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The Myth of Evil: Demonizing the Enemy [Hardcover]

Phillip A. Cole

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Book Description

July 30, 2006 0275992160 978-0275992163

The Myth of Evil explores a contradiction at the heart of modern thought about what it is to be human: the belief that a human being cannot commit a radically evil act purely for its own sake and the evidence that radically evil acts are committed not by inhuman monsters, but by human beings. This contradiction can be seen most clearly when we consider the most extreme forms of evil: war crimes, serial murders, sex offences, murders committed by children. Taking the traditional position that evil is an active force creating monsters in human shape, this book shows that this idea is still at work—both in the popular imagination, cultivated in fiction and film (about vampires, monsters, and serial killers) and in real form (in the media, most recently in relation to migrants and terrorism.).

Cole delves deeply into two approaches to evil: the traditional approach where evil is regarded as a force that creates monsters in human form, and a more recent perspective that regards evil as the consequence of the actions of misguided or mentally deranged agents. Cole rejects both approaches and posits that evil is a myth humankind has created about itself. Drawing on philosophical ideas as well as on theological perspectives, psychological theories, and fictional representations, this book provides a thorough and thought-provoking account of the puzzling concept of evil and a reconsideration of the common understanding of human nature.

Editorial Reviews


"Cole takes the position that evil itself may in fact not exist, and works from the concept of the idea of evil, which most definitely does exist. He closely examines traditional explanation of evil as a force which creates monsters in human shape as well as the notion that evil is the result of the actions of misguided or deranged agents and finds fault in both; evil is a myth, he writes, that we have created about ourselves. In the process he faces such evidence of evil as crime, war, genocide and violent perversion, leading to an evaluation of the evil currently assigned to terrorism."


Reference & Research Book News

"He offers a concerted and impassioned challenge to the view that notions of innate sinfulness and pure evil are psychologically convincing or, for that matter, of practical use….[C]ole offers much….[f]ood for thought in his tour of writings on evil."



"Cole has written the best book on evil to date; it deserves a place on the shelves of both academic and public libraries. The author considers the literature on evil from mythology to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including recent philosophical works….Three major arguments emerge from this extensive review, all of them cogent. One is that the concept of evil is not only a meaningless concept that adds nothing to an understanding of human behavior, but also a dangerous one because it obscures possible understanding of events. The second is that the notion of evil is a mythological concept, not a religious or philosophical one. Evil is part of the story that humans tell to make sense of their (as opposed to others') world view. The third is that stories of evil arise from fear of the unknown that humans feel is threatening them. This unknown can be metaphysical or political. Cole ends with a chapter on contemporary politics and the evil of terrorism, an expression he would strike from the language. Essential. Upper-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers; general readers."



"The abundant material available in Western history is used throughout the book to illustrate actions that the concept of evil might be thought to explain…"


The Journal of Religion

Book Description

An enlightening history of the concept of evil in Western culture

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