St. Augustine Works

Christian Platonism Of St. Augustine of Hippo (Chapters 4-6) Sem. Ian Bravo.

Transcript of St. Augustine Works

Christian Platonism Of St. Augustine

of Hippo (Chapters 4-6)

Sem. Ian Bravo.

Chapter IV. Doctrine of knowledge.

• Problems of Epistemology

The first philosophical problem confronted

by Augustine after his conversion was the

problem of knowledge in a twofold perspective.

1. Whether we know the truth.

2. How we know the truth.

• The first response to the first problem is a severe critique

of skepticism. His response to the second problem is the

doctrine of illumination, which substituted the platonic

doctrine of the reminiscence and which the Aristotelian

doctrine of abstraction.



• Augustine shows that man can know the truths with

firmness, such as his principle of non contradiction and of

course his own existence. No one can doubt his own existence,

because the doubt itself is the proof of existence.

Meaning how a person will doubt something that doesn’t

exist, everything that is doubted it is existing. When one

doubted something meaning he doubts an existing object.

• “I am most certain” St. Augustine states, “of my being, knowing and

loving; nor do I fear the arguments against these truths of the

academics, who say, ‘and what you deceive yourself ‘if I deceive

myself that means that I am, I exist. Certainly he who does not exist

cannot deceive himself; if I deceive myself then through this very

fact I am. Since I exist, from the moment in which I deceive myself,

how can I deceive myself about my being when I am certain that I

am, through the fact itself that I deceive myself? Therefore, if would

exist, I who deceive myself, even given the hypothesis that I deceive

myself in knowing myself.”

• This has a comparison on the first paragraph, well the

example had been used is deceiving, it is true that how it

would be deceive if it doesn’t exist and Augustine explained it

in a very light way that, if it is being deceive meaning it exist,

that is why if the self is being deceive means the self itself is

existing. If the self does not exist it cannot deceive itself

because the self does not exist so how the self would deceive

itself, it is saying we can’t doubt things that does not exist.

• Nor can doubts of senses can make us doubt our

existence and our life. We must not have any fears

unless we are deceived by some acceptable probabilities,

since it is certain that the man who is deceived in these

images, example when an oar immersed in water seems

broken and the kneel seems in movement to those who

navigate, or in a thousand other cases where things are

not what they seem.



• St. Augustine distinguishes three cognitive operations.

- The Senses

- The inferior Reason

- The Superior Reason

The Senses – knows the Quality of the


• The sensation is an activity exercised by the souls

through the body. The body undergoes the impressions

of our bodies; and the soul, through the impression

gleaned from the body, acquires knowledge of the

corporeal world. Therefore, according to St. Augustine,

bodies are not known immediately, but through

mediation. “the soul gathers the image, not the sense, of

all the sensible object.”

The Inferior Reason – knows the laws

of physical world.

• Scientific knowledge is acquired through the inferior

sense “ratio inferior”. Scientific knowledge occupies

corporeal world and seeks to discover universal laws

through the process of abstraction.

The Superior Reason – knows eternal

truths• Knowledge of eternal truth is acquired through divine illumination,

not through reminiscence; and illumination reaches the greatest

heights of reason “ratio superior”. St Augustine is convinced as Plato

was, that eternal truths cannot come from experience, both because

of the possibility of the known object and the possibility of the

knowing subject. However, given that St. Augustine does not admit

the pre-existence of souls in the knowledge of eternal truths with the

doctrine of reminiscence, as Plato had done. Hence St. Augustine

takes recourse in the doctrine of illumination. Illumination makes

eternal truths visible.

What does St. Augustine mean by the

phrase “divine truth”? there are two

common interpretation:

• Illumination makes certain ideas (truth, justice) more

visible to us.

• Illumination shows the truth of judgments.

Knowledge takes on two differing directions. The former

oriented toward the divine, the universal, the eternal and

the immutable; the latter is directed at the world, the

contingent, the mutable and the particular.

Chapter V. Philosophy of language

• Augustine dedicated two works to the problem of language, De magistro and De

doctrina Christiana. De magistro represents the first attempt “to found a

science of expression or of general linguistics” (GUZZO). In this work, having

defined language as a assign, Augustine’s seeks to separate its principal

functions. He reduces these functions to two, indicative and reminiscitive.

He declares “we speak to each or to remember because when we interrogate, we

only say to the person we interrogate what we want to hear and when we sing,

what we seem to be doing for enjoyment is not a proper element of speaking and

in praying to God, whom we cannot teach or remember what we wish, the word

serve to admonish ourselves, or to admonish and instruct others through our


• Later he specifies that in neither of the cases of language

the effective cause of knowledge. ‘ this is the value of

words: when we wish to attribute a great value to words,

they only admonish us to seek things, which is far from

presenting them and making us know them… it is a most

true judgment that, when one proffers words, we either

know their meaning already or do not know their


• In the former case, we remember them and do not

learn them.

• We do not remember them but are provoked into

researching them.

• The true cause of knowledge is things. Words can

have an instrumental function with respect to

knowledge only when they are associated in a stable

way with certain things.






• In the Soliloquia, when reason asks him what he

wishes to know, Augustine’s replies, “God and the soul.

Nothing else – nothing else”.

• There are two problems in philosophy: one regards the

soul, the other God. The first leads us to knowing

ourselves; the other leads us to knowing the principle of

our being. One is more delightful for us, the other more

precious. The former makes us worthy of happiness,

while the latter make us happy. The former belongs to

those who are still learning, while the latter belongs to

those who have already learned. This is the rational

procedure of philosophizing.

• The resolution of all philosophical problems into the question

of God and the soul is not to be understood simply in a material

sense, but in a formal sense as well.

• In fact the soul and God is inseparable

• For Augustine, posing the problem of the souls is the same as

posing the problem of God.

• In order to know God and to know truth, man does not have to leave

himself because the truth is already found in the depths of his being.

Where man is, there we find God’s presence within man’s spirit.

• Man truly knows himself only when he knows the prime

origin and ultimate end.

• Augustine’s philosophy is called a philosophy of

interiority. It is given this name because Augustine does

not seek to solution to philosophical problems in the

study of external realities( As Aristotle had done), but in

the study of the interior world, of the souls.

Two luminous examples of Augustine’s

interior procedure are the following:

• God’s existence – there are eternal truths present in the human

mind. But the human mind, being contingent and mutable, is not

sufficient reason for truths. Therefore God exists, and he is the

sufficient reason for these truths.

• Nature of God – The true nature of God, his trinity can only be

known through revelation. Human reason can find trace and images

of the trinity in creatures, and these can serve in an analogous

process to penetrate a bit the most profound mystery of the

presence of the three person in the single nature of God.


• One of the principal question of the universe is it’s origin.

• Augustine had conceived the world, man included, as an

emanation of God, a fragment of God,

• That god had created things from nothingness, according to the

archetypal ideas he found In the logos, the Son of God.

• Why did God create the world? For his own goodness, this would

not permit a good creation to remain in nothingness.


• We cannot respond to this problem unless we first clarify

the notion of time; from his view of time, Augustine

draws the conclusion that the world could not have been


Definition of time

• he does not conceive time as a mobile image of eternity

(Plato) or as a measure of movement (Aristotle), but as

the duration of a finite nature which can’t be complete at

once and which needs to develop through successive and

continuous phases. The past is the times which is no

more; the future is the time which is not yet; the present

is the time now, but which it will not always be.

The existence of time

• time does not exist outside of us. Outside of us there is no past or no


• Must we then conclude that the past and future do not exist? If the

past were not to exist, then there would be no history and if the

future were not to exist, then any prediction would be impossible.

• Therefore, we must provide an explanation of the past and future

which safeguards their existence.

• The presence of the past, or memory; the present of the present or

the intuition; the present of the future, or the expectation.

Measurement of time

• how time is measured? We measure time in the soul. On

which time leaves an impression as it passes away.

• Given that the time is the characteristic mode of being of

every finite nature, which cannot be completely present

at once but which needs to express itself in successive

and continuous phases, and given that the universe

always remain of a finite nature, then the world finds its

origin in time not in eternity.



• God created a world destined to develop time; he gave to the

world initially all the virtualities.

• These virtualities impressed by God in things at the

moment of the creation are called “rationes seminales” by St.


• Just as in the seed of a tree are invisibly present all the

parts which will later develop of the tree, so from the

beginning all the various bodies were present in a germinal


• St. Augustine state that men may continue to use this language

because the development of the “rationes seminales” is due to

creature’s activity. The rationes seminales develop and originate

new bodies when they are re-awakened and excited by the actions of


• According to him, one would have to admit either that God always

continues to create or that those things which born receive being

from creatures.

• In the first case, one could not say that God created everything

at the same time. In the second case, things would given the power

to create other things; hence we would have things both created and

creating, which absurd.


• Augustine arrives at a notion of evil which allows him to affirm that God is

not it’s cause. For a long time Augustine had accepted the Manichean

solution which attributed evil to an evil principle.

• Later he found neo-Platonism to overcome Manichean dualism.

• Plotinus stated that evil is an absence, a lack of good. Therefore, he

identifies this absence, this privation of good, with matter.

• St. Augustine accepts the first part of Plotinus’ theory, but not the

identification of evil with matter because matter is also created by God.

Notion of Evil

• from an examination of things which man calls evil, Augustine arrives at the conclusion

that evil cannot exist by itself; but it must in a substance which is good in itself.

• Evil is the privation of a perfection which substance should have, but does not have.

Therefore, evil is not a

• Positive reality, but a privation of reality.

• Augustine proves that this is true concept of evil in the following way.

• “Being, however small, is a good in itself. . . and since every being must made up of a form,

however minimal, then it although of the lowest grade, will still be a good and hence be

from God, the supreme good, is also the supreme form, then every good is either God or

comes from God. Therefore even the lowest form is from God.”

The Cause of evil is the Creature.

• – Evil presents itself in two forms, as suffering and as guilt. They are

intimately related; the cause of suffering is guilt. The problem of evil

is reduced to the problem of guilt.

• Guilt is the submission of the human reason to passion, in obeying

divine law, and in distancing oneself from the supreme good.

• When man distance himself from the immutable good too instead

turns to a lower and particular good, he sins, that’s Evil.

F. Order.

• It indicates the rational or intelligent disposition found is things of this world, both physical and animal.

• The doctor of hippo proposes to unveil the sufficient reason and ideal justification for the order which

reigns in this world.

• Having examined and discarded the hypothesis that order is the fruit of chance, Augustine shows that

the only adequate justification can be no other than God.

• This solution again leads us to the problem of evil, for which Augustine already had found a satisfactory


• The solution is that evil does not find its origin in God, but in man’s abuse of freedom.

• Although he is not the origin of evil, in his omniscience and omnipotence he does not make even evil

enter into the general order of things because . . .

• “nothing can happen outside the divine order. Evil itself has its origin outside the divine order, but divine

justice did not allow it to remain outside this order and this justice has led and forced evil to be in

conformity with the law pertaining to it.”