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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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How Words Became Signs

How Words Became Signs

The Development of Augustine's Expressionist Semiotics

Chapter:
(p.65) 3 How Words Became Signs
Source:
Outward Signs
Author(s):

Phillip Cary (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195336498.003.0005

Augustine's new Platonist theory of signs can be called “expressionist semiotics.” In this theory, lower things can be signs of higher things, and words are external signs expressing what is in the soul. The most important precursor for this expressive notion of signs is Latin theories of rhetoric, especially in Cicero, who treats bodily gestures as signs that signify and give expression to movements of the soul. In the semiotics of Augustine's treatise On Christian Doctrine, words are classified as “given signs,” which get their significance by expressing the communicative will of the soul. Such signs are needed after the Fall, when our bodies become mortal and opaque, and one soul cannot see into another. But by the same token, after the Fall words are often used to deceive, and despite their inherent powerlessness they can move us because of our inordinate attachment to external things.

Keywords:   Augustine, Cicero, semiotics, signs, words, expression, will, Fall, rhetoric, soul

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