This book by St Augustine contains many philosophical arguments. St Augustine was a Latin speaking philosopher born in what is now modern day Algeria. He was one of the most prolific philosophers with hundreds of surviving works attributed to him (having survived the passage of time). The book On Free choice of the will contains may divine references with the central argument concerning free will as a gift from god, a gift which leads to humans becoming evil due their own inherent flaws.
Free will is a large theme in the book. I will be critically analyzing Augustine’s argument that ‘… a mind that is in control, one that possesses virtue, cannot be made a slave to inordinate desire by anything equal or superior to it, because such a thing would be just, or by anything inferior to it, because such a thing would be too weak’1 . I will be looking at the weaknesses and strengths of this argument and conclude how convincing his argument is.
Augustine’s first argument about the mind being made a slave to inordinate desire contains many flaws its states “Each mind possesses the same degree of excellence and any thing that would attempt such a thing will have fallen from justice and become weaker” 2(originally said by Evodius but Augustine agrees to it) in this he is essentially saying that any mind attempting to enslave another mind to an inordinate desire will have become unjust and in the process weaker meaning it cannot control the superior mind.
The first problem with this argument is the premise that all minds posses the same degree of excellence, this notion is completely wrong as it would be illogical to assume that all humans are intellectually equal. The fact that the foundation of the argument is wrong could serve to debase the entire argument as it is a paramount (and erroneous) notion upon which the argument is built. Augustine’s argument states “a Mind cannot be enslaved by something equal or superior to it because that thing would be just” 3 Not only does this statement destroy his previous notion that all minds are equal it also contains many faults on its own.
Firstly its assumes that a mind that is superior would be just this assumption contains many problems. Firstly it assumes that the smarter you are the more just you would be, this statement is quite the contrary the smarter you are the more likely you are to be able to manipulate and scheme making you unjust, one can only look at politicians to see that the more intelligent you are the more susceptible you would be to carrying out unjust acts, so in my opinion this statement can be easily refuted. It is quite logical to assume that the superior mind will be more likely to try and enslave another mind for some purpose or another.
One can only look at the peace among intellectual inferior animals which do not commit a multitude of nefarious acts in order to further themselves, contrast this with the chaos amongst humans and one can begin to see that the superior mind is truly less just than the inferior mind, humans have pride and ambition which engenders greed and other destructive traits, these are not seen in animals and babies (both of whom have inferior minds) and galvanizes the notion that a superior mind is less just than a weaker one.
The next part of his argument that an inferior mind cannot enslave a superior mind because it will be weaker, contains much more logic than his previous arguments. I would not say this statement is wholly correct but the notion that a weak mind cannot enslave a superior mind is mostly correct in my opinion as it is logical to assume that weak cannot overcome the strong.
On the other hand to completely write off a weak minds chances of enslaving a superior mind would be foolish as many other factors are involved in this process including emotions and circumstance, for example if a man with a superior mind is in love with a woman who possesses an inferior mind he could still be enslaved to inordinate desire by virtue of his love for her which will have warped his reason. Hence under some circumstances a weak mind can over come a superior mind yet it would be prudent to assume that a superior mind will always have the upper hand barring external factors.
Finally in my opinion there is a huge inherent flaw in the entire argument of Augustine, I believe that pride, ambition, gluttony and all other various inordinate desires are inherent in humans in general, I do not believe it is necessary for a mind to sway another into these desires as they already exist within the human being, it is environmental factors which sway a human being into experiencing these inordinate desires not people and as a result I believe that Augustine’s arguments are fundamentally flawed.
He takes a very idealistic view on humans believing them to only corruptible due to other unjust people corrupting them. In truth I believe (unfortunately) that humans are more inclined to feel inordinate desires due to extenuating factors that catalyze their latent emotions that lead to the dire consequences that are engendered by inordinate desires. In conclusion I believe Augustine’s arguments are mediocre.
Their strengths are far and few and hugely outweighed by the flaws In them. His arguments while appearing logical and reasonable contain many imperceptible cracks which can be exploited greatly (and at times can debase his entire argument) in the case of a debate. On the basis of this I would have to say that his arguments are mediocre at best and while they are somewhat convincing a wise man would see through them easily.
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Topic: On the Free Choice of the Will
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