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Journal of the History of Philosophy 39.4 (2001) 584-585
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Phillip Cary. Augustine's Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. xvii + 214. Cloth, $45.00.
In a gloss on the well-known gospel text, G. K. Chesterton noted that it is precisely because salt is unlike the foods it preserves that it is able to do its distinctive work of preservation. Likewise, according to the thesis of this book, it is precisely because Augustine of Hippo invented his distinctive approach to interiority that he has done so much to preserve for the Western tradition the Platonic conception of the soul. Yet Augustine's contribution to the philosophy of the inner self is not simply one of inventio in the classical sense of a discovery of the Platonic self, it is also an innovation pointing philosophy in a new direction.
Using a series of provocative images, Phillip Cary outlines the history of the idea of the private inner self in a way that highlights Augustine's distinctive contribution. He begins with Plato's Allegory of the Cave wherein the soul or self is an eye that has escaped the lower darkness to gaze upward away from itself toward the sun achieving intellectual vision. This idea is developed by Plotinus, for whom the soul is like a sphere revolving around the inner source of intelligibility at the center of things. This soul can look out toward the darkness or inward toward the intelligible light. In a further development, Augustine pictures the self as an inner palace with large courtyards open to the intelligible light of the sun such that the eye of the soul must turn inward and then upward to be enlightened. The final modern development is represented by Locke's picture of the self as a dark room where nothing but images are projected within through windows out of which the self cannot see, the intelligible light of the sun being kept out. Introducing the notion of the private inner life, Augustine is the forerunner of modern philosophy and all that has followed from the Cartesian turn. Yet Augustine is also a Platonist seeking the source of intelligibility that enlightens the inner self taking it beyond itself. This dual thesis is defended by Cary through a study of Augustine's place in the Platonic tradition of inner divinity. The task takes up the [End Page 584] first half of the book and builds on the well-known studies of Augustine's Platonism by J. J. O'Meara, R. J. O'Connell, and others. The second part of the book is devoted to Augustine's innovations of privacy and the inward-upward turn and yields some surprising discoveries that will interest the historian of philosophy.
One surprise concerns Augustine's expressionist semiotics according to which signs are outward expressions of what is within. As a Platonist, however, Augustine also holds that signs signify intelligible things that nonetheless fail to be made truly intelligible by signs. The knower, then, does not grasp the intelligible thing from its being signified by the sign, but grasps the significance of a sign by knowing the intelligible thing it signifies. Thus, according to the De Doctrina Christiana, the correct interpreter of scripture is the one who already knows the spiritual things the words of scripture signify and, therefore, is not a slave to a literal interpretation of these words.
Another surprise is Augustine's notion of grace as a sort of Platonic eros. Operating by attraction rather than coercion, grace is as much directed at the reason as the will. Thus, the discussions of grace as inward teaching in the anti-Pelagian works is a development of Christ, the inner teacher of the De Magistro, and Reason, the inner teacher of the Soliloquies.
Yet another surprise concerns the traditional faith-reason problem. Rather than seeing faith and reason as contrasting modes of inner cognition of outward objects, Augustine associates faith with authority as external...