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Augustine in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Here is an entry on Augustine in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a part of which states:

First and foremost in Augustine’s legacy is the voluminous body of work that encompasses this movement, revealing a range of thought only a handful of philosophers have managed to achieve. The diversity contained in this body of work defies any easy or succinct synopsis, and anyone who approaches it will find a range of ideas that can alternately intrigue, surprise, and sometimes even disarm and shock. One will also find a range of genres and styles, ranging from texts crafted with great rhetorical subtlety to texts that seem to "jangle" with the "music" [O’Connell 1987, pg. 203] of one who is thinking aloud as he writes. For those who want arguments and evidential support, it is there to be had, sometimes in repetitive abundance; for those sensitive to and appreciative of the power of poetic imagery, that too is abundantly in place. Indeed, as Robert O’Connell says, "Augustine constructed more through a play of his teeming imagination than by the highly abstract processes of strict metaphysical thinking" [O’Connell 1986, pg. 3].

But if that vast, multifaceted corpus is the basis of Augustine’s legacy, it is also the ultimate obstacle to any attempt at neatly packaging or compartmentalizing it within some "ism" that can be neatly taxonomized. This is, of course, true of most major philosophers, but it seems incontestably true of Augustine. In place of tidy boundaries, there is instead the "jangle" of the corpus itself and the enormous influence it comes to have. This influence is to be found, for example, throughout early medieval philosophy (e.g. Boethius and John Scotus Eriugena), and in Anselm of Canterbury, including in what later came to be known as the ontological argument [Proslogion, Chapters I-IV]. Augustine’s influence is plainly discernible in Bonaventure [e.g. Itinerarium Mentis in Deum] and others in the thirteenth century who sought an alternative to the Aristotelianism then gaining currency (e.g. John Peckham and Henry of Ghent). Even Thomas Aquinas, a pivotal figure in the rise of Aristotelianism, takes care to address and to accommodate Augustine’s view on illumination among many other issues. In the modern period, the echoes in Descartes are conspicuous, both in the cogito [Matthews 1992] and elsewhere [Matthews 1999b]. And, of course, few philosophers have invoked Augustine as explicitly and as frequently as Malebranche [see, e.g. "Preface" to The Search After Truth]. More recently, one of the most influential works of twentieth century philosophy, Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, opens with a lengthy quotation from Augustine’s Confessions and a discussion of the picture of language that Wittgenstein sees invoked in it [Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Part I, pars 1-3 & 32]. And if this selective historical sampling were not enough, there is an enormous body of secondary literature devoted to Augustine ranging across disciplinary boundaries and across divisions within the philosophical community itself. In 1999 alone, there appeared, among numerous other works, a 900 page encyclopedia devoted to Augustine as a religious and philosophical figure [Fitzgerald, 1999] and a volume of essays by several prominent philosophers in the analytic tradition exploring Augustine’s relation to a variety of topics including consequentialism, Kantian moral philosophy, and just war theory (an important issue which unfortunately falls outside the scope of the present discussion) [Matthews 1999]. If one examines the diverse interests of those influenced by Augustine together with the enormous body of secondary literature on Augustine, one finds again what one cannot fail to discern in the Augustinian corpus itself: a diversity as amazing as it is broad, one that defies any attempt at neat summary or tidy explication, a diversity as rich as it is discordant. It is unlikely that this is the legacy that Augustine would have wanted to leave behind, but it is a legacy of a sort that only a handful of philosophers have managed to achieve. The obvious irony notwithstanding, the discordance and diversity are both measures of, and testimony to, an intellectual depth and range seldom equalled in the history of western philosophy.

The article is quite long and I haven’t had the time to examine how the author is presenting Augustine here. Anyone interested to make a review?

Originally posted 2005-12-31 22:39:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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