The "Selbstaufhebung" of Philosophy in Augustine's Theological Protreptic: Rationality, Revelation, and Fulfilment in "On the Happy Life"
Augustine's exhortation to philosophy "On the Happy Life" stands in the grand tradition of protreptical literature from Aristotle's "Protreptic" to Cicero's "Hortensius". But, whereas the pagan protreptics argue that human beings should do philosophy because it is the highest expression of humanity and that they should lead a philosophical life because it is the best human life, Augustine's Christian protreptic claims that the chief contribution of philosophy to the human search for happiness is the realization that human beings find happiness not by relying on their own rationality but by placing their trust in God's providence. This interpretation of the relation between faith and reason poses the problem of the "Selbstaufhebung" of philosophy (only the German language has an adequate expression for this phenomenon): Rational thinking is supposed to "negate", "preserve", and "elevate" itself in the process of clarifying its own role in the pursuit of happiness. Accordingly, Augustine's philosophizing about happiness yields the determining dilemma of "On the Happy Life": On the one hand, human beings can reach happiness only by taking the path through philosophy; on the other hand, they must grasp, along the way, that they cannot make themselves happy, not even, and especially not, by doing philosophy, but rather that God makes them happy, and only if they have faith. A decisive historical development on the threshold to medieval times, Augustine's pivotal position on the relation between philosophy and happiness has crucial and chronic consequences both for philosophy in particular and for the humanities in general.
Keywords: Philosophy, Rhetoric, Protreptic
Dr. George Heffernan
Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, Merrimack College