Why Evil Exists : The Great Courses: Comparative & World Religion

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Charles Mathewes
  • Series: The Great Courses: Comparative & World Religion
  • 19 hrs and 6 mins
  • Lecture

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.

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Best Audiobook I've Ever Listened To

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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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- Megan Hewins

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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- W Perry Hall "One master-passion in the br east, like Aaron's serpent, swallows all the rest. A. Pope"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses