Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Augustine's Confessions: Philosophy in Autobiography

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Augustine's Confessions: Philosophy in Autobiography

Article excerpt

Augustine's Confessions: Philosophy in Autobiography. Edited by William E. Mann. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. xiv + 223 pp. Cloth, $65.00--The eight essays comprising this slim volume make a welcome contribution to our understanding of the philosophical context of and elements in Augustine's Confessions. The soul's ascent (chapter one), practical rationality (chapter two), happiness (chapter three), Augustine's aporetic method (chapter four), mind (chapter five), time (chapter six), scriptural interpretation and multivocity (chapter seven), and matter (chapter eight) form the respective themes. As such, the collection elucidates the philosophical aspects of Augustine's work, without, however, problematizing the genre itself and the extent to which the Confessions can be considered autobiography in the first place. There is, moreover, a tendency to abstract philosophical themes and/or issues from Augustine's Christian understanding. Thus Peter King concludes that "Augustinian ascent and Neoplatonic ascent are entirely different enterprises," and Thomas Ekenberg points out that Augustine's "conversion is not so much a voluntary act of his own as something done to him," resulting in the assertion that for Augustine "the will is not Augustine's own, and so is in a very fundamental way distinct from, and wholly independent of, his reason and his emotions." For Nicholas Wolterstorff, the realization that even after his conversion, "Augustine remains as miserable as ever," is not only a "surprise," but is "indeed a shock."

These are all issues that Augustine scholars have dealt with for centuries, as are time, hermeneutics, imagination, and creatio ex nihilo, though here they are approached without any real discussion of historiographical background or reflection on the work of previous scholars. Thought provoking they are, but as perhaps is of necessity in all such collections of essays, the book as such does not make an overarching argument, and the unifying factor is the focus on the Confessions and an abstract philosophical treatment. Thus Paul Helm demonstrates that Augustine's understanding of time cannot be described in H. D. …

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