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Outward SignsThe Powerlessness of External Things in Augustine's Thought$
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Phillip Cary

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195336498

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195336498.001.0001

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 Before Words Were Signs

 Before Words Were Signs

Semiotics in Greek Philosophy

Chapter:
(p.17) 1 Before Words Were Signs
Source:
Outward Signs
Author(s):

Phillip Cary (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195336498.003.0003

To see what is new about Augustine's theory of signs, it is useful to notice that Greek semiotics was concerned with the epistemology of empirical inference and included no theory of language or expression. This is illustrated in Plato, in Aristotle's On Interpretation (where an Augustinian semiotics is often read into the text anachronistically), in the treatises on physiognomics in the Aristotelian corpus (where bodies are signs of the soul), in the semiotics and theory of language developed by Stoicism, and in the scepticism of Sextus Empiricus. The recurrent problem, emphasized by the more sceptical side in philosophical debates, is that signs are ambiguous whenever they are “common” to more than one thing signified. Augustine's theory of signs resembles Sextus's sceptical concept of “reminding signs,” which are both indispensably useful and epistemically inadequate.

Keywords:   Augustine, Plato, Aristotle, Stoicism, Sextus Empiricus, scepticism, language, signs, physiognomics, soul

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