Monday, September 30, 2013

Excerpt from Augustine's "On Free Choice of the Will"

A quote fromOn Free Choice of the Will by Augustine, translated by Thomas Williams (1993, Hackett Publishing Company)


I came upon this striking quote in my readings for this week. To set the stage for you, this is a dialogue Augustine wrote early in his Christian life, and it is the question, set in the mouth of his friend Evodius, asking, “Isn’t God the cause of evil?” and “…From whom did we learn to sin?” (p 1)

Is God the author of evil? Why is there sin, and do we have a free will, and if we cause evil because of it, why did God give us this free will in the first place? These are the questions this little book attempts to answer;  questions that are still being asked today.

Augustine on “inordinate desires”:

     “Surely the very fact that inordinate desire rules the mind is itself no small punishment. Stripped by opposing forces of the splendid wealth of virtue, the mind is dragged by inordinate desire into ruin and poverty; now taking false things for true, and even defending those falsehoods repeatedly; now repudiating what it had once believed and nonetheless rushing headlong into still other falsehoods; now withholding assent and often shying away from clear arguments; now despairing completely of finding the truth and lingering in the shadows of folly; now trying to enter the light of understanding but reeling back in exhaustion.

     In the meantime cupidity carries out a reign of terror, buffeting the whole human soul and life with storms coming from every direction. Fear attacks from one side and desire from the other; from one side, anxiety; from the other, an empty and deceptive happiness; from one side, the agony of losing what one loved; from one side, the pain of an injury received; from the other, the burning desire to avenge it. Wherever you turn, avarice can pinch, extravagance squander, ambition destroy, pride swell, envy torment, apathy crush, obstinacy incite, oppression chafe, and countless other evils crowd the realm of inordinate desire and run riot. In short, can we consider this punishment trivial—a punishment that, as you realize, all who do not cleave to wisdom must suffer?” (p 17-18)

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:21-25 TNIV 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Excerpt from Augustine's "Soliloquies"

Excerpt from Augustine’s Soliloquies.
(Edited and Translated by J.H.S. Burleigh, 1953)

This is some of the prayer written by Augustine at the start of Soliloquies, where he is praying for the wisdom of God to help him to understand both the soul and God.
Augustine invented this genre of literature; the internal dialogue, which he named by combining the Latin words
soli + loquie

This is talking to yourself.

O God, Creator of the universe, give me first that I may pray aright, then that I may conduct myself worthily of being heard by thee, and finally that I may be set free by thee. God, by whom all things come into existence which by themselves would not exist; who permittest not to perish even that which destroys itself; who out of nothing didst create this world which the eyes of all perceive to be most beautiful; who doest no evil so that existence is good because it is thy work; who showest that evil is nothing to the few who take refuge in the truth; by whom the universe even with its sinister aspects is perfect; by whom there is no absolute disharmony because bad and good together harmonize; whom everything capable of loving loves consciously or unconsciously; in whom are all things yet so that thou art unharmed by the baseness, malice or error of any of thy creatures; …Father of Truth, of Wisdom, of the True and Perfect Life, of Beatitude, of the Good and Beautiful, of the Intelligible Light, Father of our awakening and of our illumination, of the sign by which we are admonished to return to thee.

Thee I invoke, O God, the Truth, in, by and through whom all truths are true; the Wisdom, in, by and through whom all are wise; the True and Perfect Life, in, by and through whom live all who live truly and perfectly; the Beatitude, in, by and through whom all the blessed are pleased; the Good and the Beautiful, in, by and through whom all good and beautiful things have these qualities; the intelligible Light, in, by and through whom all intelligible things are illumined…I invoke thee, O God, to whom faith calls us, hope lifts us, and charity unites us; by whom we overcome the enemy and are delivered from utter destruction; by whom we are admonished to awake; by whom we distinguish good from evil and shun evil and follow after good; by whom we yield not to adversities; our rightful Lord, whom we rightly serve; by whom we learn that those things are alien which once we thought were ours and that those things are ours which once we thought were alien…come propitiously to my aid

Make me to seek thee, Father. Free me from error. As I seek thee, may nothing else substitute itself for thee. If I desire nothing else but thee, may I at last find thee, Father, I beseech thee. But if there be in me the desire for anything superfluous, do thou thyself cleanse me and make me fit to see thee…Only I beseech thy most excellent clemency to convert me wholly to thyself, to allow nothing to gainsay me as I draw near to thee and to build me while I bear and wear this mortal body to be pure, generous, just and prudent, a perfect lover and receiver of thy Wisdom and worthy to dwell in thy most blessed kingdom. Amen. Amen.

(From pp 23-26)


Sunday, September 15, 2013

From Maverick Philosopher: Popular Conceptions and Misconceptions of Philosophy

From time to time I face the question of what I am studying as an adult college student. I have had a wide variety of reactions to my words "I'm studying philosophy", and sometimes around Boulder, I have to explain that it is NOT spirituality, as in "Oh, I've got this great crystal that helps me focus my inner eye."

So when I ran across this post by Bill Vallicella at 
Maverick Philosopher I decided to post a part of his words here.

Popular Conceptions and Misconceptions of Philosophy

If you are a philosopher or a student of philosophy, how do you respond when someone asks what you do or study? What sorts of misconceptions about philosophy and other disciplines have you encountered? [...]

1. When I was a graduate student I would sometimes deflect the question by saying'mathematics.' But then one day I received the reply, "Why do we still need mathematicians? We now have computers to do their work." The fellow apparently thought that mathematicians spend their time doing computations sitting under green eyeshades, with paper and pencil...

2. When I told an art historian at Cleveland State what I taught, he naively asked, "what's philosophy?" The man has no idea. Here was an intelligent man in the humanities who had not clue, not clue at all.

3. And R.N. in one of my classes was very surprised to hear that there are philosophy journals. "There are journals of this stuff?"

4. At a rest stop off an interstate, some guy asked me what I do. "I teach philosophy." whereupon the gent regaled me about the interesting philosophy they have up in Nova Scotia.

...And you will just have to read the rest here!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My 9-11 Tribute

Here is a picture I wanted to share from a vacation I took in 2010. Until then, I had not been to New York city since the tragedy of 9-11-2001. I had the honor of standing on the pier in Brooklyn...just after the memorial ceremony.

We must never forget.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Quote from "Confessions" by Saint Augustine

One of my classes this semester at CU Boulder, is the study of the philosophy of Saint Augustine, so I thought I would share with you this beautiful quote from the Confessions.

Saint Augustine, Confessions, translated by Henry Chadwick, (2008, Oxford)

Book X sec. 8

"My love for you, Lord, is not an uncertain feeling but a matter of conscious certainty. With your word you pierced my heart, and I loved you. But heaven and earth and everything in them on all sides tell me to love you. Nor do they cease to tell everyone that ‘they are without excuse’ (Rom. 1:20). But at a profounder level you will have mercy on whom you will have mercy and will show pity on whom you will have pity (Rom. 9:15). Otherwise heaven and earth would be uttering your praises to the deaf. But when I love you, what do I love? It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odour of flowers and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God—a light, voice, odour, food, embrace of my inner man, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where the is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and were there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. That is what I love when I love my God." (p 183)