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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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 Why We Learn Nothing from Words

 Why We Learn Nothing from Words

The Epistemology of Augustine's Semiotics

(p.87) 4 Why We Learn Nothing from Words
Outward Signs

Phillip Cary (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

According to Augustine's early treatise On the Teacher, we do not learn things from words or other signs. Real understanding comes from the inner teaching of Christ as divine Wisdom. Hence neither Scripture nor discursive proof gives us knowledge of God; such knowledge comes only through inner intellectual vision. Words are useful as admonitions or reminders directing our minds to look for the truth in a more inward and intelligible dimension of being. Likewise, faith is useful because while we are still learning we must trust the authority of external teaching until we can see with our own reason. Hence on Platonist grounds, we must believe before we can understand or see for ourselves. The great shift in Augustine's later relation to Platonism is his recognition that the authority of Christian teaching is not something Christians ever outgrow in this mortal life.

Keywords:   Augustine, words, signs, Scripture, inner, teaching, authority, reason, vision, faith

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