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Unformatted text preview: St. Aurelius Augustine (354-430) Life and Thought
Life and thought Theory of Knowledge Certainty: Overcoming Skepticism Platonic Rationalism Divine Illumination Faith and Reason Metaphysics: God Creation, Freedom, and Evil The Existence of God Creation Free Will and Foreknowledge The Problem of Evil Other Medieval Arguments for God's Existence St. Anselm (1033-1109) St. Thomas Aquinas (1229-1274) Aurelius Augustine: Life and Thought Augustine (354-430) was also known as Aurelius Augustinius and Augustine of Hippo. He was born in Thagaste, in Algeria. His mother Monica was a Christian and his father a pagan. Before 20 he had turned his back on Christianity, since his Christian ideas seemed inadequate to him. He was perplexed by the ever-present problem of moral evil. The Christians said that that God is the creator of all things and that God is good. How, then, Augustine wondered is it possible for evil to arise out of a world that a perfectly good God had created? Because Augustine could not find an answer as a youth, he turned away from Christianity and toward a group toward the Manichees. Their philosophy of Manicheanism said that two principles--those of darkness or evil and the principle of light or good--worked together in the universe. The two principles were equally eternal, but eternally in conflict with each other. Things grouped under evil--like excess sensual desires--could be attributed to this external power of darkness. From Plotinus (205-270), a Neo-Platonist, Aquinas acquired and embraced the idea that evil is not a positive reality but a privation--that is, the absence of good. He had a conversion experience in 386, at the age of 32, when he left the field of rhetoric and gave himself over to the study of philosophy--which for him meant the knowledge of God. He then writes the first autobiography, The Confessions, which is a soul-searching account of his sinful life before his conversion, and publishes other works. In fact, all parts of Augustine's philosophy point to his moral theory: We seek happiness and true happiness requires that we go beyond the natural to the supernatural. He expressed this view both in religious and philosophical language. In his Confessions he wrote, "Oh God you have created us for Yourself so that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." We can love things in the wrong way. Though everyone expects to find happiness through love but we can also find misery and unhappiness in love because our love is "disordered" and we fail to devote our ultimate love to God. Augustine: Life and Thought Augustine's real method was expressed in the words credo ut intellegiam, "I believe that I might understand." It was an expression of faith. He expounded a philosophy that sought to combine faith and reason. Understanding is the reward of faith, according to Augustine. "Seek therefore not to understand in order that you may believe, but to believe in order that you may understand." Faith was primary for him: it was a prerequisite for a Christian philosophy. But faith alone is a kind of blind ascent. So he thought true philosophy had to join faith and reason. In fact, there could be no distinction between theology and philosophy. We could not philosophize until our wills are transformed, that clear thinking is possible only under the influence of God's grace. In this way, Augustine set the dominant direction and style of Christian wisdom in the Middle Ages. The older he got the more biblical his thought and expression became. The world and mankind are divine images or reflections of God, he maintained. He thought also that progress in wisdom is made when the mind turns upward toward God, away from the things of this world. This is the Platonic element in his thinking, though for Augustine, this movement away from the sensible world to the spiritual world can only be accomplished if the mind has been purified by faith. Thomas Aquinas would later write, "Whenever Augustine, who was imbued with the theories of the Platonists, found in their writings anything consistent with the faith, he adopted it; and whatever he found contrary to the faith, he amended." Theory of Knowledge Certainty: Overcoming Skepticism Augustine sought to answer the Skeptics, a school of philosophers after the period of Aristotle (two other schools are the Stoics and the Epicureans) and he did this by showing that human reason can attain certainty about various things. For instance, we know that the law of noncontradiction, first propounded by Aristotle, is true. The principle states that a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time. (Even Gorgias couldn't doubt that!) The act of doubting is a form of certainty, since the expression Si Fallor sum, "I doubt, therefore I am" proves that I exist. To the principle of noncontradiction we can add Aristotle's laws of identity (everything is equal to itself or P = P) and and the law of the excluded middle (a proposition is either true or false or P v ~P) Sense Knowledge Augustine displays his Platonic stripes by claiming that sense knowledge is at the lowest level and provides the least amount of certainty. This is so for two reasons: first the objects of sense are always changing, and, second, the organs of sense change. Thus sensation varies from time to time and from person to person. This is not a fault in ourselves, but a deficiency in the object and its mutability. With Plato, Augustine assumed that the true objects of knowledge are unchanging; the knowledge of corporeal objects is not true knowledge. Sense knowledge is an act of the soul and when I see an object I take a mental image of the thing. Since the soul is spiritual and not material, the object cannot make a physical "impression" upon the mind the way that a signet ring leaves its mark in wax. Theory of Knowledge and God's Existence Sense Knowledge (continued) In sensation, there are at least four elements, namely (1) the objects sensed, (2) the bodily organ upon which sensation depends, (3) the activity of the mind in formulating an image of the object, and (4), the immaterial object, e.g., Beauty, which the mind uses in making a judgment about the sensed object. So we encounter the objects of bodily sensation and the objects of the mind. With the physical eye we see things and with the mind we apprehend eternal truths. Augustine sounds most Platonic in describing how knowledge is more certain as we contemplate eternal truths without our senses. The highest level of knowledge for Augustine is the knowledge of God. The Theory of Illumination Augustine's states his theory of illumination in succinct form when he says that "there is present in us the light of eternal reason, in which light the immutable truths are seen." For Augustine, this illumination comes from God just as light comes from the sun (How does this compare to Plato's prisoner seeing the sun outside the cave?) It is the illumination of our judgment whereby we are able to discern that certain ideas contain necessary and eternal truths. God If the mind is able to apprehend necessary and eternal truths, there must be some explanation for this. Augustine uses this "need for explanation" to posit God's existence If we possess these eternal truths, there must be an immutable and eternal ground for them, Augustine reasons. The proof of God's existence, then, is that the mind is able to think about eternal truths and there must be a cause for these thoughts. (Again, this is comparable to Plato saying that if we know eternal truths, there must be a world of forms that causes our apprehension of them). This might be called the "causal argument" for God's existence and a version of it will later appear in Rene Descartes' Meditations. Creation Creation from Nothing God created things ex nihilo, or out of nothing. Against Plotinus and Plato, Augustine stressed that the world is the product of God's free act, whereby he brings into being, out of nothing, all the things that make up the world. All things, then, owe their existence to God. There is, however, a sharp distinction between God and the things he created. Whereas Plotinus saw the world as the overflowing and therefore continuation of God, Augustine speaks of God as bringing into existence what did not exist before. He could not have created the world out of existing matter, because then matter, even in a primary form, would already be something without God. Everything, including matter, is the result of God's creative act, according to Augustine. Matter is essentially good in nature since God creates matter, and God cannot create anything evil. This affects his theory of morality. (1) In saying that God created out of nothing, Augustine is of course following the account of creation in Genesis, but thinks that reason (contrary to the Greek notions that the world was eternal or was formed out of pre-existing matter) confirms this. If the heavens and earth could speak they would cry out, "We did not make ourselves, we were made by him who abides for eternity." (City of God 9.10.25) (2) Augustine insists that creation was a free act. God created the world because he wanted to share his goodness with creatures. (3) Everything is form and matter and he likens his idea of form and matter to Plato's. But he does not accept that the forms exist on their own, but rather reside within God's mind. He also rejects the Platonic demiurge as a craftsman or architect imposing order on pre-existing matter. Augustine replies that such formless matter would require a creator to cause it to exist (City of God 11.5.7) Freedom of the Will & Divine Foreknowledge Freedom of the Will Augustine's doctrine of the primacy of the will has two dimensions. One is that the universe according to Augustine is the result of God's free and sovereign will. With respect to humanity, everything is to be explained on the basis of the will. He is unlike the Greeks in thinking that will and not reason is primary. The intellect follows the will, not the other way around. (Socrates said "knowledge is virtue," but Augustine would maintain that this leaves out the will). But what determines the will? Augustine's answer is that nothing does; the will is completely free. The theme of love comes into play here. The will is moved in the direction of what it chooses to love. Like a physical object that is pulled by its weight toward the center of the earth, so every one of us is pulled by the affections of our own hearts toward that which is the center of our lives. As Augustine says, "My weight is my love. Wherever I am carried my love is carrying me." (City of God 8.9) Three Positions on the Freedom of the Will: Libertarianism: (from Latin, liber, free) the position that human beings have free will interpreted as an uncaused event Determinism: the position that ever event has a cause. So, given a set of conditions, X, it will always be followed by nothing other than a set of conditions, Y (and given that set of conditions X, the set of conditions Y could not have been preceded by anything other than the set of conditions X). Or ~X > ~Y
Soft determinism: (also called compatibilism) this position asserts that determinism, which denies the existence of free will, is compatible with the free choices, moral decisions, responsibility, praise, blame, punishment and other concepts that imply the existence of freedom of the will in humans. Human Freedom and Divine Foreknowledge Augustine says that God's foreknowledge of human events does not preclude human freedom. "God knows all things before they happen; yet, we act by choice in all those things where we feel and know that we cannot act otherwise than willingly." Whatever choice I make, A or B or C, God knew beforehand that I would freely make the choice I did. The Problem of Evil Statement of the Problem If God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnibenevolent (allgood), and omnipresent, how is this description logically consistent with the presence of evil in the world? The problem is not a problem for persons of one faith only but persons of all faiths. For if we hold to the assertion that God has the set of qualities enumerated here, we must explain how that set of qualities can exist at the same time that evil exists . What is Evil?
Evil can be divided into two kinds: natural evils and human (or willed) evils. Natural evils are those calamities that are effects of natural causes. Here we might group mudslides, volcanoes, hurricanes and other catastrophic events that wreak havoc with human and animal communities. But we can also include plagues, diseases, famines and the like that are not due to human agency but to natural causes. When we see a five-year-old child with leukemia or other form of cancer spending his last days in the pediatric wing of some hospital, was there some human act that put him in that position? Human Evils are those evils that result from personal depravity, torture, murder, war, cheating, exploitation, and other human acts. Human evils might be summed up by calling them "man's inhumanity to man." Augustine's "Solution" to the Problem of Evil Augustine's Response to the Problem of Evil In the world of becoming, things change. Change gives rise to natural processes, and these give rise to famines, diseases, plagues, etc., which in turn give rise to suffering,, which is visited on human beings as a just punishment for their sins. Moral evils or sins can be traced to the absence of goodness. It results from something gone wrong with the will. As disease is the absence of health in the body, so sin is the absence of health in the will. Thus, for Augustine, evil is not caused by God. As a Christian Platonist, accepting much of Plato's idea that the world is a mixture of being and non-being. It is a place of becoming. So Evil is a kind of privation, not a positive force created by God. Other "Solutions" to the Problem of Evil 1) God is not omnipotent after all. 2) God's plan for the world is inscrutable. 3) All things, including evil, actually contribute to the goodness of the whole. 4) A perfect world is a logical impossibility 5) Evil is a necessary by-product of nature David Hume (1711-1776) on Evil Anselms' Ontological Argument Like the cosmological argument, this argument assumes the world is contingent, that is, it depends on something outside itself for its existence. There must be some unconditional, ultimate, being upon which the world depends; otherwise it would have no final basis for existence. In this case God is posited as the only adequate explanation for the apparent order, purpose, unity, harmony and beauty of the cosmos. Distinguished from these arguments based on experience, St. Anselm (1033-1109), the Archbishop of Canterbury, employed a conceptual or a priori argument. His argument is better known as the "ontological argument." In the second chapter of his Proslogion he writes: And so, O Lord, since though givest understanding to faith, give me to understand--as far as thou knowest it to be good for me--that thou doest exist as we believe, and that thou art what we believe thee to be. Now we believe that thou are a being than which none greater can be thought. Or can it be that there is no such being, since "the fool hath said in his heart, `There is no God'"? [Psalms 14:1; 53:1) But when this same fool hears what I am saying--"A being than which none greater can be thought"--he understands what he hears and what he understands is in his understanding, even if he does not understand that it exists. For it is one thing for an object to be in the Anselm's argument does not depend upon experience, as Aquinas' arguments do, but only on a concept. That concept is that God equals a being than which a greater cannot be thought. Anselm contends that once this concept is allowed as a definition of God, then his existence follows with necessity. Bishop Guanilo, a contemporary, challenged Anselm by saying that anyone thinking of a perfect island, "The Isle of the Blessed," could thus be certain of its existence. Is this a successful criticism of Anselm? Plato's "Demiurge" Plato (428-348BC) accepted a version of the cosmological argument. In his dialogue the Timaeus he states that "everything that becomes or is created must of necessity be created by some cause." (28a) Since the universe is so vast and complex, its cause must be immeasurably powerful and intelligent. This supreme being is referred to as God or the "Demiurge" (meaning "craftsman). However, unlike the Judeo-Christian account, Plato's God is not omnipotent and does not create the cosmos out of nothing. Instead, he is like a human craftsman who creates an article out of presexisting materials by following a blueprint. ...
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