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Evil Cannot Comprehend Good

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The Devil tries his hand at theology.

"And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

The villain has developed a devious plot that is prepared for anything that the hero might do — except for one glaring flaw. For some reason, the villain has not considered the possibility of a Heroic Sacrifice. After all, you'd never catch him throwing his life away to save a bunch of lazy, ungrateful civilians who don't care about anybody except themselves. Heck, even saving your True Companions comes after saving your own life. Only an idiot would throw his life away like that—and only because he didn't realize how much more profitable saving it would be.

Too bad for these villains that Machiavelli Was Wrong, for they cannot understand the concept of goodness or generosity because there is no guaranteed return on that investment. Why do they have so much trouble understanding good behavior? In general, evil always assumes Virtue Is Weakness and thinks The Hero has an ulterior motive such as fame or wealth for doing these so-called "acts of heroism."


Our Hero goes and makes the Heroic Sacrifice anyway, thereby ruining the villain's plan with a Didn't See That Coming that a more cunning villain really should have seen coming. This is one of the ways those with Honor Before Reason can continue to defeat the Big Bad. This is a major problem for villains who really believe they are Not So Different and think heroes could have used their powers for Evil, as opposed to villains who are just screwing with the Hero's head.

Occasionally, greater justification is provided by having a hero who the villain knows is a Jerkass and the Anti-Hero decides to redeem himself at the critical moment, or the villain will meet a hero who decides to Turn the Other Cheek instead of fighting back. An alternative version involves the Hero giving in to the villain's manipulative demands, agreeing that, yes, We Can Rule Together (usually to the "horror" of his sidekicks, Love Interest, and True Companions) as a ruse to defeat the villain. The villain falls for it because it's what he'd have done if the situations were reversed.


The inability to comprehend good altruistic behavior (especially when it results in punishment) is a common trait in cynics, Straw Nihilists, Corrupt Corporate Executives, Social Darwinists, Knight Templars, and sociopaths.

Contrast It's All About Me, when the villain expects the hero to behave not selfishly, but generously toward him. When the trope is Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, the villain can't understand why the hero saved him from falling; in It's All About Me, the villain can't understand why the hero insists on arresting him after. It can get a little fuzzy when the character decides to be generous: did he murder his son's romantic rival because he didn't realize his son would hate it — this trope — or because he was so caught up in the notion of his own generosity that he didn't care what his son thought—It's All About Me?

Supertrope of Beware the Honest Ones and subtrope of Wrong Assumption. Contrast Good Is Old-Fashioned, Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!, and the Inverted Trope of Good Cannot Comprehend Evil. Compare Blue-and-Orange Morality. Often involves Psychological Projection. When someone evil is capable of understanding or admiring good, it may lead to Sympathy for the Hero. If the villain thinks he is the good guy and is baffled at the heroes wanting to stop him, it's because he's Obliviously Evil. Curious Qualms of Conscience could be similar to a milder form—characters who don't understand the good and the conscience within themselves.

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    Myths and Religion 
  • One parable told in homilies and other sermons recounts a man who is given a glimpse of both Heaven and Hell. He is shocked to discover that they are physically identical - an infinitely vast banquet hall, set for the most sumptuous feast imaginable, but for which all the utensils are far too large and unwieldy to ever bring food to one's own lips. Those in Hell go forever hungry, while those in Heaven instinctively use their utensils to feed someone else.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Eddie Kingston's 2007 and 2008 was spent beating up and destroying most of the young technicos on the CHIKARA roster, breaking Shane Storm's nose twice, bruising everyone from Tim Donst to Soldier Ant. Along comes Lince Dorado, who was beginning to become The Scrappy and is getting roundly booed by every crowd. Eddie continues the beatings on Lince, who continues to get up and keep asking for more. Kingston announces that he will never again wrestle Lince, because his tenuous grip on sanity gets confused every time Lince gets up for the people that boo him.
  • When Ted DiBiase Jr. 2011 underwent a Heel–Face Turn in 2011 (which was basically him being more friendly and no longer acting like a Rich Bitch), other people like then-heel Michael Cole and Jinder Mahal expressed confusion over why he would do this.

  • In Arthur Miller's play, The Pussycat and the Expert Plumber who Was a Man, a talking cat starts climbing the political ladder under the alias Tom Thomas, by blackmailing anyone who could expose him. In the end, his gubernatorial campaign is thwarted by an expert plumber (who is a man), who doesn't care what secrets (real or fabricated) might be exposed about him, so long as people realize they've been voting for a cat. The cat is one of the few examples to actually realize he misjudged humanity (well, a few of them, anyway).
  • In Heathers The Musical, Veronica breaks up with JD, horrified by his murders of their classmates. J.D. however, blames the student body for their break up and resolves to blow them up during a pep rally.
  • In Antigone, Creon cannot grasp that Antigone loved both her brothers unconditionally even when they [Eteocles and Polyneices] were mortal foes.
  • In Be More Chill, The SQUIP is an incredibly advanced quantum supercomputer that is very good at engineering and executing highly favorable plans for itself and its user, but with a total Lack of Empathy and a strong penchant for manipulation. However, because of this, it also sees no benefit and thus no reason for anyone to erratically, loyally, selflessly, or anything else it considers human error. It doesn't even consider the idea that, even after Jeremy shut him out and insulted him courtesy of the SQUIP's influence, Michael would still be loyal and want to help him.

    Visual Novels 
  • Completely subverted in Fate/stay night in Heaven's Feel. Despite trying to destroy the world in large part For the Evulz, the reason Kotomine would do that is he understood good perfectly well. He's just unable to actually do it and feel satisfied no matter how hard he tries. Apart from his background material, he gambles away his entire magic crest to save Sakura knowing that Shirou's righteous spirit will make him protect her from anything. In fact, his Xanatos Speed Chess was entirely reliant on exploiting the 'good' nature of Shirou.
  • Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice For All: Matt Engarde hires professional assassin Shelly de Killer to kill his rival, then uses a hidden camera to film the crime as insurance in case de Killer tries to blackmail him. However, de Killer places great value on the trust between himself and his clients and is outraged at this betrayal. Engarde clearly never considered that some crooks might have higher standards than him.
  • At the end of the Ace Attorney fangame Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Case 5: Turnabout Substitution, when the Mysterious Bust Killer turned out to be a nihilistic Serial Killer who claimed that she murdered 12 people, including her own brother, just for the sake of it, it left everyone in the courtroom shocked. Rhea Wits thinks murder is the highest form of living — so logically, killing as many people as she likes isn't just okay, it makes her a would-be higher life-form. And why is it okay to kill people? Because they're "not really living." However, Apollo, having realized the insane woman Rhea truly is, bluntly states that she is clearly incapable of loving anything or anyone, not even herself.
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc:
    • When everyone confronts the Mastermind, Junko Enoshima, being pretty much despair personified, manages to get everyone to cross the Despair Event Horizon by revealing that the world outside the school has been destroyed, and all their efforts to escape have been for nothing, as there's no guarantee they'll even survive if they step outside. Makoto, having become Ultimate Hope at this point, manages to give everyone their Heroic Second Wind, to which Junko freaks out and screams "What the hell are you!?"
    • Earlier, Byakuya is utterly shocked when he misses a crucial detail involving Sakura's death, while Makoto manages to discern it with ease, and completely flips when he learns the reason: he never imagined that Sakura would commit suicide in order to protect her friend.
    • The first miscalculation Monokuma makes is framing Kyoko for Mukuro Ikusaba's murder: the plan fails because he didn't consider the possibility that someone would willingly take the fall for Kyoko and die in her place. Similarly, he didn't predict that Alter Ego would make a Heroic Sacrifice to prolong Makoto's life.
    • The second is swapping Sakura's note, which explained her decision to kill herself, with one that made it seem like she did it out of despair and hatred for the group. This goads Hina into trying to get everyone killed out of anger, which ultimately fails. Monokuma's certain that this would drive a further wedge between the group and prove defying him is meaningless. Instead, it's what gets everyone to rally against him and the killing game, something he didn't even consider.
  • Minor example in one ending of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. The Big Bad Ace/Gentaro tries to bribe a dying Snake not to kill them via a murder-suicide by claiming he has access to hospitals that could save the should-already-be-dead Snake. Indeed, Gentaro is so self-absorbed and sociopathic that they can't imagine that Snake doesn't want to live after Ace killed his beloved sister, Clover, and just cares about making sure Ace pays for it — the idea of caring about someone so much that losing them causes your own life to be meaningless is utterly alien to him.
    • More blatant is him asking why the group is so upset at him for murdering Clover, as well as engineering the Ninth Man's death and trying to kill Snake, since they'd barely even known any of them for a few hours. Basic human empathy seems beyond him.

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  • Played for Laughs by The Nostalgia Chick, who surmises the popularity spell in Teen Witch as "having all the awesomeness of the messiah with none of that martyr shit".
  • In To Boldly Flee, Ma-Ti has a meltdown when The Nostalgia Critic closes the door on the real world and proves that he's become a true hero. Unlike most examples of this trope, Ma-Ti has known the Critic first hand as a colossal, selfish, Jerkass Manchild. His shock is more understandable under the circumstances, making it more of a case of Evil Cannot Comprehend Character Development.
  • The Nostalgia Critic:
    • Played for Laughs in his review of Casper, when the titular ghost is stunned to see Critic praising the movie and resorts to a Groin Attack.
    • This is played relatively straight in the Critic's review of The Cat in the Hat. Earlier, Peter Soulless, who bought the film rights to the Dr. Seuss stories, says that they needed to add extra morals to compensate for the longer running time. The Critic replies that The Polar Express and Mary Poppins were able to keep their principal morals focused with the longer running time, but Peter dismisses those movies for not having pop culture references. At the end, Soulless insists that he understands the source material because the Dr. Seuss stories are "just simple kids' books". In response, the Critic gives him a heartfelt speech that they are not "just simple kids' books", and why they deserve more respect; the original stories will go on being read and reread for years to come while the movie versions of those stories will be forgotten. Even Evilina, whom he's babysitting, admits that she likes the original stories more. Unfortunately, however, all this only riles Soulless, who yells at them that they are wrong and forces them to watch more clips of bad scenes in other Dr. Seuss movies, until they have no choice but to appreciate them.
  • In Noob, this seems to be a factor in the Mistaken for Badass situation between Sparadrap and Dark Avenger. Sparadrap considers that Dark Avenger and him are Friendly Enemies, while Sparadrap's Invincible Incompetent tendencies have convinced Dark Avenger that he's actually an elite player displaying Obfuscating Stupidity. Dark Avenger's standard reaction to Sparadrap's friendly lines can be summed up as "quit that little trick you use to get you opponent's guard down, it doesn't work on me."


Video Example(s):


Sparing Flowey (Undertale)

This is what happens if you spare Flowey, as he will not understand why are you sparing him despite everything he have done to you

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Main / EvilCannotComprehendGood

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Main / EvilCannotComprehendGood