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Augustine and “Forms” / “Ideas”
De Diversis Quaestionibus Octoginta Tribus, 46
Click here to read at earlychurchtexts.com in the original Latin (with dictionary lookup links). The English translation below is by The Revd Andrew Maguire, the Early Church Texts webmaster. Please do not use this translation with acknowledgment.
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Peter Brown biography
Henry Chadwick's translation of "Confessions"
R.W.Dyson's translation of "The City of God"
R.P.H. Green's translation of "On Christian Teaching"
Gareth Matthews' translation of "On The Trinity" (books 8 - 15)
Plato is said to be the first to have used the name "ideas". It is not, however, the case that, if this terminology did not exist before he established it, then the actual entities which he called ideas did not exist, or that they were not understood by anybody. Perhaps they were referred to by a different name by different people. For when something is not known and has no acknowledged name, then it can be referred to by whatever name is preferred. For it seems very unlikely that there were no wise people before Plato. Nor is it likely that they had no understanding of what Plato, as has been said, referred to as ideas, whatever they might be. Indeed, there is such significance in them that nobody can be called wise unless they have understood them. It is credible that, even beyond the Greek world, there were wise people among other nations. Plato himself bore witness to this, not only through his travels in pursuit of perfecting wisdom, but also through what he said in his own writings. So, if there were indeed such wise people, we should not think that they were ignorant of the ideas, although they perhaps referred to them by a different name. That is enough said about the name. Let us now look at the reality which must, above everything else, be examined and known. It is clear that, as far as terminology goes, when someone has understood a particular reality they may refer to it by whatever name they choose.
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original Latin text
Augustine and Platonism
Patrologiae Latinae Cursus Completus
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