Self-Knowledge and God as Other in Augustine: Problems for a Postmodern Retrieval

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Recent philosophical and theological writing on Augustine in France, England and North America is sharply divided between readings which serve either a historicist, anti-metaphysical, postmodern retrieval or an ahistorical, metaphysical, modern reassertion. The postmodern retrieval begins from a Heideggerian «end of metaphysics» and goes at least some distance with Jacques Derrida's development of its consequences. This essay starts from engagements with Augustine by Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion, moving then to Rowan Williams on the De trinitate, read to prevent comparison with Descartes' Meditations, and considers how Williams relates Augustine to Plotinus. The opposed modernist interpretation appears in Stephen Menn's Descartes and Augustine, which sees a continuity between Plotinus, Augustine and Descartes. Finally, the essay treats Plotinus and Augustine on God and self-knowledge, maintaining that Augustine's De trinitate is better understood from within a modern ahistorical stance which, within metaphysics, places Augustine together with Plotinus and Descartes. This view better captures his difference from Plotinus than the alternative postmodern perspective tending to assimilate Augustine to Plotinus.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 1999

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