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Analysis of the moral act. A proposal

I.a) Platonic and Augustinian roots

The philosophical explanation of the world given by Plato departs from a basic principle: man can think, and thus can know with certainty, without his knowledge being subject to the mutability of the surrounding world, thanks to the existence of immutable, intelligible objects, or Ideas as he calls them. These Ideas are entities whose nature consists in being equal and the same in all parts, unique and individual, characterized by having something "thinkable". The idea "cat" is simply pure "catness" which exists and moves about the world of Ideas. The existence of Ideas consists in beings themselves, in having a "something" or quidditas, but nothing else. The interpretation generally given to this quality consists in affirming that Plato made a logically illicit passage from objects that are thought to reality itself; this is indubitably the most coherent criticism possible.

In order to find that man can think Ideas, Plato must postulate that man is the soul. The soul knows Ideas when it is in "heaven", before descending to the world, and here below, in contact with material things, it remembers Ideas.

Medieval augustinianism softens this scheme: there are no Ideas in heaven; God is in heaven and contains all ideas within himself, in the simplest unity. Souls do no pre-exist, God creates them when each person comes into the world. In order to know, man needs divine illumination, since God possesses within himself all the Ideas that can be known.

Anyway, given that Ideas refer to things, this basic scheme must be still further softened: in all the things we experience by means of our senses, this idea, which resides in the divine intelligence, is also present. This idea is what Augustinians call "form", and it explains why things are what they are. It was really the late Platonists (including the Augustinians) who introduced Platonic Ideas into things, since when Aristotle spoke about forms, he was thinking of something different. (Later on we will make further considerations in order to clarify completely this difference between Aristotle and medieval Augustinian, Plato's heir): among augustinians, the word "form" signifies the same as the platonic Idea, that is, something equal to itself, identical or indestructible (2); for Augustinians the forms are identicality. The forms in things are not however in direct contact with intelligence: they do not illuminate intelligence (this is a problem similar to the communication of the res extensaand the res cogitansin Descartes). The Augustinians, taking Platonism as their inspiration, favor the idea that God illumines the intelligence so that man can know the "something" of material things: from the divine intelligence, which contains all ideas, come to man intellectual light and knowledge.

Logically, when a change appears and a given thing begins to be designated with a different word, the appearance of a new form has occurred. But since the Augustinians consider that the forms are like Plato's Ideas, identical to themselves, indestructible, unique, etc., they need the new forms to be in some place so that the result of the change can appear. The solution consists of therationes seminales, "small" forms which all beings hold in reserve in order the driving cause draw them from this hidden state at the moment of change (3). Medieval Augustinians in fact appear to describe movement in exclusively formal terms (their inclination is to discern how a something becomes something else), and movement analyzed in the Aristotelian style hardly appears in their considerations: that is, how an energeiastarting from an entelequeia becomes another, or how an activity starting from its point of origin reaches its completion, term or limit (4).

This set of medieval Augustinian philosophical theses do not properly speaking comprise theses, but rather mentality: many times their corollaries are found, without an explicit reflection leading to them. For this reason, we could say that the idea at the bottom of Augustinianism is rather a mentality. And this mentality leads medieval Augustinianism to defend, among other things, the theses outlined above. It appears doubtful that, with the exception of St. Thomas (along with his disciple Thomas of Sutton, and perhaps St. Albert in certain questions), there were medieval philosophers who did not have the Augustinian mentality.


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