could present a promising explanation of the horror
An alternative account
Through some minor
modifications, it is, in fact, possible to preserve the meta-response structure
alongside the premise that individuals enjoy fear. It is not, as Feagin
proposes, that pleasure is found in the second-order evaluation. This fails to
capture the horror experience so promisingly detailed in her initial premise,
that the enjoyment of being scared motivates the appeal and willingness to
engage with the genre. I propose that, in contrast to Feagin's theory, the
initial emotional state is met with pleasure, while the second-order evaluation
An intriguing, overlooked
facet of the individual is his or her fascination with the macabre.
The macabre, while viewed as disturbing or horrifying, nonetheless has an uniquely
intriguing appeal. The initial pleasure found in engaging with disquieting art
stems from a general, widely held sense of fascination with the macabre.
Monsters, death, and fright have a hold over many, if not, to some extent, all
individuals. This causes a desire to encounter them in their fear-inducing
entirety. This is particularly true from the relative safety of distance
afforded us through the medium(s) of art and fiction.
I suggest that macabre fascination ought to be defined as follows: an intrinsic
desire in the imaginative exploration of the phenomenology of death, dying, or
preceding states of fright, pain, and suffering. Genuine macabre fascination
must contain these specific hallmarks. One must be interested in the experience
of the themes of mortality and suffering. Furthermore, an individual's desire
must be intrinsic, rather than
as a means to attain some further, extrinsic end, such as self-knowledge. This
intrigue drives individuals to seek out and explore the macabre themes and
subject matter so effectively conveyed within horror art.
The pleasure found in
engaging with horror fiction stems from indulging macabre fascination. A good
horror narrative allows those engaging in it to experience and explore fear,
confront depictions of death, face down nightmarish imaginings, and engage with
the foreboding unknown. The work in question presents the engaging individual with an object that threatens and arouses
If successful, this piques macabre fascination, making sensations of fear
something that can be enjoyed.
In this sense, it differs from instances in which the fear felt is entirely
negative and cannot be met with any degree of pleasure, for instance, finding
oneself at the mercy of an actual masked serial killer. The successful work of
horror fulfills a desire and, in doing so, provides us with satisfaction and
pleasurable feelings. Assuming these or similar conditions are met, the emotion
of fear can be positively valenced.,
How, then, does a work of
horror evoke further discomfort? It is the very pleasure taken in watching the
horrific displays that presents unease. This disquiet stems from a second-order
evaluation of the morbid pleasure that occurs at the first-order level. While
morbid subject matter, such as death and suffering, can be appealing, this
enjoyment also produces anxiety. Such attraction is a facet of character, but
this does not mean it is accepted without resistance. The macabre is not
typically seen as something in which one ought to take pleasure. Exhibiting, if
not possessing, such a trait is often met with recrimination and is seen as
improper. Should one assume that emotions are morally evaluable, it follows
that one ought to respond to suffering with sympathy. If an individual were to
derive pleasure via the indulgence of his or her fascination with the macabre
by any means, including interaction with macabre art or narrative, it would
violate the appropriate moral valence of how one ought to respond emotionally.
Thus, it will count against his or her moral character.
Someone might instead adopt a more practical concern and worry that happily
giving over to the macabre could act as a sort of corrupting influence,
infiltrating the way he or she regards the world. Due to these notions of
impropriety, the pleasure felt when exploring the macabre evokes a second-order
meta-evaluation of discomfort.
We cannot feel pleasure exclusively
as a result of indulging in macabre art but also a degree of disquiet towards the
depictions, creating the complex pleasurable fear. Should an individual feel exclusively
pleasure or fright, it will produce only enjoyment or terror, respectively. If
an individual were to do so, they might be accused of not getting the work or
engaging in a manner distinct from its intended aim. If "Jamie"
watches Halloween and
feels nothing but abject terror, a friend might suggest she has overreacted.
After all, it is an outlandish work of fiction. Yet, if she responds to Michael
Meyer’s horrific acts of homicide with pure joy, with no trace of fear or
discomfort, said friend may fret over her moral or psychological character.
Enjoying horror requires push-and-pull between attraction and repulsion. Darkly
pleasurable, yet frighteningly improper, oscillation is integral to its appeal.
We are meant to enjoy a work, yet ask ourselves, why do I enjoy this? Is it
something I ought to find entertaining? Engaging with horror as it is intended
necessitates such layers. The very pleasure taken in the indulgence of macabre
fascination and fear itself causes discomfort. One enjoys the experience of
horror, yet feels reproach towards their pleasurable emotional state, creating
strong hedonic ambivalence.
Thus the experience remains one of layered evaluations.
Adopting this formulation of
meta-response to horror has a number of advantages. Perhaps most importantly,
it preserves the well-substantiated idea that the allure of horror stems from
the fact that fear can, in some circumstances, be enjoyable. The appeal of this
premise is made particularly salient when juxtaposed against less intuitive
solutions, such as those proposed by Carroll and Freeland. Arguing that fear is
intrinsically negative requires accounting for the pleasure by alternative
means, resulting in the critiques previously detailed. Assuming that one
derives pleasure from experiencing the macabre, it does not require narrative
disclosure be present. One can find an object of horror morbidly fascinating
and frightening, regardless. For instance, "Nancy" might find Freddy
Krueger horrifying and fascinating, and enjoy said fascination, even if, or
possibly because, she already knows his properties will ensure a good scare.
Additionally, the proposed account does not require that pleasurable fear be
bound to the quality of being interstitial, necessitate academic interest, or
rely upon the complex and debatable interpretations required to propose all
objects of horror must serve as a threat to mainstream values.
Morality and macabre fascination
Assuming this proposal
provides a compelling explanation behind pleasurable fear and its bearing on
the appeal of horror, it brings out an additional question. Specifically, is it
proper to indulge our macabre fascination? The proposed solution relies upon a
complex ambivalence between enjoyment in indulging morbid fascination and
apprehension towards the fact that one is taking pleasure in macabre depictions
of monsters, death, and suffering. From a moral perspective, this is typically
viewed as problematic. Is there not something unsettling about the individual
who enthusiastically describes, in detail, the events of a horrific story on
the news or finds themselves rubbernecking at the site of a ghastly automobile
accident? Clearly, the macabre carries with it some measure of recrimination.
This raises the questions, what is the moral status of macabre fascination, and
when, if ever, ought we allow ourselves to indulge?
I propose that indulging is
acceptable, if not suggested, as engaging with the macabre proves beneficial to
developing important traits. Although this may appear unintuitive, it can be
clarified through a helpful thought experiment. Picture a hypothetical
individual completely devoid of all traces of macabre fascination. How would
such a person behave? Assuming this individual genuinely possessed no fascination with the macabre,
he or she would possess a variety of damaging character flaws. The absence of
macabre fascination would make this person foreign to important aspects of
humanity and, ultimately, unable to pursue an array of projects necessary for a
With regards to personality, one could surmise he or she would be painfully
naïve, if not largely ignorant of reality. It is also probable that they would
possess an indefatigable sense of cheeriness. Such exaggerated naiveté and
optimism would likely make for an individual most would find intolerable,
hindering an ability to develop meaningful relationships. Such intense degrees
of unceasing optimism would bring forth additional shortcomings, as research
suggests that excessive degrees of happiness can lead to undesirable outcomes
in healthy populations, alongside psychological dysfunction, for instance,
increased risk-taking behavior, excessively rigid demeanors, and a general lack
of sensitivity towards others.
Engaging with the macabre
and monstrous also serves an important adaptive advantage. Horror has the
ability to influence and modify somatic markers in the brain, allowing one to
better understand, develop, and train emotional responses.
As such, a desire to engage with manifestations of our fears ought not be
denied. Used responsibly, imaginatively confronting what we fear or do not
understand can have significant positive utility. It becomes possible to
develop stronger intellectual and emotional understanding of just what our
fears entail. Conversely, the utter lack of willingness or ability to engage
with horror will serve a disutility, as such adaptations could remain underdeveloped.
If this hypothetical individual was somehow forced to encounter or endure
anything macabre, they would react poorly. We learn through exploration that
morbid occurrences are, to an extent, natural. In doing so, it becomes possible
to learn how they can be accepted, dealt with, or overcome.
Given their refusal to see the darker side of events and emotions, it is
unlikely that this individual would be able to attain such a mature
Opponents might argue that these
engagements weaken the capacity for sympathy. At best, it creates a sense of
detachment. At worst, viewing the macabre as a source of entertainment may
cause one to regard real-world atrocities as amusing. Given such outcomes, it
would be better to avoid indulging altogether. It would be a mistake to accept
such a perspective, as complete lack of desensitization has a marked flaw.
Namely, it would leave one at the mercy of many uncontrollable, often extreme
reactive attitudes. Evan Kreider objects that, without any desensitization,
individuals would, in actuality, be overly sensitive to all things.
Reactive attitudes, while vital to moral health and composure, are unavoidably
tempered over time. However, this does not make an individual immoral. In actuality,
it allows the individual to cope with the surrounding world. Without tempering,
individuals would behave as the emotional equivalent of an exposed nerve. We
have no reason to think an individual devoid of the capacity to engage with the
macabre would behave differently.
It is also significant to
note that this individual would likely be intensely unimaginative. The use of
imagination may at times require taking up a different viewpoint, construing
events in such a way as to deviate from what is typically viewed as emotionally
proper. Our hypothetical individual would be unable to take up such
perspectives, as he or she would have to possess absolute correlation between
emotional propriety and imagination. The ramifications of this flaw are more severe
than they may at first appear. It would bring with it an inability to take on
any alternative viewpoints, assuming said views contained even the slightest
trace of supposedly improper emotional responses. For the purposes of argument,
this would mean all viewpoints that require an appreciation of anything that
partakes in the macabre. This lack of perspective would give rise to intense
narrow-mindedness. Perhaps most important to moral action, knowledge of these
aspects and their influence on the individual can provide us with knowledge,
not only of our feelings, but those of others.
As such, it teaches us how to sympathize with and aid our fellows in their
dealings with the macabre.
Someone curious about death
who chose to explore this intrigue could come to possess a well-adjusted
viewpoint on its nature, become better prepared to understand the various ways
as to how or why it causes others worry, and help, accordingly. One who does
not possess such a capacity for adopting other perspectives would be much less
capable. It is unlikely that he or she would have the ability to fully grasp
the diverse effects of pain or loss, especially in those who comprehend or
approach death differently. Such failures could feasibly extend to other
instances where empathy requires adopting a macabre mindset. Assuming a person
could not wholly comprehend how others react to pain, could they capably ease
their ill child? Could they effectively discuss self-destructive behavior,
bullying, or even nightmares? Performing such actions necessarily involves
being able to comprehend and engage with topics categorized as macabre.
Our interactions with
aesthetic representations of the macabre are complex, marked by interwoven fear
and pleasure, enjoyment and apprehension. Many find such morbid representations
pleasurable, yet simultaneously regard them with a measure of anxiety and
discomfort, much as we do their real-world counterparts. Prior attempts to
address this phenomenon via avenues such as Carroll and Freeland’s cognitivism
and Feagin’s meta-theory have demonstrated varying measures of promise.
However, they have also been met with damaging critiques. Such objections may,
to some extent, be bypassed via the proposed restructured meta-theory, which
maintains that fear can be enjoyed, while simultaneously avoiding the
contradictions that plague Feagin’s account. If the proposed solution holds, it
requires further investigation into the moral status of morbid fascination. We
must necessarily refine what constitutes macabre and how it is to be
differentiated from similar responses, such as disgust. Furthermore, while
indulgence in the macabre may be acceptable, there must be limitations.
Exploring one’s fascination with the macabre through art within the genre of
horror is arguably commonplace and more likely beneficial.
Indulging this fascination through actual acts on others is more likely morally
problematic. Failure to establish such a boundary clearly presents a slippery
slope. For instance, it could allow for extreme, potentially dangerous acts of
investigation into the macabre in the name of desire satisfaction. However, the
alternative meta-theory may serve as a solid foundation on which to formulate
an account of these intriguing aesthetic phenomena.
Marius Pascale has a PhD in
Philosophy. A former adjunct professor at State University of New York at
Albany, he is currently professor of philosophy at Raritan Valley Community
College. His present research interests include the philosophy of horror, moral
psychology of macabre fascination, and the theory and practice of integrating
philosophy into adolescent education.
Published on November 8, 2016.
focus on the appeal of horror art as a whole, such as theories that discuss
the appeal of horror art, and not those that focus upon a specific subgenre,
for example, slashers, or artistic medium, such as, film philosophy.
 Andrea Sauchelli, "Horror and Mood," American Philosophical Quarterly, 51,
no.1 (2014), 39-49, ref. on 43.
Feagin, “Monsters, Disgust, and Fascination,” Philosophical Studies, 65 (1992), 75-84, ref. on 77, 80.
Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror: or
Paradoxes of the Heart (New York: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall, 1990),
 Nӧel Carroll, “Nightmare and the Horror Film:
The Symbolic Biology of Fantastic Beings,” Film
no. 3 (1981), 16-25.
 Carroll refers to this as gradual disclosure
narrative, a tactic wherein details are strategically delayed until certain points
in the narrative to keep audiences engaged. See: Nӧel Carroll, "The
General Theory of Horrific Appeal," in Dark
Thoughts: Philosophic Reflections on Cinematic Horror, eds., Steven Jay
Schneider and Daniel Shaw (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2003), pp. 1-9.
Carroll, “Enjoying Horror Fictions: A Reply to Gaut,” British Journal of Aesthetics, 35, no. 1 (1995), 67-72, ref.
 Richard J. Gerrig, “Reexperiencing Fiction
and Nonfiction,” The Journal of
Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 47, no. 3 (1989), 277-280, ref. on 278-279.
Neill, “On A Paradox of the Heart,” Philosophical
Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition,
65, No. ½, 53-65, ref. on 59-60.
 Brian Laetz, “Two Problematic Theses in
Carroll”s Account of Horror,” Film and
Philosophy, 12, (2008), 67-72, ref. on 69.
 Andrew Tudor, “Why Horror? The Peculiar
Pleasures of a Popular Genre,” Cultural
Studies, 11, Issue 3 (1997), 442-463, ref. on 457.
 Andrea Sauchelli, “Horror and Mood,” American Philosophical Quarterly, 51,
no. 1 (2014), 39-49, ref on 42. Berys Gaut, “The Paradox of Horror,” British
Journal of Aesthetics, 33, no. 4 (1993), 333-345, ref. on 336.
 Describing Leatherface as interstitial could
be challenged, as such an individual might exist. Debating the status of
Leatherface holds no special importance, save to further demonstrate the
tenuous nature of Carroll's position.
Freeland, The Naked and the Undead: Evil and
the Appeal of Horror (Colorado: Westview Press, 2000), ref. on p. 257.
 Ian Jarvie, “The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of
Horror Review,” The Journal of Aesthetics
and Art Criticism, 59, no. 4 (2001), 433-434.
argument presented is an abstraction, as numerous theorists adopt this tactic.
To discuss each in detail is a sizable, separate project. Differing
interpretations suggest that horror reinforces topics from traditional ideas of
the family, masculinity and male dominance, and cultural anxieties to
predominant sociopolitical beliefs. For specific contemporary interpretations
see, among others, Carol Clover, Michael Sharrett, Eugene Thacker, and Cynthia
 Mathias Clasen, “Monsters Evolve: A Biocultural Approach to Horror
Stories,” Review of General Psychology,
16, no. 2 (2012), 222-229, ref. on 226.
Bantinaki, “The Paradox of Horror: Fear as Positive Emotion,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism,
70, no. 4 (2012), 383-392, ref. on 384.
 Susan Feagin, “Monsters, Disgust, and Fascination,” Philosophical Studies, 65 (1992), 75-84,
ref. on 77, 80.
 Nӧel Carroll, “Disgust or Fascination: A Response to Susan Feagin,” Philosophical Studies, 65 (1992), 85-90,
 Bernard Perron, Silent Hill:
The Terror Engine (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014), ref. on
 The ARA uses “reactive attitude” differently than is typical in
moral philosophy. Reactive attitudes typically refer to attitudes of praise,
blame, admiration, or indignation. Under the ARA, they are meant to be seen as
something akin to sympathy or empathy. See: Peter F. Strawson, “Freedom and
Resentment,” Proceedings of the British
Academy, 48 (1962), 1–25. Reprinted in Fischer and Ravizza, 1993.
 Scott Woodcock, “Horror Films and the Argument From Reactive
Attitudes,” Ethical Theory and Moral
no. 2 (April 2013), 309-324, ref. on 311.
 Gianluca Di Muzio, “The
Immorality of Horror Films,” The
International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 20, no. 2 (2006), 277-294,
ref. on 281.
 Given the lack of formal research into macabre fascination, I
cannot claim it is a universal trait. However, empirical evidence supports a
strong prevalence. Individuals tour the sites of historic disasters. Children
demonstrate fascination with pain and destruction when performing acts such as
pulling apart insects. History suggests a preoccupation with death and decay
through frightening myths, legends, and folklore. Philosophical literature
contains perhaps one of the earliest examples of macabre fascination. In book
four of the Republic, Plato
introduces the story of Leontius. While traveling, Leontius happens upon a
number of corpses. Against his better inclination, Leontius becomes overpowered
by his desire to look upon them, declaring it a beautiful sight (Republic 440a), even the success of
horror films serve as evidence.
 Julian Hanich, Cinematic
Emotion in Horror Films and Thrillers (New York: Routledge, 2010), ref. on
 Eric G. Wilson, Everyone
Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away (New York: Sarah Crichton
Books, 2012), ref. on p. 143.
 Although this theory is proposed by Jesse Prinz, he does not argue
that fear has potential for positive valence. Fear is always viewed and felt
negatively. See: Prinz, Jesse, Gut Reactions:
A Perceptual Theory of Emotions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004),
ref. on p. 135.
 As demonstrated by this project, such a generalization is
questionable. The enjoyment of horror demonstrates that fear is a possible
source of pleasure. It may predominantly be evaluated negatively, but there are
cases in which it is not. For further discussion of fear and valence, see
Katerina Bantinaki, “The Paradox of Horror: Fear as Positive Emotion,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism,
70, no. 4 (2012), 383-392.
 Richard Moran, “The Expression of Feeling in Imagination,” The Philosophical Review, 103, no. 1
(1994), 75-106, ref. on 93.
 Matthew Strohl, “Horror and Hedonic Ambivalence,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism,
70, no. 2 (2012), 203-212, ref. on 205.
 Susan Wolf, “Moral Saints,” The
Journal of Philosophy, 79, no. 8 (1982), 419-439, ref. on 422.
Gruber, Iris B. Mauss, and Maya Tamir, “A Dark Side of Happiness? How, When,
and Why Happiness is Not Always Good,” Perspectives
on Psychological Science, 6, no. 3 (2011), 222-233, ref. on 224.
T. Asma, “Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror,” Social Research, 81,
no. 4 (2014),
941-968, ref. on 955.
 Evan S. Kreider, “The Virtue of Horror Films:
A Response to Di Muzio,” The
International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 22, no. 1 (2008). 149-157,
ref. on 150.
Dawes, “Fictional Feeling: Philosophy, Cognitive Science, and the American Gothic,”
American Literature, 76, no. 3
(September 2004), 437-466.
T. Asma, “Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror,” Social Research, 81,
no. 4 (2014),
941-968, ref. on 956.
 I wish to express my gratitude to the reviewers
and editors of Contemporary Aesthetics for their insightful comments and