Augustine's Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist

Augustine's Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist

Augustine's Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist

Augustine's Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist

Synopsis

In this book, Phillip Cary argues that Augustine invented the concept of the self as a private inner space-a space into which one can enter and in which one can find God. Although it has often been suggested that Augustine in some way inaugurated the Western tradition of inwardness, this is the first study to pinpoint what was new about Augustine's philosophy of inwardness and situate it within a narrative of his intellectual development and his relationship to the Platonist tradition. Augustine invents the inner self, Cary argues, in order to solve a particular conceptual problem. Augustine is attracted to the Neoplatonist inward turn, which located God within the soul, yet remains loyal to the orthodox Catholic teaching that the soul is not divine. He combines the two emphases by urging us to turn "in then up"--to enter the inner world of the self before gazing at the divine Light above the human mind. Cary situates Augustine's idea of the self historically in both the Platonist and the Christian traditions. The concept of private inner self, he shows, is a development within the history of the Platonist concept of intelligibility or intellectual vision, which establishes a kind of kinship between the human intellect and the divine things it sees. Though not the only Platonist in the Christian tradition, Augustine stands out for his devotion to this concept of intelligibility and his willingness to apply it even to God. This leads him to downplay the doctrine that God is incomprehensible, as he is convinced that it is natural for the mind's eye, when cleansed of sin, to see and understand God. In describing Augustine's invention of the inner self, Cary's fascinating book sheds new light on Augustine's life and thought, and shows how Augustine's position developed into the more orthodox Augustine we know from his later writings.

Excerpt

There are varieties of inwardness, so it is important to know which one is being investigated in this book. My concern here is with the concept of self as private inner space or inner world -- a whole dimension of being that is our very own, and roomy enough that we can in some sense turn into it and enter it, or look within and find things there. This, I take it, is the deepest and most thoroughgoing form of inwardness; other forms shall be of interest in this investigation only insofar as they lead up to it. In this regard all roads lead to Augustine: the thesis I argue here is that he invented the concept of private inner space. The argument for this thesis consists of two narratives: one telling of the tradition of philosophy upon which Augustine drew (part I) and the other of the development of Augusfine's own thought (part II). The aim is to watch the concept of private inner self as it is under construction: to discern its Platonist philosophical foundations, its Christian theological connections, its memorable metaphorical texture, and the motives that led to its being constructed in the first place.

The inwardness being tracked down in this book is a concept, a way of thinking about the human self, and therefore an element in human self-understanding. As such it has worked its way deeply into the intellectual heritage of the West and therefore into the experience of Western individuals, many of whom have experienced themselves as inner selves. But the focus of investigation here is the concept, not the experience. Without the concept, people would describe their experiences differently, and there would be no phenomenon of inwardness to track down in the texts. Moreover, as I hope to make clear from the texts, this concept did not arise directly out of experience, as if it was the expression of some deeper, inarticulate feeling. Rather, it is the product of highly articulate philosophical inquiry, arising in a quite definite theological context in order to solve quite specific conceptual problems.

Its use in technical philosophical discourse is the reason why the concept of a private inner space is something more than a metaphor. The inner space of the self is of course not literally "inner" like the space inside a box. It is not literally a space at all and therefore not "inner" in a spatial sense. This is a new, incorporeal sense of "inner," associated specifically with the soul rather than the body, which begins as a metaphor and becomes estab-

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