There are some who ask if there is any value in philosophy and if there is what may be a relevant example. Philosophy may be considered the cornerstone of the sciences. Before astronomy became a science; Thales of Miletus predicted an eclipse. When a philosophy gathers enough facts to become dogmatic, it becomes a science that contributes to the progression of humanity. St. Augustine was a theologian and philosopher whose thinking and writing was relevant in his day and continues to be relevant today. As long as war has occurred, people have been asking how can it be just or immoral. St. Augustine confronted the topic during the fall of Rome and developed the just war theory. A theory that is driven by the precept of making war as moral as possible, which may not be a science in our day; nevertheless, the significance of his philosophy is highly relevant and applicable in modern day warfare.
St. Augustine of Hippo is Aurelius Augustinus, (354–430 A.D.) who was: “ a Christian Neoplatonist, North African Bishop, (and) Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church” (Mendelson). He was raised by a Christian mother and a Pagan father who near the end of his life converted to Christianity. Augustine in his teenage years did not remain a Christian but instead became a follower of the Manichean religion. The Manichean belief seems to be more theoretical than actually having a factual basis. Manicheanism offered salvation through knowledge. They considered themselves a religion of pure reason as opposed to their adversaries the Christians, who they viewed as naïve and willing to believe anything. The doctrine offered its followers an answer to many of their questions, which was a benefit over Christianity because they perceived the Christian religion as mysterious (Arendzen).
It was prior to his teenage years when Augustine began to sway from Christian doctrine. At a school in Thagaste, he learned to read and write “from teachers who followed the old traditional pagan methods;” (IEP) this became an irony for his mother who unfortunately would be concerned for the souls of both her husband and son, who eventually converted to the Christian faith; nevertheless, in his youth Augustine enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle. He lived in an atmosphere where it was habitual for young men to fornicate and boast about their sexual relations with multiple woman, and Augustine appreciated every advantage of it. Reflecting on his past prior to his Christian conversion, Augustine writes:
“but I wretched, most wretched, in the early commencement of my early youth, had begged chastity of Thee, and said, give me chastity and continency, only not yet. For I feared lest though should hear me soon, and cure me of the disease of concupiscence, which I wish to have satisfied, rather than extinguished” (Augustine p. 206).
Augustine never mastered the Greek language; nevertheless, he was a bright student and eventually became a teacher of grammar and rhetoric. He opened a school in Rome which resulted in disappointment because students would not pay their dues. Augustine credits the writing of Cicero’s dialogue Hortensius as his motivation and ambition to study philosophy; Augustine wrote: “for many years (some twelve) had now run out with me since my nineteenth, where upon reading Cicero’s Hortensius, I was stirred to an earnest love of wisdom” (Augustine p. 205-206). Augustine’s mastery of rhetoric, knowledge of paganism, and religion was recognized by his Manichean friends and was offered the highest academic position professor of rhetoric in Milan.
In Milan Augustine’s worldview dramatically changed. He learned more in-depth Manichean theology, which led to many doubts regarding Manichean doctrine. This along with his studies of religion and influences from his Christian mother and friends allowed him to become more open minded towards the Christian faith; furthermore, It was Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who he recognized as a more experienced man with superior oratory skills; that inclined him towards the Christian faith: Augustine recalled,
“I made application (through those very persons intoxicated with Manichean vanities, to be free from where I was to go, neither of us, however, knowing it) that Symmachus, then prefect of the city, would try me by setting me some subject, and so send me. To Milan, I came to, Ambrose the Bishop, known to the whole world as among the best of men, Thy devout servant . . . To him, I was unknowingly led by Thee, that by him, I might knowingly be led to Thee. That man of God received me as a father . . . I began to love him (Augustine Book 5 p. 120).
Eventually what ultimately converted Augustine to Christianity was the reading of Romans chapter 13 verses 13-14; a fitting verse which perhaps applied to the type of lifestyle he was called to repent from.
St. Augustine was primarily a Christian theologian and Christian philosopher, but his thoughts and writings may peak the interest of any who may have an interest in general philosophy as well. Augustine explicated on topics such as; epistemology, just war theory, morality, ethics, and the doctrine of free will to name a few. Perhaps one of the most applicable theories posed by St. Augustine is Just War Theory. The concept of the theory may not have originated with Augustine, but his cognitive contribution has been applicable from history to modern day.
In war, there is a saying that anything goes, but to follow that line of reasoning to its end requires an absolute absence of ethical rules. Rules that if considered carefully may reduce the amount of death, destruction, and pain in war. Besides, with that type of logic applied to actions in war, there could be an endless cycle of vengeance between the nations involved. Justified war theory helps to increase ethics and morality in an ironic event where a mission may be to destroy; nevertheless, it contributes to raising awareness that initiating war must have a justifiable reason, furthermore, that to end a war; the means to an end do not necessarily justify the means.
Many philosophers such as; Plato, Socrates, Xenophon, and Euripides have written on the issues on what may justify a war; however, in the West, it is St. Augustine who “is regarded the father of what has developed as the Western theory of just war” (Mattox p.1). In addition, Author Louis J. Swift writes “no writer of the early church has contributed more to the development of Christian attitudes regarding war, violence, and military service than St. Augustine” (Swift p. 369-383).
Augustine lived in a time when Rome was losing its power and falling to surrounding powers. Such an extreme scenario may have inclined him to consider morality highly relevant. Although, Augustine may rather Christians remain pacifists; it may be considered sin to not defend one’s self in the face of imminent danger to one’s personal life; therefore, there may be a justifiable reason to act with violence to overcome unjustifiable violence. Augustine developed a couple of guidelines regarding war with the preconception of being as just and moral as possible. The two guidelines are; Jus Ad Bellum, the right to go to war, and Jus In Bello, the right sorts of conduct in war (Great Philosophers).
Examples of Jus ad Bellum; a just reason for going to war may be defending the innocent from attacks, the punishment of a perceived evil, and the recovery of kidnapped persons or stolen property. Part of Jus ad Bellum is the intention to avoid war through peaceful negotiations. Examples of unjust reasons for going to war may be the intent for territorial development, vengeance, intimidation, domination, or coercion. In a just war, the amount of moral utility must outweigh the amount of evil that may result from the outcome of the war. A just cause must have the intent of an end with a lasting peace between the warring nations with industrial restorations and human success.
Jus ad Bello is the second phase of war. It is the state of war or the actions involved during the war. Jus ad Bello may be translated into justice in war, or the laws of war. Jus ad Bello or the laws of war are applied to circumstances during a war such as rules of engagement, the surrendering of prisoners, treatment of prisoners, and regulation of what weapons may be used to prevent unnecessary harm and aggression, inhumane crimes, etc. A critical fundamental principle to remember for those involved in war is that though a war may have been declared justly, it may become an unjust war if the war is fought with unjust means. To keep battles as just as possible a few principles are necessitated. A battle must have the intention of being terminated as quickly as possible with minimal destructive means consistent with military necessity, (Mattox p.10). Any action with the intent of attributing more suffering than necessary to human life becomes immoral and making matters unjust; for example, torture or using weapons that exceed the amount of military force necessitated. Actions resulting from discrimination of non-combatants such as woman, children, clergymen, and even prisoners of war can turn a just war unjust.
St. Augustine is perhaps one the greatest philosophers to bless the minds of men. His preserved writings reveal the continual importance and value of philosophy. Since Augustine’s formulation of just war theory, it is evident to see how it has been applied in modern day politics. Concepts from Augustine’s just war theory may be seen in regulations within NATO, the United Nations, and the U.S. code of conduct. Augustines just war theory continues to be relevant as when it was written, and especially in this modern day with the increase of military technology. Augustine’s just war theory may not be a science, but it is valuable philosophy which contributes to the moral progression of man in turmoil conflict, and may lessen the sufferings of all those involved wars.
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