St. Augustine’s philosophy of man reconciles and brings together to anadmirable synthesis and harmony the wisdom of Greek philosophy and the divine truths contained in the scriptures. In common with Greek ethics, its being eudemonistic in character, as it makes happiness the end-all and the be-all of human living; but Augustine tells us with the Bible that this happiness can be found in GOD alone.
The summumbonum which is Plato’s and Aristotle’s concept of theabsolute and immutable and is now seen by Augustine with the aid of the light of divine revelation as the living personal God, the creator of all things and thesupreme ruler of the universe. So, the idea of the Good of Plato is revealed, to Augustine as theliving reality, God. WHAT THEN IS GOD? Augustine answers this question with the words of the scriptures that God is Love;teaches that mortality consists in love, since it is love that makes us like unto Love(God).
Thus, the first and the greatest of all the commandments, one that contains by implication all the rest in the Decalogue, becomes the basis and the central point of Augustine’s Christian ethics. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy wholeheart, with thy whole soul and with thy whole strength: andfor love of God thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. LIFE AND VIRTUE Life to Augustine is a dialectic movement towards Love. Virtue, which is the art of living rightly and well, has been definedby Augustine as theorder of love.
A virtuous life is dynamism of the will which is the dynamism of love, a constant following of and turning towards love, while a wicked life is a constant turning away from love. To love God means necessarily to love one’s fellowmen, and to love one’s fellowmen means never to do any harm to another, or, asthe golden principle of justice requires,to do unto others as you would others do unto you. AGAINST HEDONISM AND STOICISM MAN CRAVES FOR PERFECT ENDURING HAPPINESS Happiness, we all know, comes with the possession of some good;but where, or, in the possession of what good is perfect happiness to be found?
Is it in the goods of the body as well as the goods of this world such as health, beauty, power, honoror fame? Augustine, speaking directly from experience, that these and thepossession of these can never give to man what he is truly looking for,as these goods are finite, unstable and ephemeral, whereas man craves for perfect, immutable and enduring. On this ground, he rejects Epicureanism which proposes earthly and bodily pleasure as the ultimate end of man. How about the goods of the soul, such as wisdom, virtue and all their forms?
The wise men of all ages are all praise for virtue, and evenAristotle places thesummumbonumof human existence in virtue in which he says, man is perfection is to be found. According to Augustine, these treasures of soul cannot fulfill thesupreme purpose for which man is made. For virtue in this life does notnecessarily mean happiness. The Stoics’ view would do away with thepassions and bodily desires, but man is a rational animal, a creatureendowed both with reason and passion inseparably linked together inhis nature. All things come from God and each has a specific purpose to fulfillin the all-embracing plan of divine providence.
Hence, the passions arenot to be annihilated such as the Stoics taught; they have only to beguarded and controlled byreason. The passions are in themselves good; they become bad only whenthey gobeyond or defeat the purpose for which God has intended tothem. To Augustine, virtue means the constant harmonizing and ordering of all the activities of the human personality towards love under guidinginspiration of love. PHILOSOPHY OF THE STATE TWO SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS: 1. STATE 2. CHURCH Augustine upholds the supremacy of the church whichtakes care of the spiritual well-being of the citizens over thestate which administers to the temporal well-being of the body.
Thechurchand thestatecannot be separated from eachother anymore than the body can be separated from the soul in man’s present existence on earth. Hence, the obligation of all citizens to obey laws andproperly constituted civil authority for the maintenance of peace and order for their own good. Augustine proposes love, the central point of philosophy. LIBERTYANDLOVE That the will is free, and that it is at the same time irresistibly drawntowards the good, are indubitable facts.
– Augustine How can the will be free and bound at the same time? How toreconcile liberty and necessity, freedom and law, existing together in ahuman being? – to the Greek philosophers as well as the Oriental sages, that manis naturally drawn to the good as naturally and irresistibly, for instance,as the stone is bound to the earth by gravity. Nothing is more real than the law: invisible to the eyes andimpalpable to the ears, we cannot for any moment of our existence escape it. – Confucius Augustine showed that , while man is free physically, he is morallybound to obey the law.
He can disobey the law, but he ought not to doso. MUST – governs the movements of irrational, non-free creatures orobjects; does not admit the possibility of its being violated OUGHT – governs the voluntary acts of human beings and admits of thepossibility of its being violated Punishment is meaningless and incompatible with respect tophysical law since according to this law, everything comes and occursby necessity. To Augustine belongs the credit of being the first to lay thescience of ethics on its true foundation: Freedom, law and love. THE EXISTENCE OF MORAL OBLIGATION.
Augustine goes on to show the existence of the moral law withinus. All men clearly perceive certain immutable and necessary truthsimpressed in and imposed on the mind- such as the principle of the non-contradiction, that of causality, and especially thegolden principle of conduct; do good and avoid evil. These very laws are universal and immutable laws, whereas we are mutable and mortal creatures. Even the ungodly, Augustine observes, clearly discern thedistinction between right and wrong:they rightly praise certain acts inthe conduct of men, even if they do not observe and follow this norm intheir lives.
Augustine calls theEternal Law, God, Himself or the Eternal Reasonthat guides and leads all things to their proper ends. This law, which is theLaw of Conscience, ever admonishing us to dogood and to avoid evil, is the proximate norm of morality. By way of his doctrine on liberty and moral obligation, Augustineapproaches and tackles the great problem that baffles even thegreatest minds of all ages:that of EVIL. Moral evil in the world is from man’s abuse or misuse of hisfreedom. He teaches thatEvilis the very negation and privation of beingand, therefore, cannot be the object of God’s positive act of creation.
To Augustine, evil isnon-being. Despite his concept of evil as something negative, Augustinesees the life of every man, the history of nations, and the wholehuman race as the story of constant struggle and conflict betweentwo forces, two tendencies: that of good (inspired and motivated by love) and that of evil (impelled to and driven by hate) Two camps in humanity: – those imbued with the spirit of love, belonging to the city of Jerusalem- those with the spirit of the world and evil, belonging to the city of Babylon Tell me if you love or not, Augustine would say,and I will tell what your life is and what your destiny will be.
Courtney from Study Moose
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