Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature

Course No. 4189
Professor Daniel Breyer, PhD
Illinois State University
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Course No. 4189
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Learn how thinkers from different philosophical and religious traditions view sin and evil.
  • numbers Investigate some of the positive aspects of difficult emotions (like grief) and the potential value of suffering.
  • numbers Understand how to build your own sense of peace in a troubled world.

Course Overview

You don’t consider yourself evil, do you? Of course not! No one does. And yet, the world is full of violence and suffering. We hear the stories in the news. We see the images online. We know too well how bad things can be, but if we’re sure of anything, we’re sure that we’re not like those who do evil. But what makes us so sure? It’s an uncomfortable question, but how different are we, really? Is it possible that we actually share something in common with those who’ve done the worst humanity has to offer? After all, we’re all human. Aren’t we?

In the 24 lectures of Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature, Professor Daniel Breyer takes you on a fascinating philosophical journey into some of the deepest—and darkest—questions that have haunted humanity for millennia. In exploring the dark side of human nature, you won’t just explore what it means to be evil; you’ll explore humanity’s fragile underbelly by investigating such topics as our thirst for vengeance, our tendency toward anger, our inability to do what we know is right, and much more. These are difficult topics, to be sure, and at least for some people, it would be easier to look away, rather than investigate them. But the truth is that unless we honestly confront who we are in all its sordid glory, we’ll never fully understand ourselves. We’ll never fully appreciate who we really are—or who we might ultimately become.

A Cross-Cultural Approach

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—from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita and the Buddhist Way of the Bodhisattva to the Christian Bible and the scholarship of contemporary philosophers and psychologists. In this course, you won’t just find yourself seeking answers to some of life’s biggest questions—you’ll also discover entirely new ideas from traditions you’ve not yet encountered.

This multi-cultural approach will help you see humanity from many perspectives, providing a wider opportunity for you to find your own answers. With Professor Breyer’s expert guidance, you will engage with a wide range of great thinkers, including:

  • Confucian philosopher Mencius;
  • Doaist thinker Zhuangzi;
  • Stoic philosopher Seneca;
  • Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo;
  • Buddhist monk and scholar Shantideva (or Śāntideva);
  • Existentialist thinker Albert Camus;
  • English philosopher Miranda Fricker;
  • American psychologist Paul Bloom; and many more.

Fascinating Questions

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 are people violent? Is anyone just born evil? Why is there so much suffering in the world? We might ask these questions with a certain level of cynicism, or perhaps sadness, not even expecting a real answer, but philosophers have taken these fundamental questions seriously for thousands of years. Mining insights from many different philosophical traditions, Professor Breyer provides some fascinating responses to these and many other dark questions, while offering guidance on how to build flourishing and meaningful lives in the face of darkness.

As you’ll discover, confronting the dark side of human nature is sometimes messy. You won’t find every point of view completely satisfying, and sometimes you won’t even know which arguments to believe, but you will be constantly engaged in an ongoing conversation with an expert guide whose goal is to help you think for yourself and reach your own answers to difficult questions like these:

  • If someone does something evil, does that mean they’re an evil person?
  • What does it say about us if we do something awful in our dreams?
  • Is it rational to fear death?
  • Do we live in a just world, where victims are to blame for their own suffering?
  • Can anything good come from painful emotions like anger and grief?
  • Is there something wired into human nature that drives us to kill others?
  • Is anyone ever beyond redemption or forgiveness?
  • With so much suffering in the world, how can we create meaningful lives?

Exploring the Dark Side through Stories and Thought Experiments

Stories and thought experiments are powerful, and that’s why thinkers from many different traditions have used them to explore difficult questions. In Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature, you will encounter fascinating thought experiments and stories—some fictional, some drawn from the headlines—that concretize abstract ideas and help us find meaning in our own lives.

Among many others, you will explore:

  • Gyges’ Ring. Plato tells of Gyges, a man who found a ring that could make him invisible. With help from this newfound power, he seduced the king’s wife, killed the king, and took over the entire kingdom. If we had a mechanism for escaping punishment, would we honestly live a just life, or one that took us to the dark side?
  • Zen Parable of the Two Brothers. Two brothers were shopping when they noticed an aging woman who needed help. The older brother carried her and her bags to her car. The younger brother was upset the woman hadn’t said, “Thank you,” and he brought that up again and again later in the day. The older brother responded, “Little brother, I set that woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?” Why do we have a craving for things to go a particular way and allow ourselves to be distraught when they don’t?
  • A Mother’s Grief. In a famous Buddhist story, a woman loses her baby and becomes overcome with grief, looking for medicine that could bring him back to life. The Buddha says he will help if she can find a pinch of mustard seed from a household untouched by the suffering of death. She finds the spice easily enough, but every household shares a story about a loved one lost. Is it possible that grief, one of our darkest emotions, is valuable to us, as we learn positive lessons about life and the need for community?
  • The Luck of the Two Partygoers. Two people attend a party, drink beyond the point of legal intoxication, get in their separate cars to drive home, lose control of their cars, and swerve onto the sidewalk. In one case, a man standing on that sidewalk is killed. In the other, the sidewalk was empty. Both partygoers broke the law by driving while intoxicated. Should we judge them the same, or differently? How can we take responsibility for our actions, but recognize the role that luck plays in our lives?

These memorable thought experiments and stories, along with many others, will help you wrestle with big ideas and dark questions by grounding them in everyday experience and making them vividly real.

If we really want to understand ourselves and the world around us, we must confront humanity’s dark side. In Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature, you’ll do just that, while being guided by thinkers from across the world, with whom you’ll engage in a great conversation, as you attempt to find your own answers to life’s biggest—and darkest—questions. What will you do to confront your own dark side? How will you choose to live in this troubled world?

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    What Do We Mean by the "Dark Side"?
    Most of us think of ourselves as good people—reserving the concept of the “dark side” only for science fiction or psychopaths. But that’s not really the truth of human nature. We’ll begin to explore how the dark side relates both to our tendencies toward immorality and evil and to some of the most problematic aspects of the human condition. x
  • 2
    Our Fundamental Nature: Good or Evil?
    Are people fundamentally good, fundamentally evil, or neither? To develop a sophisticated answer to this basic question, we reach back to a more than 2,000-year-old debate between great Confucian philosophers. Do you agree with optimism, pessimism, dualism, indifferentism, or individualism? Which theory of human nature speaks to you and frames your view of the world? x
  • 3
    What Is Evil?
    You probably have some ideas about what it means to be “evil.” But in order to fully examine the dark side of human nature, we need to go deeper—questioning both whether evil actually exists and what it means to call an action evil. Referencing a wide range of thinkers, some ancient, some contemporary, you’ll explore the ontological and conceptual aspects of evil. x
  • 4
    Moral Monsters and Evil Personhood
    Most of us have done something “bad” or immoral in our lives, although we wouldn’t consider ourselves evil. But where exactly is that line? What does it take for us to label a person evil? By considering four models of evil—the Evildoer, Dispositional, Affect, and Moral Monster models—you’ll begin to develop your own views of when an individual is, and is not, evil. x
  • 5
    Evil and Responsibility
    Are psychopaths responsible for their actions? You might be surprised to learn that many psychologists and philosophers think they are not, due to their inability to recognize important moral facts. Guided by a variety of philosophers, you will consider how much responsibility evil-doers can and should accept for their crimes—and in what ways they might not be so different from the rest of us. x
  • 6
    Sin: Original and Otherwise
    How would you know if you had committed a sin, and what would its consequences be? From the words of Jesus to Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and modern theologians, you'll explore the Christian concepts of sin and how they relate to a secular notion of evil. Is it even possible to sin without a divine lawmaker? Indian Buddhist philosophers say that it is. x
  • 7
    Dark Thoughts and Desires
    Have you ever daydreamed about doing harm to another person? If so, studies show you're certainly not alone. Are our darkest thoughts and desires simply a fundamental part of our human nature? Why can't we seem to suppress or eradicate them? Explore potential answers to these fascinating questions with help from 6th-century Tianti Buddhist philosophers and modern-day evolutionary psychologists. x
  • 8
    Suffering and Its Causes
    Why do we suffer, and how can we avoid it? The Buddha addresses these questions directly in his Four Noble Truths. Although sometimes erroneously condensed into the pessimistic “all life is suffering,” you’ll learn about the Buddha’s optimistic path forward. But do the Buddha’s teachings carry truth for us in the 21st century? An evolutionary psychologist provides a fascinating answer. x
  • 9
    The Problem of Expectation and Desire
    We turn to the 2,000-year-old Hindu Bhagavad Gita to study the roles played by our desires and expectations, and why we are so often disappointed in our lives. But how could we live without desire and expectations? One path provided by the Gita—being so absorbed in an activity that we lose our sense of self—leads to the experience we know of today as “flow.” x
  • 10
    The Fear of Death
    We are all going to die. How do we respond to that knowledge? Learn why the Roman philosopher Lucretius believed that our fear of death drives us to act against our best interests. And why the Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi wondered if our negative view of death even makes sense. Either way, fearing death seems to be part of what it means to be human. x
  • 11
    Existential Anxiety and the Courage to Be
    Have you ever wondered whether life has any meaning at all? Given the immensity of the universe, how could we be anything more than an inconsequential blip? Learn why so many philosophers who've grappled with this existential anxiety conclude that our lives do have value, and how one theologian finds meaning specifically in our courage to face ourselves in the world as it really is. x
  • 12
    The Goodness of Grief
    Could grief ever have a good side? If you've ever suffered its agony, you know grief can feel like the very darkest side of human nature. But as you explore the many ways in which philosophers and psychologists have grappled with this issue for millennia, you'll learn that grief just might be one of our most important opportunities for self-knowledge and connection to community. x
  • 13
    Homo necans: Why Do We Kill?
    Is there something in human nature that drives us to kill others or is it a biological aberration? Watching the news would certainly make you wonder. And if a drive to kill does exist, is it activated by nature or nurture—is it genetic or situational? Studies have supported both points of view. The shocking truth we do know is just how much we all have in common with those who kill. x
  • 14
    Nightmares and the Dream Self
    Who are we in the worst of our dreams? Explore why Freud believed our dreams reveal important aspects of ourselves—both the conscious and unconscious. Learn how Augustine coped when he dreamed of actions that went against his most profound beliefs. Even when we have no idea how to interpret a particularly disturbing dream, it still becomes an opportunity for learning about ourselves. x
  • 15
    Varieties of Self-Deception
    When we hold two contradictory thoughts in our minds at the same time, have we become liars, lying to ourselves about something we know cannot be true? Or are we just harmless wishful thinkers? Is self-deception an adaptation that has given us an evolutionary advantage? Learn what you can do to try to avoid deceiving yourself about your own life. x
  • 16
    Varieties of Ignorance
    Explore the concept of ignorance through the writings of two Indian philosophers who lived centuries apart, Shankara and Ramanuja. Is ignorance a lack of knowledge, or is it wrong knowledge? Learn why some modern philosophers describe ignorance as a complex social phenomenon with the potential to bring out the dark side of our nature—and what we can do to counteract it. x
  • 17
    Weakness of Will
    Have you ever eaten a donut when you knew you shouldn't? Socrates would have been shocked! He didn't think it was possible for people to act against their own best interest. Explore many potential explanations for why we sometimes do what we said we never would. Is it a question of a simple failure to follow through on our intentions, or could we be suffering from ego depletion? x
  • 18
    Luck and the Limits of Blame
    Two people go to a party, become legally drunk, and drive home. One kills a pedestrian, the other encounters no one. Should we judge them differently, or the same? Many philosophers have addressed the role of luck and its moral implications in our lives. As you explore their various perspectives, you might not find any easy answers. But you might think twice before placing blame. x
  • 19
    Victim Blaming and the Just-World Hypothesis
    In the Old Testament Book of Job, his friends blamed Job for the tragedies that befell him. After all, if the world is a fair and just place, then victims always get what they deserve, right? Explore whether or not we can eliminate victim blaming while maintaining that the world is, in the end, a fair and just place. x
  • 20
    Retribution and Revenge
    We’ve all heard of people who decide to take the law into their own hands to exact revenge on a perpetrator who harmed them or someone they love—even if that person had already received society’s punishment. Why do we so often feel that need for vengeance? Uncover what we can learn today from the Greek dramatist Aeschylus, as he struggled to reconcile the tension between retributive justice and revenge. x
  • 21
    Forgiveness and Redemption
    What was your reaction when members of the Charleston, SC, church publicly forgave Dylann Roof, the young man who had murdered nine of their members? Could you imagine yourself forgiving him? Did that forgiveness seem morally right or wrong to you? Explore how Christian and Buddhist philosophers explain forgiveness and the redemption of human sinners. Do you believe anyone is truly beyond redemption? x
  • 22
    The Elimination of Anger
    If you could eliminate anger from your life, would you? Should you? Anger can be dangerous, but righteous anger can also be motivating. What if you could eliminate anger, but replace it with the motivation of compassion and loving-kindness? You'll examine and broaden your thoughts on this powerful emotion by learning from the Buddhist philosopher Shantideva, the Stoic philosopher Seneca, and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, among others. x
  • 23
    Being Peaceful in a Troubled World
    How can we find internal tranquility and remain peaceful in the midst of such a troubled world? It isn't easy, but it is possible. Brain science has discovered that we mirror the behavior of others, and anger can beget anger. But kindness can beget kindness, too. Explore some Christian and Buddhist guidelines for confronting the dark side of human nature without spiraling into the darkness of violence, rage, and fear. x
  • 24
    The Allure of the Dark Side
    Have you ever been morbidly curious about death, violence, or evil? Do you have a fascination with horror movies and love being terrified on roller coasters? Explore how psychologists and philosophers describe the benefits of our fascination with the dark side. As you grapple with death, anger, fear, and dark thoughts, you’ll learn a tremendous amount about yourself—and what it means to be human. x

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Your professor

Daniel Breyer

About Your Professor

Daniel Breyer, PhD
Illinois State University
Daniel Breyer is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Illinois State University, where he also serves as the director of the Religious Studies program. Dr. Breyer received a BA in Classics from the University of Montana, an MA in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College, and a PhD in Philosophy from Fordham University. Dr. Breyer’s research explores what it means to be a person and which features of ourselves we think...
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Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 30.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature I did enjoy the lectures - the professor was a good presenter. Like most courses based upon philosophy, it raised many questions and never really answered any.
Date published: 2020-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lightness-Darkness With Balance. I would to share with my interest in this book, I am a Christian and know we all have a dark side to us. I think it best that we understand both side of who we are, it will give us a deeper look at what we are all about. I found this book has done just that. I am grateful for people that write books like this one. it is like seeing two sides of a coin.
Date published: 2019-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The recipient chose these specific titles, & is thrilled with them. Shipping was expeditious and merchandise was well packaged & protected.
Date published: 2019-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Makes you think! I wasn't sure I would like this course because of its title, but since I belong to Great Courses Plus, I decided to just see what it was about. It's a philosophy course that presents issues and thought processes in a way that made me look at things differently. My husband and I watched it together, and after every lecture we had in- depth discussions. That's the sign of a good course!
Date published: 2019-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Problem with disc 1 - the sub titles for lecture 3 are the same as for lecture 1. What is written at the bottom of the screen is not what the professor is saying Reported this twice to Great Courses and each time received a replacement disc with same defect. Could call again, but....... Hasn’t anyone also run to this problem?
Date published: 2019-11-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Elementary Echoing others, the Professor really wants to teach Buddhism. It was not necessary to make this available only as video, and not as a less expensive audio file. Some interesting ideas, but nothing profound. Referenced obscure professors and teachers. Moral considerations often absent. Virtually no discussion of Freudian analysis of human nature. Lauded approaches, such as offering one's jacket to a robber after he's already robbed your wallet, are deeply flawed. I tried to like this course, but I just couldn't. Not what I expected in a Great Courses course. Sorry.
Date published: 2019-11-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from He brings up interesting issues and looks at issues from various belief systems
Date published: 2019-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eclectic and thought-provoking. Professor Breyer examines the subject more from a philosophical and religious aspect, yet not without psychological awareness. I appreciated his use of authors and thinkers from a wide range of history and geography. While I must so watch my money pretty carefully on a minimal retirement income, so that even at its sale price this represented a major purchase for me, I'm not sorry to have it in my home library and look forward to viewing it more than once. Especially in the last few lectures, he offers definite hope for us in "dark side" aspects.
Date published: 2019-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough and Thought Provoking I really enjoyed the blend of Eastern and Western philosophers as Prof. Breyer marched deep into this fascinating terrain. As a high school English and philosophy teacher of seniors, I found these lectures really helpful in deepening the courses I teach. While the reading of cue cards kept the presentation staid, Prof. Breyer has great lecturing chops (as seen on Youtube), so I hope he is given freer rein in the future. These lectures with their engaging thought experiments and deep sourcing were a pleasure to listen to (more than once).
Date published: 2019-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Listen! Got this as an audiobook. Took me awhile to work through. Each chapter is full of information. Didn't know a lot about most of what it covered. But really enjoyed it! Felt like I learned tons. Will have to keep coming back to it, though, cause there's so much to think about. Keeping track of all the new names and words was difficult, but the guidebook helped. Favorite topics were weakness of will and evil and also the chapter on grief and self-deception. For 12 hours as an audiobook it's totally worth it!
Date published: 2019-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Cross-Cultural Conversation This is a 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 reviewers have suggested that the course is not as described and that it’s really just on Buddhist philosophy. Both of these claims are misleading and inaccurate, and so I want to take some time countering them. This course is just as described. It is a cross-cultural philosophical exploration of the dark side of human nature. As such, it includes perspectives from many different philosophical traditions, but it also includes both religious ideas and scientific scholarship. It’s easy to read over the course description and then the individual lecture titles, and if you do this, you’ll see that this is precisely how the course is described. Although the course engages regularly with both Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, it is in no way solely on those traditions. The course also engages with Stoic philosophers, Classical philosophers, Daoist philosophers, Confucian philosophers, Christian philosophers, feminist philosophers, contemporary philosophers, contemporary evolutionary psychologists, contemporary social psychologists, classicists, and many other thinkers. I don’t really understand why anyone would say that the course is just on Buddhist philosophy or that it should be catalogued as a religion course. Because it's easy just to assert that the course isn't only on Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, I thought it might be helpful to go through each lecture and show how much time each spends on either Hinduism or Buddhism. This took me more work than I’d anticipated, but here goes: Lecture 1 uses a story from the Indian tradition to help us understand the dark side of human nature. So, none of the lecture is about Buddhist or Hindu philosophy, but it does spend a good amount of time discussing a story from those traditions. Lecture 2 only briefly mentions (in a few sentences) anything to do with either Buddhist or Hinduism. This lecture uses a debate in the Confucian tradition to outline a framework for thinking about the dark side of human nature. Lectures 3, 4, and 5 have no mention what-so-ever of either Buddhism or Hinduism, though lecture 4 does passingly mention tan Indian philosophical tradition in a single sentence along with Aristotle. These three lectures are on evil and they focus more or less exclusively on contemporary secular philosophy and psychology. Lecture 6 spends perhaps five minutes on the Buddhist conception of sin, while spending the other 25 minutes on the Christian conception. Lecture 7 spends about 12 minutes on Buddhist ideas, after looking mostly at contemporary psychology. Most people wouldn’t expect this lecture to have so much on Buddhist ideas, and I admit that this might be off-putting for some, but I found this fascinating, not because it advocated Buddhist views, but because I learned interesting things about Taintai Buddhism in particular and because what I learned opened my mind to thinking about the “stain” of dark thoughts in a new way. Lecture 8 is all on Buddhist ideas, but the lecture puts these Buddhist ideas in conversation with contemporary evolutionary psychology and asks us to think about whether what the Buddhist tradition says is actually true. Lecture 9 briefly ends with a parable from the Chan Buddhist tradition, but focuses on making sense, from a psychological and philosophical perspective, of a surprising claim in the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. So, this lecture spends a lot of time on Hinduism, but not really. What it spends time on is whether it’s possible for us to act without any desire at all and then it explores this further through the contemporary psychological concept of flow, while connecting all of this to a famous passage from the Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi. To say that this lecture is just on Hinduism, then, is deeply misleading. Lecture 10 doesn’t mention Hinduism or Buddhism at all. And I was actually a little surprised by this, because the lecture is on the fear of death. Lecture 11 concludes (in approximately three minutes) with something a secular Buddhist thinker says, to tie up some ideas, but the rest of the lecture is focused exclusively on existential, contemporary, and Christian thinkers. Lecture 12 uses a Buddhist story to provide a narrative thread for the lecture, but does not engage with Buddhist philosophy at all and there’s no mention of Hinduism. The lecture focuses on evolutionary psychology and contemporary philosophy, while also engaging with a letter of advice from Seneca and a passage from Zhuangzi. Lecture 13 ends (in approximately three minutes) with a brief thought-experiment from a Buddhist philosopher, but there’s no Buddhist agenda here and the lecture otherwise focuses exclusively on contemporary work in psychology (and biology) to explain human violence. Lecture 14 mentions an anecdote from the Buddhist tradition in a single sentence and uses a Hindu story to, once again, provide a narrative thread for the lecture, but otherwise, the lecture focuses on psychology (with some neuroscience thrown in) and philosophically engages with the Christian thinker Augustine of Hippo. Lecture 15 has no mention what-so-ever of either Buddhist or Hinduism. The lecture focuses instead on contemporary philosophy and psychology, and ends with a Christian thinker. Lecture 16 uses a debate between Hindu philosophers to explore ignorance, but then connects that debate with contemporary work in epistemology and cognitive science. That said, this lecture does spend nearly 15 minutes on some difficult arguments about ideas most Great Courses customers probably don’t accept, but again, the professor doesn’t want anyone to accept them. The point is that the debate helps us think about ignorance as an aspect of the dark side of human nature, and I thought the professor was very clear about this. Lecture 17 ends by briefly and anecdotally mentioning the Buddhist philosopher Shantideva, but otherwise, the lecture never mentions Buddhism or Hinduism at all. Instead, it focuses on classical Greek and contemporary philosophy, with a little psychology thrown in at the end. Lecture 18 spends less than five total minutes on the Buddhist philosopher Shantideva’s ideas, while putting him in conversation with contemporary philosophers. Lecture 19 spends half its time exploring the concept of karma and victim-blaming; and so, about half the lecture is on a mix of Hindu and Buddhist ideas, but the first half is on the just world hypothesis and focuses on psychological studies and starts with the Book of Job. The point of the lecture is to explore worldviews that justify victim-blaming. Lecture 20 has no mention what-so-ever of Buddhism or Hinduism. The lecture focuses on contemporary and classical discussions of revenge, while including coverage of social psychology and some anthropology. Lecture 21 considers the Buddhist story of Angulimala, and it considers the Buddha as a supposed perfect being (while also considering the Christian God in the same way). The time spent on just mentioning very board Buddhist ideas or stories is maybe a total of 7 minutes or so. Otherwise, the lecture focuses on Christian ideas and secular scholarship on forgiveness and redemption. Lecture 22 uses the Stoic philosopher Seneca and the Buddhist philosopher Shantideva as guides for understanding anger. So, “Buddhism” gets mentioned a lot, but the lecture isn’t about Buddhism. It’s about anger and testing whether there are any good arguments for eliminating it from our lives. Lecture 23 uses Buddhist and Christian ideas and stories together to explore how we might remain "peaceful in the troubled world," but none of these ideas are supposed to be distinctively religious, or at least that's how I understood it. They’re supposed to apply to anyone who wants to handle difficult situations without becoming violent. Lecture 24 only passingly mentions a quotation from a Buddhist nun and that takes up less than a minute. Otherwise, the lecture focuses on contemporary philosophy, psychology, and film studies, as well as on some scholarship by a classicist and the Christian philosopher Augustine of Hippo. From this run down, I think it’s pretty obvious that the course is not at all only on Buddhist or Hindu philosophy. As you can see, neither Buddhism nor Hinduism is ever even mentioned in lectures 3, 4, 5, 10, and 20. Those traditions are only mentioned briefly in passing (in a sentence or a brief passage) in lectures 2, 11, 13, 14, 17, and 24. And so, in almost half of the course, Buddhist and Hindu ideas play no substantial role at all. In lectures 6, 12, 18, and 21, Buddhist or Hindu ideas play a bigger role, but even then, they are limited to playing a supplementary role. (Lectures 12 and 21 mainly use Buddhist stories to make general points. And lectures 6 and 18 briefly (in about 5 minutes) put Buddhist ideas in conversation with others.) The only lectures that spend substantial time on Buddhist or Hindu ideas are 7, 8, 9, 16, 22, and 23. But even then, as I’ve tried to indicate, the lectures aren’t really about Buddhist or Hindu philosophy. They’re about how those traditions point us toward something interesting and general about “the dark side of human nature.”
Date published: 2019-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2019-08-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not What was expected or Defined in Description This is the first review I have completed since my purchase of over 300 lecture sets that is negative. I believe I always gain from the wonderful professors The Great Courses provide. My background is Homeland Security and Emergency Response (Over 20 years), law enforcement, Vietnam Veteran, Adjunct Professor (125 courses, undergrad - Ph.D). I expected a sort of 2nd Edition to 'Why Evil Exists' by Charles Mathews, which is one of my top 5 sets!! From the title I hoped to do a deep dive into topics like those an FBI profiler would present, topics similar to what I received In my training in Home Land Security such as identifying the mind of a' Lone Wolf' terrorist/mass killer, etc.. Instead it was very philosophical and heavy in Buddhist and Hindu thinking. In its place that learning is excellent but not for this course. Again, my expectations were of the psychological evaluation of people like Stalin, Hitler, and those of the same mindset. How do they get to that point? Possibly a discussion of, 'Child is Father of the Man' theory. A second major rub with me was the lecture room setup. Professor Breyer, who is very personable and smooth in his delivery, is seated on a stool the entire course and continually moves his arms back and forth like a pair of windshield wipers, the entire course; very, very distracting for me. The Teaching Company is an excellent venue for new, or review learning. I have heard time and time again on student evaluation in my courses, "How do you know so much about so many things?". Thank You Teaching Company!
Date published: 2019-08-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This is really a course in Budist philosophy I enjoyed the course, but it is not what it purports to be. I was expecting some philosophical discussion of the dark side of human nature and, instead, found it to be mainly a presentation of Buddhism with some Hinduism mixed in. It needs to be categorized as religion, not philosophy.
Date published: 2019-08-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Pitiful I bought this not realizing that it was a philosophy course taught by a hippie with shoulder length hair who seems to enjoy dressing sloppily.
Date published: 2019-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! Be prepared to do some serious thinking. This course is part philosophy, part psychology, part religion, part behavioral analysis. I've taken more than 85 TGC in the past 20 years and was really impressed with this course. The professor is very knowledgeable on the subject; analyzes the opinions of philosophers, religious thinkers from various religions, and scientists, from ancient to modern times. I have studied world religions in college and this is the best examination I have seen on what is evil, sin, good, bad, moral, ethical, forgiveness, and even how laws are written and interpreted regarding violent behavior. The first thing this course will point out is the difficulty of defining evil, sin, morality, etc. Various religions, cultures, and scientists have various interpretations/opinions on what makes somebody do "bad things". If you are looking for a simple answer to the "dark side" of human nature this course will not give you one 'slam-dunk-simple-obvious' answer. It will give you a lot information and opinions to think about. If you only listen to this course on audio I think you will find the presentation amongst the best. I took it on video because I like the closed captions and other visuals presented. The video version might put you off at first. Similar to some other recent TGC the camera position is "strange" with the teacher appearing to be looking up into the corner of the room and not at their audience. In addition the background is apparently designed to set the stage, and your mind, for a discussion of 'troubled people'. I think that is over done and not necessary. However, after the second lecture I just ignored what I considered the "weird" visuals.
Date published: 2019-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brings Darkside to Light, Essential for Well Being This course is excellent. (I have purchased over eighty and shared others. This is one of the best.) Though I've been aware the dark side exists in every human, my understanding of it has been vague and the concept, itself, a bit repugnant. Professor Breyer's course is comprehensive, thoughtful and extremely beneficial. The course is essential to anyone who wants to become more familiar with the whole of human nature. It will give you better understanding of yourself, a context for a fuller, healthier life, and equip you to better deal with your own dark side and that of others. As an aside, I was somewhat put off by Professor Breyer's appearance - He might be served better as he is essentially attractive. Don't let appearances put you off. This is an extremely worthwhile, constructive course, one that is not to be missed!
Date published: 2019-07-29
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