Love and Saint Augustine

Love and Saint Augustine

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Love and Saint Augustine by Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt began her scholarly career with an exploration of Saint Augustine's concept of caritas, or neighborly love, written under the direction of Karl Jaspers and the influence of Martin Heidegger. After her German academic life came to a halt in 1933, Arendt carried her dissertation into exile in France, and years later took the same battered and stained copy to New York. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, as she was completing or reworking her most influential studies of political life, Arendt was simultaneously annotating and revising her dissertation on Augustine, amplifying its argument with terms and concepts she was using in her political works of the same period. The disseration became a bridge over which Arendt traveled back and forth between 1929 Heidelberg and 1960s New York, carrying with her Augustine's question about the possibility of social life in an age of rapid political and moral change.

In Love and Saint Augustine, Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Stark make this important early work accessible for the first time. Here is a completely corrected and revised English translation that incorporates Arendt's own substantial revisions and provides additional notes based on letters, contracts, and other documents as well as the recollections of Arendt's friends and colleagues during her later years.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226225647
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 12/10/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 254
Sales rank: 1,057,202
File size: 1 MB

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Love and Saint Augustine

By Hannah Arendt, Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott, Judith Chelius Stark

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 1996 Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Stark
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-02597-1


The Structure of Craving (Appetitus)

[B:033131] Augustine writes that "to love is indeed nothing else than to crave something for its own sake," and further on he comments that "love is a kind of craving." Every craving (appetitus) is tied to a definite object, and it takes this object to spark the craving itself, thus providing an aim for it. Craving is determined by the definitely given thing it seeks, just as a movement is set by the goal toward which it moves. For, as Augustine writes, love is "a kind of motion, and all motion is toward something." What determines the motion of desire is always previously given. Our craving aims at a world we know; it does not discover anything new. The thing we know and desire is a "good" (bonum), otherwise we would not seek it for its own sake. All the goods we desire in our questing love are independent objects, unrelated to other objects. Each of them represents nothing but its isolated goodness. The distinctive trait of this good that we desire is that we do not have it. Once we have the object our desire ends, unless we are threatened with its loss. In that case the desire to have (appetitus habendi) turns into a fear of losing (metus amittendi). As a quest for the particular good rather than for things at random, desire is a combination of "aiming at" and "referring back to." It refers back to the individual who knows the world's good and evil and seeks to live happily (beate vivere). It is because we know happiness that we want to be happy, and since nothing is more certain than our wanting to be happy (beatum esse velle), our notion of happiness guides us in determining the respective goods that then became objects of our desires. Craving, or love, is a human being's possibility of gaining possession of the good that will make him happy, that is, of gaining possession of what is most his own.

This love can turn into fear: "None will doubt that the only causes of fear are either loss of what we love and have gained, or failure to gain what we love and [B:033132] have hoped for." Craving, as the will to have and to hold, gives rise in the moment of possession to a fear of losing. As craving seeks some good, fear dreads some evil (malum), and "he who fears something must necessarily shun it." The evil that fear makes us shun is whatever threatens our happiness, which consists in possession of the good. So long as we desire temporal things, we are constantly under this threat, and our fear of losing always corresponds to our desire to have. Temporal goods originate and perish independently of man, who is tied to them by his desire. Constantly bound by craving and fear to a future full of uncertainties, we strip each present moment of its calm, its intrinsic import, which we are unable to enjoy. And so, the future destroys the present. Whatever can be taken away from a lasting enjoyment for its own sake cannot possibly be the proper object of desire. The present is not determined by the future as such (although this, too, is possible with Augustine, as we shall see below), but by certain events which we hope for or fear from the future, and which we accordingly crave and pursue, or shun and avoid. Happiness (beatitudo) consists in possession, in having and holding (habere et tenere) our good, and even more in being sure of not losing it. Sorrow (tristitia) consists in having lost our good and in enduring this loss. However, for Augustine the happiness of having is not contrasted by sorrow but by fear of losing. The trouble with human happiness is that it is constantly beset by fear. It is not the lack of possessing but the safety of possession that is at stake.

This enormous importance of security—that nothing subject to loss can ever become an object of possession—is due to the condition of man and not to the objects he desires. Good and evil are good and bad for one who wants to live happily. Although all men want to live happily, each one means and seeks something else by happiness, and by the goods which constitute it. Hence the questions arise: what is good? what is evil? Each one understands something different by them. However, all are agreed on one point, namely, wanting to live. Thus the happy life (beata vita) is actually life itself. And it also follows that a life in constant peril of death is no true life, because it is continually threatened by the loss of what it is, and is even certain to lose it some day. "The true life is [B:033133] one that is both everlasting and happy," and "since all men want to be happy, they want also to be immortal if they know what they want; for otherwise they could not be happy." Thus the good love craves is life, and the evil fear shuns is death. The happy life is the life we cannot lose. Life on earth is a living death, mors vitalis, or vita mortalis. It is altogether determined by death; indeed it is more properly called death. For the constant fear that rules it prevents living, unless one equates being alive with being afraid.

This basic fear guides all our fears of specific evils. By putting an end to life, death is at the same time the cause of the constant worry of life about itself—the endless concern about its transient happiness—and about life after death. But, as Augustine writes, "what if death itself cuts off and puts an end to all worries along with all feeling?" Is there no consolation in death? Augustine has no answer other than to summon up the "authority of the Christian faith" with its claim that life is immortal. Do not all men agree that they want to live? Only where there is no death, and hence no future, can men live "without the anguish of worry." In their fear of death, those living fear life itself, a life that is doomed to die. Hence, their fear teaches them the true nature of life. "All things shun death, since death is the contrast of life; it follows necessarily that life, shunning its opposite, also perceives itself." The mode in which life knows and perceives itself is worry. Thus the object of fear comes to be fear itself. Even if we should assume that there is nothing to fear, that death is no evil, the fact of fear (that all living things shun death) remains. Hence, "either the evil we fear exists, or evil is the very fact of fear." The fearless security of possession reigns only where there is nothing to be lost. This fearlessness is what love seeks. Love as craving (appetitus) is determined by its goal, and this goal is freedom from fear (metu carere). Since life in its approach to death is constantly "diminished" and thus keeps losing itself, it is the experience of loss that must guide the determination of love's adequate [B:033134] object (the amandum).

Thus the good of love is established: it is "what you cannot lose against your will." Thus we see that the good that gives man happiness is essentially defined by Augustine in two heterogeneous contexts. First, the good is the object of craving, that is, something useful that man can find in the world and hope to obtain. In the second context, the good is defined by fear of death, that is, by life's fear of its own destruction. All other accidents of life, which man does not have in his hand, are traced back to his lack of power over life itself. "Which man could live as he would since the mere fact of living is not in his power?" Analogously, death is interpreted in two ways: first, as the index of life's lack of control over itself, and second, as the worst evil encountered by life—its adversary pure and simple. As this utmost evil, death comes to the living from the outside and they shun it, while with such terms as vita mortalis men are viewed as mortals to begin with. Life and death belong together. The consciousness of this impotence, in which life is regarded as inherently mortal, contradicts the definition of love as craving because craving, in line with its meaning as a quest, makes us strive for something that can be achieved, though we may fail to achieve it. Only when death is regarded as the utmost evil, meeting life from the outside, is the unity of the argument (love as craving) preserved.

The reason for this incongruity lies in Augustine's terminology, which he took over from the tradition of Greek philosophy even when he wished to express experiences that were quite alien to it. This is especially true of the appetitus reflections, which can be traced back to Aristotle via Plotinus. Aristotle defined death as the "evil most to be feared" without, however, insisting on this fear for his understanding of man. Yet it is precisely in the twofold interpretation of death that the twin rudiments of this whole set of problems become manifest. For the present we can make this point: life characterized by death craves something that, in principle, it cannot obtain, and pursues it as though it were at its disposal.

Every good and every evil lie ahead. [B:033135] What lies at the end of the road we keep walking all our lives is death. Every present moment is governed by this imminence. Human life is always "not yet." All "having" is governed by fear, all "not having" by desire. Thus the future in which man lives is always the expected future, fully determined by his present longings or fears. The future is by no means unknown since it is nothing but the threatening or fulfilling "not yet" of the present. However, every fulfillment is only apparent because at the end looms death, the radical loss. This means that the future, the "not yet" of the present, is what we must always fear. To the present, the future can only be menacing. Only a present without a future is immutable and utterly unthreatened. In such a present lies the calm of possession. This possession is life itself. For all goods exist for life alone, to protect it from its loss, from death.

This present without a future—which no longer knows particular goods but is itself the absolute good (summum bonum)—is eternity. Eternity is what "you cannot lose against your will." A love that seeks anything safe and disposable on earth is constantly frustrated, because everything is doomed to die. In this frustration love turns about and its object becomes a negation, so that nothing is to be desired except freedom from fear. Such fearlessness exists only in the complete calm that can no longer be shaken by events expected of the future. The good, which can be understood only as a correlative to love defined as craving and which is unobtainable for mortal life, is projected into an absolute present commencing after death. Even though this present becomes an absolute future for mortal life, it is still being craved and thus it lies ahead just like any other good expected in the future. The sole exception to this is the life whose expectations aim at the absolute future and can no longer be disappointed. However, as the object of craving becomes pure calm and the pure absence of fear, the good retains its negativity and lack of content. These qualities have arisen from the senselessness of craving for a life seen essentially from the viewpoint of death. For this kind of life, the will to possess and the will to dispose of something have become simply absurd.

There can be no doubt that death, and not just fear of death, was the most crucial experience in Augustine's life. [B:033136] With exquisite eloquence he describes in the Confessions what it meant to him to lose his friend, and how "he became a question to himself" as a consequence of this loss. After "the loss of life of the dying" followed "the death of the living." This was the experience that initially turned the young Augustine toward himself when he had first fallen in love with philosophy at age nineteen after reading Cicero's Hortensius (one of his lost works, an exhortation to practice philosophy). Still, according to Augustine, the decisive motive for his conversion to Christianity was the "fear of death," for nothing else had so strongly recalled him from "carnal pleasures." Under these circumstances, it was almost a matter of course that the apostle Paul finally convinced Augustine, for nowhere else in the New Testament is the fact of death, life's imminent and final "no more," invested with such decisive importance. The more Christian Augustine grew in the course of a long life, the more Pauline he became.

Fearless possession can be achieved only under the conditions of timelessness, equated by both Augustine and Plotinus with eternity. Thus, Augustine proceeds to strip the world and all temporal things of their value and to make them relative. All worldly goods are changeable (mutabilia). Since they will not last, they do not really exist. They cannot be relied upon. Plotinus writes:

For what is does not differ from what always is, just as a philosopher does not differ from a true philosopher.... We add to "what is" the word "always" and to "always" the word "being", and thus we speak of "everlasting being". This means: What always is, that is truly.

But even if things should last, human life does not. We lose it daily. As we live the years pass through us and they wear us out into nothingness. It seems that only the present is real, for "things past and things to come are not"; but how can the present (which I cannot measure) be real since it has no "space"? Life is always either no more or not yet. Like time, life "comes from what is not yet, passes through what is without space, and disappears into what is no longer." Can life be said to exist at all? Still the fact is that man does measure time. Perhaps man possesses a "space" where time can be conserved [B:033137] long enough to be measured, and would not this "space," which man carries with himself, transcend both life and time?

Time exists only insofar as it can be measured, and the yardstick by which we measure it is space. Where is the space located that permits us to measure time? For Augustine the answer is: in our memory where things are being stored up. Memory, the storehouse of time, is the presence of the "no more" (iam non) as expectation is the presence of the "not yet" (nondum). Therefore, I do not measure what is no more, but something in my memory that remains fixed in it. It is only by calling past and future into the present of remembrance and expectation that time exists at all. Hence the only valid tense is the present, the Now. Plotinus writes, "Generally speaking, the past is time ending now, and the future is time beginning now." The Now is what measures time backwards and forwards, because the Now, strictly speaking, is not time but outside time. In the Now, past and future meet. For a fleeting moment they are simultaneous so that they can be stored up by memory, which remembers things past and holds the expectation of things to come. For a fleeting moment (the temporal Now) it is as though time stands still, and it is this Now that becomes Augustine's model of eternity for which he uses Neoplatonic metaphors—the nunc stans or stans aeternitatis—although divesting them of their specific mystical meaning. Augustine writes:

Who will hold [the heart], and fix it so that it may stand still for a little while and catch for a moment the splendor of eternity which stands still forever, and compare this with temporal moments that never stand still, and see that it is incomparable ... but that all this while in the eternal, nothing passes but the whole is present.

Clearly, this harks back to Plotinus:

That which "neither has been nor will be, but simply exists," that which standing still possesses existence because it is neither in the process of change toward the future nor has it been changed [in the past]—that is Eternity.

What prevents man from "living" in the timeless present is life itself, which never "stands still." The good for which love craves lies beyond all mere desires. If it were merely a question of desiring, all desires would end in fear. And since whatever confronts life from the outside as the object of its craving is sought for life's sake (a life we are going to lose), the ultimate object of all desires is life itself. Life is the good we ought to seek, namely true life, which is [B:033138] the same as Being and therefore endures forever. This good, which is not to be obtained on earth, is projected into eternity and thus becomes again that which lies ahead from outside. For man, eternity is the future, and this fact, seen from the viewpoint of eternity, is of course a contradiction in terms.


Excerpted from Love and Saint Augustine by Hannah Arendt, Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott, Judith Chelius Stark. Copyright © 1996 Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Stark. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

Preface: Rediscovering Love and Saint Augustine
Part I: Love as Craving: The Anticipated Future
1. The Structure of Craving (Appetitus)
2. Caritas and Cupiditas
3. The Order of Love
Part II: Creator and Creature: The Remembered Past
1. The Origin
2. 2. Caritas and Cupiditas
3. Love of Neighbor
Part III: Social Life
1. Introduction: "New Beginnings"
2. "Thought Trains"
3. Heidegger: Arendt between the Past and Future
4. Jaspers: Arendt and Existenz Philosophy

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