The Aporetic Augustine

Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 78:23-39 (2004)
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Abstract

Augustine was undeniably a dogmatic thinker, but he also had an “aporetic side” which makes him more relevant to Christian philosophers today than isgenerally recognized. Augustine’s first experience of reading philosophy came from Cicero’s Hortensius, from which Augustine gained an appreciation for philosophical scepticism which he never lost. Thus, in all of his works and in all periods of his life, Augustine’s characteristic way of doing philosophy is aporetic, rather than either systematic or speculative. Paradoxically, Augustine’s faith in the truth of Holy Scripture and Church Doctrine gave him a freedom to explore theological and philosophical conundra and, if he could not resolve them, admit frankly that he could not do so. Like Socrates, Augustine was wise partly because he admitted to being puzzled about things that others took for granted. Some of the perplexities which occupied him are: the nature of time; whether it is possible to show someone what walking is if one is already walking; whether one is responsible for what one does in one’s dreams; whether one can think about sadness or pleasure by having an image of it in one’s mind, but without experiencing any sadness or pleasure in the thought, and how one can want something that he does not believe to be good.

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