In the 3 books and 61 chapters of “On Free Choice of the Will”, Augustine enters into a Platonic dialogue with the interlocutor Evodius. Their discussion is precipitated when Evodius asks if God is the cause of evil. Out of the gate Augustine, asks if Evodius wants to know about the evil Done or the evil suffered. Evodius wants to know about both forms of evil. Augustine states that if God is good he cannot do evil; however, God is also just and punishes those who commit evil. Those receiving the punishment would view their just desserts as evil and God would be the source of that evil; however, God does not commit evil of the first variety.
Evodius wants to know what causes the first variety of evil if God does not do it. Augustine answers that there is no single cause of evil, rather each of us is responsible for the evil we voluntarily commit. Evodius concludes that to commit evil or to sin, requires some form of education and asks Augustine who is the teacher of sin. Augustine enters into an aside about learning, where he asks if learning is a good or bad thing. Learning must be a good since knowledge is the yield from learning. If learning is a good thing, then we cannot learn evil. The question then becomes, “What induces people to commit evil?” Augustine feels he must conclude that evil arises when we give up on learning.
In Chapter 2, Evodius is convinced that learning cannot yield sin; however, he agonizes over whether or not the sin souls create can ultimately be referenced back to God. Augustine confesses the same worry troubled him greatly as a young man.
In Chapter 3, if Augustine is going to give a better account of evildoing’s source than merely turning away from learning, he must first know precisely what evildoing is. Augustine asks Evodius to take an example of evildoing, such as adultery, and explain precisely why it is evil. Every rationale Evodius invokes fails in Augustine’s eyes. Augustine considers that adultery and perhaps all evildoing arise from inordinate desire. Augustine illustrates this with the whole Jimmy Carter problem. If one lusts for or covets his neighbor’s wife in his heart and is not caught, he has committed evil similarly to the man who has been caught, reprimanded, and condemned. Augustine claims both are guilty. This is convincing enough to Evodius that any instance of evildoing originates with inordinate desire.
We are just beginning this text, so it is way too early to issue critical conclusions, but keep this thought with you. Is it truly evil to have, but not act upon inordinate desire? Is such an inordinate desire coequal with the desire that a man gives into, resulting in adultery? That seems strange. Further, might there be something virtuous to the man plagued by inordinate desire, who restrains himself?
Augustine Book 1, Ch 4-6
At the outset of Chapter 4, Augustine, without objection from Evodius, equates cupidity with inordinate desire. Evodius interjects, saying he does not think the terms fear and inordinate desire are interchangeable. Augustine senses a problem with this distinction between fear and inordinate desire, for it would mean that if someone killed out of fear, then either inordinate desire is not the cause of evil and sin or that there is justifiable murder. Augustine summons up an example to test this point. He tells of a slave who fears torture from his master and kills him. If Evodius grants that only inordinate desire causes evil, he must uncomfortably concede that the slave is no murderer. Augustine thinks evodius has overlooked a crucial point. All people, be they wicked or good want to be free from fear; however, the good turn their affection away from things they can be stripped of (thus eliminating frightful insecurity), whereas the wicked dismantle all that which stands in the way of what they inordinately desire. So, Augustine assures Evodius that the unruly slave is truly driven by inordinate desire and not fear (he inordinately desires what his master deprives him of), thus Evodius need not worry about justifiable homicide in this incident or another cause of evil.
But what about instances of self-defense? Are we driven by inordinate desire if we kill an assailant or a member of an invading army? Do we inordinately desire life? Evodius thinks human law may allow such acts for the sake of earthly stability, but a divine law will avenge them. We are not forced to kill.
In chapter 6, Augustine Extols evodius for acknowledging the distinction between temporal and eternal law. Augustine is not certain if Evodius is of the correct mind in the application of that distinction upon those that defend themselves. For the record, Augustine defines the eternal law as the unchangeable law, which unfailingly judges the good and the wicked. Temporal law may change. For instance, temporal law may deem something just at one time and then unjust at another. Man’s law once deemed slavery a just order, but that is not the case now. If the temporal law is going to be truly just and legitimate, it is because that aspect of the temporal law has been derived from the eternal law. At the close of chapter 6, Augustine reveals a little more about the eternal law. He claims that by it all things are ordered perfectly. We’ll stop there for now.
Ok, at this point we cannot weigh in on the status of those who kill in self-defense. Augustine is mid-argument on this matter. We will have to revisit it. What can we consider from this chapter’s confines? What about the argument that the slave murdered out of inordinate desire and not fear? The way that Augustine sets this dilemma up is that the slave knows he will be tortured by his master and that is why he kills, but the way Augustine concludes this argument has the slave looking like just a dude who wanted the freedom to chase women and do all sorts of licentious things. Hmmm…this seems problematic. Is the slave trying to avoid torture or chase women? Which one is it Augustine? If to avoid torture, then would the slave not be in the category of individuals who are defending themselves? Murder would cross my mind if torture was imminent. This critique of Augustine does not yet disprove his thesis that inordinate desire is the cause of evil. It merely transports the slave into the self-defenders category, which Augustine is still deliberating upon. Perhaps Augustine will reason that fear is a permissible motive for killing in certain circumstances and that killing on these occasions is not murderous evildoing. We shall see.
Augustine Book 1, Ch. 7-9
If we recall from the lecture on Book 1, chapters 4-6, Augustine could not determine if those who killed in self-defense were a) motivated by inordinate desire and b) therefore blameworthy for evil. He had to determine what the eternal law is first and at the close of ch 6, it had been established so far that the eternal law confers legitimacy on temporal law if there is congruence and that the eternal law perfectly orders everything.
Augustine initiates chapter 7 with a consideration of what it means to be perfectly internally ordered. He quizzes Evodius and leads him to the conclusion, via an example of domestication, that humans have reason in their souls, which allows them to tame animal souls that often inhabit physically superior bodies. The reverse is not true. Further, it is because of reason that we can know things. For instance, since we have reason, we know we are alive and animals do not know they are alive. Reason, as the superior virtue that sets us apart from all other things, ought to reign our soul and everything ought to be ordered in accordance with it. All inordinate desire is to be reigned in by reason. Since reason orders the soul perfectly it is in accord with the eternal law and is legitimate. Evodius and Augustine agree that a foolish person is one, where reason is not in full control of the soul and that a wise person is one who has properly disciplined themselves in accordance with reason.
We are still waiting for Augustine to weigh in on the cases of those who kill in the name of self-defense. Again, it is too early to critique his argument. Since Reason has been introduced into the conversation and how it restrains inordinate desire, we might be able to make an educated guess. Maybe he thinks there is something rational about self-defense and is therefore an ordering of inordinate desire. If he thinks this is the case, then inordinate desire is not the motive behind the killing and such acts are not evil. We shall have to wait and see.
Is there anything we want to critique here? We could perhaps challenge Augustine on the idea that we only know things through reason. I’m not going to make a big deal about it yet, but it seems to me possible to know things without the aid of reason. We may learn how to play drums or even know God without reason. Just throwing that out there. Further, we might want to ask ourselves how humans that don’t develop reason, for example Oksana the dog girl, affect Augustine’s account, if at all.
Augustine Book 1, Chapter 10-12
We closed chapter 9 of book 1 with Augustine’s conclusion that the wise person is ruled by reason, whereas the foolish person throws off reason and gives in to inordinate desire. If reason is superior to inordinate desire, how can we explain something as weak as inordinate desire overtaking the best part of us: our reason? Vice cannot defeat virtue. The only thing superior to a just mind is God and God would never make us a slave to inordinate desire given his own justness. So how do we account for giving ourselves over to inordinate desire? Augustine posits that only the soul’s own free will allows for the descent into cupidity. There are pretty extreme consequences to this in regards to the fear and anxiety brought on by allowing desire to improperly rule the soul. Seeing some pretty interesting corollaries to the work of Kierkegaard here. Augustine closes chapter 12 by claiming a good will, in contradistinction to all those who desire ephemera, wills only upright action and to possess wisdom.
I don’t see anything too objectionable here, but I do want to implant this thought. Is it the case that reason will always be stronger than desire? I think this is generally true, but I’m sure we can all think of some cases where desire seems so strong compared to reason. In fact desire may appear so strong to us, that it can almost annihilate our ability to choose. How do these moments affect our judgment of Augustine’s claims that vice cannot conquer virtue and that cupidity is necessarily chosen?
Augustine Book 1, Chapter 13-14
Augustine begins chapter 13 by identifying 4 virtues of a good will.
Prudence- or knowledge of what to desire and avoid. People of good will avoid anything destructive to that good will.
Fortitude-or no fear concerning the loss of things which are beyond our power to control. These individuals view such things as having no value.
Temperance-or the disposition that restrains wicked desire. No good will can be ruled by inordinate desire.
Justice-which is giving people what they are owed or due. People of good will harm no one.
Augustine believes that a good will with these four virtues is not only praiseworthy, but also leads to a happy life. Interesting. Nothing else, no haul of temporal goods will bestow such blessedness upon us. What is the source of this happiness bestowed upon a good will? There is the intrinsic joy we attain from delighting in inalienable upright action and virtue. Our good will and its constitutive virtues cannot be stripped and taken away, unlike everything else within the temporal order.
Augustine insists everyone may will to be happy, but they may will incorrectly. Only by willing a good will and the accompanying four virtues, do we experience enduring happiness. In chapter 14, Augustine mentions that true happiness is largely due to the good will’s congruence with eternal law. We might agree with him, but will have to see this connection drawn out better in the close of this first book. We need to understand how virtues of the soul mirror eternal law and how that harmony precipitates happiness.
Book 1, Ch 15-16
Augustine points out, what should be obvious to us already, that those of good will love an eternal and unchangeable law that reciprocally bestows joy. I’m going to try and connect some dots here. The eternal law, according to Augustine, orders everything perfectly. If reason is the superior attribute of humans then by it, the eternal law perfectly orders the soul. If this is the case, loving reason is loving the eternal law’s application to us. In loving the eternal organizing principle for humans, we appear to develop these four virtues of the soul: prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice. These virtues seem to be indicators that our internal house is in order and we experience joy for we have allowed reason, which looks to be at least partially the eternal law, organize us and set us straight. This is what I’m getting from Augustine so far. I could be wrong and might need to revise this. Proceed with caution.
Those who love the passing ephemera of the world (i.e.Money, honors, beauty), do not love reason and do not love the eternal law. They seek happiness so desperately, but reap dysfunction for they have not been properly ordered by reason. Their internal house is a mess.
These are the big takeaways for me from Book 1. Augustine closes out the final chapter of Book 1 with a discussion of how temporal law deals with the possessions of man. It didn’t seem to me to be terribly relevant. What seemed to matter most here was that we understood what marks distinguish a soul that loves eternal things, how loving reason and the eternal law orders the soul and fills it with happiness, how chasing temporal things reduces people to slaves of desire, and how our will’s free choice is responsible for all this. Evodius does raise a closing question about whether or not God ought to have given us free will at all, for on Evodius’ view, God is responsible for the evil people choose. He could have made us all holy automatons. Augustine isn’t troubled and plans to take up that question later. What’s bothering me as we close this first book is that it doesn’t look like Augustine ever gave us an answer as to the status of those who kill in self-defense. It would certainly be evil, for it shows an excessive attachment, to kill if someone robbed us of something, but it is still not obvious to me if we are inordinately attached to life when we engage in self-defense. My instincts tell me that this isn’t an evil act, but I was really hoping that Augustine would clarify it already. Maybe he will come back to it in the next book.
Augustine Book 2, Ch 1-2
Evodius begins book 2, where he closed Book 1. He wants to hold God accountable for the sin in the world. Had God not given us free choice, then there would be no evil. This is on God. Augustine responds, that if all good things come from God and uprightly living humans are goods, then God had to bestow free will upon us in order for noble action to be possible. The fact that God seems to punish evil doing both temporally (via a disordered soul) and eternally, shows that God had no intention of introducing evil into the world, only upright action. Further, God’s justice would have no jurisdiction in the intelligent world had God not created free beings. It would be unjust to judge beings that cannot choose their behavior. Augustine claims it was right for God to allow free will so that we can be moral beings, held accountable, and divinely adjudicated.
Evodius then asks if God could have fashioned it so that we could not use free will for evildoing, not unlike how we cannot use justice for evil ends. Couldn’t God have limited the evil we create?
I want to make a few quick points here. If one were to take Evodius’ question seriously about limited free will, we might find ourselves committed to 1) the idea that humans ought to never have ever existed, but only slavish angels and 2) a paradox (can there be such a thing as a limited free will?). These are not Augustine’s retorts to Evodius. Like you, I am discerning his response as we travel through this text. The other issue I wanted to point out is that we may want to pick on this idea of Augustine’s that God’s divine justice would have no outlet had he not created corruptible beings with free choice. It’s a very interesting idea in regards to a motive for why God made man; however, it’s a bit strange. It makes me think of a God who must vent and cannot restrain justice. This need not be a heretical statement. Perhaps that is precisely what God is, a being that can’t help but radiate love, justice, and beauty.
Book 2, Ch 3-4
To address Evodius’ concern that God might be blamed for the presence of moral evil in the world, Augustine has us backtrack on some issues that we have perhaps taken for granted. He has us examine a trifecta of questions
1) Has God’s existence been made known?
2) Do all good things come from God?
3) Is free will a good thing?
To answer, these three questions and Evodius’ ultimate question regarding whether or not God can be blamed for sin, since he gave us a free will, Augustine interrogates Evodius further. He asks him, do you exist, are you alive, and do you understand? He answers the affirmative to all three, but also concludes that only living humans can do so. A corpse may exist, but it is not alive and certainly doesn’t understand. A chipmunk may be alive and exist; however it does not understand. Since something that understands, must also exist and be alive, Evodius without hesitation concludes that understanding must be superior.
In the next few pages, Augustine will attempt to clarify what the understanding is by distinguishing it from an inner sense that processes sensation. Augustine goes through the different senses and their proper objects, for instance sight apprehends material objects. Augustine, also notes that some objects can be discerned by two senses, for instance shape can be apprehended by both sight and touch. Augustine uses this phenomenon to speculate that senses, in themselves, cannot determine what belongs to one sense and what may belong to two senses. He postulates that there must be an inner sense. Augustine does not think that this inner sense is reason or understanding, since animals have it. The inner sense presides over all the senses and tells animals what to avoid and what to pursue. Humans have this inner sense as well, but because we have reason we can understand that we have this inner sense. Animals do not understand that they have this inner sense, for they lack reason. As a consequence of all this Augustine argues that no knowledge can be had unless reason is paid attention to a matter. So animals with an inner sense and without reason, don’t really know what they are perceiving.
This may be moving all too fast. Augustine recalibrates. When we perceive color, our perceptive sense does not sense that it is perceiving. That is what is left to this inner sense. I think this, if you don’t object, makes sense. A couple weeks ago, I had an ophthalmic migraine. I didn’t know it at the time. I was playing basketball and an implacable teardrop with a prismatic edge presented itself to my field of vision. I then began perceiving, via my inner sense, that something was wrong with my perceptive faculty. Luckily it resolved. Just too much reading and writing that week and the blood vessels in my eyes constricted. What about Augustine’s claim that animals have this inner sense? He reiterates that animals if they just perceived would not move. It is the presence of this inner sense, that synthesizes what the basic senses give to it, that allows for the animal to move towards or away from an object depending on the level of pleasure or fear the object presents. What about this claim that only reason gives humans knowledge of the things perceived, the faculties that perceive them, and the inner sense? If we were bereft of reason, we would not be able to delimit all these powers and order them properly which yields knowledge. The basic senses and the inner sense are agents of reason. They present information to it that must be discerned and tested.
I think these are some pretty insightful distinctions that Augustine has made, though I’m sure things are not as neat and tidy as Augustine claims. Could we find an animal without this inner sense? I bet we could. Also, some animals seem to really know some things. My dog knows how to fetch a toy or a bone and it knows when I’m about to go for a run and wants to come with. On augustine’s view, we would have to retool what I’m saying here. My dog, via it’s inner sense, fetches an object or desires to go for a run when I lace up, simply out of pleasure. It doesn’t really know what it is doing since it lacks reason. I’m not saying Augustine is wrong, but it is a bit strange to say my dog doesn’t know these things. I’ll have to think on it some more.
Book 2, chapters5-7
Augustine swears to us that this exploration of the sense faculties, the inner sense, and reason will culminate in an answer for the first question in the aforementioned trifecta “Can God’s existence be proved?”. Hopefully Augustine will be able to knock out the trinity of questions and satisfactorily defend God from Evodius’ objection that God is the source of evil since he bestows free will upon man.
Augustine claims that objects, the senses, the inner sense, and reason can be ranked in ascending order based upon what judges what. The senses judge what they perceive, the senses are judged by the inner sense, and reason judges and delimits everything. According to this principle, that which judges is superior to what is judged. Evodius concedes that if something superior to our sometimes fallible reason can be found and it is inferior to nothing else, then we have in fact discovered God. Our reason is fallible because it is subject to change, so if reason can find something eternal and unchangeable, it would be correct to call it God.
Evodius asks for Augustine’s proof.
Book 2, Ch. 8-9
Augustine asks Evodius if he can summon up something that is common to all who reason and think. He says he can think of a number of examples, but decides to go with the example of number. Math is universal to all rational minds and your personal appropriation of it cannot alter it. Your math is not different from my math, unless one of us has made an error. Through the light of the mind, we can demonstrate that the principles of addition and subtraction are eternal. 2+2=4 will be the same for all now and forever.
In chapter 9, Augustine asks if wisdom is similar to number. Is wisdom relative, meaning each person has their own wisdom, or is wisdom universal, just like math? Evodius is confused by this question for a) he is not quite sure what wisdom is and b) people seem to have such varying descriptions of it. A dove may have one conception of what is wise and a hawk may have another. Augustine posits that the ultimate form of wisdom, regardless of the group under consideration, is to seek the good, have a happy life, and avoid evil. The person in error or the unwise person, would be like the bad mathematician. Seeking happiness, yet cultivating misery would be akin to saying 2+2=5. Augustine claims further, since the concepts of happiness and wisdom are intertwined and that everyone craves happiness, everyone must have the desire for wisdom impressed upon them even before they are able to apprehend wisdom. Wisdom, like happiness, is a fundamental animating force of humanity. Now, Augustine refocuses his argument and asks, is Wisdom singular or multiple? Is wisdom the same for everyone? Evodius answers, it would have to be singular and universal if the highest good is the same for everyone, that is if everyone is after the same highest good, but Evodius doubts this because he thinks people have different conceptions of what the highest good is. Augustine thinks Evodius’s concern about there being multiple wisdoms because of the differing conceptions of the highest good can be put to rest with a metaphor. The sun illuminates everything and in this instance represents wisdom. Now different people will use that sun to admire different beautiful things (Mountains, oceans, plains, faces, etc). What is unchanging in this analogy is the universality of the sun or wisdom. It is because of the sun, we can take joy in all these various things. Evodius concedes that it is possible for wisdom to work like this, but is unconvinced. There could be a wisdom held in common between the mathematician, the beauty queen, the beekeeper, the yoga teacher, and the painter. Augustine just needs to convince him of it.
Book 2, Ch 10-11
Though Evodius remains unconvinced that wisdom is universal, like number, he agrees with Augustine that wise people are out there and that every human desires to be happy. Augustine argues that this is a simple truth, common to them both, that each discerns with their own mind. Augustine goes on to enumerate other simple and public truths. This list is not exhaustive.
1)wisdom ought to be rigorously sought
2) the just life should be lived
3) superior things ought to subject inferior things
4) compare like to like
5) each should be given their due
6) eternal is better than temporal
7) uncorrupted better than the corrupted
8) invulnerable better than vulnerable
These rules or “Lights of the virtues”, as Augustine calls them, are unchangeable and available to all rational people. Augustine wants to know now, if these truths are part of wisdom.
Remember earlier, we said that justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude were the virtues of a good will that loves reason and that someone who chooses reason over inordinate desire is wise. A wise person with these virtues makes use of these simple rules to maintain their wisdom. We cannot be just if we don’t know how to order the inferior to the superior and we cannot have fortitude unless we understand the rule that the invulnerable is better than the vulnerable. All of these enumerated rules or simple truths can be connected to a virtue that inheres in the good will of the wise person. Augustine concludes that these truths held in common, must be part of wisdom for they help make us wise and maintain our wisdom.
If Evodius concedes all this, then he will have to say that these public rules are unchangeable just like mathematical rules and since the rules of wisdom cannot be distinguished from wisdom, then wisdom must be unchangeable and universal as well.
We are getting very close to Augustine’s proof for God. I will hold off on evaluation of it until it’s completion. If we wanted to get ticky tacky, maybe you could critique the universality of some of the simple truths Augustine offers up. Getting lost in that minutiae is beyond my present aims at the moment, though I may return to it.
Book 2, Ch 12-14
Augustine believes that he has demonstrated the existence of something unchangeably true, universal, and public, within which all unchangeable truths are contained. Augustine then asks if this truth under consideration, wisdom, is inferior, equal, or superior to our minds. If it were inferior, we would make judgements about it. We don’t call into question the truths of wisdom, such as 2+2=4 or that each should be given their due, right? Well, maybe some philosophers do…but that’s another matter. No, we use wisdom to judge all else. Wisdom tells us when your arithmetic is incorrect and when your character has become unjust and vicious. And as we saw in our discussion of simple truths, that which judges is superior to that which is judged. What if you’re saying to yourself, couldn’t my mind be equal to wisdom? Augustine says no because your mind is changeable and finds itself frequently in error, whereas wisdom is constant and recalibrates you should you stray.
Augustine believes he has delivered on his promise and has shown Evodius that there is something greater than our own rational mind. Further, there can be no higher good than delighting in the eternal and unchangeable. It is possible that individuals take delight in things by means of wisdom, just as we take delight in an aspect of creation illuminated by the sun. For instance, I love writing and producing songs. Song-craft is incredibly difficult. It requires a tremendous amount of wisdom to make something sonically beautiful. What I think Augustine is saying here, think how much more happy we would be if we concerned ourselves with purified truth alone and not how it necessarily applies to earthly matter. The closer we get to the contemplation of wisdom and truth, the happier we will be. So this is how Augustine believes he has demonstrated that all humans desire wisdom and happiness and how that wisdom is a superior truth to our reason for it judges that reason when it is in error. Evodius and Augustine agreed earlier that if they could find something greater to reason and inferior to nothing, then they would have found God. So here we have it, God as Wisdom.
God as wisdom is a fascinating concept on so many levels. What likely fascinates me so much about it is that though I think of God as wise, I don’t know if I ever equated him with wisdom. That seems like a disembodied hyper-intelligence and not the divine subject traipsing through history burning bushes, parting seas, and dying on a cross. It will be interesting to see how Augustine squares his Christianity with this notion of God as wisdom.
Book 2, Ch 15-17
These chapters were a bit easier to digest, for Augustine and Evodius spend most of them delighting in the certainty they now have that God exists. It is a really poetic text. Augustine muses that everything wonderful and good in creation has been subjected to the Wisdom that is God or is an agent of God. When we see someone dance beautifully, we are seeing number and rules order the human body’s movement and if we reflect long enough on them, we will trace the beauty back to God. Similarly, when we admire nature, we can detect the form and number God has applied to every mountain and grasshopper. Divine wisdom is everywhere, on this view, though we all might not be able to recognize it as such. It might be like staring at the sun and we may have to wait for another life to view it directly. Augustine is fond of comparing the situation to an anecdote likely derived from the apocryphal text Wisdom. We see flashes along the road towards beholding the full brilliance. So there is not a ton of philosophy going on in these chapters. I do want to raise an issue here that has considerable ramifications for researchers. Augustine speaks of Wisdom and God in a multiplicity of ways. He doesn’t know for certain, and it may not matter, if God is Wisdom, if Jesus is wisdom and God is therefore coequal with this aspect of the Trinity, if wisdom is a faculty or agent of God like the holy spirit, or something else entirely. I imagine Augustine takes this matter up exclusively in his book “On the Trinity, “
Book 2, Ch18-20
Not only is Evodius convinced that God exists, he exclaims that Augustine has shown him the answer to the second answer in the trifecta as well. All good things must come from God, since God orders everything that exists via number and wisdom. What about the third question? Does Evodius feel that free will ought to be included amongst those good things attributable to God? If Augustine can show that free will is a good thing, Evodius appears intellectually constrained to admit it into the realm of goods God is responsible for. Remember the reason why Evodius hesitates is because of the unspeakable evils that can be committed in light of having a free will. How can a free will be a good thing if it is a precondition for murder, torture, adultery, and so many other sins? Why couldn’t God have made free will like the virtue of justice, which cannot be employed towards evil ends? Augustine answers that the virtues are supreme goods and cannot be used towards evil ends; however, there are such things as intermediate goods that we nonetheless attribute to God. For instance, do we think eyes are good things? Of course we do! They allow us to learn, to see God in creation, to avoid pain, to demonstrate our authenticity to someone; however, they can be used towards evil ends. They can covet what they ought not to. They can lie and misdirect. They can communicate disgust. Do we say that God ought not to have given us eyes? Of course not! The same goes for the intermediate good of a free will. Free will was bestowed upon us so we can live rightly and cultivate the supreme virtues. The fact that some abuse it is not cause for rescinding the gift that is autonomy. “Fine”, we may think, but what about that which incentivizes us to turn away from God’s unchangeable order, abandon virtue, and act sinfully? Is there not some intermediate good in that defection and if so couldn’t that be traced back to God? Augustine says God encompasses everything with wisdom, order, and number. Should we choose the disordered and the unjust, we are turning away from God entirely and choosing nothing. Nothing, is defined here as lacking all the formative qualities that God bestows upon good things, and cannot be traced back to God says Augustine. No wonder the characters in The Neverending Story could give no description of the all consuming and approaching nothing. Nothingness lacks the divine form and we cannot speak of the formless. This is how Augustine closes Book 2. Is there anything we would like to evaluate in these chapters?
First, I’d like to pick at this idea of the virtues being supreme goods. I think this generally holds, but I’m unsure if virtue can’t be used towards an evil end. For instance, what about honor amongst thieves? This harkens back to Plato’s Republic. Can a band of thieves practice virtue towards one another in the process of doing something horrendous? Don’t they have to treat each other fairly to execute their plan? I might need to re-watch Point Break to get a more definitive answer on that. How do we feel about the evil choice being traced back to nothing and not God? Augustine in about a paragraph tries to give a tentative answer about the nature of sin. He claims he will revisit it in some way. Maybe he will do it in the next book of this work or in another work altogether. Something makes me think it proceeds a little too fast. I’m not saying it is wrong, but I think we need clarifying examples. Perhaps an act of murder lacks all moral form and goes against the eternal law and the virtues. Perhaps this is why we can say evil choice is driven by nothing. This is a pretty absolutist view. Augustine carves up the world into good and evil choices made by a free will. I’m just very perplexed how Augustine would deal with necessary evils or lesser evils. Part of the frustration here can be traced back to an incomplete answer on the nature of killing in the name of self-defense. Must sin be a 100% depraved? Can no good come of it? The corner Augustine seems to have painted himself into, might make it impossible for him to deal in shades of gray. Let’s keep this concern with us as we press on.
Book 3, Ch1-4
More occurs in these four chapters than I have included in this talk. What I left out appeared to me extraneous or confusing. I’m going to focus on what I see as the crux here. In chapter 3, Augustine summarizes Evodius’ next concern, which I imagine challenges us all. How can we reconcile these two statements?
God foreknows the future
We do not necessarily sin, rather we voluntarily sin.
If we affirm the first statement, we feel constrained to concede that we necessarily sin and that ultimately sin is on God. If we affirm the second statement, we worry that we do violence to the divine quality of foreknowledge and commit heresy. What’s the way out? Here might be one way to deal with the antagonism. Augustine doesn’t see foreknowledge and free choice to be at odds. Augustine claims that foreknowledge does not force anyone to sin. He thinks of it as a kind of faculty, like memory. We have memory of the past, but does memory force those events in the past to happen? We would say no. So why would the opposite be true if we run it in reverse. Foreknowledge is just a form of future remembering that does not effect what we will and God is well within his boundaries to award and punish the virtuous and the vicious.
What do we think about this? Is it convincing? I don’t really have a problem with imbuing God with a form of future remembering. Sounds pretty cool. What worries me is how this isn’t going to create other problems for Augustine. How is he going to get God off the hook for not intervening more in human affairs when things go really really wrong?
Book 3, Ch.5-7
When I think about free will and how moral evil arises from those that give in to inordinate desire, it is hard to resist the thought that God could have tweaked us and refined us a little bit. Could He not have fashioned us in such a way that we didn’t have to sin to such extremes? What if there were greater constraints on our free will, so only so much evil could be done? What if we had free will and we used it to only cling to God and truth? These sorts of questions appear to animate Augustine at the beginning of chapter 5. He upbraids us. If it occurs to our right reason, that better creatures ought to have been made, then we can be sure that God is way ahead of us and has created that just order. It just so happens those beings exist above us and we are inferior to them in a respect. We might then ask, why did God go and create temporal beings? Couldn’t he remain content with obedient angels? Augustine thinks such retorts would be founded if the divine pattern had not been made. For instance, if there was only earth, we might have a point if we exclaimed why no heavens?, but because the superior thing has been made we can’t begrudge that something inferior in the order exists. There are so many things inferior to us in this world. Worms, diamonds, light, whatever, but do we say, God should not have created all these things and that the light and stones and us should all be angels? We don’t say such things. We take delight in this divine order generally, except when it comes to our position in it. Is that necessarily problematic? Couldn’t the divine order remain as it is, except humans are transformed into angels? Augustine might say that this is unfair to God. No one makes humans sin. If humans remained steadfastly committed to unchangeable truth, then we wouldn’t wish for God to have made us differently. We made ourselves different because we frequently choose sin. To recap, the divine order is looking something like this from top to bottom
3. Humans who sin rarely
4. Humans who can go either way, but can be redeemed
5. Humans committed to sin
8. Inanimate Objects
This divine order supposedly works together to bring about a particular type of harmony. It is hubris to call the order into question and as we examined earlier, we are responsible for our sin, not God.
At the moment, I find myself both hating and loving this idea of a divine order. Didn’t hear much about it growing up in my tiny methodist church. It’s a beautiful thought to think about every piece of creation working together towards a harmony. This idea isn’t unproblematic though. First, that harmony has got to be a pretty good one to justify all the moral evil in the world. What possible harmony could God have in mind that would offset all the tragedies we see in history books and headlines? Second, I’m beginning to get worried about divine foreknowledge again. If I think of creation as a somewhat spontaneously generated event, where god set certain preconditions in order and then the thing took off, I’m less troubled by the idea that God foreknows humans will sin. However, if God conceives of the divine order before setting the whole cosmic game in motion, I get uncomfortable with divine foreknowledge again. God before creation, creates a plan and foreknows that the angels will not sin and that the humans will. The only way I can think of getting God off the hook for the presence of moral evil in the world is if I can understand the harmony he wishes to attain and if this was the only possible blueprint or the best possible blueprint? I guess I’m asking if we live in the best possible world.
Book 3, ch 8-9
Last lecture, we were left with the following concerns 1) What harmony does a divine order aim at? 2) Can that harmony offset the moral evil brought on by humans with free will?, 3) Is God responsible for the moral evil in the world since he foreknew beings within the divine order he was fashioning would sin? 4) Is this truly the best possible world? I’m not sure if Augustine can address these in the chapters I intend to cover today, but let’s see anyway.
So we get a little more from Augustine on the harmony of the divine order. Supposedly everything within the divine order, God, angels, man, donkeys, whatever, is ordered in such a way to bring about the “perfect being” of the universe. The universe could not attain its perfect being if humans were transformed into angels, for that class is limited and we cannot add to its perfection. Further, the perfect being of the universe somehow needs humans with free choice. The universe would be less perfect if entities such as us did not exist. That should make us feel special, I suppose; but don’t you wish you could judge for yourself if the order establishes the perfect being of the universe? Maybe we will get our wish one day. What about the concern that sin and unhappiness are built into God’s divine order? Augustine would object, saying humans and their corresponding choice are built into the divine order, but sin and misery are not. Humans choose sin, God does not. So how do our four questions stand? We understand verbally, maybe not conceptually, that perfect being of the universe is the aim of the divine order. Can that perfect being offset the moral evil in creation? The perfect being seemed to exist prior to the evil of sin, so sin is not used to justify that order’s existence. Perhaps, this question is wrongly phrased. Sin is not a means god uses to attain perfect ends. This prompts the question, can the emergence of sin do violence to the perfect order? It seems that the punishment of sin and the elevation of those in another realm, might restore any damage done to the perfection of the universe. We saw how Augustine could exonerate God from sin that occurs in the divine order over which he has complete foreknowledge, but we’re still left wondering if God could have created the order differently and why this one is a more perfect order? How can augustine show us the perfection of the universe? Can he? All this raises the question of why God had to create a universe at all? Is God not complete in his perfection? Why must there be a divine order to preside over? Wouldn’t the most perfect order have been the one where only God existed? How distinguishable is God from the order he presides over? Does he interpenetrate it? Are we one with him on some level?
Book 3, Ch 10-12
In these chapters, Augustine doesn’t cover a ton of philosophical ground. He expands upon the idea that God created a divine order within which celestial and terrestrial creatures with free choice dwell. What separates angels from men, is the angelic higher nature. I’m not exactly sure what it is about Angels that might make them sin less than humans, but we do know that they can sin (i.e. Lucifer). Perhaps, they are less susceptible to inordinate desire than humans. Anywho, Augustine claims that the divine order never fails, even should all the angels sin and humans persist in error. God can always make more angels and humans can be made right again with God via the Incarnation. Other than that I don’t think there is much here to address the questions left unresolved from our last installment.
Book 3, Ch 13-15.
Today’s readings proved largely to be another round of poetical expansions upon the philosophical foundation Augustine laboriously established. I can’t blame him for sitting back and waxing poetic a little on his creative discoveries. As far as topics, Augustine goes into the nuances a little bit of how we can be induced to sin, how God maintains the perfect being of the divine order via punishment, and some comforting words about loss. I’ll actually include them here.
“Therefore, it is quite absurd to say that temporal things should not cease to be, for they have been placed in the order of things in such a way that they must cease to be, so that things to come can take the place of things past, so that the full beauty of times may be completely realized to their kind. Thus, temporal things do as much as was given them to do, and they repay their debt to God, to whom they owe the fact that they exist in whatever degree they exist.” p.100
Book 3, Chapter 16-17
On Augustine’s view, God owes us nothing. He freely gives existence.
Thus, we are not entitled to reward if we are virtuous. I suppose it would be a little like seeking a bonus from a benefactor after we have managed to not totally squander a million dollar loan. We want to be rewarded, when we have been given the gift of existence in the first place? Absurdly greedy, right? Further, we can’t do god a favor and earn reward or repayment. God doesn’t need us for anything. Augustine seems to think our merit based gifts, would be akin to giving the Queen of England an English pound. Wouldn’t she just smile at us awkwardly and think “cute”? Just as our moral work cannot affect God, neither can our turning away. No sweat off God’s back if you turn away, given your construction for the good and the eternal, one only hurts themselves by turning away from God. On this view, we are indebted to God for existence, and we are to use our will to repay the debt of our existence. We are to use the will given to us for our divinely ordered end. If we do not, we can be justly punished. Further, God deserves praise for doling out punishment to the disobedient. His justice is being fairly applied. By extension, when we hold people accountable for their actions, we are affirming God and the nature of the Debt we have to Him. Pretty intense stuff.
Augustine then muses even if we could successfully excuse man from Sin and blame it on the creator, by saying man was merely following God’s orders or that God necessitated the sin, then the creature was not sinning at all. There is nothing to blame God for…….hmmmm.
So we are to praise the creator, since there are no sinners in this scenario? If sin is defined as willful submission to inordinate desire and it is found out that God strips us of our free choice, that would make sin as defined an impossibility, so I guess this is a good. But I don’t think we can get behind the idea that such a set of events leads to the praise of God. If God necessitates the horrific choices of men, then everything becomes natural evil, meaning that the suffering that volcanos and mass murderers cause are equivalent and since God brings the created order into being, wouldn’t he have to answer to that natural evil? Augustine has not addressed natural evil thus far, so I have no idea how he defends God from it.
In chapter 17, Evodius asks a fascinating question. He is cool with God foreknowing who will sin and that foreknowledge does not determine sin; however, it perplexes Evodius that some rational creatures within the divine order don’t sin, others sin relentlessly, and then there are those of us who are in between. What accounts for the difference if they each have a rational will? Augustine’s answer again seems to be inordinate desire is what leads to a perverse will. Those beings more in accordance with their nature resist inordinate desire and do not sin.
Augustine thinks he can’t give a greater explanation than the will giving into inordinate desire being the root of evil. He thinks he would have to enter into an unknowable infinite regress to determine what causes a perverse will and then what causes that and so on. He opts to say only the will can cause itself. If a terminus in the infinite regress could be reached as the cause of the perverse will, then he thinks it is pointless to even speak of sin, for sin is something chosen by the will and not induced. I get Augustine’s frustration. If he says beings higher in the order are fashioned differently so that their wills don’t become perverse, an incidental feature of being is responsible for moral choice in their being and perhaps all rational creatures’s moral choice. The whole idea of sin and accountability comes crashing down, but will it really do to not even acknowledge the distinctions between the classes of the divine order he has alerted our attention to? Augustine seems to throw the towel in a little early on Evodius’ question. Maybe higher rational beings retain their free choice and have a different constitution. Maybe that isn’t an impossible thing to explain. Just a little surprised that he gives up so easily.
Book 3, Ch 18-19
Perhaps, I judged Augustine too harshly in the last installment. He tells us in Chapter 18 something of the difference between human beings in the rational order and higher beings in the rational order that would explain why we sin so frequently and why they do it so irregularly, if at all. Augustine posits that Human kind was built for the good at one time; however, because of our disobedience (I suppose he is referring to our Edenic fall), God punished us with ignorance and the affliction of immoderate desire, which makes it so easy for us to sin. Our ancestors’ error is passed on in terms of moral dumbness and cupidity. That’s a pretty bold claim, but I can’t rake Augustine over the coals any longer for not accounting for the difference between ranks in the divine order.
This all raises a very legitimate question, why ought we to pay for our Edenic mother and father’s sins? Augustine hates this question. He thinks it is the wrong one to be asking, especially since God has given us assistance, in the form of Jesus Christ, to get out of the punishment we inherited from Adam and Eve. We’re supposed to just take the help already. Trust in Christ will cure us of our ignorance and inordinate desire.
Some questions we will want to take with us as we progress are the following: So is the punishment playing out in humanity just a corruption of our body or our soul itself? This is an important question. If Adam and Eve transmitted the punishment biologically or genetically, we can see that it is the flesh trying to over take the spirit? The tougher question is if this transmission of punishment happens between souls. Is all humanity one soul, so what happened in Adam’s soul happens in all of ours? That would seem to be a strange Christian notion. Don’t we have individual souls? How does one soul transmit Sin to another? I don’t know.
Book 3, Ch 20-22
Last installment, we were left with a number of questions concerning the transmission of punishment from Adam and Eve to later generations. If there is but one soul that all individual souls are fashioned from, Augustine doesn’t have a problem with the punishment for Adam’s sin being visited upon us today. On this view, we are just a further manifestation of our biological father. We can’t outrun our past. But even if individual souls are fashioned independently of Adam’s initial soul, Augustine doesn’t find it perverse that we are punished for something in the distant past. What?! Why? Let’s look at his reasons.
We should not complain about the punishment of ignorance and immoderate desire. We should be happy to exist at all and these inconveniences are actually great motivators for us to grow closer to God via piety and virtuous work. Being punished for adam’s sin is actually a blessing not a curse for Augustine. How does that sound to you? Poetic, sorta right? I kind of agree that suffering in its own way can be remarkable in what it causes humans to do and overcome. Think of all the great art and heroic acts that have come out of suffering; however, can we call it a blessing compared to what we would have had in the Edenic state? Are we blessed in comparison to Adam or are we cursed? That’s a huge question think on it.
OK, It looks like Augustine is of the view that Sin is transmitted biologically, meaning that mortality, ignorance, and inordinate desire is passed on to each generation post-fall; however, the punishment isn’t necessarily imposed upon souls. Souls, if they come from some hidden region within or without God, they are sent to animate these fallen bodies in such a way that they find their way back to God. These souls must petition the creator for help to overcome the deleterious affects of the body that prevent fully loving God. This is a really interesting idea. It’s almost like souls are on really dangerous rescue missions. What is not clear and may never be clear to me, is why God would risk sending rational souls down to save mankind? Why are we worth saving? Why not keep the rational souls already with him there? Why must they be dragged down into the earthly muck and potentially, given the fallen state of the body, descend even lower than the earthly? Why not let man just generate and die like every other non-rational creation? What does God need us for? So tying this back in. The souls are not punished. The body is punished. God may send souls to save humanity.
Augustine also considers that God doesn’t send the souls, but they find their way into our bodies and in that way it is not on God if they endure mortal punishment. God didn’t send them, but he does offer them a way out if they earnestly seek. If souls accidentally find their way into human bodies or by their own intention, one cannot claim that there has been a perversion of divine justice. If anything, God is just because he tries to save souls through a salvific relationship.
Augustine itemizes what he believes to be 4 legitimate views of the soul and is not sure which is correct according to the Catholic church. Apparently, the matter was undecided at the time of his writing. Here they are
Propagation brings souls into existence.
A soul is created for each person born.
Souls exist elsewhere and God commands them into a newborn.
Souls attach to bodies at their own discretion.
Augustine does have a litmus test for determining which is the right view. The view can claim that God’s creation is the only changeable form. So I guess that would rule out the idea of the soul evolving somehow. Also, the correct view cannot impute changeableness into the nature of God. I suppose this is because such a view would be at odds with God’s eternality. Further, the correct view cannot challenge the trinitarian nature of the Christian God.
To be honest, Augustine doesn’t really find this question to be all that interesting. He is not preoccupied with the past. All that matters to him is what belief about the soul allows him to perfectly love God and his neighbor. All I can really say here is that Augustine has an incentive to figure out which view of the soul harmonizes best with his account of the divine order and free choice. Is it obvious that one of these views conflicts with anything he has claimed? Souls attaching to bodies by their own choice might be contradictory, for such freedom might challenge something of God’s dominion, unless He wants it this way. The idea of souls being propagated might add a wrinkle to the notion of punishment being transmitted biologically. If souls propagate, then Augustine might have to modify his account to include the transmission of sin between souls and if that is possible or the case this might radically alter Augustine’s account writ large. The second and third options on the list, at least at first blush, seem to be the least problematic for Augustine.
Book 3, Ch.23
In chapter 23, Augustine deals with the problem of children who suffer and die. Some think that the death of innocents is at odds with the notion that God ensouls our bodies to save us from the biological transmission of sin. How can a child, who is neither virtuous or vicious yet, appropriately progress on his spiritual journey? Isn’t that child’s life pointless? How will God deal with such little ones, since they have not had a chance to prove themselves yet?
First off, Augustine claims that no human life is superfluous (an idea we will revisit) and second, we shouldn’t lose any sleep over how God deals with such individuals in the afterlife. He can produce a reward or punishment in keeping with the development or lack of development of the child. God did create the freaking universe after all. Further, Augustine cites the story in Luke of how Jesus resurrected the widow’s son to show that our own faith can be effective in regards to the eternal destination of others who may not know faith yet.
Augustine reconsiders the objection of child suffering by those who pose it more authentically, meaning they are not just citing it in the name of rebellion, but really want to know why God permits suffering and punishment amongst the innocent. Augustine thinks that the lives of such children serve the purpose of developing a love for God and faith amongst those who care for them. Losing a child may bring us closer to God, which is an eternal benefit, and the child’s suffering, cosmically speaking, lasts only for the blink of an eye.
Some will then say, is it not wrong that animals suffer? Augustine first quips that those who ask such a question, do not properly understand the divine order. If they grasped it, they wouldn’t have a problem with terrestrial objects ultimately decaying. Further, the fact that animals resist suffering points to the unity of their soul and helps us understand the organization God has enacted upon every thing on the planet. Indirectly it serves the purpose of directing our attention to God.
Book 3 Ch. 24
Here Augustine concerns himself with the nature of the first man. Why? If the first man, was created wise then how could he disobey? No wise man would be seduced by a serpent for knowledge. If he was created foolish, wouldn’t this transfer punishment and sin back to God? Wouldn’t God be culpable for creating such an easily deceived being? Augustine thinks that man in his Edenic state occupied a region between wisdom and folly. What does that mean? Since man was not wise yet in the garden, he could not attain wisdom or react against it and become foolish. This shouldn’t be too strange to us. Infants are in the same boat. They don’t know wisdom yet, therefore it is silly to call an infant wise or foolish. But more on this intermediate state. What is it? In this intermediate state, man devoid of wisdom could still be rational in some sense, rational enough to receive a command from God and will to obey it or disobey it and take up the serpent’s offer. So it looks like Augustine is saying, in the garden we are both free and rational, but not wise. Is that a problem? Can we have rational natures and not be wise? If we disobey, due to our ignorance, does that really justify the punishment God exacted upon adam and all subsequent generations? I’m going to come back to this because Augustine has some more explication of his view to do. What’s interesting to note on Augustine’s view of Adam is that he would have been rewarded with Wisdom had he just kept the commandment. I’m not sure why that follows. It’s also interesting to note, that man may have been made “wise” by partaking in the fruit. Augustine doesn’t say that man was made wise in disobedience, but it is worth considering. Man, did receive the knowledge of good and evil from the fruit. Let’s revisit our questions. First, Can we be rational and free, and not wise? That seems possible. Children are unwise and are free and rational (sort of). Second, did the punishment fit the crime? If Adam and Eve were essentially children, did they and the whole human race deserve the punishment doled out? When a child is disobedient, we typically don’t apply over the top punishments. We deprive them of a toy or ground them or something mild. Perhaps this punishment that God has imposed upon Adam and his descendants is pretty mild. Maybe we’re just a bunch of grounded teenagers. Not sure if it is the route I would have gone, but who am I to contest cosmic justice? Thirdly, what about the idea that Adam would have been made wise in time had he kept the commandment? I’m not sure where Augustine is getting this from. Does he mean that Adam and Eve would have matured and his rational nature would allow for him to discern God’s commands better in time? At what point would God have made Adam wise for keeping the commandment? After resisting Eve and the Serpent? 500 years after the proclamation? I wish Augustine elaborated on this idea a little more. Lastly, did the serpent deliver wisdom with his temptation? Man, that’s a tough one. Wisdom, if I can properly recall, is something the human intellect partakes in when it reasons, not something we passively consume and are granted with, like a potion or limitless pill. I’m not gonna go much further down this rabbit hole because I don’t think the terms are defined well enough for it to be fruitful. Get it…fruitful.
Book 3, Ch. 25
So, Augustine is content with Adam being rational, yet unwise and having the freedom to choose between the superior command of God and the inferior enticement of the serpent. The final question becomes, where did the devil receive the idea that he ought to rebel? The idea must have been presented through his senses or to his mind in a way we have trouble understanding for an angel of his ilk.
When an angel concerns itself with the highest wisdom it realizes that there is a God and he is not it. Such an angel ought to persist in love of God, but instead he takes perverse satisfaction in imitating God and having his own dominion. Augustine calls this pride or the beginning of sin. In addition to pride, satan experienced tremendous envy. He set to entice man beneath his reign. Luckily, God sent Christ as the eternal life and a counterpoint to the devil’s pride. Christ, supposedly, is the absolute paragon of humility: God becoming man and undergoing unspeakable suffering to save a lot of beings that frankly, I can’t fathom why God cares so much about. If this book instilled anything in me, it is an overwhelming gratitude for existence and a chance to be with God again. I hope you enjoyed it as well. I’m not going to nitpick any of the details in this final chapter. If there is a devil, this seems as good a mechanism as any for explaining his rebellion and I’m not really sure if I could come up with a more perfect example of humility than a god dying on a cross.
Augustine’s “On Free Choice of the Will”
Edition: Hackett Publishing Company 1993
Lecturer: Luke Johnson
Augustine Book 1, Chapters 1-3
© 2016 Noetic / Luke Johnson