July 16, 2017

Review Corner

During this same period of nine years, from my nineteenth to my twenty-eighth year, our life was one of being seduced and seducing, being deceived and deceiving (2 Tim. 3: 13), in a variety of desires. -- St. Augustine, The Confessions.
Two thinkers I admire have implicitly done me a disservice.

Both Ayn Rand and Karl Popper divide philosophers into a type of red-team vs. blue-team. I'll let those who know Rand better than I correct me if I am wrong, but my Überhoss Popper divided his "Open Society and its Enemies" into a good guy volume and a bad guy volume. Both would start with Platonists vs. Aristotelians. Apollonians vs. Dionysians, then descend the historical ladder, placing Kant and Wittgenstein et al into buckets.

Along the way, one cleaves an interstice between St, Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas: "Aquinas baptized Aristotle" in Chesterton's pithy bon mot.

The Confessions is week eight in the Hillsdale Great Books 101 MOOC I am taking. I am taking longer than 12 weeks, but I am reading the entire work for each and not the provided selections.

It is right, fitting, and proper to categorize Augustine (the lecturer pronounces it og-GUS-tin, I've said og-gus-STEEN my whole life) as a Platonist. My shame is that I've avoided him. Pari-passu with grey hairs, I'm trying to expand my thought. Three consecutive lessons from the Bible and St. Augustine are both my penance and proof.

I refused sacrifice to daemons on my behalf; yet by adherence to that superstition I sacrificed myself to them. What is it to 'feed the winds' if not to feed the spirits, that is, by one's errors to become an object of delight and derision to them?

The Confessions is enjoyable for its antiquity (~397 AD) but also for its honesty and intellect. As a youth and young adult, the author is lost to earthly pleasures and, more seriously, the cultish philosophy of Manichaeism. I appreciate that he uses rational thought and good philosophy to escape the misguided beliefs of the Manichees.
Since I had done much reading in the philosophers and retained this in my memory, I compared some of their teachings with the lengthy fables of the Manichees. The philosophers' teachings seemed to be more probable than what the Manichees said. The philosophers 'were able to judge the world with understanding' even though 'they did not find its Lord' (Wisd. 13: 9).

Aquinas gets all the props for reconciling the Church with science, but Augustine is no Torquemada. The predictive powers of even the ancient cosmology guides him to question Manichean dogma.
Many years beforehand they have predicted eclipses of sun and moon, foretelling the day, the hour, and whether total or partial. And their calculation has not been wrong. It has turned out just as they predicted. They have put the rules which they discovered into books which are read to this day. On this basis prediction can be made of the year, the month of the year, the day of the month, the hour of the day, and what proportion of light will be eclipsed in the case of either sun or moon; and it happens exactly as predicted. People who have no understanding of these things are amazed and stupefied.

[On a side note, is it not amazing that this capacity existed for thousands of years without engendering an acceptance of a non-heliocentric universe?]
I compared these with the sayings of Mani who wrote much on these matters very copiously and foolishly. I did not notice any rational account of solstices and equinoxes or eclipses of luminaries nor anything resembling what I had learnt in the books of secular wisdom. Yet I was ordered to believe Mani. But he was not in agreement with the rational explanations which I had verified by calculation and had observed with my own eyes. His account was very different.

I have a confession of my own. The first ten of 13 books are autobiographical and relate his philosophical and spiritual journey. The last three espouse the spiritual truths he has attained after conversion. I found the last three unfulfilling and bordering on tiresome. The recent convert goes on at length about his transformation. Haven't we all invented an excuse to escape such a speech in our daily lives? That's cool Jim, hey I think I hear my wife calling...

But all in all, it is a focused look at an exceedingly bright mind of antiquity. I don't think I'll apportion stars, but I would recommend it.

Review Corner Posted by John Kranz at July 16, 2017 10:34 AM

Ah yes, Augustine. Volume 18 of the Great Books of the Western World.

No I haven't read it, but you are contributing to a rekindling of my interest in that collection.

Posted by: johngalt at July 17, 2017 3:09 PM

$0.99 on Kindle!

Stars seem inappropriate, but I might do a cheesy ranking at the end. The Confessions will be in the bottom half.

Posted by: jk at July 17, 2017 3:26 PM | What do you think? [2]