Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Day 08/St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas

I've been at Cornell for five days now and I think it is safe for me to conclude that dining at "North Star", at the Appels Common has become slightly boring. Their food isn't bad at all; I've tried pretty much everything they had to order. However, what I do find boring, is their selection. Day after day, the selections are generally the same. The "Greens" stand serves salad. The "All Around the World" stand only serves food from one country and it's only at lunch. Breakfast always has scrambled eggs, hardboiled eggs and potatoes. It's only difference is the meat each day; it was bacon today and yesterday it was honey-glazed ham. Dinner also works like this. Everyday there's a main course that differs, but besides that everything else has not changed. "I'm getting tired of eating pizza everyday," I overhear someone say in a table next to ours. For me personally though, I don't really mind at all. I'm just happy that there's food to eat every morning, afternoon, and dinner. It's friendly to my budget and always there when I'm hungry. I guess I've just been told before that Cornell had "the best food for a college" that my expectations may have been too high.

Today's class focused on the texts of the famous philosophers: St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. These two European philosophers played an important role, both in early Christian political thought and Western philosophy in general. Thanks to the studies we've prepared before class earlier this year, it was a lot easier to grasp the concept of what Prod. Kramnick was talking about. When I hear his lectures, I do not feel like I'm diving into the water for the first time; I feel as if everything is familiar.

Although all my reading for the class had been completed before the class started, I didn't feel that what I've studied possibly 3 months ago would help me very much. Therefore, I spent my entire evening in my dorm, re-reading everything for tonight. The amount of reading I was doing, was the amount I would really be doing on my own and for the first time, if I hadn't entered this course with the help of the ILC. All of the other students do have a lot of intense work cut out for them and I understand completely what they're up to. Summer college is no joke; reading and taking notes are the way to go here. I am glad that I came to Cornell prepared.

Prof. Kramnick is also doing a wonderful job with the lectures. If you didn't fully understand your reading but have done it anyways, he will make sure that you grasp the key points of your reading in his lectures. It was reassuring to hear that most of what I believed Augustine and Aquinas were writing about were what Prof. Kramnick was teaching us.

St. Augustine is the bishop of Hippo. He was born in 354 BC. right after the famous Roman emperor, Constantinople, declared that the Roman Empire would become the Holy Roman Empire for it's official religion was declared Christianity. He was most known for his work, "The City of God." He believed that since Adam and Eve had sinned for eating the fruit, all human beings were forever tainted as sinners. In other words, the human nature of all people lacked virtue or good, even though the idea of a human is not bad at all, since they were still God's creation. Augustine was a pessimistic Christian, strongly believing that every human being sought out to harm and oppress others rather than, as Jesus would say, love each other. Augustine was also very well known for his theory of the two cities, the City of Flesh (Man) and the City of God. The City of Man is meant for failure; everyone is located here. In this city, an earthy peace is maintained and a political sovereign is able to take control because he was believed to have been appointed by God. Within the City of Man are a few individuals who also belong in the City of God, although they do not know it. The City of God is where, those who have not sinned, will enter. Augustine also disagrees with Christ when it comes to war. Christ would argue that one should always love their enemies no matter what and should anyone strike you, you are expected to "turn the other cheek." Augustine however, argues wars could be fought as long as it is moral. In other words, as long as it's an act of defense or for the sake of God.

Aquinas came a little bit less than a thousand years after Augustine. This Italian philosopher existed at the time when Christianity became the central religion throughout Europe and when the Pope was considered a leading and prominent figure. Unlike Augustine, Aquinas looked at Christianity at a more optimistic light and argued that although all men are considered sinners, they were also capable of reason. Under Augustine, one was in no way able to go against the ruling of your secular political leader, but in the case of Aquinas, the people had the right to disobey their king's laws if they proved to not benefit the common good and/or defy the Divine Law (God's Law.) Aquinas definitely gives the human race more credit. Aquinas based a lot of his ideas from the New Testament and Augustine reminds me, in some parts, of the Old Testament.

Both of them were two very different philosophers that wanted to redefine the meaning of Christianity. Our discussions about our readings furthered in our section groups. Today, our group did a lot of progress and a generally great discussion followed. We took some time to compare the Old/New Testament, Augustine, and Aquinas, by putting their beliefs onto a chart regarding our course's important themes: Justice, Freedom, and Equality.

Our TAs also handed our essays back. In a nutshell, I got a generally good feedback. My TA enjoyed my interesting approach to the definition of freedom but I needed to expand on some of my reasons more. A revised version of this draft is due on Friday and I know it is better to start today. I am ready to start writing because I've finally developed a good outline.

There's also another reason why I am extremely glad the ILC kids got a leg up in terms of the "Freedom and Justice" course. Tonight we'ere reading Plato. Prof. Kramnick suggests that the best idea is to read the whole assignment first and then reread it again tomorrow. For my classmates, that's more than 100 pages of reading, and on top of that, it is material on Plato. I enjoyed reading about Plato, but he was confusing at times. I still plan to read tonight, but I'm glad I do not have to start off on square one like the majority of my class.

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