Sunday, October 5, 2008

Augustine, Ethics, and the Human Condition

Augustine's ethics do not derive primarily from his pursuit of philosophy, but his desire to know and serve God.

Augustine derives unchanging ethical standards from a personal, active God who has revealed himself in general and special revelation. Hence, Augustine accepts the biblical account of the human condition. Although we are created in the image of God, we are fallen. Our predicament is not that we must realize and understand the unchanging Forms in a Platonic sense, but that we need to repent and turn to a living, personal God.

Neither is our predicament to be solved by seeking a "golden mean," as in Aristotle, which is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but it lacks the personal connection to a living God and the ability to control vices through supernatural power.

In commenting on the ethics of Augustine, Frederick Copleston writes: "St. Augustine's ethic has this in common with what one might call the typical Greek ethic, that it is eudaemonistic in character, that it proposes an end for human conduct, namely happiness; but this happiness is to be found only in God ... The ethic of Augustine is, then, primarily an ethic of love: it is by the will that man reaches out towards God and finally takes possession of and enjoys Him ... happiness can be found only in God, the immutable Good ..." (A History of Philosophy, Volume II, pp. 81-82)

Augustine's ethics are drawn from the ethics of Christ, namely to do unto others as we would have done to ourselves, and the command to love our neighbors as ourselves while loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

The core of Augustine's ethic is in his love for God, as well as in God's love for us.

No comments: