Philosophy 382: Mediaeval Philosophy

Assignment #1:

Augustine's City of God Book XIX.3-18, 24-8

Jamie Mellway

4B Physics and Philosophy



In the selection of City of God reprinted in Hyman and Walsh [Book XIX.3-18, 24-8], Augustine is discussing his two cities: the City of God and the City of the Damned. Specifically, he is discussing the teleological and political ends of his two cities, their corresponding virtues, and whether peace is possible in either. After showing that happiness is in vain within the City of the Damned, he shows that it is the citizens of the City of God who are happy and are at peace, in both here and in the afterlife.

The Ultimate Teleological Ends of The Two Cities [§§1-5]

The selection starts discussing the relation of the body and the soul in order to determine the teleological end of man. The City of the Damned (as represented by Varro) sees man as a combination of both body and soul and as such the teleological end of man consists in a combination of goods for the body and goods for the soul (including virtue). The City of God sees man as a soul that happens to have a body attached[2], and that what is good for man is good for the soul alone.

Besides using the nature of man to determine the teleological end, Augustine argues that any supposed "good" for the body or soul that is lacking virtue is necessarily not a good, as virtue-lacking "goods" are evil (in the sense of privation). Virtue is then a necessary condition for the good, and it will be sufficient only if the virtue comes from God.

Both ends are eudaemonistic in the sense that they are teleological and the stated end for each is happiness. In the ethic of the City of the Damned, happiness is happiness on earth. This happiness is not merely physical pleasure, but is a combination of pleasure and virtues. In the ethic of the City of God, happiness is the eternal bliss that is given by God to those souls that are subordinated to Him. This is not to say that the ethic of the City of God is egotistic; the happy life is social. This is not to say that the ethic of the City of God is egoistic; the happy life is social. The love of friends, family and neighbors is sought for its own sake as being its own good.

The ultimate good for the City of God is eternal life, and its corresponding ultimate evil is eternal death. In order to obtain the former and not the latter, man must live rightly. That is, man must live by faith. The ultimate good for the City of the Damned is to be happy in this worldly life and to get this happiness by their own efforts.

Personal Unhappiness in the City of the Damned [§§6-13]

Once the ends are stated, Augustine wants to show that the citizens in the City of the Damned are not happy at all. First, the happiness is at the mercy of accidents. Physical impairments can degrade their quality of life. Mental impairments to sensation and intelligence can also happen (e.g., one can become blind, deaf, or insane). These citizens are more susceptible to be corrupted by evil spirits as there are wholly dependent on corruptible sensation and intelligence. Furthermore, as these citizens attempt to satisfy bodily wants, they are conditioned by the intrinsic drives and impulses that can be responsible for evil acts.

A combined ethic of both body and soul has the problem that the two may be in conflict. For example, temperance and prudence are at odds with satisfying bodily wants without constraint.

The ability to stop oneself from giving into sin is not stopped by either temperance or prudence, but is a matter of justice. This is a problem for the citizens of the City of the Damned, as for Augustine, justice is determined by placing each man in the hierarchy of being and this is not part of the ethic of the City of the Damned.

Furthermore, the virtue of fortitude is not a part of their ethic. Instead of having the strength to endure pain and adversity with courage, they will commit suicide if the pain and adversity seems too great.

Augustine finds it inane that a happiness ethic can claim to achieve happiness if it normatively prescribes that its followers kill themselves and does not stop them from giving into the lust for sin—and this is even if the conflicts of prudence and temperance can be ironed out. Augustine believes that their life would be oppressed by evils and the exposure to the possibility of evils is such that they would by no means be happy. Moreover, virtues can only be genuinely within those who are pious, and the true way to happiness is through the hope and endurance for salvation.

Social Unhappiness in The City of the Damned [§§14-24]

Even though the philosophy of the City of the Damned believes that the wise man must be social, this social activity will also lead them into misery. Not only does extending the family increase the burdens of responsibility, but increase anxiety as now one has to worry even more that something will happen to them. Since they have no chance of being saved in the afterlife, death for them can only be a negative.

Peace within the family, within the City and among the world, is contingent on the belief that it is in people's best interest at the time. If that belief changes, then war within the family, City or world can easily return. Peace is merely a doubtful good.

The judicial system is not based on Augustinian justice, but it based on the uncertain knowledge of the judge. If the judge does not know whether some witness is guilty or not, he will resort to torture until they confess, and he will also use torture on innocent witnesses to force them to make false confessions. This, Augustine believes, is the way of the City as the judge's actions are necessarily based on his ignorance.

The philosophers of the City of the Damned also talk about "just" wars, but these wars can be evil in the sense that there are responses to an unjust situation. Hence, these "just" wars are promoting suffering and should be considered to be great evils—and by no means "just."

Even in peace, life is full of fear. If you compare the best situation in the City of the Damned to that of the eternal bliss of the City of God, then it would seem like misery. The happiness ethic of the City of the Damned seems to Augustine to lead to misery in the social realm as well.

Peace [§§25-50]

Peace for Augustine means ordered coexistence, and he wants to claim that everyone wants peace. The term `peace' is not merely regarding political situations, but also concerns the ordered coexistence of the body, soul, body & soul, and God & man.

The citizens of the City of God are interested in coexisting along the order of the hierarchy of being. The citizens of the City of the Damned are interest in coexisting along the order where they impose their own laws on those that they have conquered. War is needed in the City of the Damned when the order is to be changed, but that is all war is for. The order in the City of God does not change, albeit an individual's status along the order can vary. Since the order of the City of the Damned is not along the "proper" order (i.e. order of Being), the peace of the City of the Damned is unjust peace and does not deserve the name of peace at all.

The citizens of the two cities can coexist. While the citizens of the City of the Damned try to avoid death, they are showing their love for the harmony of the soul and body. This love for the harmony body and soul provides is a necessary condition for peace in rational soul, so gives the citizens a type of common ground to coexist. They also show an ordered harmony between knowledge and action, and since they have to take care of their household, they show an ordered agreement in the family. These show that while the order of the philosophy of the City of the Damned is off, there are some similarities as the citizens of the City of Peace must make use of earthly peace during their stay on earth.

On the other hand, it must be stressed that the order between the cities are different, and that the philosophers of the City of the Damned follow their own conjectures or were deceived by demons—and do not follow the word of God. So, while it is possible for the citizens of the two cities to coexist with each other in a limited way, they still are alienated from God which, by Augustine's account, makes them wretched and not to be trusted.

Fate of Those In The Two Cities [§§51-54]

While there is no complete peace on earth in the City of God, as one's position in the hierarchy of being can change, there will be complete peace when it is time to receive the eternal positive enjoyment of blessedness. Living this life means subordinating oneself to God for the sake of winning the gifts of immortality and incorruption. The benefits the citizens of the City of God receive on earth are, according to Augustine, merely a "solace of our wretchness" (p. 110) compared to eternal bliss.

In the City of the Damned, the citizens cannot have happiness on earth (as Augustine attempted to show earlier), and are doomed to eternal torment.

Augustine concludes, "we should seek to win the former and escape the latter" (p. 111).

[1] Besides our text Paul Vincent Spade's A Survey of Mediaeval Philosophy (Version 2, 1985, hard copy) and Frederick Copleston's A History of Philosophy (Volume II, 1993, New York: Imagine Books) were consulted.

[2] This point seems to be given in On the Customs of the Catholic Church I, 27, 52, PL 32, col. 1332: "Therefore, man, as he appears to man, is a rational, mortal and earthly soul using a body." Quoted from Spade V2, T3. On the other hand, this goes against the Christian doctrine that we have some sort of body in heaven.