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Augustine's Thoughts On Free Will Essay

1010 words - 5 pages

One thing that philosophers are great at is asking big questions, usually without providing answers. However, Saint Augustine has a more direct approach to his speculation, often offering a solution to the questions he poses. One such topic he broached in The City of God against the pagans. In this text, Augustine addresses the problem of free will and extends his own viewpoint. Stating that humankind can have free will with an omniscient God, he clarifies by defining foreknowledge, free will, and how they can interact successfully together (Augustine, 198). Throughout his argument, he builds a compelling case with minimal leaps of faith, disregarding, of course, that you must believe in God. He first illustrates the problem of free will, that it is an ongoing questions amongst many philosophers, then provides insight into the difference between fate and foreknowledge, finally finishing his argument with a thorough walk-through on how God can know everything, and yet not affect your future decisions.
Before we dive into what Augustine has to say about free will, we must first understand what the problem is. In The HarperCollins Dictionary of Philosophy, the problem of free will is defined as:
“If all human actions are caused, then how can concepts found in our everyday experience such as blame, responsibility, duty. . . be made meaningful?. . . If God has complete foreknowledge of everything that will happen, and is also omnipotent, then God must have organized all things to happen the way in which God has foreknowledge that they will happen” (Angeles, 115-116)
What this quote says, is that how can we possibly be responsible for our own actions if God knows what we are going to do anyways, and if God does know everything we are going to do, we can't conceivably have 'free-will'.
Now, Augustine starts by first explaining the difference between our conceptions of fate and foreknowledge. Fate, to Augustine, is, “. . .customarily used by those who speak of it in connexion[sic] with the position of the stars when someone is conceived or born. . .” (Augustine, 201). In other words, fate is an empty and meaningless explanation for things we don't understand, and look to the stars for understanding. This is nothing like foreknowledge, which is just absolute knowledge of the future, whatever it may be, but is most definitely not the cause of what will be (198). In Augustine's eyes, this is what God has, the ability to see, not necessarily to cause. There are some arguments against this, which I will address further on.
Now that we have defined fate, let us turn to why Augustine thinks we have a free will. In his train of thought, he uses the Stoic's philosophy of necessity (204). By necessity, they are referring to, “. . .that which is not in our power but which does what it can even when we are unwilling. . .”(204). Because we are constantly subject to necessity, such as death...

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