Ep. 19 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis: Augustine and Aquinas



my notes

  • Plotinus integrates mystical experiences and rational argumentation
  • Plotinus: 270 AD. After that Roman Empire going into decline.
  • Augustine brings triangle of Christianity, Neo-platonism and gnosticism together.


  • Roman
  • Attracted to Manicanism (sp?)
    • Gnostic religion
    • Picked up on a lot of the same kinds of ideas, machinery in which we are emeshed as creatures of light.
    • Promises to address Augustine’s own personal loss of agency
    • World that is darkening around them
  • Ideas of evil and evil powers and structures very salient to Augustine
  • Suffers personally:
    • Inner conflict
    • Sex addict: “I was always licking the open sore of lust”
    • Self-loathing, loss of agency
    • Struggles to find a way to get free from his own personal inner conflict and degradation
    • Wants an answer to evil in the world
  • The Confessions:
    • story: when young broke into courtyard and stole some fruit. Didn’t even want the fruit. Simply because it was the wrong thing to do. Something in him dragging him down.
  • Teaches rhetoric, philosophy
  • Reads Plotinus: very high opinion of him
  • Plato, and Plotinus: Augustine sees a different world view, gets it.
  • Mystical experience while reading Plotinus: ascent up to the one. Rises through levels of reality, but can’t hold it, can’t stay there.
  • Darkness grabs him, pulls him back down. Wants something to pull him up. The evil within him too strong.
  • Hole in being, sucking the light away
  • Rebound effect of despair
  • Now the place you’re in is so much worse because been in the light and know incapable of staying there.
  • Mother is a Christian. Hears a child’s voice say “take up and read”, sees bible and reads Paul
  • Affinity to Paul, sees same inner conflict, sees a worldview that makes sense of that inner conflict.
  • Insight: Plato and Plotinus saying driven by love of becoming one, within, and becoming one with what is most real: Love
  • Love for what real, good and beautiful
  • At heart of reason is Love: his capacity to love is damaged
  • That’s why he thinks he has his sexual addiction.
  • Needs something that can heal.
  • Love within reason that can help grow beyond reason
  • How do we grow in love? Agape: participating in Agape
  • Grow in the love driving us to become persons
  • Neoplatonism needs Christianity: healing that gnosticism looking for found within Christianity
  • Perspectival and participatory way: auto-biography. Existential manual.
  • What we have in Augustine:
    • Nomological Order: Aristotilian worldview: geoconformity, geocentric worldview, the two things in attunement
    • Plotinus: normative order: how can move in coordinated fashion from what is less real to what is more real.
    • Less real: has less oneness, less integration, makes less sense.
    • When destroy something take away its structural functional organization
    • As go downward things are fragmenting. Less Eidos, less form, less intelligible, more pure chaos
    • Losing truth, losing goodness, losing beauty, losing what makes things to be sensible and intelligible: that’s evil

( Hmmm, I mean, particles on their own are evil?)

  • Can also move up to what is more true, more good, more real
  • Plotinus knows this is driven by love: love of knowing what is real, and becoming more real.
  • Augustine: called it the good.
  • Nomological talks about how things are structure, normative order tells how you can become better, deal with evil, increase realness, meaning in life
  • Augustine: everything is moving in away from evil towards goodness.

( entropy?)

  • The world is moving on purpose, purpose to afford realization, cognitive and in the world
  • Driven by love; and the transformation that happens in me, gnosis agape: that’s the narrative of christianity
  • Moving towards a final consummation, the promised land.
  • Agape: isn’t just a historical force, it’s a normative force in me. Leading me upwards towards the good.
  • Christianity, for Augustine, can put all these things together.
  • All of us can self-transcend.
  • Cognitive Science: 3 components of meaning:
      1. Coherence
      • The more coherent, the more intelligible, the more things fit together, the more real they are the more meaningful find your life
      • That’s the nomological order, how things fit together and make sense in a coherent fashion
      • Augustine: Aristotelian world order and I can give a Christian explanation of that
      1. Significance
      • How valuable, how deep in reality, how good are the elements of your life
      • Normative order
      • Want things to be significant, satisfy the anagogic drives of inner peace and contact with reality
      • Augustine: I can tell you that, can tell you how to put reason and Agape together in Christianity
      1. Sense of purpose
      • Does your life have a direction, is it moving in a course?
      • Narrative order
      • Augustine: Christianity ultimate story
  • Augustine puts it all together
  • Laying the foundations for the medieval worldview
  • What can we take from this? Long and powerful history, tells us how our culture has articulated the axial revolution
  • System for interpreting and inhabiting a world-view in which meaning and wisdom have been developed and have been articulated in a sophisticated and compelling fashion
  • Meaning is to have a nomological order that connects us to what is real, a normative order connects us existentially to what is good so we can become better, narrative order that tells us how we can move forward through history
  • Not 3 separate things: like axes of space.
  • Powerful and enriching vision
  • What if could offer a worldview that was viable: deepest scientific legitimacy. Integrated with spirituality, no antagonism, conjoined with personal project of therapy, therapeutic change and healing, self transcendence, in community with self, world and people. Would want this?
  • Why don’t you have it?
  • Is it irredeemably lost?
  • Vervaeke says: No.
  • Need to understand the problem. Getting to understand history of it. Why does it fall apart?
  • Need a better understanding of the genealogy of the crisis. Need to understand the process of loss.
  • Traumatic loss cities, literacy, trade, commerce with fall of Roman Empire, not recovered again until 1750 in London England
  • Augustine serves as a home for people throughout turmoil

1054 AD

  • Great schism, christianity splits between eastern orthodox and catholic
  • Weakens Christianity
  • Loses some of its deeper connections to neo-platonic mystical theology becomes more Aristotelian
  • Change in psycho-technology: shift in reading. How people read.
  • Before schism reading is done largely aloud. Read the bible mostly, Augustine, church fathers. Reading is often done communally, - reciting.
  • Think of difference between reading and reciting a poem.
  • Different between reading a poem silently and reading it aloud.
  • When recite a poem appeals not just propositionally, have to bring in know how of communication, more paying attention, what does it feel like to be in this space with these people uttering these words: so more participatory
  • Know the poems because of the way in which they have been changed by them
  • Lectio Divina: way of reading a text in which you let the text speak to you. Engage the text in a meditative mindful fashion. Reading and reciting in a way to have the text speak to you.
  • This is how people were reading: as if god speaking through the text
  • Designed to heal you and transform you.
  • Helping you in your reading remember the being mode. Not just have beliefs and propositions.

( so how to do this?)

  • People start to read differently.
  • Averos: aristotelean, shift to giving exclusive priority to definitions (eidos: essence) and propositions. Start to read silently, to themselves, give priority to coherence within a language rather than transformation within themselves and the world
  • Old model of thought: thought is conforming to the world. Gnosis, and anagoge and self-transformation, knowing which is a way of being/becoming
  • New model of thought: knowing is to have coherent propositional language.
  • Thinking is to have coherent set of propositions in your head.
  • Intensive self: self is inside my head, inside my beliefs, talk to myself by affirming my beliefs through propositional language.
  • Think primary way to know things is to have as much coherence to our internal language rather than conformity to existential modes
  • Why the shift? World starting to open up again. Interest in knowing the world scientifically
  • Move toward: value of having logically coherent well organized propositional theories. Power of this being discovered.
  • Empowers argumentative skills, but losing reading as a psychotechology of psycho-spiritual existential transformation
  • Aristotle being rediscovered.
  • Problem for chiristianity. Doesn’t have a lot of the Christian mythology attached to it
  • Can’t be ignored but also not just assimilated

Thomas Aquinas:

  • How do we salvage both the Christian worldview and the new science of Aristotle
  • Goes to the fundamental grammar: real world and the illusionary world
  • platonic: everyday world, then the real world
  • Aquinas changes that: says both worlds are real. This world is real too. There is real knowledge of this world possible.
  • Reason and science discover this world and can discover real truths about it. The other world is still somehow more real.
  • Natural world. Supernatural world. The world above the natural world, can’t be studied by science or reason.
  • Only accessible through faith
  • Notion of faith going to be change.
  • Reason at the bottom, Love at the top. Aquinas says love moves the will.
  • Loves moves the will to assert things that can’t know through reason. Faith now becomes the act of willful assertion. Will driven by the love of God.
  • Love and reason being pulled apart.
  • Faith moving from participation in the flow of history to the the assertion of propositions, giving a creed, science and spirituality being divorced from each other
  • Aquinas trying to save the axial worldview by reformulating the fundamental grammar
  • Danger: as it becomes more and more successful, less and less find our assertions being driven by love, the supernatural world becomes less and less real to us
  • If there is no supernatural world, if no longer viable/livable, then the whole axial world mythology now threatened to fall apart.

I’m a late comer & missed the Q&A. I have questions about episode 19. Is it being discussed anywhere?