St. Augustine


The Neo-Augustinian Philosophy


 

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THE AUGUSTINIAN TRADITION

 

The Philosophical Strategy

Western culture dates from the time of the Emperor Charlemagne around 800 CE. At that time the knowledge resources of the Eastern Mediterranean cultures and the Moslem world far exceeded those of the West. Charlemagne assembled a small group of scholars drawn from his domains and from Britain , and gathered the few available books. From these small beginnings the culture was able by 1000CE to open schools attached to the cathedrals and by 1200CE to begin the foundation of the universities. Within a further 600 years the technology of the Industrial Revolution was changing the world.

Western culture has been dynamic and progressive, but it is not, of course, the only significant culture in the world, and it has been inspired and guided by other cultures. An approach to knowledge issues from the standpoint of world citizenship  has to face the problem that there is no world culture. The nearest approximation to a world culture is the currently dominant Western culture and to use that as the cultural background, which is unavoidable, may have the unintentional effect of appearing to devalue the insights of all other cultures. The solution adopted to this problem is that reliance on the processes of criticism and progress will lead to the creation of an epistemological platform which is common to humanity.

The website offers a theory of the human mind or intellect covering its creation, structure and functions and defines its  relationship to human behaviour. A theory of Culture  is also offered  which defines a culture in terms of the successes and failures of problem solving at the individual level.    Since human behaviour is determined  by the  culture and the intellect it follows that these structures  may be investigated by the study of behaviour.

 Victorine Schema

Western culture has consistently preferred the materialist world view over the rationalist or idealist position. The fundamental claim of materialism is that life is a chance by-product of physical processes, and human inquiry and knowledge are always constrained by physical possibilities. The result has been a long-running and continuing conflict between materialism and rationalism. The Augustinian Abbey of St.Victor, Paris, attempted, in the 13th century,  to reconcile the two methodologies but their solution was generally ignored.

The materialist attitude has led to the conclusion that anything which has no physical characteristics cannot be known.  For example, a Victorian physician is on record as stating that he had conducted many post-mortems and had never found any evidence for the existence of a soul. The materialist conclusion is that the soul is a fantastic concept. The same methods and reasoning can be applied to human consciousness, ideas,  and even to God Himself.

This conclusion leads to a denial of the possibility of mental, emotional, and spiritual experiences, and even to consciousness, which conflicts with common individual experience of these matters.  A  rational understanding of the human experience  must include those problems which do not have any obvious physical characteristics. Materialism is the natural view of an immature and unsophisticated culture and rationalism is the  methodology employed in the search for meaning.  

Neo-Augustinianism is the philosophical  response of the religious tradition,  made necessary by the philosophical debates of the 12th and 13th centuries. Experience of the world and rational thinking are the two main influences  on  neo-Augustinianism.

 The Oxford Franciscans;

Robert Grosseteste (1175-1255)  Regent master and chancellor of Oxford was the first master to the Franciscan school at Oxford and later Bishop of Lincoln (1253-55). The Franciscan outlook is generally regarded  as Augustinian. His scientific system inaugurated a school of science and Western science is the creation of Augustinianism.  Grosseteste  and his followers made Oxford the great centre of science during the thirteenth and part of the fourteenth centuries. Oxford learning placed foremost emphasis on scientific and mathematical studies. Without science knowledge was regarded as impossible. Mathematics was seen as essential to understanding nature.    

Augustinianism transformed theology into a fully fledged science with its own laws and methods. All knowledge was seen as dependent on revealed truth. The fundamental principles of Augustinian theology were that all wisdom lies outside the sensible world and can only come to believers; Truth is love and love is supernatural;  Knowledge of the truth is wisdom.

Augustinian influence on the development of human knowledge must include the contribution of Gregor Mendel, abbot of the Augustinian monastery of St.Thomas.  Mendel proposed  the Theory of Genetic Inheritance as the explanation of the reproductive processes of life.

 Epistemology as a  Science;

The aim of Augustinian philosophy was the discovery of universal  laws governing or regulating human thought, seen as Epistemology.

Epistemology is a science and the search for relevant facts is  a scientific  problem. Philosophical conclusions are ultimately dependent on the findings of science. In the field of Epistemology Philosophy’s task is to define  what  problems need to be addressed and what facts are required, and Science’s task is to organise itself to find that information.   However, any denial of mental experience including general experience such as individual consciousness cannot be accepted as scientific. A scientific theory of the intellect, including the psychological dimension in which it exists, is offered as a framework for research. 

 

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THE NEO-AUGUSTINIAN WORLD VIEW

Augustinian Knowledge of God

Divine illumination was the hallmark of Augustinian thought.  Knowledge of pure truth, first principles, and of God, are dependent on divine illumination.

 Development  System

In the Augustinian world view the world is seen as a Development System designed  to guide and accelerate the  personal and intellectual development of humanity. Matter is a means of development of intellects and cultures and its role is to offer a set of problems which must be solved if development is to be achieved.

Self-creation and Free choice

Life on Earth gives individuals the opportunity to learn and to choose.  In a free society the individual is his or her own creation, and its culture is also a free creation. The basic choice has always been between good and evil but there are choices with regard to problems to be solved.  Individuals may choose what they want know, their values and the sort of society they want, their life partners, and their occupations in life.

Cultures may choose strategies which aim at improving the human condition and the creation of  knowledge useful to the objectives of better cultures. However, since cultures are the most immediate environments of intellects they should also be able to protect the weak from the powerful and the irresponsible.  Well-designed cultural institutions are necessary to make society work.

Subjective and objective knowledge

Plato thought that the governors of humanity should be philosopher- kings but history records that his attempts to implement the idea nearly cost him his life. Philosophers are not always practical and theory is not a valid substitute for experience. Rational Scientific objective knowledge is the Augustinian version in which the rulers of humanity may be guided by the best knowledge available in lieu of philosophers’ advice.

 Knowledge in Western Culture has evolved from the basic tenets as given by St.Augustine. In its first encounter with the West  that knowledge was forced to come to terms with a thoroughly materialist philosophical outlook  and certain ideas acquired a dual interpretation, one rationalist and the other materialist. The duality was the consequence of the need to communicate with a community which had only a limited philosophical understanding.

One such duality concerned the human relationship to God. The early Christians were perfectly comfortable with the idea that humanity has its existence in God. This was restated in the materialist culture as the independent existence of  Man as matter with God as remote in the heavens. Isaac Newton who was possibly the greatest theologian of his time, in addition to being the leading scientist, was in no doubt of the kinship of God and Man.

The distinction between Philosophy and Science follows the differences between rational thought and experience, and accepts the epistemological  rule of the Augustinian house of St.Victor, Paris , that experience provides the basic facts and the task of rational thinking is to make sense of it. Philosophical problem solutions need the support of scientific methodology.

 

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THE EPISTEMOLOGICAL THEORY

Until Mendel published his Theory of Genetics physical development processes were mainly outside the scope of human interference.  Mental development has always been within the range of human capabilities but  Prehistory describes long  periods of stasis in the development of knowledge.

Understanding and knowledge govern human behaviour but behaviour patterns in early communities do not seem to have changed in progressive ways.  As an example, a  group occupied a territory for 50,000 years and, on the available historical evidence, they did little or nothing to improve their situation throughout the whole period.  In modern times the same group has been shown to be intelligent and capable of learning new ideas and new ways of living. How can this stagnation have happened?

Kenneth Clarke, in his television series entitled “Civilisation” gives his view that people in early times just did not believe that anything could be changed. Starvation and disease were accepted has the inevitable conditions of life. When it was realised that problems were not given by God, and something could be done about them the world began to change for the better. The beliefs that human condition can be improved and that humanity is capable of achieving improvement are fundamental to the Augustinian philosophy and epistemology.

Neo-Augustinian knowledge theory begins with problems and seeks solutions based on creative problem-solving. The basic methodology is given by the problem and solution formula, which may be applied  to both philosophy and science. The problem is initially defined by philosophy and is investigated by scientific method.

The problems which may be addressed include

*the World View;  including creation and evolution;

*the Theory of Subjective and Objective Knowledge; including The Theory of  Cultures

* The Theory of the Human Mind as Intellect and Understanding   including a rational explanation of human behaviour based on  the organisation and functioning of the human mind .

Revelation  

The Revelation of God and God’s Acts, in the basic Augustinian formulation, is subjective.  It is open to every individual to evolve, through the Inner Light, a personal  world view which is the consequence of  his or her own investigation of Divine Purposes and Acts. 

The same can be said about cosmic reality.  Every individual is at liberty to study the field of physical science. Most people will not. They have other things to do. The problems are commonly  left to specialists to find answers. Most intellects are amalgams of personal  and group solutions to meaningful problems.

Revelation in the Augustinian understanding is the specialists’ view  of God’s Purposes and Acts and is given in Theology.

Theology concerns itself with humanity’s relationship to God, and it is not required to define, for example, how creation occurs. Evolution in time is just as valid as instantaneous creation. As a science Theology is obliged to give even-handed consideration to the findings of other sciences.

A frequent problem  resulting from group solutions to general problems is that they take the appearance of Holy Writ which can never be varied or even doubted. Progress in knowledge becomes impossible. St.Augustine was well aware of the problem.  The Augustinian understanding is open to human experience and is fully able to assimilate better knowledge. Here, the conditions are  that the better knowledge must have survived the confrontation with the tests of experience and must have produced the benefits required by the purposes driving the need for the better theory.

 The Account of Problems and Solutions

The unit of experience is the problem. Problems of experience beset human beings throughout their lives. The solving of problems has the benefit that the individual gains solutions in the form of understandings. Knowledge is the true understanding of experience. The behaviour that follows from knowledge is that most likely to achieve the objectives of the individual.

 There is a problem solving method which, if carefully applied, will always give true solutions to the problems of the intellect, the formula being;-

PROBLEM…>PROBLEM SOLVING METHOD…>SOLUTION = UNDERSTANDING

The solution to a real problem, based on a model of reality, is an understanding. As an understanding it is annexed to the database of understandings which is the intellect. The intellect is the compendium of understandings achieved by the individual in his or her lifetime. Since experience is the basis of understanding, the intellect is the sum total of everything that has been learned by the individual from experience.

Reality is the explanation for the origin of experience. Analysis of experience reveals differences which allow classification. Experience may be arranged into five classes. These are the physical, cultural, moral, spiritual, and intellectual. Since reality is the origin of experience, it is more than the physical environment. Scientific epistemological theory sees five subdivisions of reality, adding to the physical reality, the culture, the moral universe, the religious reality, and the universe of intellects and thought.

The Account of the Intellect and Understanding

The individual human mind comprises the intellect and the intellect support system. The intellect is defined as the set of understandings, functioning under the direction of an intelligence.

The individual acts according to his understanding and purposes.  The successful achievement of purposes depends on the correctness of the understanding, and correct understandings are knowledge. 

The Understanding as Knowledge

Knowledge is the true understanding of reality and gives the power to solve human problems. Knowledge is the consequence of the correct execution of the problem solving method applied to the problems of experience and the behaviours required by knowledge are those most likely to be successful.

Culture and Science

The culture is the set of solutions to the common problems of the group. If the culture is based on knowledge then education will be based on knowledge. Knowledge, whether culturally given or personally achieved, empowers the individual.

Objective knowledge is the power to solve the problems of the culture.  If intellectual understandings drive individual behaviour objective cultural understandings drive the behaviour of societies. True understanding, which is knowledge, leads to the best and most effective societies.

The Intellect Support System

The intellect support system is defined as the  set of psychological processes supporting the interface of the intellect with reality. The psychological processes are defined to show how understanding and knowledge are achieved.

New Ideas and Solutions;

 Karl Popper offered ‘best guessing’ as a possible explanation of the problem of the genesis of new ideas but this is unsatisfactory.   Albert Einstein traced the origins of his Theory of Relativity to the imagination, and this is shown to be the source of all new ideas, true and false.

Truth is achieved by method. The psychological processes  are controlled by the employment of the correct methods. The imagination is controlled by the questions that are asked, and the questions are related to problems which occur in experience.

The Augustinian Theory of Knowledge, coupled with the Theory of the individual Intellect, is shown as capable of reaching knowledge of God, and the revelation of God which explains the purposes and works of God.

No certain proof is offered to any proposition. Certain objective knowledge is a form of perfection that can still only occur in dreams. Successful achievement of cultural purposes is the best that can be achieved. However, further consideration shows that the methodology is creative and represents humanity’s contribution to ongoing Creation.

Certain subjective knowledge is possible but this is a decision that only the individual can make. Reliance on rational scientific method must be balanced against the difficulties of independent criticism.

The founders of Western Culture in  800CE would be astounded and almost certainly incredulous if they could be informed of the progress of the culture in 1200 years.  A recital of the details of that progress covering achievements such as medicine, electronics, and aeronautics might sound to them  like magic. It is, however,  the result of growing confidence in human intellectual powers, creative thinking and hard work. Creating a better world through knowledge, starting from the present, would take far less than 1200 years.

 

Author:  Derek Seckington  derekseckington@augustinianknowledge.com    

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