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Augustine's Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist [Hardcover]

Phillip Cary
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 6, 2000 0195132068 978-0195132069
In this book, Phillip Cary argues that Augustine invented the concept of the self as a private inner space-a space into which one can enter and in which one can find God. Although it has often been suggested that Augustine in some way inaugurated the Western tradition of inwardness, this is the first study to pinpoint what was new about Augustine's philosophy of inwardness and situate it within a narrative of his intellectual development and his relationship to the Platonist tradition.
Augustine invents the inner self, Cary argues, in order to solve a particular conceptual problem. Augustine is attracted to the Neoplatonist inward turn, which located God within the soul, yet remains loyal to the orthodox Catholic teaching that the soul is not divine. He combines the two emphases by urging us to turn "in then up"--to enter the inner world of the self before gazing at the divine Light above the human mind.
Cary situates Augustine's idea of the self historically in both the Platonist and the Christian traditions. The concept of private inner self, he shows, is a development within the history of the Platonist concept of intelligibility or intellectual vision, which establishes a kind of kinship between the human intellect and the divine things it sees. Though not the only Platonist in the Christian tradition, Augustine stands out for his devotion to this concept of intelligibility and his willingness to apply it even to God. This leads him to downplay the doctrine that God is incomprehensible, as he is convinced that it is natural for the mind's eye, when cleansed of sin, to see and understand God.
In describing Augustine's invention of the inner self, Cary's fascinating book sheds new light on Augustine's life and thought, and shows how Augustine's position developed into the more orthodox Augustine we know from his later writings.

Editorial Reviews


"There are many attractive aspects to this challenging, thoughtful book. Cary writes extremely well: his prose is lean and extraordinarily lucid, his style informal yet serious, his authorial persona gracious and self-effacing, his efforts at fair judgement admirable."--Spiritus

About the Author

Dr. Phillip Cary is Director of the Philosophy Program at Eastern College in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, where he is also Scholar-in-residence at the Templeton Honors College.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (July 6, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195132068
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195132069
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,582,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All must bow to Agustine January 14, 2003
By P. Soen
To critique Augustine, is to critique Christion theology. All Christians pay homage to the feet of Augustine, and, ironically, all Christians seem to think that Augustine somehow agrees with them. This is true of both Protestants and Catholics. This is seen in a lot of popular writing, and sometimes even in scholarly writing. Because St. Augustine is neither Protestant nor Catholic (Catholic in the sense that we now understand it today) understanding him on his own terms has radical implications for all Christians. When I was reading this book I would ask myself, what is this guy driving at? What is the point to demonstrate that Augustine invented the inner self? Who cares if Augustine was a Christian Platonist? Well... everybody should! Because Augustine is considered one of the most influential writers since the apostle Paul! Dr. Cary draws some startling criticisms that are often considered 'biblical doctrine.' (E.g. the doctrine of the division of the soul and body, or that heaven is this aerial and surreal place.) No, Dr. Cary says, Christianity is a faith of heart and flesh. Christ came in human flesh to restore creation. My only disappointment with this book is that the conclusion is all too slender. I hope this is not the only book that Dr. Cary writes on this subject. I hope he is working on more.
Dr. Philip Cary is a brilliant scholar, and (I think) an incredible lecturer.
I first heard him in a series of lectures that he did to the Teaching Company, ... This book is accessible to both the scholar and the inquiring student. Dr. Philip Cary masterly uses common words and clearly defines unfamiliar words.
As someone who is always on the lookout for well-written book's and scholarly books to cite in later Ph.D. work this book meets both of those requirements. It is a bit pricey, but it is worth it. I bit Oxford Press now offers a more affordable paperback edition.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Augustine Analyzed April 24, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fortunately, The Teaching Company led me to Phillip Cary and Augustine's Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist.

His book brings two thoughts to mind. First, when I entered Western Washington University as a mixed-up student who had been disenchanted with "organized religion," an anthropology professor said, "Dick, you must find yourself." Secondly, I've always loved my Catechism's definition of a sacrament as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace," but now Cary challenges me to look beyond the beauty of those words in order to gain insight into their Augustinian-Platonic meaning. His book unites both thoughts and sets me on a demythologizing journey.

This is a book I'll need not merely to read like The Reader's Digest. I'll have to live with it. That will require much study. At little over 200 pages, it's not long, and one quarter consists of notes and bibliography. But what his book lacks in length it delivers in depth. Happily, Cary is incurably interesting. And that's the problem. I have a hard time trying to put it down. He keeps digging dilemmas--or maybe I should call them paradoxes--that arrest my attention. Moreover, it's not the end of the story. Just this year, he published Inner Grace: Augustine in the Traditions of Plato and Paul, and Outward Signs: The Powerlessness of External Things in Augustine's Thought. The titles are witty references to my Catechism's definition of a sacrament. I'll need to read and mark all three books if I wish inwardly to digest all Cary has to tell me about Augustine's thought.

Moving from the Catechism to cataracts, the book's nine-point font bugs me, and I need my most powerful magnifiers to regain the joy of reading. Oxford University Press doesn't seem to realize America is aging. Nor does the corny cover reflect Cary's colorful style that, fortunately, is better reflected in the covers of Outward Signs and Inner Grace.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Who do you say I am?" -- Jesus to Peter March 3, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Prof. Cary's book on Augustine resonates with me as few books have. Every page is so fruitful. What is the soul? One might say: what are the limits and opportunities posed by "introspection" or "self reflection" or "self consciousness." The remarkable development from Plato through Aristotle through Plotinus to Augustine is captured in a unique, sensitive, and joyful way.
I'm a layman who formally studied a lot of philosophy in my twenties (forty years ago). I think back on my own painful quest for meaning earlier in life before I became a born again Christian (under reformed baptist doctrine). I was studying under a program of philosophy completely controlled by the logical potivists and the analytic philosophers of the 20th century. I was cut off from the history of philosophy with its great riches. In this book, I see the love for philosophy that I never was able to bring to fruition in my own studies. It is a joy to see that someone has succeeded where I failed.
The problem of the inner and the outer has dogged me all my life. I had a fixed mindset that the "Truth" lay with the inner -- the inner was more "spiritual." In this book, I better see the weaknesses of the "inner" yet, at the same time, the reasons for its great appeal to deeply reflective persons. The power of inwardness still has some hold on me. There is a mystical element of "union with Christ" in my philosophizing about my life and theology. Yet, by grace, I have been freed from the domination of the inward. To see the whole matter laid out in vibrant prose is a thrill.
Thank you Prof. Cary. Perhaps you never would have guessed that you were performing a great personal as well as a professional service in writing this book?
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