St. Augustine Works
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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.
A. CRITIQUE OF SCEPTICISM: MAN
• 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.
B. THE PROCESS OF KNOWLEDGE:
DOCTRINE OF ILLUMINATION
• 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
• 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
• We do not remember them but are provoked into
• 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.
Chapter VI. PROBLEMS OF
COSMOLOGY: ORIGIN OF THE WORLD,
OF TIME AND EVIL.
A. THE FOUNDATION OF AUGUSTINIAN
• 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.
B. ORIGIN OF THE WORLD.
• 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.
C. THE PROBLEM OF TIME.
• 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.
D. THE SEMINAL RESONS (“RATIONES
• 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
• 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.
E. THE PROBLEM OF EVIL.
• 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.
• 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.”