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Soliloquies by Augustine of Hippo
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Feb 27, 12

bookshelves: religion, saints
Read from February 17 to 27, 2012

Very Platonic. A dialogue with Reason, incarnated as a goddess as Philosophy is incarnated to Boethius, though he notes within the text that really he is talking to himself, Augustine seeks Wisdom. Reason is something like Wisdom's friend, who examines her suitors and helps her choose one to whom to give herself.

Reason first interrogates Augustine to see if he is worthy. Does he love her above all things? What is he willing to give up? Women? Riches? Fame? What would he endure for her? Suffering? Poverty? Augustine goes so far as to say that the only reason he doesn't want to die is that he may live to know, and the only reason that he doesn't want to get sick is that he may have the strength to study. Intense.

What does he want to know? "God and soul." What most of all? "Whether I am immortal."

This is significant because he has the cogito 1000 years before Descartes:

"A. Long enough has our work been intermitted, and impatient is Love, nor have tears a measure, unless to Love is given what is loved: wherefore, let us enter upon the Second Book. R. Let us enter upon it. A. Let us believe that God will be present. R. Let us believe indeed, if even this is in our power. A. Our power He Himself is. R. Therefore pray most briefly and perfectly, as much as thou canst. A. God, always the same, let me know myself, let me know Thee. I have prayed. R. Thou who wilt know thyself, knowest thou that thou art? A. I know. R. Whence knowest thou? A. I know not. R. Feelest thou thyself to be simple, or manifold? A. I know not. R. Knowest thou thyself to be moved? A. I know not. R. Knowest thou thyself to think? A. I know. R. Therefore it is true that thou thinkest. A. True. R. Knowest thou thyself to be immortal? A. I know not. R. Of all these things which thou hast said that thou knowest not: which dost thou most desire to know? A. Whether I am immortal. R. Therefore thou lovest to live? A. I confess it. R. How will the matter stand when thou shalt have learned thyself to be immortal? Will it be enough? A. That will indeed be a great thing, but that to me will be but slight. R. Yet in this which is but slight how much wilt thou rejoice? A. Very greatly. R. For nothing then wilt thou weep? A. For nothing at all. R. What if this very life should be found such, that in it it is permitted thee to know nothing more than thou knowest? Wilt thou refrain from tears? A. Nay verily."

This is after a very long and beautiful litany and prayer to God for help in seeking Wisdom.

Augustine and Reason then debate Pontius Pilate's question, "What is truth?" and the dialogue ends, like Plato's dialogues do, without much resolution. Augustine ends with a prayer, and hope that one day he may understand. The discussion of Truth is also very Platonic, in that it treats Truth not as a fictional concept created by man but as a Real Thing that exists and is immortal, like Plato's Forms.

I find it interesting that all the lousy arguments are made by Reason and all the good arguments are made by Augustine.

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