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Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature  By  cover art

Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature

By: Professor Daniel Breyer,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Professor Daniel Breyer
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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

What listeners say about Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature

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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.'

149 people found this helpful

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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.

115 people found this helpful

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Not understanding

This is not philosophy. This is religion. I did not buy this to learn about different religions or spiritual views. If it had been appropriately classified I would not have bought it. A disappointment.

111 people found this helpful

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Not at all what I expected.

I was hoping for something revealing, maybe a little exciting, and obviously 'dark'. Not the theology/morality lecture this quickly turned into. Wasn't able to finish it.
I appreciate Professor Breyer's knowledge and expertise. This just felt like a great deal of old religious stories and ideas. I think I wanted something a little more cause and effect. If that would even be possible with this subject.

109 people found this helpful

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struggles

I'm still wading thru this, so may revise the review after finishing, but I doubt it. The problem exists with "lecture" series, but is egregious here -- the author defines "evil" according to his idea. There's no opportunity to consider a differing view. "in trying to define evil, the author comes up with various scenarios and then dismisses them. Well, no. you can't just assert that a "you might not consider such as evil" morphs into "IT ISN'T EVIL" An example is the mentally deranged person who kills his children, sets fire to his house". Professor Breyer asserts that because this individual might not have intended evil that they were not evil -- that's debatable. Moreover he ignores that the ACT was evil. If he wants to use a particular definition for evil in his discussion, fine. I'm guessing it's intentional knowingly inflicting significant harm to others. But we could get to the discussion without spending all the various "it's not this" games.

91 people found this helpful

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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.

63 people found this helpful

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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".

41 people found this helpful

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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.

41 people found this helpful

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not for atheists

This is literally my first review of an audiobook. The summary seemed like it would be interesting, but I literally stopped listening midstream because so much of what is being said is based on god and sinning. I care nothing about god... ditto on the concept of sinning. I would have liked the book much better if it had just stuck to facts. I don't need a history of god to understand why people do what they do. Disappointing.

37 people found this helpful

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Theories of Darkness

The brief promotional video the Teaching Company prepared advertising this lecture series might lead listeners to expect something very dark indeed. What we get, however, 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 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 focused study of the dark side itself.

36 people found this helpful

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  • C M Pihl
  • 09-10-19

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.

10 people found this helpful

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  • J. Leach
  • 07-16-20

Very interesting

Journey through dark thoughts and behaviour, what they are and their nature.
Very interesting and thought provoking
Well presented and structured
Recommend

2 people found this helpful

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  • Gary Gunn - Social Attraction Founder
  • 04-09-22

Fantastic insight into the darkside

Great book which opens your mind to a vast array of new ideas. Highly recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Miss C. Hamlett
  • 04-04-22

A pleasurable listen, but neglects replication.

The concepts and themes are not quite what I was expecting, it branches away from the more obvious forms of 'dark' behaviour and instead looks in to things that may cause every day stress such as grief or intrusive thoughts.

The broad range of subject is interesting and some of the topics that came up were genuinely thought provoking. However the times when psychology was brought up uncritically led me to question other parts of the lectures. For example, the Stanford Prison Experiment really leaps out at me. It is explored here without any mention of how the experiment has repeatedly failed replication and the entirely dubious methods used by Zimbardo throughout. Regardleee of if you believe the experiment to be demonstrative or not the criticisms should be brought up when using it as evidence as it gives a heavier weight to the arguments being brought forward by the lecturer.

In other areas there is more balanced presentation of alternative theories, largely in the realms of philosophy rather than psychology. These are certainly interesting in places though for me without the experimental weight it ends up feeling more towards edutainment, retelling concepts that the listener already knows a lot about in a new way that sprinkles some sparks of fresh information here and there. There's nothing really wrong with that and some of it may nudge listeners into personal research in to certain topics which can't be a bad thing.

I'd like to hear a seqel with more ex-phil material properly exploring the limitations of what research currently exists while bringing more light to that which gives weight to, or detracts from religious or folk psychological approaches to understanding these negative elements of the psyche.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anna Nym
  • 07-21-22

Great Content

I really enjoyed listening to this course, it's very engaging and encourages thinking and the formation of own opinions.

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  • placidhead
  • 03-28-22

very interesting

Loved this course from beginning to end. Makes you think about a lot of things in ways you may not have considered before.

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  • Ninja
  • 06-02-22

A great course!

I disagree with the other reviewer. This is an excellent presentation on the subject of the dark side of human nature. It makes good comparisons between different philosophies and religions for a complete view of topics from several angles. The presenter does not focus on Buddhist viewpoints only and includes Hindu and Christian perspectives. My only criticism is he could have also included other traditions to show the universality of some beliefs.

Overall this is well presented and orderly as it explores many facets of the dark aspects of human nature and related topics.

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  • Ben
  • 09-30-21

Very much not what was expected

seems to ramble and repeat quite a bit. very little facts and information, more interpretation and subjective opinion

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  • Louise
  • 11-17-20

A wonderful journey

I really enjoyed this. It was a fascinating cross-cultural, philosophical journey into the human mind. It has left me with many areas that I wish to explore further, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

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  • Sarah
  • 08-31-19

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