augustine 354 430ad l.
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Augustine (354-430ad). Born in the city of Tagaste near the city of Carthage (in modern day Algeria) in N. Africa Christian mother (Monica) Pagan father (Patricius, who ultimately adopts Christianity) Citizen of the Roman Empire

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augustine 354 430ad
  • Born in the city of Tagaste near the city of Carthage (in modern day Algeria) in N. Africa
    • Christian mother (Monica)
    • Pagan father (Patricius, who ultimately adopts Christianity)
  • Citizen of the Roman Empire
  • Christianity the official religion of the Empire since the edit of Constantine (313ad)

Educated in Carthage

    • masters rhetoric
    • rejects Christianity
      • embraces sensuality
      • Mistress & Adeodatus
    • Accepts Manichæism
      • two opposed fundamental forces for good and evil (compare the four forces of contemporary physics: weak; strong; electromagnetic; gravity)
      • conflict manifested in all things
      • Explains the inevitability of human moral failing and the existence of evil

Becomes noted rhetorician

  • Moves to Rome as a teacher in 384
  • Meets and studies w. Ambrose in Milan
    • rejects Manicheanism & accepts (neo) platonism
    • after intellectual struggle adopts Christianity in 387

Returns to N. Africa & becomes bishop of Hippo

  • Writes extensively in philosophy and theology
  • Recognized as a “Father of the Church”
  • Influenced much of medieval philosophy and anticipates important ideas in modern philosophy
knowledge and illumination
Knowledge and Illumination
  • Distinguish knowledge of
    • sensible particular (contingent) objects
    • nonsensible laws of science (or platonic forms)
      • universality
      • necessity


    • limited by space and time
    • results in knowledge of the sensible, contingent particular
    • cannot produce knowledge of the universal and necessary
  • We do have knowledge of the universal and necessary. How?
an example of illumination
An Example of Illumination
  • Trickster secretly tells Confederate the answers to questions that Confederate could not otherwise know
    • e.g. “What are the four numbers written on the paper hidden in my desk?”

Trickster & Confederate publicly perform their trick for Witness

    • Trickster asks the question
    • Confederate “miraculously” answers correctly and amazes Witness
  • Witness concludes
    • Confederate could not have known the (hidden) answers through sensation
    • Trickster must have informed (illumined) Confederate
    • That’s the only way Confederate could have know the answers
moral of the story
Moral of the Story
  • Confederate has knowledge beyond the bounds of sensation
  • Only communication suffices to explain Confederate’s knowledge
    • Certainly, Confederate’s knowledge acquired & not innate
  • Thesis: the only way to explain how a person can have knowledge of universal and necessary scientific laws/forms is to hypothesize that God informs or “illuminates” the person and thereby gives that particular person knowledge of the forms
  • Notice that Illumination involves communication between God and particular individuals
    • Rejection of Platonic Nativism since knowledge of the forms is not common to all persons
  • The process of illumination is unspecified
rejection of platonic nativism
Rejection of Platonic Nativism
  • Illumination is not innate because
    • knowledge of laws/forms is differentiallyacquired during the course of life
        • different people learn different science/forms at different times
    • whereas innate knowledge is common to all and inherent in all throughout life
arguments for illumination
Arguments for Illumination

Argument from Hierarchy

  • The universe is hierarchically organized, with forms at the top and above people
  • Nothing can act upon anything higher in the hierarchy
  • So, people cannot act on forms

So, people cannot come to know the forms by acting upon the forms through study

  • Nevertheless, some people do come to know some forms
  • This knowledge must result from the action of something at least as high in the hierarchy as the forms
  • But nothing is higher than the forms

Hence, it is the action of the forms upon people that causes knowledge

  • Augustine holds that
    • God = the forms
    • God is the summation of the forms
    • God is the self-knowing creator who creates the universe by establishing (in matter) the forms which exist as ideas in God’s mind
  • So, an individual’s knowledge of the forms is the result of God’s communicating about the forms with the individual knower.
    • God’s communicating with a person is God’s informing the person.
argument from language
Argument from Language
  • To know a language is to know the meaning of words in the language
  • Meaning distinguishes between co-extensive properties
    • contrast “triangular” & “trilateral”
  • A language learner cannot distinguish co-extensive properties in experience by ostention
  • So, meaning & language cannot be learned experientially

Since language is mastered differentially, it is not innate but rather taught

  • The only possible teacher is God; it takes a miracle = illumination (some nonsensory process) to explain the acquisition of language
necessity and universality redundant
Necessity and Universality(redundant)
  • Some people learn scientific laws or forms with full necessity and universality
  • Sensation alone cannot provide such knowledge since it pertains only to the particular
  • Sensation must be supplemented by the universal principle of induction authorizing inference from the particular to the general
  • Illumination must be the source of such knowledge of the principle of induction
problems w illumination
Problems w. Illumination
  • If illumination is divine intervention,
    • why does learning require our effort and work?
    • why does God illumine evil people?
    • what is the exact process of illumination?
    • how do you know when you’ve been illumined rather than deceived?
creation ex nihilo
Creation Ex Nihilo
  • The universe changes constantly
  • To change is to become something from what was not
    • e.g. if a leaf changes from green to red, it becomes red from what was not, i.e. what was not red
  • So, change requires that something come from nothing, i.e. that something comes from what was not.

It is impossible under purely natural processes that something come from nothing.

  • So, there must exist something – God – that never changes and miraculously creates each momentary stage of the changing universe from what was not = nothing (ex nihilo).
  • To create ex nihilo is to create without using matter; it is to create simply by decree, command or thought.

Since God creates the universe ex nihilo, God is responsible for everything in the universe – both good and bad

  • In creating the universe, God foresees or knows the entire history of the universe in full detail
  • So God knows everything that each person does before he/she does it
creation ex nihilo and evil
Creation Ex Nihilo and Evil
  • (i) By hypothesis, God is perfect = benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient
  • (ii) Assume: Evil exists
  • (iii) God created the universe ex nihilo
  • So, God is responsible for evil (assuming evil exists)

But if God is perfect, God could not be responsible for evil

  • Now we have a contradiction =
    • God is & is not responsible for evil
  • Contradictions are never true and arise in arguments resulting from one or more false assumptions
  • Hence, either (i), (ii), or (iii) must be false

Augustine rejects (ii); he asserts that what we take to be evil is really good

    • Evil is illusory
    • Recognition of evil is a fallible “theoretical inference”, not observation!
        • Recall: Is perception top down?
    • Suffering is really a good thing
      • it appears evil to us as an inference from a false theory = ignorance of God’s purpose in allowing it

Immorality results when people freely choose what, contrary to appearance, is actually good yet not as good as what they might otherwise have chosen

    • immorality is really the lesser of two goods, not the reality of evil
the problem of freedom necessity
The Problem of Freedom & Necessity
  • In creating ex nihilo, God knows the entire career of the universe
  • So, God knows every human action before it occurs
  • What God knows shall occur must occur
  • So, every human action that does occur must occur
  • What must occur is necessary
  • So, every human action is necessary
  • What is necessary is not free
  • So, no human action is free!
fate for atheists
Fate for Atheists
  • All propositions are true or false
  • So, all propositions about the future are true or false
  • Consider all true propositions about the future
    • the ones about you = your autobiography
  • These propositions now indicate what will happen
    • your autobiography indicates all that you will ever do
  • If the propositions about the future are now true, then what they indicate will happen must happen
  • So, what will happen, must happen
  • What must happen is necessary

So, whatever will happen is necessary

  • Hence everything that will happen according to your autobiography is necessary
  • Whatever is necessary is not free
  • So, nothing in your autobiography is free
  • Hence you are not free & neither is anyone else
  • Human freedom is illusory
augustine on freedom
Augustine on Freedom
  • Compatibilism maintains that freedom is compatible with necessity
  • Augustine is a compatibilist: he maintains that
    • God’s omniscience or providence does indeed imply that all human actions are necessary
    • But necessary actions may be voluntary
    • A person’s action is voluntary if the person acts as she wants, decides or wills.
    • A free action is merely a voluntary action.
    • Hence a free action may be a necessary action since voluntary actions may be necessary.
what s freedom
What’s Freedom?
  • Augustine holds that freedom is voluntary action, even if the action is necessary
  • But, assume that you’re imprisoned & cannot leave
    • it is necessary that you stay
    • does your staying voluntarily make your staying free?
necessary volition
Necessary Volition
  • Augustine holds that freedom is voluntary action, even if the action is necessary
  • But, voluntary actions require volitions
  • Are volitions themselves necessary?
  • If volitions are necessary, are voluntary actions really free?