Quote of the Day: Augustine on Stoic Happiness

“And I am at a loss to understand how the Stoic philosophers can presume to say that these are no ills, though at the same time they allow the wise man to commit suicide and pass out of this life if they become so grievous that he cannot or ought not to endure them. But such is the stupid pride of these men who fancy that the supreme good can be found in this life, and that they can become happy by their own resources, that their wise man, or at least the man whom they fancifully depict as such, is always happy, even though he become blind, deaf, dumb, mutilated, racked with pains, or suffer any conceivable calamity such as may compel him to make away with himself; and they are not ashamed to call the life that is beset with these evils happy. O happy life, which seeks the aid of death to end it? If it is happy, let the wise man remain in it; but if these ills drive him out of it, in what sense is it happy? Or how can they say that these are not evils which conquer the virtue of fortitude, and force it not only to yield, but so to rave that it in one breath calls life happy and recommends it to be given up? For who is so blind as not to see that if it were happy it would not be fled from? And if they say we should flee from it on account of the infirmities that beset it, why then do they not lower their pride and acknowledge that it is miserable?”

“…As, therefore, we are saved, so we are made happy by hope.  And as we do not as yet possess a present, but look for a future salvation, so is it with our happiness, and this “with patience;” for we are encompassed with evils, which we ought patiently to endure, until we come to the ineffable enjoyment of unmixed good; for there shall be no longer anything to endure.  Salvation, such as it shall be in the world to come, shall itself be our final happiness.  And this happiness these philosophers refuse to believe in, because they do not see it, and attempt to fabricate for themselves a happiness in this life, based upon a virtue which is as deceitful as it is proud.

City of God, Book XIX, Chapter 4

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Sunday Meditations & Devotions

Today’s meditation comes from the pen of none other than the Archbishop of Hippo Saint Augustine (354 – 430 AD).

…I have no fear of the arguments of the Academics. They say, “Suppose you are mistaken?” I reply, “If I am mistaken, I exist.” A non-existent being cannot be mistaken; therefore I must exist, if I am mistaken.   Then since my being mistaken proves that I exist, how can I be mistaken in thinking that I exist, seeing      that my mistake establishes my existence? Since therefore I must exist in order to be mistaken, then even            if I am mistaken, there can be no doubt that I am not mistaken in my knowledge that I exist. It follows that     I am not mistaken in knowing that I know. For just as I know that I exist, I also know that I know. And        when I am glad of those two facts, I can add the fact of that gladness to the things I know, as a fact of     equal worth. For I am not mistaken about the fact of my gladness, since I am not mistaken about the       things which I love. Even if there were illusory, it would still be a fact that I love the illusions. (CG 11.27)

“Suppose you are mistaken?” is what we have called the “Skeptical Thesis” (ST) in other posts. For those with a skeptical outlook the ST represents the universal trump card. The reason is we have all experienced instances where we have been mistaken about certain beliefs. The problem with ST is because I have been wrong about some things ST assumes that I can be wrong of all things. It follows the argument:

A1

 I am sometimes wrong

Therefore I am always wrong

Or to put it another way:

A2

X is sometimes Y

Therefore X is always Y

We can model this argument:

A3

The Seahawks sometimes win the Super Bowl

Therefore the Seahawks always win the Super Bowl

The problem with the ST is it wants to doubt whether we can have knowledge at all. What Augustine is demonstrating is because I have been wrong about some things doesn’t mean I’m always wrong about all things. Moreover, for Augustine it is important for him to be able to say with certainty that he exists, that he knows he exists, and that he is glad of it.  To know is important to Augustine because at the end of the day Augustine’s ultimate desire is to know God and the soul (SO 2.7). This is important for Augustine as he refers to the Septuagint translation of Isaiah “Unless you believe, you shall not understand.”  

 

Quote of the Day: St. Augustine On Stoic Happiness

“And I am at a loss to understand how the Stoic philosophers can presume to say that these are no ills, though at the same time they allow the wise man to commit suicide and pass out of this life if they become so grievous that he cannot or ought not to endure them. But such is the stupid pride of these men who fancy that the supreme good can be found in this life, and that they can become happy by their own resources, that their wise man, or at least the man whom they fancifully depict as such, is always happy, even though he become blind, deaf, dumb, mutilated, racked with pains, or suffer any conceivable calamity such as may compel him to make away with himself; and they are not ashamed to call the life that is beset with these evils happy. O happy life, which seeks the aid of death to end it? If it is happy, let the wise man remain in it; but if these ills drive him out of it, in what sense is it happy? Or how can they say that these are not evils which conquer the virtue of fortitude, and force it not only to yield, but so to rave that it in one breath calls life happy and recommends it to be given up? For who is so blind as not to see that if it were happy it would not be fled from? And if they say we should flee from it on account of the infirmities that beset it, why then do they not lower their pride and acknowledge that it is miserable?”