Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Reason and Authority

 

I have a new book on Reason, Authority, and the Healing of Desire in the Writings of Augustine. What exactly are reason and authority? Let’s talk about that. Ok, not really. Let’s just overview what Augustine thinks.

We might define reason as rational belief and trust in authority as irrational belief—perhaps as having nothing to do with rationality, or maybe as in tension or conflict with it. But this is way off. Augustine explains that it’s rational to trust the testimony of authority. It is necessary for life, and even those who most protest against trust-based systems of belief readily trust their parents’ claim to being their parents, the claims of geographers about distant cities, and the claims of historians about ancient people.

We might even go so far as to suggest that reason is merely the operating of our minds in a rational manner in order to know the truth; we could further define trust in authority as one of reason’s necessary operations. This is closer to Augustine, but still not quite right. He emphasizes the distinction between reason and authority, not their sameness.

So what are they?

Reason is understanding, and authority is that which we trust.

To understand and to trust are two complementary ways of believing the truth. Authority gives us access to truth when we are not able to understand it. It gives us the truth that a thing is even if we cannot comprehend its essence. Reason goes beyond authority in giving us the ability to understand that essence.

Take one of Augustine’s examples, parentage, in light of modern science. By simply trusting his parents, a child may have a true belief about who they are. But through a study of biology and genetics, along with running a DNA test, he may come to understand this fact through reason and know it without relying solely on authority.

Augustine’s early writings suggest that faith accepts the mysteries of Christian theology, while the practices of the philosophers give us a way of growing towards an understanding of God and the soul.

Homeboy ain’t gonna write one book in which he relies on authority and another relying on reason. Both reason and authority are concerned with much of the same topics. When Augustine treats a particular topic he will employ whichever method seems to him best suited to the topic, to his own abilities, or to the abilities of his audience. One book relies, for the most part, on reason and another on authority; we can’t say much more than this.

The thesis of my book is that Augustine has a Platonically informed yet distinctively Christian theology of desire both in his texts relying mainly on reason and in his texts relying mainly on authority. I’ve worked out this simple strategy for mapping a cross-section of Augustine’s books:

Topic –>

Method

Apologetics

Ethics

The Problem of Evil

God and the Soul

Reason

De Vera Religione

On the True Religion

De Natura Boni

On the Nature of the Good

De Libero Arbitrio

On the Free Choice of the Will

De Magistro

On the Teacher

Authority

De Utilitate Credendi

On the Usefulness of Believing

De Bono Coniugali

On the Good of Marriage

Enchiridion

Enchiridion / Handbook

Confessiones

Confessions

As for desire, maybe more later. For now, here’s a link to a short post on THE MUCH, MUCH BIGGER CONVERSATION ON DESIRE that Augustine is a part of.

This post is drawn from the Introduction to Reason, Authority, and the Healing of Desire in the Writings of Augustine. The whole book comes out in February. Here’s an early look at the back cover:

There are 55 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Is this written in African Latin?

    • #1
    • December 30, 2019, at 4:30 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  2. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Is this written in African Latin?

    Pig-Latin.

    • #2
    • December 30, 2019, at 4:33 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  3. Mark Camp Member

    Thanks, Saint. This will keep me busy for a while. I am hoping it will keep my mind off praxeology for a spell.

    I did get a head start by reading the first dozen or so assertions. So far I agree with all of your answers to those questions to which I’ve already thought up answers, and some are new ideas to me, which is the whole point of bothering with writing a book and going through the paperwork to get it published.

    • #3
    • December 30, 2019, at 4:53 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Thanks, Saint. This will keep me busy for a while. I am hoping it will keep my mind off praxeology for a spell.

    I did get a head start by reading the first dozen or so assertions. So far I agree with all of your answers to those questions to which I’ve already thought up answers, and some are new ideas to me, which is the whole point of bothering with writing a book and going through the paperwork to get it published.

    Sorry. Which assertions are you reading exactly?

    • #4
    • December 30, 2019, at 5:15 PM PST
    • Like
  5. Clavius Thatcher

    Will there be a Kindle edition?

    And “Homeboy?”

    • #5
    • December 30, 2019, at 5:25 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Will there be a Kindle edition?

    And “Homeboy?”

    I think there will be, eventually.

    Yes, Augustine is my homeboy.

    • #6
    • December 30, 2019, at 5:27 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  7. Arahant Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Will there be a Kindle edition?

    And “Homeboy?”

    I think there will be, eventually.

    Yes, Augustine is my homeboy.

    Are you from Hippo?

    • #7
    • December 30, 2019, at 5:40 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  8. Mark Camp Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Thanks, Saint. This will keep me busy for a while. I am hoping it will keep my mind off praxeology for a spell.

    I did get a head start by reading the first dozen or so assertions. So far I agree with all of your answers to those questions to which I’ve already thought up answers, and some are new ideas to me, which is the whole point of bothering with writing a book and going through the paperwork to get it published.

    Sorry. Which assertions are you reading exactly?

    They started with these five.

    1. We might define reason as rational belief and trust in authority as irrational belief—perhaps as having nothing to do with rationality, or maybe as in tension or conflict with it.
    2. But this is way off.
    3. [Augustine explains that] it’s rational to trust the testimony of authority.
    4. It is necessary for life, and…
    5. …even those who most protest against trust-based systems of belief readily trust their parents’ claim to being their parents, the claims of geographers about distant cities, and the claims of historians about ancient people.

    There were more after that, but you really just need to read the book for yourself, and I think you will agree with me.

    • #8
    • December 30, 2019, at 5:43 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Thanks, Saint. This will keep me busy for a while. I am hoping it will keep my mind off praxeology for a spell.

    I did get a head start by reading the first dozen or so assertions. So far I agree with all of your answers to those questions to which I’ve already thought up answers, and some are new ideas to me, which is the whole point of bothering with writing a book and going through the paperwork to get it published.

    Sorry. Which assertions are you reading exactly?

    They started with these five.

    . . .

    Oh, the ones right here. Jolly good!

    • #9
    • December 30, 2019, at 5:45 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  10. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge

    How would you explain or define the theology of desire? (That is an interesting interplay of words.)

    • #10
    • December 30, 2019, at 6:00 PM PST
    • 1 like
  11. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    How would you explain or define the theology of desire? (That is an interesting interplay of words.)

    To define it briefly, theology of desire is theological teachings on the subject of desire. And in Augustine there is particular attention to what’s gone wrong with desire, how it leads to unhappiness, and how we can fix it.

    To explain it briefly, I’d suggest the earlier post on desire.

    • #11
    • December 30, 2019, at 6:09 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Saint Augustine: To understand and to trust are two complementary ways of believing the truth. Authority gives us access to truth when we are not able to understand it. It gives us the truth that a thing is even if we cannot comprehend its essence. Reason goes beyond authority in giving us the ability to understand that essence.

    A quibble:

    Authority also gives us access to truth that we cannot easily verify ourselves. I have not conducted Millikan’s oil drop experiment. I probably know almost enough to make a start of it, but it would cost money, take time, and make a mess. (Mrs. Millikan: “Bob? Bob! There’s oil covering everything in the kitchen! I’d like to know who is going to clean this mess up!”Or, I could just look up the electrical charge on an electron in the CRC Handbook, and take it on faith that

    1. Millikan conducted the experiment
    2. Someone has since corrected his having used an inaccurate value for the viscosity of air
    3. The good people who safeguard the contents of the Handbook wrote down the correct value
    4. The printer didn’t accidentally transpose anything

    (Gee. There’s a lot of faith involved in science.)

    If you had to start all over again from first principles, you’d never get anything done.

    • #12
    • December 30, 2019, at 6:21 PM PST
    • 10 likes
  13. Clavius Thatcher

    Percival (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine: To understand and to trust are two complementary ways of believing the truth. Authority gives us access to truth when we are not able to understand it. It gives us the truth that a thing is even if we cannot comprehend its essence. Reason goes beyond authority in giving us the ability to understand that essence.

    A quibble:

    Authority also gives us access to truth that we cannot easily verify ourselves. I have not conducted Millikan’s oil drop experiment. I probably know almost enough to make a start of it, but it would cost money, take time, and make a mess. (Mrs. Millikan: “Bob? Bob! There’s oil covering everything in the kitchen! I’d like to know who is going to clean this mess up!”) Or, I could just look up the electrical charge on an electron in the CRC Handbook, and take it on faith that

    1. Millikan conducted the experiment
    2. Someone has since corrected his having used an inaccurate value for the viscosity of air
    3. The good people who safeguard the contents of the Handbook wrote down the correct value
    4. The printer didn’t accidentally transpose anything

    (Gee. There’s a lot of faith involved in science.)

    If you had to start all over again from first principles, you’d never get anything done.

    We need to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. The giants of prior scholarly work.

    • #13
    • December 30, 2019, at 6:24 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  14. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Will there be a Kindle edition?

    And “Homeboy?”

    I think there will be, eventually.

    Yes, Augustine is my homeboy.

    Are you from Hippo?

    It’s called “Annaba” now. Personally, I prefer “Bône .”

    • #14
    • December 30, 2019, at 6:25 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Percival (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine: To understand and to trust are two complementary ways of believing the truth. Authority gives us access to truth when we are not able to understand it. It gives us the truth that a thing is even if we cannot comprehend its essence. Reason goes beyond authority in giving us the ability to understand that essence.

    A quibble:

    Authority also gives us access to truth that we cannot easily verify ourselves. I have not conducted Millikan’s oil drop experiment. I probably know almost enough to make a start of it, but it would cost money, take time, and make a mess. (Mrs. Millikan: “Bob? Bob! There’s oil covering everything in the kitchen! I’d like to know who is going to clean this mess up!”) Or, I could just look up the electrical charge on an electron in the CRC Handbook, and take it on faith that

    1. Millikan conducted the experiment
    2. Someone has since corrected his having used an inaccurate value for the viscosity of air
    3. The good people who safeguard the contents of the Handbook wrote down the correct value
    4. The printer didn’t accidentally transpose anything

    (Gee. There’s a lot of faith involved in science.)

    If you had to start all over again from first principles, you’d never get anything done.

    Right on, right on.

    Very Augustinian.

    • #15
    • December 30, 2019, at 6:26 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  16. Arahant Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Will there be a Kindle edition?

    And “Homeboy?”

    I think there will be, eventually.

    Yes, Augustine is my homeboy.

    Are you from Hippo?

    It’s called “Annaba” now. Personally, I prefer “Bône .”

    Kids these days. Have newfangled names for everything.

    • #16
    • December 30, 2019, at 6:29 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  17. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Will there be a Kindle edition?

    And “Homeboy?”

    I think there will be, eventually.

    Yes, Augustine is my homeboy.

    Are you from Hippo?

    I’m sorry. No witty comebacks are available at this time. Please try again later.

    • #17
    • December 30, 2019, at 7:22 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  18. Arahant Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    I’m sorry. No witty comebacks are available at this time. Please try again later.

    But that is a witty comeback.

    • #18
    • December 31, 2019, at 2:15 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  19. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    I’m sorry. No witty comebacks are available at this time. Please try again later.

    But that is a witty comeback.

    Darn.

    • #19
    • December 31, 2019, at 2:17 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  20. Mark Camp Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Thanks, Saint. This will keep me busy for a while. I am hoping it will keep my mind off praxeology for a spell.

    I did get a head start by reading the first dozen or so assertions. So far I agree with all of your answers to those questions to which I’ve already thought up answers, and some are new ideas to me, which is the whole point of bothering with writing a book and going through the paperwork to get it published.

    Sorry. Which assertions are you reading exactly?

    They started with these five.

    . . .

    Oh, the ones right here. Jolly good!

    [SMILE] Some folks can’t tell when I’m joking, when they can’t see my face. Glad you aren’t one of them.

    • #20
    • December 31, 2019, at 4:35 AM PST
    • 1 like
  21. J Climacus Member

    Augustine, do you read Walker Percy? He’s got some interesting things to say about reason and authority, especially in The Message In the Bottle.

    Also, where do you put City of God with respect to your mapping?

    Fascinating post.

    • #21
    • December 31, 2019, at 4:35 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  22. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Augustine, do you read Walker Percy? He’s got some interesting things to say about reason and authority, especially in The Message In the Bottle.

    Also, where do you put City of God with respect to your mapping?

    Fascinating post.

    Thank you.

    As the cupbearer said to the Pharaoh in, I believe, the 1984 NIV, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings.” No, I don’t.

    I ain’t studied City of G-d properly. But if I had to pick just one of these columns, it’s probably ethics; second choice defense of the faith. But it’s so big; I know it covers the problem of evil; it probably covers everything.

    If I had to pick one row, probably authority.

    • #22
    • December 31, 2019, at 4:52 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  23. J Climacus Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Augustine, do you read Walker Percy? He’s got some interesting things to say about reason and authority, especially in The Message In the Bottle.

    Also, where do you put City of God with respect to your mapping?

    Fascinating post.

    Thank you.

    As the cupbearer said to the Pharaoh in, I believe, the 1984 NIV, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings.” No, I don’t.

    I ain’t studied City of G-d properly. But if I had to pick just one of these columns, it’s probably ethics; second choice defense of the faith. But it’s so big; I know it covers the problem of evil; it probably covers everything.

    If I had to pick one row, probably authority.

    I’m no expert on it either… I was thinking it would fall in the “reason” category for the reasons you give, it’s a defense of the faith and the target audience is skeptics as well as believers. But it’s a monumental book with many dimensions.

    • #23
    • December 31, 2019, at 5:21 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  24. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Augustine, do you read Walker Percy? He’s got some interesting things to say about reason and authority, especially in The Message In the Bottle.

    Also, where do you put City of God with respect to your mapping?

    Fascinating post.

    Thank you.

    As the cupbearer said to the Pharaoh in, I believe, the 1984 NIV, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings.” No, I don’t.

    I ain’t studied City of G-d properly. But if I had to pick just one of these columns, it’s probably ethics; second choice defense of the faith. But it’s so big; I know it covers the problem of evil; it probably covers everything.

    If I had to pick one row, probably authority.

    I’m no expert on it either… I was thinking it would fall in the “reason” category for the reasons you give, it’s a defense of the faith and the target audience is skeptics as well as believers. But it’s a monumental book with many dimensions.

    Yeah, you might be right about the weighting! And that two-audience thing sure does happen. It’s an aspect of Natura Boni.

    • #24
    • December 31, 2019, at 5:54 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  25. Spin Inactive
    SpinJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Saint Augustine: We might define reason as rational belief and trust in authority as irrational belief

    I feel like this is perhaps a strawman. I’ve never heard anyone say that trust in authority is irrational. Not in any general sense. They may consider trust in a specific authority to be irrational. But that is because they have preconcieved ideas about that particular authority, and they’ve already rationalized the irrationality.

    • #25
    • December 31, 2019, at 7:17 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  26. Mark Camp Member

    Spin (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine: We might define reason as rational belief and trust in authority as irrational belief

    I feel like this is perhaps a strawman. I’ve never heard anyone say that trust in authority is irrational. Not in any general sense. They may consider trust in a specific authority to be irrational. But that is because they have preconcieved ideas about that particular authority, and they’ve already rationalized the irrationality.

    I don’t have the same impression–just the opposite. It appears to me that “Trust in authority is irrational” is in fact a pillar of the catechism of the dominant religion of the masses of the liberal democracies since the 1920s.

    That Godless faith was invented by the Progressivists, who gained significant power in the US around 1900, and became dominant there around the time of World War I. The Progressivists have indoctrinated the common people in it since then, with increasing skill. The purpose of this “dogma of impudence” is to supplant the unsuccessful theory that violent revolution must be the first action of the communists in the destruction of the bourgeois society. 

    So, it didn’t start in the 1960’s with “Don’t Trust Anyone over Thirty”.

    Just one man’s opinion.

     

    • #26
    • December 31, 2019, at 7:59 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  27. Spin Inactive
    SpinJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    It appears to me that “Trust in authority is irrational” is in fact a pillar of the catechism of the dominant religion of the masses of the liberal democracies since the 1920s.

    I guess we need to be sure we agree on two things:

    What does “trust in authority” mean? In this context, it is trusting that something is true because people who know better than you say it is true. Most people agree that this is rational, generally speaking. As Percival quotes above, we apply this to science all the time. It is only in specific contexts that someone begins to disagree. Usually that context is an athiest talking about religious authority. Anyway do you agree to my definition?

    Second, what is the “catechism of the dominant religion of the masses of liberal democracies”? What is that religion?

     

    • #27
    • December 31, 2019, at 9:42 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  28. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Spin (View Comment):

    What does “trust in authority” mean? In this context, it is trusting that something is true because people who know better than you say it is true. Most people agree that this is rational, generally speaking. As Percival quotes above, we apply this to science all the time. It is only in specific contexts that someone begins to disagree. Usually that context is an athiest talking about religious authority. Anyway do you agree to my definition?

    Pretty much.

    Second, what is the “catechism of the dominant religion of the masses of liberal democracies”? What is that religion?

    Government as Divine Providence.

    • #28
    • December 31, 2019, at 10:08 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  29. Washington78 Coolidge

    I found your post very interesting. I’ve thought a lot about why I believe what I believe. Some of these ideas (regarding God, faith, etcetera) I got from reading Augustine or from other writers (many evangelical Anglicans, some Presbyterians and some Catholics) who were Augustinian in their theology. I came of age at a time (1970s and 1980s) when belief in God was in the air. Unbelief was around, but it was on the defensive. Now it is different. There is a sense of skepticism about or–more commonly–simple ignorance of the faith (whether in its Catholic or Protestant forms). I find myself wondering “Why do I believe?”

    Why do we believe anything? Certainly our own experience shapes our beliefs. But so does authority. I was taught to believe in God from my earliest years. I was taught to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the savior of the world. I was taught the basics of morality–treating others as I want to be treated and the Ten Commandments. I did believe these things at some level and I believed them because I trusted those who told me these things were so and because these things made sense to me.

    I went from being a Catholic child to being an Evangelical Anglican Protestant young man–later returning to the Catholic fold; but my fundamental understanding of God and Christ has not changed. Trust in authority makes sense to me–because most of what I know and believe in every area of life is based on trust–not proof. As I think Bishop Barron remarked in his talk on Cardinal Newman, absolute certainty is something we don’t usually get in this world. In the Christian life, God makes himself known to us in ways that are beyond scientific proofs, yet understandable and credible to those who experience him.

    Recently I was having a discussion with someone about the Trump impeachment. I realized that what I thought about the situation was not based on first-hand knowledge, but rather on information received from people I trusted to give me the truth. The mainstream media has in many ways shown me that trusting what they say would be unwise.

    We depend on authority and trust to function in this world–but we need to have some authority we can trust.

     

     

     

     

    • #29
    • December 31, 2019, at 12:53 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  30. Jim Beck Member

    Afternoon Aug,

    Congrats. Thinking about tradition, authority, taboo, sacred, do you think these areas are woven together or are rather discrete? Also do you think recognition of authority encourages humility, on the flip side seeking of reason leads to pride. Or specifically, when one demands that, all choice should be based on reason, one is asking too much.

    • #30
    • December 31, 2019, at 12:56 PM PST
    • 3 likes

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