Augustine (354–430) handout #1 – On Free Choice of Will, Book 1

Augustine (354–430) handout #1 – On Free Choice of Will, Book 1
Phil 201 – Dr. Tobias Hoffmann
Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will, trans. Th. Williams, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993.
Q. Is God the cause of evil? (Books 1–3, pp. 1ff.)
A. God does no [moral] evil, but he punishes the wicked and thus causes the evil of punishment. When people do evil, they are the cause of their own evildoing (1.1, p. 1).
Q. Did we learn how to sin (i. e. to do evil)? (1.1, p. 1)
A. Learning is good, therefore we do not learn evil (1.1, pp. 1–3)
Q. What is the source of our evildoing? Can we trace back our sins to God? – If the sins come from our
souls, and our souls come from God, do our sins indirectly come from God? (1.2, pp. 3–28; Books 2–3)
Q. What is evildoing? (1.3, pp. 4–28)
A. (Preliminary answer:) evildoing is inordinate desire (= cupidity) (1.3, pp. 5–6). Inordinate desire is
“the love of those things that one can lose against one’s will” (1.4, p. 8).
Q. Is all evildoing due to inordinate desire? For instance, when you kill someone, is this due to
inordinate desire? (1.4, p. 7) Can you kill someone out of self-defense? (1.5, p. 8)
Q. By which criteria can we decide when killing is allowed and when not?
A. This is established by the law (1.5, p. 8).
There are two laws: the eternal law and the temporal law (1.6, pp. 11–12, 24–28). Both laws are
good (“an unjust law is no law at all”, 1.5, p. 8). Both guarantee a perfect order (“live perfectly!”).
Q. What does it mean to live perfectly, according to both laws? (1.7, p. 12)
Q. Do we merely live (like animals) or do we also know that we are alive (i. e.: do we have
reason)? (1.7, p. 12).
A. Humans possess reason, animals do not. Thus humans have the possibility to not
merely live, but to live with reason and understanding. Not only do we live, but we can
live well.
A. Consequently, humans live well when the impulses of the soul [emotions, passions, desires, fears, angers] are guided by reason (1.8, p. 14).
If reason rules, the person is wise, if not, he is a fool. Human wisdom consists in the rule
of the mind (1.9, pp. 15–16). It is possible, that the mind does not rule (1.10, p. 16).
Q. How is it possible that the mind does not rule? How can inordinate desire overpower
the mind? (1.10, p. 16)
A. “The conclusions that we have reached thus far indicate that a mind that is in control,
one that possesses virtue, cannot be made slave to inordinate desire by anything equal
or superior to it, because such a thing would be just, or by anything inferior to it, because such a thing would be too weak. Just one possibility remains: only its own will
and free choice can make the mind a companion of cupidity.” (1.11, p. 17)
Q. How is this free choice possible? (1.12, p. 18).
Q. Do we have a [free] will? Do we have a good will? (1.12, pp. 19ff.)
Q. What is a good will?
A. “It is a will by which we desire to live upright and honorable lives and to
attain the highest wisdom.” A good will is worth more than wealth or
honor or physical pleasures. (1.12, p. 19).
A. It is in the will’s own power to be good or bad. Thus it is up to us whether we
are good or bad, and whether we desire things that we can lose (power,
wealth, pleasure, 1.12, p. 20) or that we cannot lose (a good will and the virtues, 1.13, pp. 20–21, cf. 1.5, p. 9).
Q. [Does a good will provide a happy life?]
A. A good will allows us to have the virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance
and justice; possessing these virtues makes our life happy (1.13, pp. 20–22).
Therefore, it lies in our own will’s power to be happy or not (1.13, p. 22).
Q. If this is so, why doesn’t everyone attain a happy life? (1.14, pp. 23f.)
A. It is not enough to will to be happy, but you must will it in the right way –
you must deserve happiness (“merit”) (1.14, p. 23).
Q. How do these considerations about the will relate to the law? (1.15, p. 24)
A. Those who love eternal things (and thus are happy) live under the eternal law, while those
who love temporal things (and thus are unhappy) live under the temporal law (1.15,
p. 25).
A. Evildoing is neglecting eternal things and pursuing temporal things (1.16, p. 27).
A. “[W]e do evil by the free choice of our will.” (1.16, p. 27).
The Eternal and the Temporal Law (Book 1, sections 5–6 & 15–16, pp. 8–12 & 24–28)
Eternal law
Temporal law(s)
unchangeable [and it is valid everywhere]
“it the law according to which it is just
that all things be perfectly ordered”
is stamped upon our minds (1.6, p. 11)
commands that the soul should be ruled
by reason (1.8, p. 14)
Example: “Human life may not be endangered”
can change [and is different in different
determined by human beings (the people, the magistrates etc.)
must be derived from the eternal law,
i.e. it must be in accord with eternal law,
and in accord with reason
must be just (p. 8)
preserves peace & human society (p. 25)
Example: “Speed limit = 65mph.
Eternal law: perfect order of all
things. General command: “live perfectly” (do the good, avoid evil)
Temporal law: live perfectly
by obeying the laws of your
Life under the eternal law
those who love eternal things (a good
will and the virtues)
happy life
it commands to “purify your love by
turning it away from temporal things
and toward what is eternal”
driving force: love.
Life under the temporal law
Good use of temporal things
“We should not find fault with silver and
gold because of the greedy, or food because of gluttons, or wine because of
drunkards, or womanly beauty because of
fornicators and adulterers, and so on, especially since you know that fire can be used
to heal and bread to poison.” (1.15, p. 26)
those who love temporal things
unhappy life
it commands to possess temporal things
in such a way that peace and human society are preserved: body, freedom (as
having no human masters), parents /
siblings / spouse / friends, city, property
driving force: fear (of punishment, i. e.
taking away some temporal goods).
Bad use of temporal things
“Someone who uses them [i. e. the temporal
goods] badly clings to them and becomes
entangled with them. He serves things that
ought to serve him, fixing on goods that he
cannot even use properly because he is not
himself good.” (1.15, p. 26)