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SAINT AUGUSTINE AND MARCUS AURELIUS, or on the talk with oneself
Bogdan Bogdanov

The history of the talk with oneself in Antiquity is intertwined with the history of the Antique dialogue. Evidence in this sense is the first fixed in a text their usage within the European tradition. In “Iliad” and “Odyssey” the Homer’s heroes, faced with a choice, enter into conversation with themselves, but they talk with gods too; their interior dialogue being entangled with the exterior one. Ancient Greek lyrical poets follow this mode of a compromise interior-exterior dialogue. Namely from the lyrics, from Theognides’s protreptic elegies, the early philosophical prose borrows it, within whose evolvement occurs the split of the interior and the exterior dialogue.

First of all, the form of the exterior dialogue is set apart. With the evolvement of the interest in the interior human being in the Hellenic epoch, the talk with oneself starts to be formed too. In an earlier stage, with the Cynic-Stoic diatribe, this talk keeps on as a compromise; the conversation is with a fictitious interlocutor. Exactly from the diatribe, Marcus Aurelius borrows it, and makes a decisive step to the form of the interior dialogue by substituting the fictitious other with whom is talked in the diatribe with his real self. The emperor renders this perhaps because he is not intent to publish his notes.

The general form of the talk with oneself

The present sketch sustains no other aim but the general form of the talk with oneself. Schematically considered, it is two-component: the interior human being as a two-aspect structure and the subject of the conversation, the truth of the entities in the world, conditioning the personal wellbeing. The relations are of a hierarchical type – the interior I who knows, is positioned higher than the admonished by himself own self, as the truth of the world is higher than the interior knowing I, who endeavors to attain it through the following from this truth principles of personal wellbeing attainment. In the spirit of the hierarchy, the truth is above the wellbeing. Of course, within the rank-and-file talk with oneself, namely it and its principles are at the forefront of the scrutinization, while the truth is an unconscious and concealed theme. The truth can turn into explicit subject of discussion, though, and associate itself with the wellbeing and its principles. Such is the case with St. Augustine’s “Confessions” and Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations.

This refers also to the interior human world. The interior human world can be thought of apart from the exterior one. It, also, can be considered as more complex than the exterior one, and vise versa. The two worlds, though, can be associated, as it is with the philosophical conversation with himself of Marcus Aurelius and St. Augustine. Among other allusions of their association, is the one that in view with the general form of the talk with himself, the hierarchy of the interior human being, compound of a higher knowing “I”, and of not that knowing admonished “self”, repeats the hierarchy, which organizes the exterior world. Thus, according to this form, definite of the interior human being is the so necessary to the interior dialogue binarity of the “I” and the “self”, as the hierarchy is – the fact I is positioned higher than the self.

The first stage of the comparison of the talking with oneself with Marcus Aurelius and Saint Augustine

This interior hierarchy can be fostered, and the binarity can grow into a triad. As it is the case with Marcus Aurelius and Saint Augustine. Within the tradition of the Platonic stoicism that he follows, the Roman emperor applies a triad scheme – the interior human being in “Meditations” is a hierarchy of superego governing source-intrinsic god, breath and bad impulse. Similar is Saint Augustine’s notion too. His human being is comprised of mind and soul, which, on its turn, consists of the two instances of the good and the bad will. The dissimilarity is that while the well defined sensible superego in “Meditations” is related to the exterior instance of the general sensible nature, the mind superego in “Confessions” is not rigidly related to the supremacy of the Christian god, and is not signified as an own divinity. For a few reasons.

Among them is the discrimination according to which Marcus Aurelius scrutinizes the intrinsic human being as factuality, which is to be recognized and respected, while Saint Augustine scrutinizes the interior human being as functioning and eventual attainment, occurring outside it. Thus, the relation of the interior and the exterior human being is not meaningless. Obviously, with Marcus Aurelius and Saint Augustine we refer to a distinct subordination – of the human being to the world. It can be explicated in a static plan; the interior and the exterior human being holding similar structures. As it is with Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations”. The similarity can be in the plan of functioning too. If the interior human being is presented as a dynamics of relations between elements, the exterior world is also to be apprehended as a dynamics of this kind, with the two dynamics corresponding in-between. Though not quite explicated, such is also the case with “Confessions”.

Therefore, the dissimilarities in the relation to the exterior world in “Confessions” and “Meditations” follow. The world in “Meditations” is complex and impersonal, and cannot be entangled into conversation. The world relation of the Ego is imperatively induced, but not as proceeding phases. Imperatives are known. The interior god ego wields them, reiterates them conjuring and is entangled in their better formulation. Marcus Aurelius is introvert in disposition. With Saint Augustine the world is totally signified within a god with a face and can be talked with. The divine imperatives can be formulated, though this formulation is human, and in this sense - imprecise. Therefore, the attitude to the exterior world is not relegated to the knowledge of imperatives. It is to be outwardly directed, to be warm and to be explication of love. Thus, to the extent in “Confessions” there is introversy, it is only the setting of a complex move, which ends up with the extrovert moments of insights on the divine truth.

An interlude on Freud and the non-personal-static and personal-dynamic apprehension  of the constitution of the interior human being

This relation between the interior and the exterior is better discernible if we enlist in the above made comparison Freudian triad apprehension of the interior human being structure. Like Plato in the time lapse between “Phaedo” and ‘Phaeder”, the founder of the psychoanalysis complicates the initial binary notion of opposing consciousness and subconsciousness with the concept that the interior human being is a structure of Superego, Ego and Id. The comparison explicates a succession of resemblances – as the correspondence between the interior superego and the Christian God the Father with Saint August, and the Superego and the own father or the forefather of the primal horde with Freud. Of course, the relation between them with Freud is stronger, and therefore, his triad is more explicit than Saint Augustine’s is. Besides, Saint Augustine reckons the human world as disclosed to the total exterior world with a face, assigned within the symbol of the god, while Freud follows the worldly notion of the closed within itself human world.

This dissimilarity between Freud and Saint Augustine points to the resemblance of the notions of Marcus Aurelius and Saint Augustine on the world. They are unworldly – the human world, both exterior and interior, is dependable on a world totality, apprehended in one or another way. Only in “Meditations”, it is not compiled in a stable symbol and is devoid of face. Its most common manifestation of the universal nature, of a superreason and superform, resembles scientific worldly apprehension. Worldly, to our assessment, is also Marcus Aurelius’s idea of the strong detachment of the particular human being. This idea is related to the command on the respect of the social being and the state, which lacks in ”Confessions” but is similar to our contemporary sense of the world. Therefore, the possibility to conclude that eventually the semblance in the exterior world apprehension between Freud and Marcus Aurelius leads to the similar idea of the ego, and to the semblance, that as the Freudian ego is stuck between the Superego and the Id, so the breath of Marcus Aurelius is stuck between the mind and the carnal impulses.

With the substantial dissimilarity, of course, that with Freud the Ego is built on interior relations and is a dynamic entity. Therefore follows the operative inconsistency of the Freudian apprehension of the Ego, which is two entities – the stuck between the Superego and Id, but also the dynamic relation between the complicatedly related in-between Super-ego, Ego and Id. While with Marcus Aurelius by a negation of the triad, the Ego overlaps with the Superego. In accordance to the tradition, commenced by Plato and taken up by the Stoa, explicitly or implicitly, in the Antique philosophical vision the interior human being coincides with the superego, relegates to the nonindividual within itself, to the properly denominated by the stoics marginal option of divinity. The particular human being is definable solely as nonhuman. This stipulation is susceptible to discussions in the major Antique texts – the human being is dealing with divinities and is laid open to immortality.

Marcus Aurelius compromisingly follows this vision, usually mistrusts the possibility the Ego to be relegated to the Superego of the interior god and hesitates between the traditional cosmic optimism and his own skepticism. The same it is with Freudian texts – to an extent it is acceptable that the Superego can overlap the ego, but more often this option is mistrusted. As a scientist, Freud deals with the structure of the interior human being, scrutinizes it as an objective condition, and looks for its confirmation in real cases. As a person of substantial experience and as a writer, he is doing otherwise – conducts or gives an account of psychoanalytic examinations of unique cases, which seemingly prove that the real human does not coincide with the triad setting of the interior human being, and even transcends it within the intertwined intrinsic monologues and dialogues. As if it is suggested that within the real plan of the subsistence, the human being is a polylogical stream, comprised of intertwined interior and exterior relations.

Though seemingly typical of our contemporaneity and more openly formulated by the postmodern philosophy and science or by the assembling of different discourses in a text, this suggestion is with a long prehistory in the practice of the passage from one to another discourse. Both the one and the other lead to mutual correction of the implied by the discourses visions on the world. Classical example are Plato dialogues, wherein definite, static ideas are questioned in polylogocally built up parties.

Therefore, the hypothesis of the present essay. The talk with ourselves we are interested in, utilizes monologues and dialogues. They are discursive explication of the apprehension, that both the world, and the interior human being are of a hierarchical structure. When this apprehension is questioned, and the talk is inspired by the notion the world and the ego are of nonhierarchical setting, the monologue gets weakened, more dialogical and leans to polylogue. Even set in a polylogical form, though, the dialogue goes on inducing the idea the world is uniform and hierarchical. Therefore follows the necessity of a discourse, which correspondingly implicitly explicates the notion of a hierarchical plural world. This discourse is available within the cultural tradition – this is the narrative. One way or another, formally, it inevitably is explicated as a kind of a polylogical reattunement.

On this ground follows the resemblance between the apprehension of the interior human being with Freud and Saint Augustine. Exactly like Freud, Saint Augustine is exposed to narratives in his “Confessions”. By alternating prayers, passages of confessions, and genuine talks with himself, he moulds the gross autobiographic narrative of his own ego formation. As with the Freudian psychoanalytic descriptions, so Saint Augustine’s autobiography refers to change. Of course, the author of “Confessions”, rambling along the arduous road towards his own salvation, shares no doubts in it. Therefore, the dissimilarity in the attitude to one’s own history. To Saint Augustine, it is disclosed to the forthcoming nonliving, and is defined by it. While to the rational worldly Freud, death is complete termination of the particular human being. Hence, the rambling, which overlaps with the narrative of the living, is something within itself, notwithstanding the similarity to other people’s ramblings. The own narrative is closed by the idea of its uniqueness.

The dissimilarity does not abolish the similarity. No matter the extent to which Saint Augustine does not doubt the salvation, he too, apprehends the human living dynamically not solely in the plan of bad dissent between subsistence and substance, but also in the plan of the pursuit of the big change. Therefore, the aspect of the high definitiveness of the own, which relates Saint Augustine to Freud and is not discernible in the Antiquity that thinks impersonally both of the life, and of the dead soul. With Saint Augustine, bestowed as a personal responsibility, the soul of the particular human being with a face, is the same during the corporal subsistence – personal-dynamic, evolving interiorly too, as an advancement to the moment of the gross change, and intrinsically as a concrete ego with a depth, in a condition of a constant apprehension of itself, and of the world.

Second stage in the comparison of the talk with himself with Marcus Aurelius and Saint Augustine

At this point, we can suspend the comparison with Freud. It only aids to the delineation of the necessary in the case binary structure – the non-personal static and the personal-dynamic apprehension of the interior human being setting.

On the line of this opposition, a paradox stipulation is modeled – Saint Augustine is a modern person. The issue is what we apprehend as “modern”. If we define the modern as an available personal-dynamic vision of the interior human being, according to which it is susceptible to change, and in a way is plural, we are to accept that Saint Augustine and Freud are modern persons. If this refers to the world, though, than it turns out neither Saint Augustine, nor Freud, are modern persons. Obviously, “Meditations” and “Confessions” follow the apprehension that the world is a wholesome and a hierarchically set up entity. Is this apprehension solely pertaining to the Antiquity, though? Hardly so. It is available also with the Freudian thought. Thus, no matter what change has occurred in the time lapse between Saint Augustine and Freud, we can assert otherwise – at certain respect, both are not modern enough.

These two paradox stipulations are convincing: it is one thing to apprehend texts and quite other to speak of contexts. Texts inevitably are dramas of contexts combination. Dramas of this kind are “Meditations” and “Confessions”, as well as the Freudian texts scrutinized above. In the case we are interested not in text totalities as “Meditations” and “Confessions”, but rather in their shared context, the Antique sense milieu, which sets them in a regime of interior similarity and dissimilarity. The aspect of this milieu imposes two stipulations: 1. the personal-dynamic apprehension of the ego setting is available within the second one, but not within the first text, and 2. the both texts are two points on the way of the ego apprehension in the Late Antiquity. Its contextual problem is, that it needs a more discursive notion of the human ego, and looks for it, but in a way is restricted by the typical of the time hierarchical-total notion of the world.

This presupposedly common feature between Marcus Aurelius and Saint Augustine goes along with considerable in number similar ideas and motives. To this context grounds is to be added also a more concrete reason: i.e. both rely on the same sources, first and foremost on Plato, Aristotle and the stoic philosophers. Here are a few examples. Both stipulate there is only present, and the interior is better than the exterior. Both insist on the discursive apprehension of the qualities of every entity, and discriminate the true divine from the incomplete human subsistence. These semblances embrace a sequence of shared motives – the difficult morning waking up and the conceited mountain hiking with Marcus Aurelius because of the better seclusion within himself, and with Saint Augustine because of the fact the interior beauty of the spiritual is more perfect than the beauty of the nature.

At the same time, there are a lot of dissimilarities. Saint Augustine’s “Confessions” are a wholesome, meant to be published text. Marcus Aurelius “Meditations” is a fragmentary text for personal usage. “Confessions” are autobiographic narrative of the nevertheless attained transformation, “Meditations” evidence rather the unattained transformation. Whether at other circumstances Marcus Aurelius would have been in a situation to attain and explicate it? The dogmatic answer in view of the context is negative – the emperor does not have at his disposal a discourse, which would have permitted it to him. The nondogmatic response in the view of the text is that he could produce such a discourse. We have in sight the example of the created ages earlier autobiographic Plato’s Seventh letter. Here is the hypothesis that combines the two viewpoints – “Meditations” is an unattained discourse text, while “Confessions” is a peculiar explication of a working out kind of discourse.

A more comprehended comparison between the two texts on the line of the form brings to the fore a telling discrimination. Marcus Aurelius speaks by a distinct ego to his own self, naming it “you” or identifying it with his own soul. The scheme is traditional: the word wielding spirit and the sensible soul speak to the non-verbal imprudent receptacle of negative emotions and wrong notions soul. The imprudent soul disobeys. It sustains tense relations to the reasonable soul, though does not scold her, as it is with “Confessions”. The two souls are distinctly discriminated. The firs one is a captive of the subsistence, of the ill mobility of the covered with wrong notions emotionality, and the second one disposes of a stable pure notions on the entities substance. As the well discriminated sensible soul, the good notions, too, are distinctly discriminated from the bad ones, and formulating them for the speaking I is not a predicament. The predicament is in the application of their truthfulness in the run of the real subsistence.

The statics of the so discriminated truth and reality, of the pure intellectuality, operating through substantial conditions, and the “impure” subsistence, dragging towards bad notions predisposes to monologue. The others are either vectors of the truth, who the emperor listens to, or deluded people, with whom he does not speak. Desolate and introvert, he is deprived of interlocutor in the instance of the general nature too. He cannot talk with the universal sensible soul – it is not a subject, only a principle of a subject. What to say about the souls of the particular human beings, that have been set apart from it, and that are even less subjective? Therefore, it is natural to pay attention not to their speaking-non-telling, but to the guaranteed telling of the interior god. Because telling means subsistences formulation. Therefore, the contradiction – the monologic conversation in “Meditations” attests to the setting apart of the particular human being as an intrinsic structure, but not to his personal evolvement in a loose own depth and therefore – own history.

In “Confessions” the inner dialogue of the soul with itself is just a moment, invested within the frame of the intrinsic approach to god. Saint Augustine is surely discriminative of the true word of god - concealed within other words, not immediately to be heard - and of the heard imperfect human speaking. Just like the human soul, it too, is hesitant, extended in time, explicated as alternations of moments, without being scattered in horizontal relations to words of other modes. Its movement is vertically directed – as raise and fall off of the true word. Such is the concrete text of “Confessions”. Compound of different parties, it is subjected to the devotional panegyrics that from addressing to the perfect god’s otherness pass over to confessional representation of the imperfectness of the confessing one. There is a transition too, though – from the habitual registration to the interest in the concrete explication of the own imperfection, elaborated within narratives of the two most usual occurrences – of talking with other people and seclusive talking with oneself.

As with Marcus Aurelius, the talks with oneself in “Confessions” process notions. I have already pointed out the dissimilarity – Marcus Aurelius is interested in the general principles that organize the world being and the human subsistance, while Saint Augustine scrutinizes the  loose aspect of these principles subsistance. The dissimilarity does not prevent the talk with the both of them to run as a kind of reproach advising. Of course, with Marcus Aurelius the reproaching “I” is deservingly discriminated from the reproached self, while with Saint Augustine they are interrelated within the intrinsic home of the dramatically intensive soul. Therefore, the consequence, that in this place the sensible “I” talks, but the retorts of the imprudent self are also heard. The relations are tense, squabbles break off.  In “Confessions” the squabble is an usual symbolic expression of the concrete subjectivity, occupied with the constant definition of itself, the world, and their interdependence, with a fixation within the own depth and scrutinization of the own worldly route.

Mobility in “Meditations” is only something bad; according to “Confessions”, it has a good aspect too. In the spirit of the dialectics of the change, Saint Augustine represents neopositively both the human emotionality, and the spheres of the will and the mind. Emotionality presupposes negative, but positive emotions too, as the imprudent and the prudent will are associated in the torn out by contradictions soul. On its turn, the reason is mobile too – as an ill roaming and breaking down, but as the good of the occurring at times elevating towards the god’s spirit. These three levels of the interior human being are dynamic both in themselves, and in their in-between relations. A higher explication of their dynamics is the fusion of the good emotions, the prudent will, and the elevating mind within the rarely occurring enlightenment of the touch to the god’s word. Thus, “Meditations” deals with the static truth and the static idea of the construction of the inner human being, and “Confessions” – with the reality of the dynamic search of the truth by a mobile interior human being.

Of course, with Saint Augustine, the human being looks for and moves towards the god’s truth as long as it lives. After the death, it wastes both the motion, and the depth, and its own history. But it retains its face, it survives. While for Marcus Aurelius’s human being the death is falling apart; the death is turning back of the elements fallen apart towards the universal nature of everything. Being part of other, only temporarily compound, these elements make out of the individual human being something sorrowful, suffering, whose only consolation is within the knowledge of the universal principles. The individual is a suffering for Saint Augustine too, something insufficient, filled with a craving after the return to the god. This is a personal return, though. The detached from the body soul not only retains the individuality, that it sustained during its perishable subsistence, but definitely enforces it according to the model of the superpersonal god.

This explicates the reason why Saint Augustine goes deep in his thoughts and emotions, and scrutinizes the progress of the minor situations of the worldly course, approaching the supersituation of the salvation. Explicated within the length of time and compiled by the memory work, his soul is dynamic and evolving. Its intrinsic movement is hierarchically directed by the exterior. The human being sustains its depth, and its history, because it moves in a perplexed way towards the height of the exterior world. Therefore, not god’s residence in the human being makes out of it a human being, as it is with Marcus Aurelius, but the reciprocal residence of the human being within the god. With the availability of the god within the human being, only the principles of the human is obtained. Saint Augustine does not discern god in himself, he seeks god out of himself and finds out not that much the god, as his own self in it. Thus, the move towards the own wellbeing is also a move towards the own, more complete being.

Notwithstanding how we will present this drama, we cannot apprehend it neutrally. For us, the contemporary people, who realize their own perishable being in a worldly mode, Saint Augustine’s apprehension of the interior human being and its impetus to upwards, is mythologically and ideologically locked exactly within the idea of a hierarchical wholesome world. Not that it is not active today too. The point is that we already realize that the ideas of the wholesome hierarchical world and the wholesome hierarchically built up interior human being, are not a reality, but operative constructs, imposed by unconsciously accepted as nature hierarchically directed human sociality. We realize that the human being attributes its own social hierarchy both to the world, and to its interior world. At the same time, we know that its adequate detachment and self-sufficiency are turning into a restricting agent of this vision. As it is the case with “Confessions”. No matter the extent to which Saint Augustine follows the idea of the wholesome hierarchical world, imposed by the Antique cultural context, he makes the first substantial step towards the notion that the particular human being has a face and an own history.

Hermeneutical consequences of the comparison of the two texts on the theme of the dialogue and polylogue

As with any work, in this essay, too, unforeseen forces are intruding. Our intention was to compare “Meditations” and “Confessions” on the line of the hypothetical genre of talking with oneself. I disregarded the history of so many talks with the own soul in the world literature, as well as in the antique material, and I implemented a typological research. The typology drove me to the “swamp” net of similarities and dissimilarities. Amplifications carried me away. Others I abandoned, but I decided that one of them is of use – the thesis that the apprehension of the interior human being is dependent on the concomitant implicated or explicated apprehension of the character of the exterior world.

The comparison of “Meditations” and “Confessions” carried out in this plan, convinced me that the two texts are organized by similar ideas on a hierarchical wholesome world, and therefore – on an interior human being. With Marcus Aurelius it is a static general unit, a principle only, which is not dynamically evolved, while with “Confessions” we refer to an intrinsic human being with a dynamics. Explicated in depth and history, it is not solely a principle. Saint Augustine invests in it his own dynamics of a particular human being with a depth and own history. Of course, the locked in the static symbol of god idea on the hierarchical wholesome world, and the draught to a truth of a general validity, restrict the dynamic vision on the interior human being and exclude two things – the dynamic thought of the exterior world too, and the interior human being to be presented as an exchange of interior and exterior relations.

The idea of a hierarchical wholesome world is still operative nowadays. Therefore, the possibility the texts of Marcus Aulrelius, Saint Augustine and Freud to fall into a shared context. Exactly the shifting perspectives of talking to oneself, though, and hence the apprehension of the structure of the Ego, reveal that this vision more often than the other is questioned – the vision of the plural-world-open-system of many places and units of constantly attained and dissipated onenesses, of interior times and extensions, exposed to the elementality of the chance. The same can be stipulated in view of the discourse. By constantly relying on the vision of the hierarchy of the wholesome world, our contemporaneity persists in being monologic and feebly dialogically attuned. Simultaneously, the crisis in the contemporaneous knowledge and the shaken off monolith of the objectivistic speaking indicate that the contemporary humanity already is faced with the ever more distinct realization of the other vision, dissimilar to the notion of the closed god’s world of Saint Augustine, but dynamic and eventful, as the intrinsic human world of “Confessions” and the complex interior human world in Freudian psychoanalytic narrative in number of cases is.

This conclusion on the line of the notion on the world seems to me substantial for the humanitarian scrutinizations, dealing predominantly with texts. One way or another, they impose the operating mode with the gross dependences that organize the sense relations in a text – between the implicated and explicated stipulations and certain forms, which provide their explication. The division to substance and form is inefficient, though. This does not rescind the formulated hypothesis that the coming into line notions of the interior human being and the exterior world impose polylogical relations of discourses and interiorly polylogical texts. One of the conclusions of this essay is that the notion of the wholesome hierarchical world is explicated more adequately in monologues and dialogues, and the notion of the so-called plural world is oriented towards the forms of the polylogue.

These are only classifications, though, and operative programs. Without knowing whatsoever, we always have at our disposal some texts that inevitably are a form of drama in matching the context stipulations and slipping off the imposed forms. The texts are unique polylogical constructions, as the particular humans are. This does not save them from blushing in the face of one or another context, and from considering themselves by the terms of success and failure. As it is the case with the end of the present typological comparison of “Meditations” and “Confessions”. In view of the present appreciation of the so-called plural world in the context of the final of the present essay, I allow myself to speak of the failure of the two texts and to stipulate that neither Marcus Aurelius manages to save his own I from the duties of the individuality, nor Saint Augustine’s depth dynamic ego is that dynamic, if it is dependable on the idea of the hierarchical wholesome world. The same can be stipulated also of Freud’s texts, as well as of other notable compositions.

I can, and I am obliged to say it of my own texts too. Not only of the written ones, at that, but of the substantial text of my own interior existence. As if I ramble within it between different visions of the world, but I inevitably I am getting tired and soothingly fall into the notion of the hierarchically wholesome world, and therefore – into the trap of the monologue and the dialogue. Inevitably, I am short of knowledge and emotionality so that I can apprehend the world as evolving and falling apart wholeness, as breaking off and starting anew processing. It is fit disposing of the old means of the polylogue of the narrative, which without strain, discretely faces the two otherwise slipping away visions – the more explicated one of the processing, and the more concealed one of the plurality.


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