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  • Augustine was a Christian philosopher, who lived in the 4th and 5th century A.D.,

  • on the fringes of the rapidly declining Roman Empire in the North African town of Hippo.

  • He served as bishop for 35 years, proving popular and inspirational to his largely uneducated and poor congregation.

  • In his last days, a Germanic tribe known as the Vandals burnt Hippo to the ground,

  • destroyed the legions, made off with the town's young women,

  • but left Augustine's Cathedral and library entirely untouched

  • out of respect for the elderly philosopher's achievements.

  • He matters to us non-Christians today because of what he criticised about Rome,

  • its values and its outlook,

  • and because Rome has so many things in common with the modern West,

  • especially the United States.

  • The Romans believed in two things in particular.

  • One, EARTHLY HAPPINESS.

  • They were on the whole an optimistic lot.

  • The builders of the Pont du Gard, and the Colosseum had faith in technology,

  • in the power of humans to master themselves and in their ability to control nature

  • and plot for their own happiness and satisfaction.

  • Writers like Cicero and Plutarch had a degree of pride, ambition and confidence in the future,

  • which with some revisions wouldn't be out of place in modern-day Palo Alto or the pages of Wired.

  • The Romans were keen practitioners of what we would nowadays call SELF-HELP

  • training their audiences to greater success and effectiveness.

  • In their eyes, the human animal was something eminently open to being perfected.

  • Two, A JUST SOCIAL ORDER.

  • For long periods, the Romans trusted that their society was marked by justice

  • - JUSTITIA -

  • people of ambition and intelligence could make it to the top.

  • The army was trusted to be meritocratic.

  • The capacity to make money was held to reflect both practical ability and also a degree of inner virtue.

  • Therefore showing off one's wealth was deemed honourable and a point of pride,

  • and fame, was considered a wholly respectable ideal.

  • Augustine disagreed furiously with both of these assumptions.

  • In his masterpiece, The City of God, he dissected each of these two points,

  • that human life could be perfected and the societies were just,

  • in ways that continue to prove relevant to us today.

  • It was Augustine who came up with the idea of ORIGINAL SIN.

  • He proposed that all humans, not merely this or that unfortunate example,

  • were crooked because all of us are unwitting heirs to the sins of Adam.

  • Our sinful nature gives rise to what Augustine called a LIBIDO DOMINANDI,

  • a desire to dominate, which is evident in a brutal, blinkered, merciless way

  • we treat others in the world around us.

  • We cannot properly love, for we are constantly undermined by our egoism and our pride.

  • Our powers of reasoning and understanding are fragile in the extreme.

  • Lust haunts our days and nights.

  • We failed to understand ourselves. We chase phantoms. We are beset by anxieties.

  • Augustine concluded his assault by chiding all those philosophers in his words

  • have wished, with amazing folly, to be happy here on earth and to achieve bliss by their own efforts.”

  • It might sound depressing, but it may turn out to be a curious relief

  • to be told that our lives are awry not by coincidence but by definition simply because we are human,

  • and because nothing human can ever be made entirely straight.

  • We are creatures fated to intuit virtue and love,

  • but never quite being able to secure them for ourselves.

  • Our relationships, careers and countries are necessarily not as we'd want them to be.

  • It isn't anything specific we have done - the odds are simply stacked against us from the start.

  • Augustinian pessimism takes off some of the pressure we might feel

  • when we slowly come to terms with the imperfect nature of pretty much everything we do and are.

  • We shouldn't rage or feel we've been persecuted or singled out for undue punishment.

  • It's simply the human condition, the legacy of what we might as well,

  • even we don't believe in Augustine's theology, call ORIGINAL SIN.

  • Romans had, in their most ambitious moments, thought themselves to be running a meritocracy -

  • a society where those who got to the top were deemed to have done so on the back of their own virtues.

  • After the Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity,

  • the philosopher Eusebious even proposed that earthly power was God's instrument for establishing Christianity on earth,

  • so that the powerful in Rome were now not just privileged, but also blessed and righteous in God's eyes.

  • What arrogant, boastful and cruel claims, responded Augustine,

  • there never was nor ever could be justice in Rome, or indeed anywhere else on earth.

  • God didn't give good people wealth and power, and nor did he necessarily condemn those who lacked them.

  • Augustine distinguished between what he called TWO CITIES,

  • the CITY OF MEN, and the CITY OF GOD.

  • The latter was an ideal of the future, a heavenly paradise where the good would finally dominate,

  • where power would be properly allied to justice, and where virtue would reign.

  • But men could never build such a city alone,

  • and should never believe themselves capable of doing so.

  • They were condemned to dwell only in the city of men

  • which was a pervasively flawed society,

  • where money could never accurately track virtue.

  • In Augustine's formulation, true justice has no existence,

  • save in that republic whose founder and ruler is Christ.

  • Again it may sound bleak, but it makes Augustine's philosophy extremely generous

  • towards failure, poverty and defeat, our own and that of others.

  • It's not for humans to judge each other by outward markers of success.

  • From this analysis flows a lack of moralism and snobbery.

  • It's our duty to be skeptical about power and generous towards failure.

  • We don't need to be Christians to be comforted by both these points.

  • They are the religion's universal gifts to political philosophy and human psychology.

  • They stand as permanent reminders of some of the dangers and cruelties

  • of believing that the life could be made perfect

  • or the poverty and obscurity are reliable indicators of vice in a city of men.

Augustine was a Christian philosopher, who lived in the 4th and 5th century A.D.,

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B2 中上級

哲学 - アウグスティヌス (PHILOSOPHY - Augustine)

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    卓君侃 に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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