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Epilogue

The Afterlife of Cicero’s Voluntas1

from Part II - The Philosophy of Voluntas

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 November 2022

Lex Paulson
Affiliation:
Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique, Morocco
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Summary

He was swordless and shieldless, but the young man from Thagaste had a battle to fight. The late 4th century ce was home to a cacophony of schools and sects, each offering their own account of the universe and mankind’s place in it. The protagonist of the Confessions, written in a “concentrated burst” in 397 ce,2 is a young man making his way through this intellectual mêlée, gifted with rare talent and deeply disturbed. This situation was not new, but Augustine of Hippo describes his unsettlement and ensuing quest as no one in the West had done before. His journey, from an obscure corner of North Africa to the imperial court of Milan and back, announces the autobiography as literary genre and soon joins the canon of Christendom. Augustine’s is a battle for insight, a pilgrimage toward a truth beyond dispute. Less grandly, he is a young man struggling with self-control. For his mind, mystifyingly, does not follow its own commands:

Whence is this strange situation? And why is it so? The mind orders the body, and the body obeys; the mind orders itself, and it resists. The mind orders a hand to be moved, and this is accomplished with such ease that its authority can scarcely be discerned from that of a master over his slave. The mind orders the mind to will; it is only one mind, but it does not do as ordered [imperat animus, ut velit animus, nec alter est nec facit tamen]. Whence is this strange situation? And why is it so?

(8.9.21)
Augustine’s dramatic conversion at Milan is sparked by a passage from Saint Paul, his decisive spiritual influence. In the Apostle he finds a kindred struggle for godliness against temptations of the flesh. But whereas Paul pits man’s immortal soul against his corrupted body, Augustine’s battleground is within the soul itself:

[A]s I endeavoured to raise my mental sight from the depths, I was drawn down again; and often as I tried, I was drawn down again and again. What raised me up towards your light was the fact that I knew that I had a will just as much as I knew I was alive [quod tam sciebam me habere voluntatem quam me vivere]. Thus, when I willed or did not will something, I was wholly certain that it was I and no one else who was willing it or not willing it; and I was now on the point of perceiving that therein lay the reason for my own sin.

(7.3.4)
What is the voluntas of which Augustine is so sure? To the river of ink on this subject,3 I can only add a drop or two here. In my view, the “will” he reveals in Confessions has four key qualities that bear attention. The first is ontological: Augustine’s voluntas is not merely an “instance of willing” but a durable capacity or power of mind.4 Human will is, secondly, a reflection of God’s will, the primary cause of our universe. Among all living creatures, only man has a voluntas and thus participates in some small way in the divine will that governs all.5 Third, human will is a critically important part of ourselves for which we bear full moral responsibility. One person’s capacity of will does not necessarily resemble another’s, and it may be directed to better or worse ends. It is our duty, therefore, to use and improve this capacity as best as we are able, in accordance with God’s plan.6 Finally, having a will does not mean that it is free. In fact, most people do not have a free will, and they will make disastrous choices – choices for which they are nevertheless responsible – from ignorance of the truth, accumulation of bad habits, or both.7

Type
Chapter
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Cicero and the People’s Will
Philosophy and Power at the End of the Roman Republic
, pp. 220 - 244
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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  • Epilogue
  • Lex Paulson, Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique, Morocco
  • Book: Cicero and the People’s Will
  • Online publication: 24 November 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009082587.013
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  • Epilogue
  • Lex Paulson, Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique, Morocco
  • Book: Cicero and the People’s Will
  • Online publication: 24 November 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009082587.013
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Epilogue
  • Lex Paulson, Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique, Morocco
  • Book: Cicero and the People’s Will
  • Online publication: 24 November 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009082587.013
Available formats
×