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Publisher's Summary

Whether we view it in theological, philosophical, or psychological terms, evil remains both a deeply intriguing question and a crucially relevant global issue. Now, Professor Mathewes offers you a richly provocative and revealing encounter with the question of human evil - a dynamic inquiry into Western civilization's greatest thinking and insight on this critical subject.

With the inspired guidance of these 36 lectures, you'll engage with how both individual thinkers and larger trends of thought have faced evil, studying the work of major theologians, philosophers, poets, political theorists, novelists, psychologists, and journalists. You'll study the psychology of evil in Islamic theology, as well as the weighty meditations of St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm of Lyon, and Martin Luther. And among contemporary views, you'll grasp Arthur Cohen's extraordinary post-Holocaust reformulation of faith in a God whose reality "is our prefiguration" - the promise of what we may become.

Parallel with the theological accounts, you'll also study primary currents of Western secular thinking on evil in the work of key philosophers and social theorists. You'll investigate Thomas Hobbes's proposition that good and evil are invented constructs of human language, and Kant's conception of morality as located in the human will. You contemplate Freud's hypothesis of the "death drive," an innate, destructive force of the psyche, and Hannah Arendt's highly influential analysis of the "moral inversion" of Nazism.

So why does evil exist in the world? Join a deeply insightful teacher in facing this fascinating, primordial question - a chance to bring your own most discerning thought to a crucial challenge for our world.

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

©2011 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2011 The Great Courses

What listeners say about Why Evil Exists

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My favourite in my collection!

This is hands-down my favourite Great Courses in my collection. Mathewes is engaging and thought provoking, and draws from a variety of sources from the Enuma Elish to the Arendt's report on the Eichamnn trial. I hope Mathewes does another Great Course!

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very well done

should be a mandatory listen for all people in politics, religious/church leaders and military or all people in positions of power or authority over others. perhaps even high school students. if peaceful resolution to conflict is known and can be achieved it should be available to all...unfortunately ones perspective of what is good will likely always differ from another's perspective of good...and hence they will perceive each other as evil. in a way freedom and individuality which is a fundamental value of what a good society is, is itself the breeding ground of evil...surprised I don't recall the discussion of the Ying and the Yang in the lecture, as thre was mentioning that evil will always coexist with humans.

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  • Zac
  • 2020-11-03

Surprisingly Great

I didn’t care for the stuff past Dostoevsky and Conrad but for everything prior to that makes the purchase worth it.

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enriching, humbling, fascinating

if you're really intelligent but have a tendency to go too deep, pondering about all the shitty people and events in personal life and the world, and it gets you nowhere and you need answers; this lecture series is for you. However, there are no answers. But the realization that we are connected to 1000s and 1000s of years of human experience that has given birth to exactly the same questions as we ask today... this was enough to take a load off my shoulders. I have found so much comfort here and insight into the profoundity of our relationship between good and evil and our desire to understand it, or at least tackle it. This series also deals alot with Christian philosophy, which at first was very irritating to me, as I grew up Catholic and still get triggered when I come face to face with the discourse and language and seemingly lack of deep philosophical questioning. But as I get further and further into the series, I enjoy it more and it helps me understand how my parents beliefs have been formed by the church and really amazing thinkers (for better/for worst) how that has influenced my own way of seeing and how we can relate to each other and grow and have real conversations about our beliefs and moral codes, personal, familial and on a larger scale as well. This lecture series has informed so many conversations of late and is seriously enriching my life. I will listen to it again and take notes next time. Certainly one of the best Great Courses.

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  • W Perry Hall
  • 2015-09-28

But What's Puzzling You is the Nature of My Game

I gained much from this study of EVIL, as examined and imagined in art, philosophy, theology and psychology. I recommend it (with the proviso below) if you write much or if you are fascinated by the forces of good and evil in film and other arts, theology, the psychology of those who commit atrocities or in politics.

The course covers:

the nature and origins of evil (including the symbolism of tragedy, sin and wickedness),

the Enuma Elish and Gilgamesh, the Peloponnesian War (and Greek tragedies), the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle,

the Hebrew Bible (Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the tower of Babel, Abraham and Job), Christian scripture (original sin and the Apocalypse), Augustine, Rabbinic Judaism, Islam (the Qur'an and the story of Iblis), Thomas Aquinas, Dante (Hell and the abandonment of hope), the Reformation (Luther and Calvin),

Machiavelli, Hobbes (The Leviathan), Montaigne and Pascal and divertissements, Milton (Paradise Lost and epic evil), the Enlightment (Theodicy, Voltaire v. Rousseau and Hume),

Kant (the idea of radical evil), Hegel (evil in history), Marx's failed idea that evil is fundamentally a problem of material conditions), the American Civil War (Huck Finn and Abe Lincoln), Nietzsche,

Dostoevsky (Demons and the nature of evil in modernity), Conrad (human incapacity to escape the Heart of Darkness), Freud (the death drive and pleasure principle), Camus (biological evil in The Plague, selfishness and narcissism in The Fall),

the religious outlooks on evil after WWII (Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish), Hannah Arendt (the banality of evil in Totalitarianism), 20th Century poets on evil (the poetry of surviving Shoah, or catastrophe), science and the empirical study of evil (the shock and prison experiments, on obedience to authority), the "unnaming" of evil (genocide, 9/11 and the H-Bomb), and

whether hope can be found (by avoiding hatred and guilt, "planting iris [that] will be flowering long after [Hitler] is dead").


The Professor did a remarkably good job on an exceedingly ambitious subject.

Proviso: The lectures get rather deep at times, making it difficult at times to follow if you're doing something else, like driving, while listening.

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  • Megasaurus
  • 2014-07-05

Best Audiobook I've Ever Listened To

Any additional comments?

I'm nearing graduation and after four years at a hum-drum state university, I can testify that I've never once sat in a classroom with a professor of this caliber. Mathewes is no bureaucrat with tenure going through the motions till retirement, he's a genuine and contagiously engaged scholar. He knows how to lecture and hold a student's interest. He never goes off on irrelevant tangents or gets bogged down in technical minutia. Each lecture is painstakingly researched and meticulously prepared to be intellectually and emotionally provoking.

His thorough knowledge of history, literacy and philosophy make him a veritable well-spring of experience and wisdom. The topic itself resists easy answers and Mathewes never offers any. He acts as a medium between Western civilization's greatest philosophers on evil and his audience. He distills their wisdom into terms readily available and digestible to the modern listener --with or without any background in these disciplines. Evil is every person's concern and Mathewes makes sure his lectures are accessible to every person who confronts evil in their life, but for all that, he never talks down to the reader, nor does he over-simplify things in a way that alienates those with some grounding in this subject.

I agree with another reviewer that the series gets off to a slow start, but after a few lectures Mathewes hits his stride and the series really takes off. This is quite simply the most pleasant and intellectually engaging audio book from audible I've ever downloaded. The material and depth of the lectures is dense enough to warrant a re-listen, especially after I acquaint myself more with the many texts and authors he references throughout the lecture series. Which was another great part of this series. Mathewes doesn't confine himself to classical philosophers and religious authorities, but branches into perspectives on evil through great works of literature in fiction, poetry, and our modern take on the subject post-holocaust and post 911. Whatever expectations I had when I purchased this audio book were met and exceeded. This lecture series is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in a genuine exploration of evil in the human condition.

Highly Recommended!

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  • D. King
  • 2015-08-28

Worthwhile and Relevant

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I own dozens of Great Courses, many of them on history, philosophy, or religion. This one has impressed me more deeply than any other course. The topic is crucially important. The ideas are presented fairly and honestly. The conclusions are sobering, perhaps even a bit scary.

What did you like best about this story?

The subject of evil and its origin has always interested me, not in a ghoulish sense but rather as a profound theological and philosophical mystery. The professor explores this topic deeply in a way that is easy to follow. I was also impressed with how even ha deadly he treated two important thinkers (Marx and Nietsche) whom I strongly dislike.

Which character – as performed by Professor Charles Mathewes – was your favorite?

The lecture on Huck Finn and President Lincoln is the most fascinating lecture of all the hundreds of Great Courses lectures I have enyoyed. For me, that lecture alone justified my purchase of the course.

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  • Muggle Mom
  • 2018-08-07

Interesting concepts

The title was clickbait enough for me and I admit I had preconceived ideas of what I thought this Great Course was going to reveal to me. Initially, I struggled with the material because I wanted/hoped for some striking revelations. (I recommend the mindset of a blank but single focus if you start this course.) After having to listen multiple times to the first 10 chapters, I got the pulse of the material. Which wasn’t all about religion in case one wonders. The info presented on psychology, sociology and political science were exceptionally fascinating. The lecture on Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was downright shrewd.

The info is not as serious as I first imagined but still stimulating and interesting. As always, I learned far more than I expected and definitely caused me to want to reexamine what I believe in externally and internally.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Adam
  • 2014-03-02

Slightly Misleading but Still Good

What did you love best about Why Evil Exists?

It is thoroughly researched with many approaches to the understanding of evil throughout the ages.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Why Evil Exists?

The approach to Eichmann's trial stands out. Sometimes the most horrific of evil is enacted as if it's another boring day at the office.

Which character – as performed by Professor Charles Mathewes – was your favorite?

He didn't perform characters but his speaking voice keeps you involved. Imagine what a great teacher who actually enjoys his job sounds like.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Not possible but the title needs clarification. It isn't 'Why Evil Exists' but is more 'A History of Evil.'

Any additional comments?

If you were looking for a deep analysis of evil as a force in this world, you may be disappointed. That said, this is as close as it will get through the Great Courses series. I enjoyed each lecture and feel I got my full credit's worth with this title.

21 people found this helpful

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  • Sharon Schafer Bennett
  • 2015-08-02

a real insight

I found this to be very insightful series. I found myself deeply moved to thinking about evil and how to articulate my thoughts. this series gave me that framework. I am so glad I listened.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Michael
  • 2014-03-14

A subject we need to study

I listen to this book as I had just listen to "The Demonologis" - Written by: Gerald Brittle. I had also listen to Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion" as well as countless books on WWII, Nazi's, government conspiracies and classic novels with villains and hero's in all guises. I wanted to know about evil. This book was an eye opener. Not because it put it in context and made me think about how us humans think and experience evil but it asked questions about evil that I never thought about. From Adam & Eve through to 911. The Holocaust, Pol Pot. Slavery, sin, lies, government sanctioned law and cultural considerations. These lectures are worth listening to. If you really want to get the benefit from these lectures, I suggest listen to one or two a week, but then do the back ground reading on the lecture to give you a more rounded and in-depth feel for the subject. You really need to engage this subject so also find a theologian, deep thinker and really get your teeth into it. These lectures are an excellent starting point. As we move into the 21 Century, I think this is a topic we need to really explore and debate. Well worth the time and money I spent on this book.

20 people found this helpful

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  • Richard D. Shewman
  • 2015-03-21

Challenging reflection on evil

I am a frequent listener of the great courses series and find them to be excellent much of the time. Having just finished listening to why evil exists I found this course to be one of the best I have listened to in the many years that I have been following the series. Not only does it cover a broad expanse of material, but it does an excellent job of integrating the ideas presented and wrestling with them. I highly recommend this course to anyone who is willing to wrestle with the question of evil.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Mr.Sam Gold
  • 2020-01-21

1/3 of the lectures are good

1/3 of the lectures are good maybe just a 1/4, the rest are really just babbling by author who really stretches thin topic. Should have researched more before putting out this flimsy and boring verbose snoozer.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Sam P
  • 2013-12-20

Hard to start but easy to finish and enjoy again.

This lecture was everything I hoped it would be. It is my opinion that Professor Charles Mathewes performance was a modest example of perfection and he did us all a favor by digging into the subject and presenting us with 19 hours of entertaining history and philosophy.

If you're into philosophy and religion courses, this one is for you.




15 people found this helpful