SaintAugustine was born in A.D. 354 in the town of Tagaste in the thenRoman territory of Numidia currently Algeria in the north of Africa.The context in which Augustine was born is of great influence to hisconception of the association between man and God, on one hand, andbetween the good and the evil on the other. Augustine was fathered bya pagan Patricius and a mother deeply entrenched in Christianitydoctrine St. Monica. He also took a great deal of his studies in thetown of Madura from A.D. 365- A.D. 369 (Copleston 40). According toCopleston, the town of Madura was greatly pagan a situation that ledAugustine to detach himself from Christian faith enshrined in him byhis saintly mother.
Augustine’sjourney for the search of truth began around A.D. 370 after he ledthe Hortensius written by Cicero. It is during this search for truththat he adopted the Manichean`s approach of truth. Initially, theChristian doctrine of truth that Augustine had adopted had failed toaccount for the relationship between an all-good God and theexistence of evil. However, Augustine confesses that the Manichaeandoctrine viewed the world as originating from two opposed principles:the good and the evil. The evil principle is responsible for evil inthe world and the good principle, or the principle of light isresponsible for the good in the world. The two principles accordingto Manichaean are in constant conflict in the world. This conceptionprovided a solution to the problem of evil for Augustine.
However,there were difficulties that faced Augustine that the Manichaeancould not solve. For instance, they could not sabstantiate why thetwo principles were in constant conflict. Augustine was, therefore,dissatisfied with the teachings of Manichaean. With the influence ofneo-platonism which viewed evil as a privation of good, Augustinerealized a better explanation to the existence of evil without theneed to appeal to the Manichaean dualistic doctrine. Theneo-Platonism helped Augustine to reconsider the rationality ofChristianity (Ibid, 42). It is this inspiration that set the groundfor his conception of the fall of man, the position of human in thechain of being, the relationship between man and God, and theconception of the most desirable life for man. This paper seeks todiscuss the aforementioned aspects of Augustine’s philosophy atgreater detail.
Augustineviews God as the Supreme Being on which all other created beingsdepend for their existence (Ibid, 75). Hence, in the Great Chain ofBeing, as put forth by Augustine, God takes the top position. Mantakes the third place after the angels. Although the Great Chain ofBeing was an idea put forth by Augustine, some historians-such asWilliams Bynum have argued that the roots of the hierarchy can betraced back to Plato and Aristotle (Bynum 19). This notion is,however, in order bearing in mind that Augustine adopted a great dealof the neo-Platonism.
ForAugustine, like it is for many medieval philosophers and theologians,man or humanity takes the position between the spiritual world of Godand the angels and the physical world composed of other createdbeings below man in the chain. However, unlike other created physicalbeings, man has unique powers-such as the power of reason and ofimagination. Nonetheless, on the one hand, man is considered asbelonging to the spiritual world in as far as his soul is conceivedas immaterial and spiritual. On the other hand, man belongs to thephysical world in as far as his soul takes refuge in a material andmutable body. Being in the physical realm implies that man shares insome traits of the beings below him in the chain-such as bodilysensations and reproduction. In this regard, man finds himself in afix of balancing between the divine objectives of the soul-such asintellectualism and the animalistic sensations of the body-such asanger and pain.
Accordingto Augustine, man is capable of acquiring knowledge for the purposeof seeking happiness. Therefore, man seeks the knowledge of the truthin order to embrace true happiness or what Augustine terms as truebeatitude. For him, knowledge of the truth amounts to wisdom and onlya wise person can achieve happiness which results from wisdom. Wisdomentails, for Augustine that a man overcomes his feelings ofinsufficiency and seeks the knowledge of a being greater than him(Copleston 51). Augustine views this knowledge as capable of bringingtrue beatitude. For him, it is the knowledge of Christ: the searchfor the divine. It is for this reason that Augustine views knowledgeas divine illumination. This is because for a man to possess theknowledge of a being that is greater than himself, that knowledge hasto be made possible by the being greater than man himself (Bynum 12).
Giventhat wisdom leads to happiness and arises from divine illumination,man must seek the living God to arrive at this happiness. Even thoughman is capable of arriving at the truth, he requires divine grace forhim to ascend to God. Man is, according to Augustine fallen due tothe original sin as depicted in the book of Genesis. For this reason,man requires salvation which is possible through God’s grace. God’sintention for man is nothing but salvation and revelation. Hence, toascend to God, man must have faith in the revelation of God and liveaccording to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
However,Augustine conceives man as having a free will which carries moralobligation. Human actions are a result of the inclination of thewill. Given that the will is free, it follows that it can eitherchoose to follow the dictates of the divine and the immutable or thedictates of the mutable and earthly goods. This implies that a man isconscious of laws and moral ideals. In his relation to his fellowman, man is capable of appraising or condemning certain behavior. Therules of conduct do not, however, derive from the human mindaccording to Augustine. For him, these moral laws are enshrined intoeach man, as Copleston puts it of Augustine, “…in the book ofthat light which is called truth” (1993: 83). Given that the moralrules are objective realities outside the control of man, it follows,for Augustine the conception of the rules differs betweenindividuals. Some men are more ‘blind’ to the laws than others.Hence, man’s attitude towards fellow man is dependent on the eachparticular man’s conception of the moral law.
Augustinecontends that a man views himself as a finite creature dependent onan infinite being. It is for this reason that a man must seek God’sintervention for the direction of his will. As he notes, man’sdeviation from God’s grace results to a weak will and byimplication to sins. This implies that the evil is a result of manturning away his will from the love of God. Unlike the Manichaeantradition, Augustine does not consider evil as a creation of theultimate principle. Instead, he views evil as the result of thecreated will (Ibid 84). For him, evil is the privation of good fromthe will which is created good.
Augustine’sdoctrine of the relationship between man and God in terms of good andevil seems to offer a better solution to the problem of evil thanthat of the Manichees. However, this fails to address the problem ofwhy an all-good god would create a free will only to subject it intothe temptations of evil. It could be argued that if God is Benevolentand Omnipotent, then he could have created a will such that it isdirected only to the good.
Itis on these grounds that post-medieval philosophers such as Hume haveasserted that the existence of enormous evil in the universe depictsthat a deity perceived to be all-powerful does not exist. This isbecause, for Hume, there is no way that one can harmonize such greatevil and misery with the claimed attributes of God (Pojman 156).However, in the same vein, John Hick has argued that God createdhumans who are to be conceived as children on whom God is perfectingtheir will. In this regard, evil is to be conceived as an ongoingprocess of God in making perfect souls (Pojman 166).
However,it seems hasty to arrive at the conclusion that God does not exist,like Hume does, on mere observation of the existence of evil in theworld. We could agree with Augustine that God created man with a freewill. In the same token, God implanted within man the conception ofgood and evil so that man can make free choices (Bynum 12). As Hickwould argue, it seems that the evil has a purpose to play in theworld and in the relationship between man and his fellow man. Forinstance, the acts of mercy, sympathy, charity and philanthropy onlymake sense in the presence of evil. Such acts are considered good andas enriching humanity.
Inthe presence a free will that has the capacity to differentiatebetween evil and good, Augustine conceives the good life for man asthe life of seeking happiness. However, unlike the Platonists and theEpicureans who viewed happiness to derive from other sources withoutinvoking God, Augustine contends that happiness derives from Godalone. For him, the good life derives from man’s desire for truehappiness or beatitude. Beatitude, for Augustine, is not an end initself. Instead, it is a desire for a further object (Bynum 14). Thisobject is what Augustine conceives as God. In this respect, the goodlife for man is the life of seeking after God. Only, and only, afterman seeks and finds God can he be said to be happy. This implies thatthe best life for man is the life of the love of God. To live well,for Augustine, is to love and to be with union with God: it is tolove God with the entire soul, with the entire heart and with theentire mind (Copleston 82).
Itis easy to understand Augustine’s conception of the good life forman in as much as it is directed to a sole goal of nothing less thanloving God. However, it seems from the outset that his doctrine istoo ideal and rigid. To a great extent, it can be termed as utopia.This is particularly because it appeals to the most immutable factsas the basis of human morality. It distances itself with the world ofexperience with which man is acquainted, to the spiritual world ofimagination. In the commonsense world, man is more inclined toevaluating the worth of his life based on the immediate consequencesof his actions.
Asutilitarianism would hold it, it seems that the best life for man isthat which seeks to maximize the ratio of good over evil. Moreover,the knowledge of god remains problematic to date. As much asAugustine insists on searching the knowledge of God as a way toarrive at truth, it seems questionable how a finite mind cancomprehend the essence and the act of God. As Augustine is himselfaware, such knowledge has to be based on faith. By implication, hisaccount of morality is based not on reason and experienced facts, buton faith. As such, it does not appeal to the norm of ordinary life.
Bynum,Frederick. “The GreatChainof Being After Forty Years: An Appraisal”. Historyof Science.1975. Vol. 13, p.1-28
Copleston,Frederick C. AHistory of Philosophy: V.1. Greece and Rome.New York: Image Books, 1993. Print.
Pojman,Louis P, and Michael C. Rea. Philosophyof Religion: An Anthology.Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.