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The Cambridge Companion to Augustine
Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, editors. The Cambridge Companion to Augustine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. xv + 307. Cloth, $59.95. Paper, $21.95.
Given the immeasurable influence of Augustine upon the Western tradition, a volume devoted to him in the Cambridge Companion Series has been long overdue. Fortunately, the lacuna has been filled by a work that exhibits the quality of scholarship and clarity of presentation that has become a hallmark of this series. Ably edited by Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, it will serve admirably as a guide for students and professionals alike, with much that is of interest to seasoned Augustine scholars.
As Stump tells us in her introduction, the eighteen essays of the volume are loosely grouped according to eight topics. These are philosophy of religion, metaphysics and theology, philosophy of mind, theory of knowledge, philosophy of language, ethics, political philosophy, and Augustine's influence. As is apparent from this list, the essays cut a vast swath through Augustine's corpus, though they focus on what is of greatest interest to philosophers. In addition, since Augustine did not recognize a clean division between philosophy and theology, much that we now classify as theology gets attention as well.
In keeping with the aim of the series, the character of the essays is, for the most part, expository. Each author takes pains to explain the outlines of Augustine's position on the particular topic under consideration, and most do so with considerable attention to the evolution of his thought and the context in which he wrote. Christopher Kirwan's essay, for example, not only traces the development of Augustine's philosophy of language from his early De magistro and De dialectica through his mature De doctrina Christiana, but highlights those areas in which the influence of Stoic dialectic can be detected. Similarly, John Rist's essay on faith and reason includes a discussion of the relation of Augustine's views on credibilia to the Platonic tradition, and Paul Weithman's essay on political theory examines Augustine's critique of Ciceronian ideals of political society. Thus, while systematic in their exposition, the essays give due recognition to the fact that Augustine's views evolved through continual reassessment of the antique heritage in light of changing concerns and circumstances, particularly an increasing concern to articulate the foundations of a new, scripturally inspired, vision of God, humanity, and society. [End Page 118]
In addition to exposition and historical analysis, many of the authors use their essays as occasions for constructive philosophical engagement. Perhaps the best of these is Stump's essay. Noting the pervasive disagreement among interpreters over Augustine's doctrine of free will, she distinguishes three positions available to defenders of free will--compatiblism, common libertarianism, and modified libertarianism--in order to bring greater conceptual clarity to the interpretive task. She then shows that in his early work, De libero arbitrio, Augustine develops an essentially libertarian position (though which form he is committed to remains ambiguous), but that this account comes into tension with his views concerning the action of grace on the will as they were later developed in opposition to the Pelagians. In itself this is not a startling claim, but Stump's analytical skills enable her to identify precisely where the tension lies, and she suggests a way that Augustine could have resolved this tension without compromising his basic commitments.
If there is any quibble to be had with the volume, it is that several of the essays are too compressed. Roland Teske's essay on the soul and William Mann's essay on evil, for example, run a mere seven and nine pages each. Though informative, given the centrality of these topics to Augustine's thought, they would have been more useful had they been expanded. Because of this, the most satisfying essays are those in which the authors stretch out. Scott MacDonald's piece on the divine nature is particularly good in this regard. In...