Augustine 1-6

Class notes for 5 January

Main points

I had three goals for today’s session.

First, I wanted to explain what the Manicheans believed so we could better understand what Augustine meant when he expressed his disagreements with them.

Second, I wanted to look carefully at Augustine’s explanations for his departure from Manicheanism in 3.7 and 5.10.

Third, I wanted to identify Augustine’s own understanding of the image of God doctrine and his explanation of the Fall, meaning Adam and Eve’s sin and expulsion from Eden.

Augustine’s views on the ideal state of human beings are hinted at in his allegorical interpretation of Genesis. Adam’s being given dominion over the beasts is understood to mean that reason should govern the passions (see 13.21, at the bottom on pp. 275-6). Our inability to do this is a constantly repeated theme of the Confessions.

Augustine seems to me to have an implicit answer to the question that we had for Robert South: if Adam was so good, why did he make such a terrible mistake? It seems to me that the story of the stolen pears (2.4 - the end) is Augustine’s attempt to explain why that might have happened.

On immaterial and material substances

We haven’t really confronted exactly what an “immaterial substance” is, other than to say that it isn’t extended and divisible. Nathana was especially skeptical about such a thing.

Fair enough. But bear in mind that pure materialism, the view that everthing in the universe is a material body, has problems too.

The meaning of our thoughts and words isn’t easy to understand in material terms. The sounds made when someone speaking English says “red” and when someone else speaking French says “rouge” mean the same thing, but they involve physically different disturbances of the air.

More generally, it’s a bit mysterious how a merely physical thing like a brain could have conscious experience. How could a hunk of cells taste something like a pineapple?

I’m not bringing any of this up to solve anything. I’m just pointing out that every extremely broad philosophical view has difficulties.