Volume 21, 2018
The Active and Passive Mind in Augustine
The distinction between active and passive mind has been discussed by recent Augustine scholars, mainly in connection to the question whether - and if so to what extent - the Augustinian mind could be said to be active given the doctrine of divine illumination. The doctrine has prompted some to emphasize the mainly passive nature of the human mind in attaining knowledge, while others have argued that the doctrine should not be so construed as to downplay the role the human mind plays in cognition. Of the latter, some have emphasized the role of the act of judgment, others the mind’s act of discovering within itself the standards of “eternal reasons”, and still others the role of the “created” as well as the “uncreated” light. While framing the discussion of the active and passive mind in this way, does help us clarify Augustine’s epistemological views, and at the same time fails to bring out the specific conception of the “active” mind that Augustine himself had and wished to emphasize. I explain what this conception is, then show that the distinction is put in use in his philosophy with a view that recent commentators have not emphasized in their interpretation of this distinction, as regards the role of the mind’s activity as a condition for non-empirical as well as empirical cognition.