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Relationship between St Augustine and Plato

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    Discuss the relationship between St. Augustine and Plato

    Great philosophers over time have shared ideas about their lifetime. There were no more captivating philosophers than Plato and Augustine who fed off one another. Even though they were born at different times, their ideas impacted the life they lived in and future lives. St. Augustine was a student of the wise Plato, who fed off his ideas and created his own form of philosophy. Plato on the other hand orbited the idea of the theory of forms which, later St. Augustine incorporated into his beliefs. St. Augustine used the notion of god to resemble his ideas, as well as Plato’s and a mix of Christianity to incorporate his own knowledge. The philosophical views, the ideas of good and god, and the ideas of truth and memory reflect the relationship between the two noble Philosophers St. Augustine and Plato and can be very easily seen in his writings.

    St. Augustine and Plato shared many similar thoughts, one of them being their philosophical views. Plato’s idea of the theory of recollection came from his teacher Socrates. Plato’s theory of claims is knowledge brought by the soul from someone in the previous life. Plato’s great teacher Socrates contends this point by using his idea of the theory of forms. He argues that from birth the minds gain information from the world, such as two equal items. However, according to Socrates his idea of equal is not compared to objects. Therefore, to him perception can be seen as senses or what you learn from birth. Equal on the other hand can’t be something everyone learns from birth. Socrates takes these perceptions and says “we must have possessed knowledge of the Equal itself if we were about to refer our sense perceptions of equal objects to it, and realized that all of them were eager to be like it, but were inferior.” (Phaedo 113) The ideas of equal and theory of forms have to do with good versus god. St. Augustine believed in god, where as Plato believed in the assumption of good.

    St. Augustine had many of the same general ideas as Plato. One of them being the idea of recollection which, St. Augustine described as memory. Plato’s philosophy had influenced St. Augustine very much in that he blended his and Plato’s ideas together. In his search for an answer to his memory question, St. Augustine approaches the concept of the letter “P.” Although he cannot see, smell, taste, touch, or hear ideas such as “P,” he “recognized them and assented to their truth.” (Confessions 189) Something that puzzled St. Augustine was how memory worked. He did not understand the concepts of skills, images, and even forgetfulness. Augustine is certain that he remembers forgetfulness itself, and yet forgetfulness destroys what we remember. (Fiero 43-46) Augustine’s last bit of effort-included information about memory assembles pieces of an eternal knowledge found deep in the soul. Which was later accessed by Thomas Aquinas who was a student of St. Augustine’s.

    The goal and search of truth is the main focal point to Plato’s desires of philosophy. , According to Plato, truth cannot be obtained through the five senses, but only through internal means of soul searching. “Philosophy persuades the soul to withdraw from the senses insofar as it is not compelled to use them and bids the soul to gather itself by itself.” (Phaedo 121) Augustine’s later beliefs are very similar revolving around the idea of God instead of Plato’s idea of good. Joy and everything good in the world revolves around god. Even those who do not pursue God, “their will remains drawn towards some image of this true joy.” (Fiero 101-102) Happiness is generally found in the joy of truth, yet many still try to find happiness through the senses and greed and lying. Unfortunately, Augustine felt horrible guilt and sin because of erotic images in his mind. Similar to Plato’s present that evil does not really exist, Augustine believes that wickedness is not a flaw in God’s creation, but instead a misdirection of human will to recognize God’s perfection. Augustine believed heavily in God and that all good things that happen to people surround the idea of god.

    Another similarity they both share is the position of life is really death. To them the afterlife is the heaven or paradise and earth is just preparing us to get there. Plato describes that life on earth is to prepare the soul for existence in the afterlife. Saint Augustine shares a similar view in that who knows where people and bodies came from. Did god create us or did we just magically show up. After people die they can leave their life on earth behind them and spend eternity with god. The free soul can go to heaven where his bodily desires will no longer impede his attempts at reaching the true joy of knowing God. Augustine’s views are enforced through Christ and Christianity. The time periods brought different perspectives Christianity was very powerful in the time of St. Augustine and was not around when Plato was alive. To Augustine, Christ was God in human form, and his death showed God’s infinite mercy, as it presented Christians with the fact that God is within reach.

    Both Plato and Augustine offer unusual conceptions of what one must acquire to live a truly happy life. While the conventional view of happiness normally pertains to wealth, financial stability, and material possessions, Plato and Augustine suggest that true happiness is rooted in something independent of objects or people. Though dissimilar in their notions of that actual root, each respective philosophy views the attaining of that happiness as a path, a direction. Plato’s philosophy revolves around the attainment of eternal knowledge and achieving a metaphysical balance. His main focus is on romantic and sexual love because he believes that is how you achieve full beauty or happiness. Augustine also emphasizes one’s knowing the eternal, though his focus is upon living in humility before God. Both assert that human beings possess a natural desire for true happiness, and it is only through a path to something interminable that they will satisfy this desire. He believes that all forms of love are good, but only so long as love of God is assigned to the first priority. Augustine’s main belief of achieving full happiness is through god, and everything will fall into place after that.

    Method and questioning are both two examples of different philosophical views between the two. Plato absorbed the knowledge for his teacher Socrates. He approached these two methods by using the Socratic method. The style does not directly give off information but asks questions to students to help them elaborate of the question. The Socratic method influenced Plato’s philosophical conclusions. Plato was very much about the idea of good. If you do good things on earth you will be rewarded in the next life. Augustine also based his idea of getting conclusions by questioning. He uses the idea of god once again to get his points across. His questions come from
    a confession, which is where you can go talk to god. He did this because confession was the ideal form of seeking truth. He also influenced that god does not speak from the heavens, instead, he sends angels to watch over people until they reach heaven. Augustine used this form of internal questioning as a general basis to his idea of confession. In Augustine’s book the confessions he asked himself many questions about life and the afterlife to better understand the whereabouts of god. By methods and questioning Augustine started making assumptions about god. He reaches conclusions about how he is formed, his idea of god’s memory and lastly god’s point of view of evil.

    Plato and Augustine shared dissimilar views on the role of philosophy as a means of comprehending the afterlife. In Plato’s famous book Phaedo, the dwelling place of the soul after death is a major topic of discussion. Plato formed a logical form of life after death. He used examples of sleeping and being awake, cold and hot, and talking and not talking. He used these examples because it showed that two things attract each other. He later made the assumption that if were alive on earth, then when were dead on heaven we are still alive. This argument from Plato establishes both the existence of reincarnation and the idea of afterlife. His view of afterlife is very different from Augustine’s in that the idea of reincarnation is a part of the after life. Plato believes that the actions or sins you create on earth affect your next life. Those who are good and do not sin are transformed into something good.

    On the other hand those who are bad and sin all the time are reincarnated into a wolf or something bad or mean. Augustine had a very different aspect on the life after death. He uses the idea of God instead of Plato’s form, which revolves around good. Augustine tried to study and understand god, but when you’re alive on earth you cannot do this because he couldn’t prove his existence. Although, after death the soul ascends to heaven and they’re the soul is in peace with god. However unlike Plato’s reincarnation idea, the soul is not sent back to earth to be reincarnated it stays with god for eternity.

    All great teachers were once great students. Plato was once a great student of Socrates who he owes a majority of his life to. Later down the years Augustine came along and became a student of Plato’s teachings. Augustine and Plato were both very brilliant philosophers maybe some of the best of our time. They had many different ideas ranging from the idea of good versus god and the idea of death. However, the relationship between the two is very visible in that they both share common similarities as philosophers.

    Fiero, Gloria K. Landmarks in Humanities. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2005. (Book)

    Augustine, Saint, Thomas Aquanas, E. B. Pusey, and William Benham. The Confessions of St. Augustine. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909. (Book)

    Plato, and David Gallop. Phaedo. Oxford Eng.: Clarendon, 1975. (Book)

    Malpas, J., “Donald Davidson”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = . (Internet)

    Wallin, Robert D. “AUGUSTINE AND PLATONISM.” AUGUSTINE AND PLATONISM. Cambrindge Latin Edition of Confessions, 1999. Web. 16 Oct. 2012. . (Internet)

    Portalié, Eugène. “Life of St. Augustine of Hippo.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 16 Oct. 2012 . (Internet)

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