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Die Struktur des menschlichen Geistes nach Augustinus: Selbstreflexion und Erkenntnis Gottes in "De Trinitate" (review)
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Journal of the History of Philosophy 40.2 (2002) 256-257

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Book Review

Die Struktur des menschlichen Geistes nach Augustinus:
Selbstreflexion und Erkenntnis Gottes in "De Trinitate"

Johannes Brachtendorf. Die Struktur des menschlichen Geistes nach Augustinus: Selbstreflexion und Erkenntnis Gottes in "De Trinitate." Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 2000. Pp. viii + 335. Cloth, DM 128,00.

"The Trinity" is arguably Augustine's (philosophically) most demanding work. Yet it is precisely its philosophical quality that is nowadays sometimes called in question for its apparent lack of argumentative coherence. H. I. Marrou has even expressed the view that this may have been intended, as the text is designed as an exercitatioanimi, a spiritual-mental exercise; i.e., the argumentative gaps are deliberately left open to be filled in by whoever undergoes the exercise. This would mean that "The Trinity" lacks any philosophical or theological position or doctrine in particular, and that it must not be judged by the standards of philosophical discourse, even those of Augustine's own day and age. Brachtendorf sets out with a revision of that view. Augustine, he argues, does indeed formulate a particular position. The impression that there may be gaps in his arguments could well stem from a misunderstanding of some of them. Augustine, Brachtendorf reports in his first chapter (1), developed his teaching of the triune God in close contact with the philosophy of Plotinus. However, he distanced himself from Plotinus by analyzing the process of cognition not by taking as an example the divine nous, but the menshumana. Apart from that he developed an ontology of the Trinity (2) and only then analyzed the human mind in analogy to it (3-4). He also looked into the relationship of mind and language ("word") (5) and developed further some aspects of this relationship such as the trinitarian structure of the human mind (6), the relationship of knowledge and wisdom (7), the human mind as the image of God (8), the self-reflection of the human mind (9), language as an expression of that self-reflection in the image of God (10), and the concept of the "inner word" (11).

Brachtendorf concludes with an appeal not to read into Augustine's link of notitia and amor that he was interested in the analysis of self-knowledge merely for ethical reasons. Amor, he argues, expressly includes operations of the intellect. Augustine's interest was therefore genuinely theoretical and intellectualist. Amor, for Augustine, was a force that creates knowledge as such, no matter what the content. Its impact is practical and theoretical. Referring to the works of Charles Taylor, Martin Heidegger, Max Scheler, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Hannah Arendt, Brachtendorf demonstrates how influential Augustine was with this aspect of his thought in the development of "Subjekt"-centered philosophies in the twentieth century. Yet, as influential as this approach may have been in this particular field, arguing, as it did, for the ontological character of human subjectivity (i.e., that the human mind was naturally structured in a trinitarian way, but had to make its natural intelligence explicit in thought through the learning of language) it did not revolutionize [End Page 256] the understanding of language. In consequence it did not impress the philosophers of the linguistic turn, and that is probably why today the argument of "The Trinity" is so often found wanting.

Pointing back to the source Brachtendorf's study is a welcome contribution to the subject and a useful guide for all who now--hopefully, and encouraged by this work--set out for themselves to have a (closer) look at the original.


Josef Lössl
Catholic University Leuven