European Thought-I Augustine Political Science YouTube Lecture Handouts

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Augustine: War, Peace, Skepticism | European Thought - Political Science

Title: European Thought-I Augustine

  • St. Augustine (354 - 430 C. E.) , originally named Aurelius Augustinus, was the Catholic bishop of Hippo in northern Africa. He was a skilled Roman-trained rhetorician, a prolific writer (who produced more than 110 works over a 30-year period) , and by wide acclamation, the first Christian philosopher. Writing from a unique background and vantage point as a keen observer of society before the fall of the Roman Empire, Augustine՚s views on political and social philosophy constitute an important intellectual bridge between late antiquity and the emerging medieval world. Because of the scope and quantity of his work, many scholars consider him to have been the most influential Western philosopher.
  • The impact of his views on sin, grace, freedom and sexuality on Western culture can hardly be overrated. These views, deeply at variance with the ancient philosophical and cultural tradition, provoked however fierce criticism in Augustine՚s lifetime and have, again, been vigorously opposed in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries from various (e. g. , humanist, liberal, feminist) standpoints.
  • His most famous work, the Confessiones, is unique in the ancient literary tradition but greatly influenced the modern tradition of autobiography; it is an intriguing piece of philosophy from a first-person perspective.
  • Because of his importance for the philosophical tradition of the Middle Ages he is often listed as the first medieval philosopher.

Skepticism and Certainty

  • Augustine՚s earliest surviving work is a dialogue on Academic skepticism (Contra Academicos or De Academicis, 386; Fuhrer 1997) . He wrote it at the beginning of his career as a Christian philosopher in order to save himself and his readers from the “despair” that would have resulted if it could not be proven that, against the skeptic challenge, truth is attainable and knowledge and wisdom possible.
  • Unlike modern anti-skeptical lines of argumentation, Augustine՚s refutation of skepticism does not aim at justifying our ordinary practices and beliefs. To refute the Academic claim that, since the wise person can never be sure whether she has grasped the truth, she will consistently withhold assent in order not to succumb to empty opinion, he thinks it sufficient to demonstrate the existence of some kind of knowledge that is immune to skeptical doubt.

Foundational Political and Social Concepts

  • Two Cities
  • Justice and the state
  • Church and state

War and Peace

  • In as much as the history of human society is largely the history of warfare, it seems quite natural for Augustine to explain war as being within God՚s unfolding plan for human history. As Augustine states, “It rests with the decision of God in his just judgment and mercy either to afflict or console mankind, so that some wars come to an end more speedily, others more slowly.”
  • Writing after the time when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Augustine holds that there is no prohibition against a Christian serving the state as a soldier in its army. Neither is there any prohibition against taking the lives of the enemies of the state, so long as he does it in his public capacity as a soldier and not in the private capacity of a murderer. Nevertheless, Augustine also urges that soldiers should go to war mournfully and never take delight in the shedding of blood.

The Just War

  • As the Roman Empire collapses around him, Augustine confronted the question of what justifies warfare for a Christian. On the one hand, the wicked are not particularly concerned about just wars.
  • On the other hand, the righteous vainly hope to avoid being affected by wars in this life, and at best they can hope for just wars rather than unjust ones. This is by no means a perfect solution; but then again, this is not a perfect world. If it were, all talk of just wars would be altogether nonsensical.
  • Perfect solutions characterize only the heavenly City of God. Its pilgrim citizens sojourning on earth can do no better than try to cope with the present difficulties and imperfections of the earthly life.
  • Thus, for Augustine, the just war is a coping mechanism for use by the righteous who aspire to citizenship in the City of God. In terms of the traditional notion of jus ad bellum (justice of war, that is, the circumstances in which wars can be justly fought) , war is a coping mechanism for righteous sovereigns who would ensure that their violent international encounters are minimal, a reflection of the Divine Will to the greatest extent possible, and always justified.


1. Much of the writings of Augustine were devoted to define the political philosophies of his predecessors?

2. Augustine considered the King as the perfect man and the ambassador of God on earth to handle the earthly matters?

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