A philosophical biography from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Read it.

Philosophy of Augustine
An extensive resource from the Radical Academy.

Augustine on Evil
by Gregory Koukl
A very interesting, accessible, and brief article from a Christian perspective. I strongly recommend that you read this as it makes one aspect of Augustine's influence quite clear.

Augustine of Hippo
Something of a fan site for Augustine aficionados. There is a lot of material here, including Augustine's major texts (in Latin, even.) Use this selectively to investigate what people are saying about Augustine today.



Augustine: on evil - commentary

Some things are interdependent such that you cannot have (or conceive of) one without the other.  Mountains and valleys are like this.  Light and dark are opposites (as Augustine says, contraries) but are also interdependent.  So many concepts contain the idea of the other, that we might take this duality to be a law of reality.  But Augustine observes that such a law would be too simplistic a depiction of reality.  Some things are interrelated, but nor interdependent.  Consider light and shadow.  A shadow is a darkness cast by an object blocking the light. 

If there were no light, then there could be no shadows, for there would be no source from which the shadow may be cast.  Unless there were some light, it cannot be blocked.  A shadow is nothing more than the blocking of light.  Shadows, then, have their source in the light.  They are dependent upon the light.  A shadow is created by the relationship of an object and a light source.  The shadow is an effect of this relationship and not a separate, self-existing object. 

Compare the above account of light and shadow to part of Augustine's account of good and evil;

"if there were no good in what is evil, then the evil simply could not be, since it can have no mode in which to exist, nor any source from which corruption springs, unless it be something corruptible. Unless this something is good, it cannot be corrupted, because corruption is nothing more than the deprivation of the good. Evils, therefore, have their source in the good, and unless they are parasitic on something good, they are not anything at all."

Many of us tend to think of evil as a separate and competitive force to good. Augustine argues that evil is parasitic on good and not separate from good at all.  Instead, evil is a corruption or rejection of the good.  Just as a shadow grows larger as we move away from the light source, so the evil grows as we move away from what is good.

Consider too, how lying is dependent upon the truth, but not the other way around.  Lying twists and corrupts truth and trust; but truth is not a modified lie and it is possible (however rare) that some relationship exists where trust is genuine and unbroken. 

We can best understand ignorance as the absence of knowledge.  Even in cases where we actively avoid knowledge, we do not seek to obtain ignorance (as if it were a special body on non-knowledge).  Ignorance comes from avoiding, rejecting, and lacking knowledge.  Like the shadow, ignorance is dependent upon the relationship of an object (a mind) with the truth.  But the mind can exist without ignorance and the truth can exist whether or not it is blocked.  Perhaps in this example you recall the dictum of Socrates; "No one does wrong intentionally."  Which leads us to Plato's idea that virtue is a kind of knowledge evil is a kind of ignorance. 

Augustine was a strong Platonist.  In his analysis of evil the influence of Plato is clear.  In a time where wars are fought on the premise that some nations are good and others are evil, it crucial that we get clear on what good and evil are.

Next - Augustine's theory Just War link to Augustine on faith


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