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Two Questions Augustine Doesn’t Answer

For my Philosophy of Religion course, we read the first book of Augustine’s “The Problem of Free Choice”. I posted the following response to the course discussion:

In St. Augustine’s dialogue on the question of “Where does evil come from?”, he appears to leave the two most important questions unanswered.

First, the principal question of the dialogue is, “If sins go back to souls created by God, how can we not trace sin back to God?”. (Pontifex, 38) Augustine provides clear answers to a number of great questions, including what sin is, what happiness is, how the will relates to happiness, and why some men are necessarily unhappy, but he doesn’t answer the question of whether the cause of man’s unhappiness is God himself. At the end of the first book, Evodius reminds Augustine of the problem that remains, saying, “I want to know whether free choice ought to have been given us by Him who created us.” Unfortunately, Augustine doesn’t give us an answer.

Second, one crucial question in the development of Augustine’s argument is, “Do you think that passion is more powerful than mind?” (Pontifex, 55). The entire discussion hinges on this question, for if passion can have greater influence on a man than his mind (i.e. Reason), then his will cannot be free to choose that life which is necessary for happiness. The answer Augustine gives is, “I do not think so.”, obviously not giving this question the same level of attention he gives to others.

Despite so many excellent arguments throughout the discussion, these two questions are left unanswered. Augustine says that the first question will be addressed in subsequent discussions, but the neglect to answer the second question convincingly leaves a weak link in his chain of arguments.

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