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Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature

Length: 12 hrs and 8 mins

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Publisher's Summary

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about someone committing a violent, reprehensible, even evil, act. And each time it happens, before we know anything about the circumstances, we are already sure of one thing: We are nothing like that perpetrator. But how can we be so sure? After all, we are all human. 

In Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature, Professor Daniel Breyer takes us on a fascinating philosophical journey into many of the deepest and darkest questions that have engaged humanity for millennia. The dark side of our nature is our mysterious and fragile underbelly - our negative, but all too human, side. For many of us, it may be easier to simply avoid looking into the darker aspects of ourselves and our world - the suffering we see everywhere around us, from real world events to the entertainment we consume. But the truth is, if we don’t face the totality of what it means to be human, we can never fully understand ourselves or fully appreciate our deep desire for meaning and purpose in our lives. 

Thinkers from across the world and in many different eras have considered the dark side of human nature, and that’s why this course will adopt a cross-cultural approach, investigating perspectives from many different traditions - Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and secular. This cross-cultural approach will help you see humanity as fully as possible from many perspectives, better allowing for progress toward finding answers that can apply across cultures and times. 

This course is fueled by the power of questions, one of philosophy’s most potent tools. Some are questions we have all asked ourselves: Why do so many people commit violence against others, why is there so much suffering in the world? Professor Breyer provides some fascinating potential answers to many of our darkest questions. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2019 The Great Courses (P)2019 The Teaching Company, LLC

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-09-19

A Great Cross-Cultural Conversation

This is an absolutely fantastic course! What makes the course especially compelling is that it asks us to engage in a great conversation with thinkers of all kinds from many different intellectual traditions about some really fascinating topics. The professor asks us to think for ourselves while presenting interesting ideas, thought-provoking arguments, and intriguing scientific studies. The lectures also tell captivating stories that helped me understand even the most challenging and abstract material. I would give the course my highest recommendation!

Some reviews suggest that the course is on "old religious ideas" or that it's not as described or that it's really just on Buddhism and Hinduism. Some reviews have even complained that the course is on philosophy! These claims are all deeply puzzling to me. They are also all inaccurate. The course is, as described, a cross-cultural philosophical exploration of the dark side of human nature. As such, it engages with many different philosophical traditions, including a lot of contemporary philosophy, but what's actually surprising is how much the course engages with contemporary work in cognitive science, social psychology, and evolutionary psychology. The course is like nothing I've ever encountered in my studies. It is, as another reviewer put it, "a remarkable achievement.'

113 people found this helpful

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  • David L Anderson
  • 28-08-19

Superb Course!!

This is a superb course, one of the very best from TGC! Before evaluating the quality of the lectures, consider the challenge of creating a course with such scope. This is not a typical university course with a well-established, standard curriculum. It is an unusual and challenging topic requiring considerable originality and creative content choices. Dr. Breyer has done a remarkable job, relying on his impressive breadth of training in the Classics, the history of philosophy from the stoics to contemporary philosophy (including ethics and philosophy of moral psychology), religious traditions including Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism, and a great deal of recent research in cognitive psychology. It would be much easier (and more superficial) to create a laundry list of different kinds of social deviants (as one critical reviewer suggested) resulting in a catalog of “criminal profiles.” Instead, Breyer has taken on the more substantive task of understanding the role of evil in all dimensions of human existence, not just in the criminally insane (although he addresses this), but also in each one of us.

Most remarkable is the way the course takes us to the very heart of the dark side of human nature while at the same time providing powerful insights to help us overcome our own dark tendencies to become more empathetic and self-reflective people. The course provides a fine-grained analysis of different concepts of evil from religious, moral, behavioral, and psychological perspectives. Attention is given to its impact on our lives with respect to our fears, our grief, our dreams, and our struggles with self-deception and weakness of will. Evil can destroy lives: Not only those who are victimized by it but also by those who are infected by it. Insightful lectures on revenge, anger, forgiveness, and redemption provide a helpful guide to mastering evil even as it threatens to destroy us. This course is a remarkable achievement that I highly recommend.

97 people found this helpful

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  • Listener
  • 30-07-19

Dark, Informative, and Extremely Well Done

This course is wonderful, informative, and very insightful. This course is NOT just about old theology and morality. These courses (especially if you listen to ALL of them) are highly informative about moral psychology and explores not only cross-cultural views (which isn't typical at all) but also cutting edge work in philosophy and psychology. From the first lesson to the last it just kept getting better. Dr. Breyer is obviously well versed in his subject matter and the stories and examples he shares makes the course that much more enjoyable.

50 people found this helpful

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  • Kitty
  • 22-08-19

Lots to think about

I've enjoyed this. I struggled in the beginning of the course a little bit. Stick with it! The later lectures, are so worth it, and the early lectures build necessary context for later ok ones. I've learned a lot about myself and others from the first listen through. I'll probably listen to this again in a few months time to let it sink in more deeply.

35 people found this helpful

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  • RB.
  • 02-01-20

A must listen.

The title can be a bit misleading at first but The book provides tremendous insight into why many people behave as they do, fosters empathy, and is explained in a very logical way through multiple points of view. Is an excellent listen. Top 3 out of the dozens I’ve listened to so far.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Kiana Alessandra
  • 11-12-19

Great series of thought provoking lectures.

If you are a junkie for bite sized philosophy, this lecture is for you. Each piece was thoughtfully delivered and consistent despite oftentimes containing different philosophers' points of view. I highly recommend this to anyone who is a lover of philosophy, theology, or the human condition in general.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Mark
  • 01-01-20

Theories of Darkness

The title, cover art and (especially) the brief promotional video the Teaching Company prepared advertising this lecture series might lead listeners to expect something very dark indeed. Instead, what we get is an upbeat academic survey of theories and perspectives on the human condition drawn from a variety of philosophers, psychologists and faith traditions. The breadth of Professor Breyer’s scholarship is certainly impressive, but there is not much in-depth critical analysis being offered. Most often we are presented with a variety of viewpoints on a topic (evil, ignorance, existential anxiety, etc.), then asked, “Well, what do you think?” The one exception is a hint of prescription (which other listeners have noted and objected to) when Breyer discusses Buddhist and Hindu perspectives, neither of which is evaluated with any rigour.

To be fair, this course did make me think, but it’s more like a catalogue of conceptual frameworks for investigating the dark side of human nature than it is a study of the dark side itself.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Gary M. Hale
  • 31-12-19

Misleading Title

I kept waiting for him to get around to actually "understanding the dark side of human nature"...He never got there. He explained an awful lot of Buddhist and Hindu philosophy but didn't do much to explain Hitlerism or Charles Manson. Frankly, I was bored much of the time. This is a great lecture series for college sophomores to listen to and say, "Wow, that's deep man".

24 people found this helpful

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  • Robert Levit
  • 04-01-20

Only the first chapter really discusses "evil".

A rather extensive survey of philosophy, but only the first chapter really discusses evil per se. The remainder of the course is a exposé of various philosophical systems that surround and impact on the problem of evil, but only help clarify it a bit. It did seem like the professor was trying to fill a semester of classes. He never really concludes whether evil is an intrinsic (evolutionary) pattern of behavior or circumstantial based on human experience.

13 people found this helpful

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  • 🌈☮️ MICHÆL IRVINE ❤️
  • 12-02-20

WOW— LIFE CHANGING.; AMAZINGLY WISE.

To me, this was a Great Course without any equal. Moreover, this course was not at all what I both expected and feared, to be candid. Instead, I was flabbergasted. Rather, this course was a step-by-step exploration of many of the infinitely important philosophical ideas: This is a highly balanced look at a vast treasure trove of Great Wisdom, both ancient and modern. Thus, here is a course you may well find yourself listening to many times. To be candid, this course is the single best and most important one offered — and I have taken a large number of Great Courses.

Without hyperbole, this course altered my life, much for the better. I wish sincerely, that I were able to send these particular Great Courses lectures to absolutely everyone I love. Furthermore, I would truly like to send this course to absolutely anyone, whom is exploring & struggling with the most basic, key questions regarding human life itself, plus the fundamental concepts about living Life; also what is death 💀.

To my happy astonishment, this course tackles many of the key basic questions regarding what is Good; what is Evil, and the roads worth exploring, regarding both the meaning and essence of a life well lived.

What a treasure; what a tremendously pleasant surprise, was this particular Great Courses lecture‼️ No kidding, THIS MAY WELL CHANGE YOUR LIFE — much for the better‼️(You certainly won’t listen to this just once, or even twice!) —Good Luck to you & your quest!

MICHÆL IRVINE HART PO BOX 119 Volant, PA 16156

2 people found this helpful

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  • C M Pihl
  • 10-09-19

Vegans... why bother...

It wasn't as engaging as most of the other courses I've heard, but not the worst.

There was however, a lot of excusing for ones bad thoughts, so instead of delving deep into the human psyche, it became a bland overview of the authors opinion about dark thoughts... and his apparent "bad thoughts" about meat... it makes me seriously question the mental capabilities of vegetarians, when the fact that you couldn't stop eating a bit of meat, fills so much in a class about The Dark Side of Human Nature.

Jokes aside, the philosophical aspects were many and interesting, but focused mostly on excusing emotions like anger and hate, instead of delving into the evolutionary reasons for these emotions and the seemingly contradictory actions they entail.

meh, just my initial thoughts, but would still says it's worth a listen, especially if you have propblems with bad thoughts, instead of just finding the subject interesting.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Sarah
  • 31-08-19

Too philosophical for me

I was thinking I was going to be listening to something more fact and psychology based but in fact it is philosophy based and the lecturer is a philosopher