Augustine against the academic doctrine, way of life, and use of philosophical writing.




Spano, John

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The recent literature on Augustine’s Contra Academicos stresses the philosophical, ethical, and literary elements of the text. However, these works neglect the polemical role of the dialogue as a response to Cicero’s Academic Skepticism. I offer a reading of the first of Augustine’s Cassiciacum dialogues, the Contra Academicos, that shows how his work can be read as a comprehensive rejection of the Academic philosophical life and doctrine as presented in Cicero’s dialogue, the Academica. To accomplish the goal, the work begins with an analysis of the doctrine in, way of life recommended by, and pedagogical function of Cicero’s Academica. The remaining chapters examine Augustine’s response to each of these elements of Cicero’s work. In Chapter Three I accentuate the philosophical importance of Augustine’s accusation that the Academics practiced a form of esotericism. This accusation, largely neglected, helps underscore Augustine’s rhetorical strategies to cultivate in his students an awareness of philosophical ironic discourse. Chapter Four focuses upon Augustine’s critique of the Academic way of life and the problems that arise from their insistence that all must seek wisdom yet be content with the inevitable impossibility of finding wisdom. Chapters Five and Six examine Augustine’s positive contributions to philosophical writing. Augustine rejects the Academic emphasis that wisdom must be sought by reason alone, suggesting that reason and authority are the twin means for that pursuit. The dual emphasis disallows Augustine from pedagogical uses of deception in the dialogue form, a subtle but important shift from other philosophical uses of this form of writing. By allowing reason and authority to guide one in the pursuit of wisdom, Augustine’s work also steers the reader away from the despair that Academic skepticism can so easily cultivate.