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Augustine Confessions

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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Response paper of Confessions

Augustine outlines his sinful youth and his conversion to Christianity in Confessions, which is almost the earliest autobiography with deeply philosophical and theological thinking. He gives accounts of his faults to God genuinely and praises God with authenticity, along which he takes the chance to think about the origin of sins. In Book I, he narrates his observation on a little baby to explain that even very young children have the tendency of being selfish, when “he could not yet speak and, pale with jealousy and bitterness, glared at his brother sharing his mother’s milk.” It seems that the tendency towards self over others is rooted within our instinct. However, the selfishness during childhood is unthinking and is usually tolerated by people because “with coming of age it will pass away.” That is, when human enter early adolescence, they gradually gain the ability to understand what’s right or wrong and to ponder sin like adults do. While, it’s quite interesting that Augustine uses his story of stealing pears with peers to illustrate the fact that even if when human beings have clear knowledge of wrongdoing, they may still have those sinful behaviors possibly for some satisfactions. He states in Confessions: “wickedness filled me,” and “my desire was to enjoy not what I sought by stealing but merely the excitement of thieving and the doing of what was wrong.” (Book II) This thought by Augustine indicates that not only sin is rooted in our nature, but also the impulse of desiring for wickedness hides underneath. Though with the constraint by ethics, it may still be somewhat hard for people to realize self-control, as what Augustine narrates past self that “I loved the self-destruction and I loved my fall.” Later on, through talking about other life experiences after becoming an adult, Augustine genuinely elaborate all faults he has made and all sins he has done. He threads his praises to God into the description of his life story, meanwhile, he writes in-depth discussion of the origin of sins. From Plato’s theory in Symposium, we understand that people are only pursuing and desiring what they consider as goodness. Because of this agreement, including Augustine can’t help to examine what exactly makes us follow the evil. Based on Plato’s logic, if one wants to sin, it’s either because one mistakenly consider it as good, or because it has some good part covering the evil core, which he/she accidentally ignores. Yet, in Augustine’s case, the sin is not out of desire for a specific good thing, but instead out of the satisfaction of transgression. Hence, Plato’s theory can’t be used to explain Augustine’s sin, as he reiterates that the pears he steal are not “tempting either for its color of for its flavor” and the boys know that they are hard and indigestible, but for the simple joy of violating the rules. If we interpret this kind of desire with in-depth thinking, it’s easy to understand that breaking the law indicates the intention of being the one who is no longer being constrained by any law. However, breaking rules for the sake of disobedience is an inversion of the desire for God. Before Augustine realizing his love and respect for God, his desire is not to follow the God; because when he wants to break rules simply for the sake of breaking them, what he really desires is to experience the feeling of making rules, as what God does. However, if we reach the conclusion that sin is rooted within us from the day we were born, and essentially human beings have the desire of indulging self and sins, the salvation by God seems to be impossible. I’m somewhat confused because these two theories contradict each other. I am wondering if people like Augustine realize evil in self due to the salvation by God, or because they managed to get rid the control of self-conscience. I guess further readings may help to explain this problem.

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