In this topic from the OCR Religious Studies AS specification you will study Augustine's teachings about human nature. It would also be helpful for you to be able to refer to other contrasting theories concerning human nature such as the views of Sartre or Freud.
Augustine lived between 354 and 430 CE. His father was a pagan but his mother was a Christian and he had been exposed to Christian ideas from an early age. However, he was not baptised a Christian until 387 CE after he had been involved first with the Manichee sect and later with neo-Platonism. Both Manicheanism and neo-Platonism were condemned as hereseys (false teaching) by the Catholic Church and in later life Augustine wrote books which explicitly opposed these ideas. That said, some scholars believed that they had a lasting influence on Augustine's beliefs.
As a boy Augustine was a gifted student and was sent to the university at Carthage where he discovered great classical scholars like Cicero whose work he credited with igniting his love of philosophy. When he had finished his own studies he became a teacher, first at Carthage and then in Milan.
However, despite his intellectual prowess, as a young man he was not a model student. According to his own reports he lived a wild life and in adolescence 'ran wild with lust'. He also remembered lying to teachers and parents, stealing pears just for the fun of doing something forbidden and being conceited about his own abilities. A key idea in understanding Augustine's teaching about human nature is his own disgust at his inability to do what he knew he ought to do.
After Augustine's conversion and baptism he returned to North Africa where he became first a priest and then bishop of Hippo. He spent the rest of his life writing prolifically and caring for the spiritual needs of his parish.
There are several important figures in Augustine's life. His mother Monica first introduced him to Christian ideas and opposed his forays into Manicheanism. St Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, first showed Augustine a more inellectual and philosophical version of Christianity that Augustine found appealing. His concubine (whom he never names) lived with him for thirteen years and had a son by him. When Augustine was forced to dismiss her to make a socially acceptable marriage he compared the separation to a festering wound.
Many factors in Augustine's life may have had an impact upon his theological ideas. These possible influences include:
You may be able to identify other factors that you think might help to explain his theological views. You can use this contextual knowledge to add depth to your 'explain' essays.
Augustine's starting point for his account of the relationship between men and women is the story of the creation and Fall found in Genesis 2-3.
In Genesis 2: 18 God says “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” From this Augustine concludes that Eve is made to be Adam's helper. He further deduces that her primary role must be procreation as (in his view) a male companion would be better for every other task. Better for physical labour (stronger) better for conversation (more in common).
This is important because it means that sex has always been a part of God's plan. In Genesis 1 the creation of human beings is followed by the instruction to 'Go forth and multiply'. This view is different to the views of many of Augustine's contemporaries who argued that Adam and Eve did not have a sexual relationship until after the Fall. Augustine believed that they did have sex but that in the prelapsarian state sex would have been a rational act based on love in which the genitalia would be under the control of the mind rather than motivated by lust. Adam and Eve were companions - friends - and sex was one aspect of that rather than the motivation for their relationship.
However, although there were friends and intended to help one another Augustine did believe that there was a God-given hierarchy in which the woman was subordinate to the man. (The Bible also explicitly refers to the woman's subordination to her husband in the household codes where they are told to 'obey' their husband and in Paul's letter to the church at Corinth in which he tells women to keep their head covered as a symbol of their subordination.) This is not to say that woman need be viewed as less valuable or less in God's image. A possible analogy for this (though not one that Augustine used) is the relationship between parents and child. Both are equally important but it is still natural for the parent to rule.
The Fall involved a subversion of the God-given order:
Augustine interprets the punishment given to Eve as including both a reiteration of and an increase in her subordinate status. Rather than obeying man voluntarily out of love (as in the traditional marriage vows) he is to become her master.
For Augustine, marriage was the closest that a couple could get to the pre-Fall relationship between Adam and Eve. In marriage men and women relate together as friends, sex could occur for the procreation of children (its original purpose) and woman could obey out of love.
For Christians, the rational soul (which is often identified with the mind) is supposed to be the spiritual part of a human. Augustine makes it quite clear that in his view both body and soul are created by God (something denied by the Manicheans who saw physical matter as an evil force distracting the pure soul). As both body and soul come from God, both are good and both are an essential part of what it is to be human.
Just as Augustine believed that God had intended the man to obey God and woman to obey both God and man he also thought that God intended there to be a hierarchy between body and soul. The soul, being rational, moral and capable of understanding was to be the ruler of the body. He compares it to the rider of a horse steering the more animalistic instincts of the body and guiding a person along a sensible course of action.
Moreover, it is the soul that makes it possible for us to have free will.
Whilst the soul should be part that is in control, Augustine also thought that the body was also essential as the vehicle for the soul. It enabled humans to interact with the physical world, to learn through senses and to carry out the all important command to procreate. Augustine compared it to physical frame of a lantern which carried the flame (the soul).
To be human is to have both and although body and soul are distinct from each other they work together.
As the 'middleman' in the God-soul-body hierarchy the soul has two functions. It has an obedient function which is concerned with obeying the things above it (God for man, God and man for woman). The soul must be capable of understanding the instructions (e.g. moral commands) given by God. It also has a 'deliberative' function. To deliberate is to think about and choose between different courses of action. It is the decision making part of the mind. As Augustine believed that men and women had been assigned different roles by God he also believed that the deliberative soul would have a slightly different role in each. For woman, her deliberative soul had to make decisions about her role as mother and all the other duties associated with that. Whereas man's deliberative soul was concerned with ruling the earth in God's stead.
Although Augustine rejected his Manichean and neo-Platonist beliefs he does seem to sometimes think of the body in terms of something that drags down the soul. However, he explicitly denied that the body was anything other than good (it did after all come from God) and he explained that it was not the body itself, but the corruptibility of the body that caused it to be a burden on the rational soul.
Augustine had a life-long interest in sin and had been attracted to the Manichee sect partly due to its apparent ability to provide a credible explanation for why people sin.
To Augustine sin presented a logical problem, one he summed in Book 7 of his Confessions:
Essentially his question was why do humans have the potential to sin if they are made by a good God? Even children, he believed, seemed to come into the world with a predisposition to sin as he knew from his own youthful indiscretions.
He was also troubled by a second problem. If we don't actually want to sin why do we do it? He had been taught that we sin out of our own free will, but in his experience this did not seem to be the case.
Augustine came to believe that God created humans good but with free will. If someone is to have genuine free will then the must have a real possibility of choice. If God had created humans who always chose to do good then they would not have real free will. Augustine believed that evil was a lack of the good that God intended for the world. In other words, it was a falling short of God's standards. A traditional way of explaining this is to say that just as darkness is an absence of light so evil is no more than an absence of good.
This theory explained how a good God could create a world that had sin in it but did not full account for why humans seemed so prone to sin. Nor did if fully explain why humans seem to sin against their will.
To explain this paradox Augustine developed the idea of concupiscence. For Augustine, the Fall was not just an example of individuals falling short of good. He believed that the Fall left lasting damage on human nature. The soul's rebellion against God caused a rebellion of the body against the mind. This meant that in the postlapsarian state every human from then on would be born with rebellion (concupiscence) at the heart of their being.
For Augustine, the prime example of this was to be found in the case of sex. Whereas in the prelapsarian state sex was a rational act done at the bidding of the mind, since the Fall the body ruled. Augustine cites as proof the fact that the sexual organs can both be active when the mind does not want them to be and passive when the mind wants the opposite. For this reason, the genitalia act as a constant reminder of humanities sinful rebellion and become 'pudenda' - parts of shame. The lust inherent in all sexual activity would ensure that concupiscence continued to be passed on from one generation to the next as all people are born as a direct result of sin.
Pelagius was a British monk who argued that humans did have genuine free will which meant that he rejected the idea that we are born with an inclination to sin. He argued that:
Pelagius' views were condemned in 418 CE at the Council of Carthage. The council reiterated Augustine's view including the belief that sin is inherited, babies must be baptised to rid them of original sin and humans can only be good with the help of the grace of God.
The Second Vatican Council published a document on Human Nature in 1965. It affirms that since the Fall 'man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. Indeed, man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, that everyone feels as though he is bound by chains. But the Lord Himself came to free and strengthen man, renewing him inwardly...for sin has diminished man, blocking his path to fulfillment.'
Sartre was an existentialist French philosopher. He argued that there is no such thing as human nature. We all have the capacity to make our own essence through the choices we make. He encouraged people to make choices in 'good faith', that is, to make choices that are genuinely their own. To do the opposite is to allow other people's expectations of the views of society to affect our choice and by doing so live in 'bad faith'.
The motto of existentialism is 'existence precedes essence'.
Feminists like Simone de Beauvoire were very influenced by the idea of existentialism and rejected gender stereotypes.
To a certain extent Augustine's account of human nature seems to describe human nature accurately. Many people would share his experience of wanting to do one thing and yet doing another. His belief that 'bodily' desires can overthrow common sense also seems to perhaps fit with our experience of nature.
However, a big problem with Augustine's view is that it seems to be fairly firmly founded in some outdated ideas. Specifically:
So how damaging are these criticisms? Fundamentalists would of course have no problem with dismissing the first as irrelevant; in their view creation happened as the Bible records it and if science says otherwise then science is wrong. As for the second, it is certainly possible to argue that there are some reasons to believe in the soul (moral conscience, near death experiences).
Alternatively, one could argue that Augustine's theories are not necessarily based on a literal understanding of these ideas. His account of human nature could be understood as a psychologically accurate account of the experience of being human even if the metaphysics under-pinning it is removed.
As Pelagius pointed out, the doctrine of Original Sin can present a theological and moral problem. It would be unfair of God to punish people if they have inherited a nature that inclines them towards sin.
Psychological experiments like the Milgram experiment and the Stamford prison experiment could be used to help explain why people do bad things.
Evidence from the Milgram experiment suggests that rather than being naturally rebellious people are actually predisposed to do as they are told by authority figures. They will obey orders even when it involves harming others and even when it goes against their own initial moral instincts.
The data from the Stamford Prison Experiment could suggest that some people are inclined to abuse power and authority and to harm others if they can. Around a third of those given the role of guards in the original experiment appeared to enjoy harming the prisoners. A further third of the guards were actively kindly towards the prisoners. The remaining third played by the rules and neither deliberately harmed prisoners nor went out of their way to be kind.
Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Augustine here. Detailed but read-able and contains hyperlinks to other related issues.
Summary of some of the points made in the Pelagius/Augustine debate here.
Interesting BBC article on why people do bad things here.
Milgram experiment here
Stanford Prison experiment here.
Extracts from Augustine's Confessions here. Short and accessible (and cheap) primary text material. Gives you a real feel for Augustine's work. Kindle version available.