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St. Augustine

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St. Augustine made some very important philosophical contributions to defend the philosophy of Christianity. One of these contributions concerned the philosophical problem of evil. Up until St. Augustine’s time, philosophers questioned the idea proposed by Christians that evil generated in a world created by a perfectly good God. The problem is easy enough to understand, yet slightly more complicated to solve. St. Augustine raised some fairly good propositions to offer an explanation for this question. Although the problem of evil has been answered for the most part, there are still many who disbelieve St. Augustine’s interpretation of the dispute. To me, this is in good reason; the problem of evil is inherent to understanding the big picture that Christianity has to offer, and as such, it is not something that can be easily solved.

Augustine first tried to offer the idea that evil is the result of an alternative force that exists outside of God’s Creation, and which serves as a nemesis to God. Very quickly Augustine discovered the problem with this solution; Christianity states that God is the sole Creator of the world and everything that exists in and outside of it. Obviously this does offer a little bit of a problem in itself, so Augustine moves on to attempt another observation. Augustine then attempts to claim – with the help of Platonic theory – that evil is not real and therefore was not created by God. I completely disagree with this statement; if God had no intention of evil appearing in his Creation, no bad would exist and there would be no reason to doubt God’s existence.

The problem to me in this solution is that if we had no reason to doubt the presence of God, to in effect see and more importantly feel Him through the basically ugly nature of this world and have faith in Him, then there would be no reason in our existence here. Simply put, everyone has their problems – to me this is the directly influenced effect of evil – and everyone experiences times and feelings in which are directly linked to good, such as love, contentment, and other such virtues in which makes us feel good in its true form. I am not proposing that God so much created evil as He created man, just that man’s creation of evil was somewhat prophesized in which was a large part of God’s Creation. What he leaves up to us is our faith in Him, and I believe that evil is a delicately created force that leaves doubt in the minds of all those who experience the melting pot of good and evil, most commonly known as life.

Augustine’s absence theory was a little more reasonable, that the absence of something good such as water or sight, or the presence of drought and blindness respectively, can be described as “physical” evils which make evil slightly more obvious. Then as he is describing moral evil, or the evil actions of man, I think he made a mistake in reasoning that people do not intentionally do wrong. I believe that people most certainly do wrong intentionally, however this is done out of ignorance. Ignorance of good was a separate point of Augustine’s, but I don’t think that in the case of evil, intentional behavior and ignorance can be easily separated. I believe that people behave wrongly out of an intentional ignorance of good and this makes a certain action evil or wrong. St. Augustine then quoted that moral evil is not so much a case of misguided education, but of misguided love; to me, this is a very well put statement, and one that I agree with completely. I believe that we come to love what we strive for, and if that love or strife is directed in a way in which does not serve God, moral evil results and we must reap what we have sowed.

I think that this intentional behavior is not so much the result of knowingly acting against God, but yet is the result of misdirected love. However, misdirection does not justify intention; in other words, just because we have been thrown off by moral evil – either recognized such evil in oneself or received from another – we should not attempt to justify intentions, rather we should interpret it as a kind of signal from God that we are not heading in the right direction. Depression, to me, is one the most obvious signs of moral evil; I see depression as being the result of misdirection and heading away from the direction God is leading you to be on. For instance, the blind pursuit of money is one of the quickest ways to the state of depression. I think this is a very good example of what Augustine is referring to when he talks about misdirected love. As I said before, I believe that you come to love what you strive for, and in the pursuit of money, you develop a love for it. This love for money is obviously not a direction in which God intends us to pursue, and as a result, moral evil – or moral wrongdoing – will ensue. I personally believe that to pursue money and to strive for it is one of the quickest ways to realize just how empty a person’s life has become without God’s direction or influence.

Augustine’s next proposition on evil concerns the foundation of morality. Augustine believed in a Platonic idea that a basic natural law governs morality and that human behavior must conform to it. Plato had believed in a cosmic order in which this natural law exists, and Augustine believed that it was actually written in the hearts of man and is interpreted by them through their conscience. Augustine stated that this natural law consisted of the “reason and will of God.” This proposition is one that I see as being the most complex and difficult to interpret. Through Psychology, a person will learn about a famous psychologist by the name of Carl Jung. Jung stated that there exists an underlying subconscious through which all mankind is interlinked. Although Jung was not exactly Christian in his beliefs, I found the connection somewhat ironic. The irony exists in the idea that Augustine, Plato, and Jung – which were all famous for their contributions to their field of study, however nearly completely different in their beliefs – all offered the theory that all mankind is linked together by an underlying connection.

I personally believe that the point that Augustine is attempting to make here could very well be the ‘proof’ that every atheist complains about and demands. Although this proposition could very well be much more complex then any one person could possibly state, the author C.S. Lewis did a very good job in the book Mere Christianity. What could an ex-atheist who converted into Christianity writer possibly have to do with Augustine and his proposition? Actually, a lot; C.S. Lewis proposed that this underlying connection in which we are all linked does actually exist, through the same concept that Augustine is proposing here – that there is a foundational moral law in which we are all constantly exposed to. Basically, nobody is born and then taught everything about what is good and bad, morality exists as an underlying reality in all of us – some just choose to ignore it, and others decide that it feels best to follow.

For instance, if you are walking along a lake and you see someone drowning and in desperate need of help, you are stuck with a dilemma; either help the man and risk your life, or decide it would be best for your personal safety not to take that risk and keep walking. The answer as to what is the better decision seems to be obvious, but according to C.S. Lewis and Augustine, it is not because somewhere along the way in life someone sat you down and told you what you should do in this situation, it is because of a preexisting moral law that persuades you to act on the situation with purely good intention. This example could have been much more elaborate and complex, but I believe that the five chapters in C.S. Lewis’ book do quite a better job at it than I could summarize in an essay.

A largely misunderstood assumption of God is that the pursuit and love of Him cannot involve happiness. Augustine addresses this assumption next, by stating that happiness is better defined by having all you want and wanting no evil. To most people, the definition of happiness leaves out the wanting no evil part, but to me that is a very good point that Augustine makes. Augustine believed that the only conceivable way to have all you want and at the same time want no evil, is to make God the supreme object of your love, and leading back to the striving and loving connection, strive to please Him.

Augustine made another very intriguing proposition on the issue of intentions to which I enjoyed very much. According to Augustine, what matters the most when appraising a person’s moral worth is not to judge by way of what they do, but rather what their intentions are. Augustine believed that sin and virtue are conditions of the soul and therefore shine through in the intentions a person possesses in what they do. This idea that a person’s state of mind is what matters the most morally over the good deeds they do comes to play an important role in moral philosophy. I have always looked for what intentions a person held for doing a certain act, either good or seemingly bad, before I assessed what they did in the nature of the act itself, so reading this section of Augustine’s philosophy was very interesting to me.

In conclusion, with the minor exception of the source of evil – or rather, who created it – I agree with Augustine and found his principles very interesting. I think St. Augustine was a very important figure in the history of moral philosophy and he is one of the reasons I have such an interest in the field of study.

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