Volume 20, Issue 4, October 2003
PETIT LARCENY, THE BEGINNING OF ALL SIN
AUGUSTINE’S THEFT OF THE PEARS
In his reflections on his adolescent theft of a neighbor’s pears, Augustine first claims that he did it just because it was wicked. But he then worries that there is something unacceptable in that claim. Some readers have found in this account Augustine’s rejection of the principle that all voluntary action is done for the sake of some perceived good. I argue that Augustine intends his case to call the principle into question, but that he does not ultimately reject it. His careful and resourceful analysis of the motivations of his theft adds subtlety to his own understanding of voluntary action and allows hirn to introduce an important component of his general account of sin, namely, that it essentially involves prideful self-assertion in imitation of God.