Aristotle and Augustine Essay

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Aristotle & Augustine

The discipline of philosophy allows us to scrutinize, to analyze, to study about the concepts which can sometimes come across to us as "mundane." More often than not, some of the more important concepts involving the fundamental discussion of our human nature permeates our "taken-for-granted realities." This article presents an opportunity to examine the concepts that involve the good and the evil, reason and free will.

In the aim of comparing and contrasting the classical philosophical discourses posited by Aristotle and St. Augustine, this paper will first lay out the fundamental ideas of Aristotle and St. Augustine respectively. The last part of this paper will provide synthesis of these two major philosophical accounts.


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Essay on Aristotle and Augustine Assignment

Aristotle's conceptualization of the "good" can be seen as having a rather practical approach as, "Every activity has a final cause, the good at which it aims, and Aristotle argued that since there cannot be an infinite regress of merely extrinsic goods, there must be a highest good at which all human activity ultimately aims" (Aristotle in Kemerling, 2001, par.2). Here we can see that ultimate "good" is theorized as an end goal of human activity. Hence the things that people do are geared towards a particular destination, i.e. The achievement of the highest good. But what is good? Kemerling walks us through it as he states, "... The good for human beings, then, must essentially involve the entire proper function of human life as a whole, and this must be an activity of the soul that expresses genuine virtue or excellence...Thus human beings should aim at a life in full conformity with their rational natures" (par. 3). Aristotle now makes an assumption that human beings are rational beings and conformity with this nature allows us to be happy. Happiness is the highest good; the end of human life. Moreover, he says that human beings are not simply tied by economic wealth in the sense that material goods cannot make a person happy, only the perfect balance of reason and desire can. He goes on to say that, "True happiness can therefore be attained only through the cultivation of the virtues that make a human life complete": (ibid).

Another important concept in Aristotelian philosophy has been introduced in the above paragraph, i.e. virtue. Aristotle's conceptualization of virtue supports the above claim that Aristotle's views on the good and ethics, in a more general perspective, are largely placed n the level of practice as for him, virtue is a "disposition to act in certain ways in response of similar situations" (par. 4). Hence it is something that is cultivated. Moreover, an action that is considered virtuous is that which strikes the balance between excesses and deficiency (ibid). At this point, we can now establish that what is good (which is the end goal of human action), which can help us attain the state of happiness, is that which is the perfect balance of our reason and desires, excesses and deficiencies -- it is the middle point of extremes.

After presenting "ethics" in Aristotle's philosophy, I believe that we can now move to a deeper level of discussion, i.e. positioning the role of reason in Aristotelian ethics. Reason is largely intertwined in Aristotle's discussion of ethics and good because, "...if we use reason well, we live well as human beings, or to be more precise, using reason well over the course of a full life is what happiness consists. Doing anything well requires virtue or excellence, and therefore, living well consists in activities caused by the rational soul in accordance with virtue or excellence" (Kraut, 2007, par. 7).

St. Augustine: The Problem of Evil and The Free Will Solution

St. Augustine's account of the problem of evil is well incorporated in this three-pronged statement: First, evil is a "privation" and this cannot be properly said to exist at all. Secondly, he insists that the imperfections that human beings have are overshadowed by the light of perfection as a whole. And lastly, he believes that moral evil is found in the free choice of the will of rational beings (Ferguson, 1993).

Let us have a point-by-point discussion of these three important things. Firstly, evil does not exist at all because St. Augustine believes that good things are predisposed to corruption because if they were the ultimate, supreme good, then they will be incapable of being corrupted. Therefore, we can simply put that things that are corrupted is simply something that lacks some good. Moreover, Augustine assumes that all existing things are good because they are capable of being corrupted. Evil, on the other and, is not a substance because it is not good. Given the idea that God created all things, then he did not create evil, hence evil can be seen as simply an "illusion" of some sort (ibid).

The second point made by Augustine on the problem of evil is the fact that people's imperfections are overshadowed by the light of the perfection as a whole. Expounding on this argument, Augustine states that evil is seen from a finite, definite, clearly-bound perspective. But when we look at the totality of things, we can see that "all things taken together are better than superior things by themselves... All things include corruptible things, the destruction of which brings what existed to non-existence in such a way as to allow the consequent production of what is destined to come into being" (Augustine in Ferguson, 2003., par. 13). Evil, then, is present in finite perspective but when we look at the totality of things, when we locate evil in the grander scheme things, we may be able to see that it is a requisite of something destined to come, something bigger and better things bound to happen.

The last point regarding the problem of evil rests in the idea that because of free will, we possess the tendency to move away from God, hence the problem of evil. People may know what is good from what is bad but may still choose to do the latter. Hence, to be virtuous, we need God's grace (Payne, n.d.). Lack of happiness is also described by Augustine as the cause of "ingratitude" (ibid).

To further strengthen Augustine's denial of the existence of evil, he introduced the "free will solution" which maintains that since we posses free will (which allows us to turn away from God), we can now say that God's goodness is not tainted since the evil or the corruption of things is nothing but man's own doing, (note that the evil is seen here as a product of illusion as evil is not a substance in itself (Sinclair Community College Website, n.d.).

II. Analysis

After presenting the conceptualizations of Aristotle and St. Augustine, our discussion will now proceed to the synthesis of their ideas to be able to achieve our main objective of comparing and contrasting these two philosophies.

Human Nature

Before proceeding to the more complex discussion of life questions answered by these two philosophers, let us analyze first their conceptualization of man, of human nature. This starting point will give us some idea regarding the way they theorized on the concepts that were discussed earlier.

To any casual observer, the striking difference of the conceptualization of human beings cannot be neglected. For Aristotle, men are rational beings. Reason is their nature. St. Augustine, on the hand, believes that humans have free will which allows them to either follow God's grace or turn away from him. Here we can see Aristotle's pragmatic view on life while St. Augustine adopts a metaphysical assumption of the human nature.

The Concept of Good

For Aristotle, to do what is good; to achieve happiness; to be a man of virtue -- all… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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