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Concupiscence In Augustine And Aquinas Essay, Research Paper

Concupiscence in Augustine and AquinasWhy are human beings evil? The Judaeo-Christianexplanation is in terms of original sin. The notion oforiginal sin comes from the biblical story in Genesis of howAdam and Eve lived in paradise, yet how they freely chose todisobey God, and how they were punished by God by being castout of paradise. This casting out was not the onlypunishment, however. In the biblical story, the woman isspecifically punished by God in that her childbearing willnow be painful, and also in a loss of equality with her mate,who will now “rule over” her. In turn, the man is alsopunished, in that now he must laboriously work the soil inorder to gain any food from it. Yet all of these punishmentsfrom the biblical story give no inkling of why it is humanbeings are inclined toward evil. Many early commentators onthe biblical story, however, began to see how this first ororiginal turning away from God, who is good, is the firstinstance of evil. They then argued that it must be onaccount of this first evil or original sin that human beingsare inclined towards evil. Yet few ever attempted to explainhow the punishment for original sin affected thisinclination. In the Christian tradition, the first thinker to attempta coherent explanation in this regard was Augustine of Hippo. Augustine felt that the punishment for original sin wasvisited first upon the will, by weakening it and thusinclining it towards evil, since it was through this freewill that God had given them that Adam and Eve chose todisobey and turn away from God. Through the will, theeffects of original sin are visited upon the mind and thebody as well, making the whole person inclined towards evil. Together, the effects of original sin on the will, mind andbody are covered by modern theologians in the term”concupiscence”. The task of the chapter one, then, will beto provide the background against which Augustine came tothese conclusions concerning concupiscence. In the second chapter, the Augustinian conception ofconcupiscence will be more rigorously analyzed. The firsttask will be to cut away all the religious entailmentsunderlying concupiscence since they are philosophicallyproblematic. In the end, concupiscence will be redefined asthe inclination toward evil. Yet, since Augustine’s view ofevil as privation, which is presented in the first chapter,is also problematic because of its religious entailments, amore coherent view of evil to underlie this leaner definitionof concupiscence will be discussed. This view is that evilis unjustified harm inflicted on human beings. Another problem with Augustine’s view of concupiscencethat will be presented is that it conflicts in a major waywith his moral theory. Augustine believed that only chosenactions were morally culpable. Yet his view thatconcupiscence entails a radical weakening of the will seemsto point to a lack of free will, and thus, to a lack offreely chosen actions. In choosing the view entailed byconcupiscence as the more plausible, it will be argued thatunchosen actions, and even the unchosen concupiscence from which these unchosen actions flow, are morally culpable. In the third chapter, Aquinas subtle reinterpretation ofAugustine’s notion of concupiscence will be presented andanalyzed. Aquinas thought, with Augustine, that human beingswere inclined toward evil after the Fall. Yet Aquinasdiffered with Augustine as to the degree of damage originalsin inflicted on humanity. Aquinas felt that concupiscencewas compatible with human beings being inclined also towardthe good. Thus, for Aquinas concupiscence, after once againcutting away all the indefensible entailments, will bepresented as the pool of all human desires, which can beeither good or evil. This view of concupiscence is even moreplausible than Augustine’s, in that it acknowledges theprevalence of evil in the world, yet also recognizes thepossibility for human goodness. CHAPTER 1: AUGUSTINE ON CONCUPISCENCEAs G.R. Evans points out, Augustine was preoccupied withthe problem of evil for most of his life . Indeed, much ofthe early chapters of the autobiographical Confessions isconcerned with cataloguing the stirrings of evil in the youngAugustine . Yet, one might wonder, knowing Augustine as oneof the major Christian philosophers in history, why it tookhim so long to turn to the Christian faith he had been raisedwith in trying to grapple with this problem. Part of theexplanation is that he knew the Christian faith through hismother Monica only “superficially” and thus, when he left hisnative town of Thagaste to study rhetoric in the big city ofCarthage, he did not feel strong loyalty to Christianity . Instead, as a student, Augustine became enamored of thephilosophy of Cicero, of whom he says: “the one thing thatdelighted me in Cicero’s exhortation was the advice ‘not tostudy one particular sect but to … seek and … stronglyembrace wisdom itself, wherever found’” . Thus startedAugustine’s journey as a philosopher. One of the firstplaces Augustine thought to look for wisdom was in theScriptures of the religion which he had been brought up with. Yet, the Bible disappointed Augustine’s search for purephilosophical wisdom, since “it seemed to me unworthy incomparison with the dignity of Cicero” . He thought that theBible was “a text lowly to the beginner” and “Augustinedisdained to be a little beginner” since he was now a man ofletters. So, Augustine began to search for an alternative toChristianity in the pantheon of Carthage that would satisfyboth his religious and his newly found philosophicallongings. Augustine soon found an answer to these longings in theunorthodox Christian sect called the Manichees. As has beensaid, one of the major stumbling blocks for Augustineconcerning Christianity was the “lowly” or crude nature ofthe Scriptures. The crudity of expression is perhaps evenmore evident in the colorful human stories of the HebrewScriptures which also form the bulk of the Christian Bible. One reason the Manichees were attractive to Augustine wasthat they rejected the Hebrew Scriptures and only focused onthe “Christian” scriptures or New Testament . Other factorsabout the Manichees also attracted Augustine, namely, theidea that God gives direct illumination to the “enlightened” which, of course, appealed to Augustine’s newly foundenthusiasm in his search for “wisdom”. The fact that thiswisdom could only be found by the enlightened, as opposed tothe “lowly”, made Manicheism tantamount to an intellectualelitism. This also appealed to Augustine, who, as has beenseen, did not wish to be counted among the lowly, especiallythe intellectual lowly. These ideas are what drew Augustine to the Manichees. What kept him with them, however, was their explanation ofthe problem of evil, which was, as has been seen from hismemory of events in his early childhood, a nagging yetperhaps, up until that time, subliminal problem. TheManichees held what might be mockingly called a “dualdualism”. The first dualism was a dualism in reference toGod. For the Manichees, there were two primary entities, onegood (that is, God) and one evil . This dualism flows fromthe idea “that nothing but good could come from God” . Itmay be asked here whether the Manichees held that God, inaddition to being the cause of good, was identical with thegood, such that God was in everything that is good. Yetthere are no indications that the Manichees were pantheistsof this sort. Thus, in the thinking of the Manichees, ifonly good can come from God, then evil must have anotherorigin, independent of God. Although this explanation preserves the goodness of God,it poses a real problem for God’s omnipotence. If evil isindependent of good, then it seems unlikely that the good(God) could be totally unaffected by or be in total controlover the principle of evil. Yet omnipotence requires suchtotal control. Thus, it would seem that, for a dualist ofthis sort, God cannot be omnipotent. Evans says as much whenshe states that Augustine “came close to believing that Godcould be affected by evil” . Augustine recalls that whatattracted him most about this dualism was that it was “moreacceptable to say your [God's] substance suffers evil thanthat their own [the Manichees, including himself] substanceactively does evil” . In other words, rather than takingresponsibility for the evil he caused, Augustine preferred toplace the source of evil on the cosmic level, away fromhimself. This cosmic dualism is only one of the two dualisms theManichees espoused. The second concerns the constitution ofhuman beings. It is the classic philosophical dualism whichholds that the human being is constituted of both body andsoul. Yet this dualism flows from the aforementioned cosmicdualism, in that the soul is identified with good, whereasthe body is identified with evil . Furthermore, the soul, asidentified with the good, is “divine”, and thus, the goal forthe Manichee is to transcend the evil passions of the bodyand to focus instead on the direct illumination of the soulby God . One can see here why this type of theory would beattractive for Augustine in its emphasis on the intellectual,which can be here identified with the spiritual. The bestexplanation of this identification is that Greek philosophywas beginning to have an impact on the Christian tradition,of which Manicheism was a part. For Plato, the soul hasthree parts, one of which is the “rational” part, whichresembles the divine and is immortal . Many Christianthinkers in the intervening period between Augustine and thewriting of the New Testament began to see similaritiesbetween the Platonic and the Christian conceptions of animmortal soul. Thus, through a process of syncretism, theChristian conception of the soul, which previously saw noconnection between the soul and rationality, came to adoptthis Greek identification of the immortal soul with thatwhich is rational or intellectual . Augustine remained a disciple of the Manichees for nineyears . Yet, in that time, ever the philosopher, he did notgive up his search for wisdom . Indeed, his readings ofphilosophy while in Carthage raised many questions in hismind concerning Manicheism, questions he hoped would beanswered by the leading Manichee bishop of his time namedFaustus . Their long awaited meeting proved to be a hugedisappointment. As Augustine relates: “When I put forwardsome problems which troubled me, I quickly discovered him tobe ignorant of the liberal arts”, and thus Faustus “modestlydid not even venture to take up the burden” of answeringAugustine’s questions . Thus began Augustine’sdisillusionment with the Manichees. Shortly after thisincident, he left Carthage, and with it, his enthusiasm forManicheism. This whole discussion of Augustine’s Manichee period mayat first glance seem pointless since it is a position thatAugustine ultimately abandoned. Yet, as shall be seen,although Augustine did indeed abandon, vehemently, the firstcosmic dualism that the Manichees espoused, it is a matter ofsome debate in Augustinian scholarship whether he ever losthis affinity for the second dualism that the Manichees held. As an example of this difficulty, Evans points out that muchhas been written about the preoccupation Augustine seems tohave had even after his Manichee period with the evil he feltwas involved in the pleasure gained from human sexualintercourse . On the surface, one can interpret this as anexample of how Augustine still perhaps held to the Manicheedualism that sees the body as evil and the soul as good. Evans contends, however, against some critics, that inAugustine’s position here “there is no evidence that hebecame obsessed with the matter” . Augustine’s opinion aboutsex is the logical outcome of his overall thought it, and itis balanced by his concession that the sexual act had aproper place in marriage in that it is procreative . Yet,Evans is willing to grant that “there persisted, however, alingering association between matter and evil which Augustinenever quite severed” . Thus, it would seem that althoughthere might be some evidence to support the argument thatAugustine never abandoned the anti-body tendencies ofManicheism, his position is sufficiently different from theManichee’s. In order to show this, however, one must nowturn to the positive post-Manichee teaching of Augustine onevil. After the beginning of his disillusionment withManicheism, Augustine began to cast about searching onceagain for wisdom and answers to questions that Faustus couldnot provide. He seems to have found answers in the Neo-Platonic philosophy of Plotinus, from which he gained newinsight into problem of evil . The major impact of thisphilosophy was to enable Augustine to see an alternative tothe cosmic dualism of the Manichees. The foundation of thisalternative is pointed out by Henry Chadwick, who, in histranslation of the Confessions, notes that Augustine oftenuses the Platonic dictum that “existence is a good” . ForAugustine, this dictum is based on the biblical truth that”our God has made ‘all things very good’(Gen. 1:31)” . Thus,to put these two thoughts together, since God made everythinggood, then everything that exists must be good. Yet, this emphasis on existence as good has furtherimplications as can be seen when Augustine states that”whatever things exist are good, and the evil into whoseorigins I was inquiring is not a substance, for if it were asubstance, it would be good” . Therefore, to conclude theline of argument “all things that are corrupted sufferprivation of some good” . Thus, in contrast to Manicheism,where good and evil were separate, independent entities, inthis new theory evil is a privation, a negation of the good. To flesh out this argument more, everything that iscreated by God and therefore exists is good. Further,everything that exists is a substance, or a part of asubstance, or a relation between substances, and therefore,every substance is good. Evil, then, in general terms, is aturning away from or a falling short of the goodness whichinheres in substances. This turning away or falling short isthus a privation or a negation of goodness. To put thisanother way, when substances are good they are fullysubstantial. Evil takes away from this substance in itsprivation or falling short of full goodness. Further, theopposite of existence in substance is nothingness. Thus, inthe end, evil, in its privation of substance, tends towardsnothingness. Finally, since normally evil negates thegoodness of existing substances, making them tend towardnothingness by privation, evil, in and of itself, is nothing. This view is not without its problems, though. Does itmean that all such privations tend towards nothingness andare thus, in and of themselves nothing? For example, isinsanity, as the privation of sanity, nothing? IfAugustine’s line of reasoning is to remain consistent here,then he would indeed have to say that insanity is nothing. In other words, sanity exists and is good, and thereforeinsanity, as privation of that sanity, is nothing. Yet, thisseems to be intuitively wrong, in that insanity certainlyseems to be something that does exist in the insane person. Even so, this line of argument is not essential to thedefense of Augustine’s view of concupiscence to which thischapter has been leading, and which the next chapter willfocus on. What is essential is that Augustine’s view on evilas a privation is one of the building blocks from whichAugustine constructs his treatment of concupiscence. One might also be able to detect here some evidencerelevant to the question of whether Augustine reallyabandoned the anti-body tendencies of Manicheism. That is,if all existing things are good, then human bodies can not beevil in and of themselves since they were created by God. Human bodies thus must be intrinsically good. However, thisevidence by no means settles the question at hand, in thatthere is still plenty of evidence of Augustine’s propensityto see the body as evil. More will be said on this subjectshortly, but one should note that there is another problemthat crops up as a result of Augustine’s contention that evilis merely a privation. If God is the creator of all, then Augustine’s teachingconcerning evil as a privation could also lead one to theuncomfortable conclusion that God is also the creator ofevil. However, Augustine, in keeping with what has beensaid, could say that if evil is nothing, then there is noproblem of evil. Yet Augustine was too painfully andpersonally aware of the presence of evil in the world toaccept this conclusion. What this whole argument againstevil as a privation assumes is that only God can beresponsible for evil. However, to avoid the Scylla ofholding that God is responsible for evil, and the Charybdisof holding that there is no evil, Augustine staked out amiddle ground, namely that human beings are themselvesresponsible for the evil they commit. Evans calls this a”man-centered” solution to the problem of evil as opposed tothe “God-centered” approaches that have been discussed . Yet, in order to make this view work, Augustine must explainhow it is that God is not responsible for evil and humanbeings are. Augustine first attempts to flesh out this viewconcerning human responsibility for evil in his treatise DeLibero Arbitrio, here translated as The Free Choice of theWill . The work starts out, in Platonic fashion, as adialogue between Augustine and his friend Evodius who asks”Tell me please, whether God is not the cause of evil” . Theanswer to this is, of course, “no”, for reasons that havealready been discussed. Instead, Augustine and Evodius cometo the conclusion “that nothing else can make the mind thecompanion of evil except its own will and free choice” . Thereason for this is, as Evans points out, that it seems toAugustine and Evodius “that the common factor in all evilacts is lust in some form … or that misapplication of thewill which makes a man want what he should not want” . Thus,human beings are themselves the cause of the evil theycommit, not God, and the reason they are the cause is theirmisuse of the freedom of their will. Yet, if human free will is the source of evil, it leadsto the question, which Evodius asks at the end of Book I ofThe Free Choice of the Will:whether he who created us should have given us that very freedom of choice … For without this power, we apparently would not have been capable of sinning, and there is thus reason to fear that God will be adjudged the cause even of our evil deeds. In response, Augustine states in Book II that “we must notsuppose that because a man can also sin by his free will thatGod gave it to him for that purpose” . He reasons that Godgave human beings free will because “if man were without freechoice of the will, what would become of the good calledjustice whereby sins are punished and good deeds arehonored?” . As Evans comments, if one “had made nocontribution of his own to his actions, both punishment andreward would be unjust” . Put more generally, God gave humanbeings free will so that they could freely choose God andthus not be predestined automatons. After the discussion of whether God should have givenhuman beings free will in The Free Choice of the Will,Evodius still has several questions concerning evil and freewill. His questions concerning free will revolve aroundresolving how God’s omniscience seems to entail some sort ofdeterminism , yet this topic would take the discussion toofar afield, and thus the focus will be on the questionconcerning “the cause of that movement by which the willitself turns from the unchangeable good … towards … allkinds of transitory goods” . In the De Libero Arbitrio,Augustine tries to answer this question by again emphasizingthe freedom of the will in turning towards evil . Thisquestion is one Augustine would return to again and againthroughout his life, partly because of the new heresy beingpropagated by Pelagius. Pelagius took Augustine’s own wordsfrom the De Libero Arbitrio concerning how evil begins in thefree will, and extrapolated to make the claim that, since thewill is free, human beings can also make themselves good . During the long period after completing De LiberoArbitrio, Augustine had been made a Catholic priest and thenbishop . It is as a teacher and pastor that he again takesup the question of why the will is inclined towards evil inthe treatise De Natura et Gratia (On Nature and Grace) . Thegeneral question that Evodius had posed before concerning whythe will is inclined to evil is secondary here, since themajor question Augustine is trying to answer is: “‘How couldthat which lacks substance [evil, which is nothing] weaken orchange human nature?’” Augustine answers this Pelagianquestion with a powerful analogy: “To abstain, then, fromfood is not a substance; and yet the substance of our body,if it does altogether abstain from food … is … impairedby broken health …. In the same way sin is not asubstance” . Thus, Augustine shows how it is that evil,which is a privation, and therefore not a substance, canaffect human nature which is a substance, albeit spiritual. Yet, as has been said, Augustine also returns in aroundabout way in On Nature and Grace to this question of howthe will is inclined towards evil. He states:Man’s nature, indeed, was created at first faultless andwithout any sin; but that nature of man in which every one is born from Adam, now wants the Physician, because it is not sound. All good qualities … which it still possesses in its make … it has of the Most High God, its creator and maker. But the flaw, which darkens and weakens all those natural goods … it has not contracted from its blameless Creator- but from that original sin, which it committed by free will. In this statement one can see several facets of Augustine’steaching that have been discussed: that human nature is goodas created by a good God, and that the source of human evilis in the free will. Yet what is new in this exposition isthat the human will is inclined towards evil on account oforiginal sin. The notion of original sin comes from the biblical storyin Genesis of how Adam and Eve lived in paradise, yet freelychose to disobey God, and were thus punished by God by beingcast out of paradise. Augustine thus goes on to argue thatthe punishment visited upon Adam and Eve by God has weakenedhuman nature. In particular, the punishment for original sinhas weakened the very will by which it was engendered. Yet,there is a problem here which Evans points out concerning howthe effects of original sin were passed on from Adam and Eveto their descendants. By making the will the locus of humanevil, Augustine cannot explain the transmission of theeffects of original sin as happening bodily by procreation,since the will is a faculty of the mind or soul . Unfortunately, Augustine never came to any conclusion on thisquestion preferring “to keep an open mind” on the matter . This, however, is only a minor problem compared to severalmajor ones that Augustine must face concerning his teachingon original sin. The main issue concerns clarifying the effects oforiginal sin on the will. Clearly, for Augustine, if humanevil begins in the will, then the effect of original sin isto weaken this will. One should point out here thatAugustine is making a perhaps unwarranted assumption, whichwill be discussed more fully in the next chapter. What needsto be emphasized here is that there are other effects of theweakening of the will, namely, that the body and the mindboth become subject to the whims of the will . The mindbecomes “clouded” and the body “is swept easily away bylusts” . With this nexus of effects visited upon the will,mind and body as a result of original sin, the topic ofconcupiscence is finally broached. According to moderntheologians, concupiscence is the effect of original sin onhuman nature, including the will, mind and body . In otherwords, original sin is the crime, and concupiscence is thepunishment. One should immediately point out, however, that thisdefinition is broader than what Augustine meant by the word”concupiscentia”. As Gerald Bonner points out,As a very general principle it may be said that when Augustine wishes to speak of lust in the sense of sexualdesire, libido and concupiscentia are virtually interchangeable; but when any other lust is mentioned … libido is the word used. This quotation would seem to indicate that the wordconcupiscentia is used by Augustine to refer only to sexuallust. This hypothesis is supported by the fact thatAugustine often uses the word concupiscentia in conjunctionwith the word carnalis, to indicate that he is indeedspeaking of fleshly or sexual desire . Thus, one must inferfrom this that it is only after Augustine that this term tookon a more general meaning. To review the conclusions reached in this chapter, oneshould first note that Augustine was preoccupied with theproblem of evil for much of his life. He was attracted bythe Manichees dualistic explanation, which made evil anindependent principle, and which saw the body as evil and thesoul as good. To the question of whether Augustine everreally gave up the belief that the body is evil, the answeris both yes and no. The answer is yes, in that Augustinebelieved that human nature, as created by a good God, isgood. Yet, original sin spoiled this nature, and thus thefree will which enabled human beings to become evil, becameitself weakened as a punishment for originally turningtowards evil. Thus, the will is weakened and thus the mindis clouded and the body is lustful on account of the whims ofthe will. Therefore, the answer to the question of whetherAugustine ever gave up his Manichee belief that the body isevil is also no, in that after original sin the body also wasinclined towards evil. Yet, one should note that thisteaching is different from the Manichee teaching, in thatAugustine felt that the will, mind and body were all inclinedtowards evil, whereas the Manichees saw the body as evil, andthe soul as good. The focus of this chapter has been thus toexplain the background concerning Augustine’s teaching onevil, coming in the end to an understanding of what is nowcalled concupiscence. The next chapter will begin byanalyzing the Augustinian conception of concupiscence inorder to discover what implications of it are defensible. After this, further implications of its defensible elementswill be drawn out. CHAPTER 2: AN ANALYSIS OF AUGUSTINIAN CONCUPISCENCETo examine more rigorously the modern conception ofconcupiscence which flows from Augustine, one should beginwith its underlying conception of evil. As was shown in theprevious chapter, Augustine’s definition of evil as privationis not without its problems. One major problem is that thisdefinition is, of itself, merely formal, and it tells onenothing about what particular actions are evil. Yet, if adefinition of evil is to have moral relevance, it must beable to identify particular instances of evil, especially asit is caused by and affects human beings. What such a definition might be will be discussedshortly. In the meantime, one should note that theAugustinian definition, implies that evil is a negation ofthat which is good. Evil is thus a turning away from God,who is for Augustine all-good . This makes evil coextensivewith sin. Sin is a religious concept, however, and thus isnot very useful, unless one is willing to accept whatreligious belief entails, namely that there is a God, andthat there is some standard by which one can determine whatconstitutes a turning away from God. Of course, not everyoneis willing to accept these entailments because of theirobvious and often stated philosophical problems. Therefore,a more inclusive definition of evil is needed in place of theAugustinian one. Another problem is that if one accepts Augustine’s viewin De Libero Arbitrio that the effects of original sin arefirst felt in the will, one is confronted with a majorinconsistency. If the will has been weakened as an effect oforiginal sin, then the freedom of the will is also weakened. In fact, according to the Augustinian view, the will isradically weakened, and therefore the extent to which thewill is free must be radically diminished. This is contraryto the whole spirit of Augustine’s work entitled The FreeChoice of the Will. Indeed, this fact leads to a majorincoherence, since for Augustine, as for most Christianmoralists after him, only freely chosen actions are morallyculpable or praiseworthy . Unfortunately, Augustine never fully appreciated thisinconsistency. He felt that, on account of these effects oforiginal sin, the only way one could perform good actions waswith the grace or help of God . In his earlier writings,particularly De Libero Arbitrio, he also allowed for thecooperation of the will in this endeavor, yet by the end ofhis life he was convinced that it was by the grace of Godalone that one could do good , which by his definition, wouldinvolve doing those things in accordance with the good, God. What this amounts to is a kind of religious occasionalism, inwhich God steps in at the occasion of human beings doing agood deed and enables them to carry their actions through. Putting this religious occasionalism aside, however, he neverrealized the inconsistency of holding, on the one hand, thatonly chosen actions are properly praised and blamed, and onthe other, that concupiscence radically diminishes thecapacity of the will to choose any action freely.One must now take stock of what remains of theAugustinian conception of concupiscence. Concupiscence, aswas stated in the first chapter, is the effect of originalsin on the will, mind and body. As has been said, theunderlying definition of evil as privation must be leftbehind because it is not sufficiently inclusive due to itsreligious implications. One should point out here that thesame is true of the part of the definition that deals withoriginal sin. Original sin is another religious concept thatcarries with it a lot of unneeded entailments. What is thenleft of the Augustinian definition of concupiscence? Nothing, it would seem, except possibly a very general claimthat concupiscence is an inclination toward evil. One might object here that this definition is so denudedas to be void of all content. This seemingly vapid claim,



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