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Lecture, Dr. Timothy B. Noone: “Augustine on Words, Signs, Thought, and Things in <em>De Magistro</em>”

Lecture, Dr. Timothy B. Noone: “Augustine on Words, Signs, Thought, and Things in De Magistro

Posted: January 23, 2020


Augustine on Words, Signs, Thought, and Things in
De Magistro: One of Many Ways to the Same Truth


Dr. Timothy B. Noone
Professor of Philosophy
Catholic University of America
St. Vincent de Paul Lecture and Concert Series
Thomas Aquinas College, California
January 17, 2020


 “I want you to think that I have not organized little mind games in this discourse, though we sometimes are playful as we talk, nor do I want what we are inquiring about to be adjudged by the measure of a boy’s sensibilities; nor for us to think that small and modest points are at stake.  And yet if I should speak of a certain blessed and everlasting life, to which, with God as our Guide, that is, with the Truth Itself as our Guide, I earnestly desire we shall be brought as by certain steps measured out to suit our weak gait, I fear I may seem worthy of laughter, inasmuch as I have embarked upon so great a journey not by the consideration of the things themselves that are signified but of the signs that signify them.”[1]


With these words, stated approximately halfway through his philosophical dialogue De magistro, Augustine feels compelled to assure his son and interlocutor, Adeodatus, that their long and labyrinthine discussion of words, signification, knowledge, and things is not mere word-play, but has a serious philosophical aim.  An assurance of this sort seems necessary not simply to those involved in the discussion at Cassiciacum outside of Milano, a place of retreat for Augustine during his preparation for Baptism in the late winter and spring of 387, but also for us, the readers of the written dialogue.  Nothing seems stranger than that a conversation begun by Augustine’s humble question ‘What do we seem to be trying to do when we speak?” should end with the One Inner Teacher, Who is Christ.  Certainly, our contemporary philosophers of language would be astonished that any inquiry into the nature of language should advance to making metaphysical claims about the existence and nature of God.  But so it is.

My purposes here are several: first, to review the stages of the inquiry into the philosophy of language that constitutes the bulk of the De magistro’s text; second, to show that the conclusion reached is actually anticipated in and emerges understandably from the wide-ranging discussion of words, knowledge, and things found in the dialogue; third, and finally to review how elsewhere in his writings Augustine’s conclusion that our intellectual knowledge is based upon divine illumination is buttressed by parallel, but distinct, considerations in other works, yet always has its ground in the same general line of reasoning.  What we shall see regarding the last point is that the reasoning of Augustine in De magistro emphasizes the identity of the intelligible object and its immutability, something found as well in the roughly contemporaneous work De libero arbitrio.

I: Stages of the Inquiry

The stages of the inquiry are outlined within the dialogue itself by the excellent summary, praised by Augustine himself, provided by Adeodatus (VII.19).  The first stage is reached even before the interlocutors arrive at the consideration of the verse from the Aeneid that occupies a good amount of their attention; that stage establishes the ordering of speech (locutio) to teaching. Even asking questions and learning are included within the scope of the end of teaching inasmuch as when we inquire of others we are teaching them what we want to know (I.1-I.2; 157-159).  We can, of course, think about things ourselves without talking to others, and there we might seem to encounter a case in which speech, at least the mental speech that Augustine endorses, is not ordered to teaching. Yet even here the apparent counterexample of the speech of thought not being connected to teaching is handled by Augustine through his pointing out that the speech of thought brings to mind (and in that sense, teaches us about) the things, of which the mental words are signs:

Nonetheless because when we think of the words we speak interiorly in our mind, so too this speech is doing nothing other than calling to mind: when the memory to which those words belong causes, by turning over those words, the things themselves to come to mind of which the words are signs.[2]

Here we find the items and their interrelations that will occupy so much of our attention in reading the dialogue: words, signs, thought, and things.  Before we go on to the second stage I cannot help pointing out that Augustine’s remarks here, when combined with parallel passages in other works, partially forms the basis for the development of the medieval philosophy of language in authors such as Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham.

In the second stage, the interlocutors, after having established that the very essence of a sign is to bring to mind something else and that words are signs, pause to consider the verse of Vergil’s Aeneid II, 659: ‘Si nihil ex tanta superis placet urbe relinqui.’  The inquiry into this verse first takes the turn of trying to articulate what precisely the individual words are signs of, more or less on the assumption that there should be a feature picked out by each word, that is to say, that there is an isomorphism between words and things.  On this score, they get mixed results at best.  The first word ‘si’ might correspond to a state of the speaker’s soul, denoting doubt, but the second word ‘nihil’ cannot answer to ‘that which is not’, as Augustine rightly claims, for it has to be a sign of something (II.3; 160-161).  Adeodatus tries out the idea that the item ‘nihil’ is aligned with is the mind’s expectation that something should be that is not.  They come to grief, however, when they reach the preposition ‘ex’, for there seems to be no single thing to which ‘ex’ answers, once Augustine rejects the effort to say that ‘ex’ is just another way of expressing ‘ab’ (II.4; 162).

This effort to get something to answer to ‘ex’ is actually fruitful; it brings up the case of ostension and its limitations.  We can point to bodies and at least some of their qualities and hence assign referents for at least some words, and certain humans, such as deaf persons and actors, can even extend the range of ostension to items such as smells through their gestures and pantomimes (in the Middle Ages, this list of non-verbal signs will be further extended by including the system of signs used by the cloistered religious forbidden from speaking).  The range of what can be communicated by ostension seems, however, quite limited and, furthermore, is itself a case, albeit non-verbal, of giving a sign.  Yet the theme of signs has now been broached and is, in effect, introduced as a category into which words may be placed.  Indeed, this and related passages are accounted to be among the points of origin for the present-day field of semiotics.

The interlocutors now try out an alternative way in which the connection between words and things might be made: instantiation.  The example they take up is walking, but the problem from the would-be learner’s viewpoint is immediately obvious: the teacher of the signification of the sign cannot be engaged in the activity being instantiated already when he enunciates the sign for then any variation in the activity will be thought by the learner to be what is meant by the spoken sign.  The only possible activity in which the exercise and mode will not cause confusion, perhaps, is speaking itself.  So instantiation is limited to showing only those that we not doing when asked, setting aside the case of speaking itself (III.5-6; 162-164). 

At the third stage, we get some useful, and ultimately influential, divisions of signs (IV.708; 164-166).  There is a division of signs that is according to the manner in which signs may be shown, encompassing: 1.a: showing signs by signs, 1.b: showing signs by things through instantiation or ostension, and 1.c: showing the things that consist in giving signs; there is also a division of signs in accord with what they pertain to: 2.a: spoken words pertaining to hearing, 2.b: gestures pertaining to the eyes, and 2.c: written words pertaining also to the eyes, though Augustine emphasizes that written words are not properly words but signs of words, conjuring as they do the proper spoken words that pertain to the ear; and signs are finally divided into 3.a: signs, chiefly words, that signify other signs as opposed to 3.b: signs that directly signify things, whether sensible or intelligible.

These divisions involve efforts to hierarchize and categorize signs so that we end up with the following (167): ‘word’ can be a sign of ‘noun/name’ (nomen); ‘noun/name’ can be a sign of ‘river’; and ‘river’ can be a sign of a river, which itself is not a sign; indeed, to cover precisely the latter case Augustine coins a technical sense of ‘significabilia’: things able to be signified that are not themselves signs (166).  This discussion is related, obviously, to the distinction eventually introduced into the Latin tradition as a distinction of names of first and second imposition as formulated by Boethius.  But the new topic that gets into the discussion at this point is that of signs that refer to themselves and those that do not (IV.10).

At the fourth stage, the topic of self-referring expressions naturally arises out of the consideration of items such as ‘nomen’ and ‘verbum’ insofar as each has a general and specific meaning.  Much effort is spent on these self-referring expressions, occupying some six pages of the Latin text, but eventually we arrive at the following points: ‘nomen’ can be understood as a general word for name and any word can be a name, but it can also be understood as a part of speech and thus be what we call ‘noun’; ‘verbum’, likewise, can be understood as a general word for ‘word’, but also as a part of speech distinguished from nouns and thus be what we call ‘verb’.  Immediately connected to these points are efforts to express precisely the extension of mutually referring words: a word may be called a ‘sign’ and a sign may be called a ‘word’, but word has a narrower, sign a wider extension; ‘word’ and ‘name’ are, on the other hand, of the same extension, but do not signify what they signify in the same sense; and, finally, ‘nomen’ in Latin and ‘onoma’ in Greek can refer to each other being the translation for each other, but also signify the same things in exactly the same respect and thus are synonyms (V.13, 170-VI.18,177).

At this point the reader – and I assume my own hearers – is pretty well overwhelmed and it is no accident that it is at this point Adeodatus gives his fine summary and Augustine the comment I quoted at the outset of the present lecture, emphasizing the seriousness of the inquiry and its goal of bringing us to the highest things.  But we are not done with words yet by any means.  Augustine gets this second phase of the discussion started by asking whether the general thesis that things are better than their signs is acceptable.  Adeodatus demurs, using the example of ‘caenum’ (filfth), which is certainly not, as a thing, better than its pretty sounding sign, itself only one letter away from ‘caelum’.  Yet Augustine points out even so the fact that signs are for the sake of designating things shows that things enjoy some kind of precedence over signs.  What is put forth at this point in the dialogue is that knowledge of things is better than their signs, though knowledge of things may not be preferable to knowledge of signs in all respects. (IX.26, 185-7).

What now comes in quick order are two general points, one of which is the antithesis of the other.  The first general conclusion reached is that, insofar as teaching necessarily involves signs, nothing is taught without signs, including knowledge itself, which, as we have seen, is dearer than signs. (IX.31, 189). But this conclusion is now immediately and definitively refuted, and Augustine, in a caution clearly inspired by the Plato’s Phaedo, 89A-91C, warns Adeodatus not to become discouraged if their inquiry upsets claims that looked to be established and settled. Things are learned without signs all the time: the sun, the moon, the stars are all learned and known without the intermediation of signs.  Indeed, as Augustine puts it:

If we consider matters carefully, you will perhaps discover that there is no thing that can be learned through its signs.  For when I am given a sign, if I am unaware of the thing of which it is a sign, the sign can teach me nothing.  Yet if I do know the thing of which the sign is a sign, what does the sign teach me?  For the word does not teach me the thing which it signifies when I read [in the book of Daniel] ‘and their sarabarae were not changed’ ... For, to be sure, when at first the two syllables ‘caput’ first struck my ears I was as ignorant of what those sounds signified as I was when I heard or read ‘sarabarae’.  But after ‘caput’ was said in my presence many times, I took note and perceived when it was said and thus discovered it was the expression for a thing, which was very well known to me by my seeing it.  Before I discovered this, the word was to me just a sound, but afterwards I learned it was a sign when I came to find out what thing it was a sign for; that thing, however, I did not, as I have said, learn by signification but by sight.  And so it is rather the case that a sign is learned by the thing’s being known than that the thing gets to be known by the sign’s being given.[3]

II: Philosophy of Language and the Philosophy of Mind

We have reached the culmination of the lengthy discussion of words and signification that is the minefield, often ignored and bypassed, through which all readers of the De magistro in its entirety must pass.  What is the upshot of that discussion?  Augustine himself tells us what it is when he says:

Words are good for this much, to give them their full due: they advise us to seek into things; they do not display things so that we may come to know them. ... By words, we only learn words, or, rather, not even words but the sound and din of the words, for items that are not signs cannot be words; even if the sound is heard, I do not know the word to be a word until I know what it is a sign of. ... That argument is most true, then, and is most truly expressed that claims when words are uttered, we either know what they signify or we do not: if we do, we call the things to mind rather than learn about them; if we are unaware of those things, however, we don’t even call them to mind but perhaps we are advised to seek into them.[4]

The argument that Augustine is referring to at the end of this passage is, as the editor of the Latin text of De magistro, K.D. Daur notes, somehow derived -- perhaps from some of the ‘Platonic’ books that Augustine refers to in the Confessions -- from key passages on the philosophy of language found in Plato’s writings, especially in the Cratylus (388B), but also calls to our attention the more epistemological background of the Meno (80E).  The philosophical point that emerges, accordingly, is that language, for all its richness and internal complexity, is such that it is parasitic upon things and our knowledge of things.  To stay within the realm of language is to be at one remove from things – hence the self-critical remarks of Augustine at the outset of this lecture – and, in any event, language always trades on a logically and epistemologically prior acquaintance with things (Respondebo cuncta quae illis verbis significata sunt in nostra notitia iam fuisse: De mag. X 37; 195).  Incidentally, this appeal by Augustine to the background and uniformity of things behind the phenomenon of language is parallel in part to the opening lines of Aristotle’s De interpretatione, 16a3-8 in which Aristotle points to the constant features of ‘pathemata’ and ‘rhemata’ behind spoken and written language.

This, I would suggest, is the point where the philosophy of language leads us into the heart of the Augustinian philosophy of mind and thus the seemingly irrelevant long discourse about language actually does and is meant to bring us to the final portion of the dialogue dealing with the philosophy of mind and the thesis of divine illumination.  In accounting for our acquaintance with sensibles, there is no mystery or complication of how matters stand.  If we simply read the De libero arbitrio book II chapters 3.7-7.19, we find Augustine outlining a quite Aristotelian-oriented view of sense knowledge, including distinctions between proper and common object of sense, a doctrine of an internal sense whose functions are at least parallel to those of the ‘sensus communis’, and a distinction between private and public objects of sense awareness.  Whether Augustine gets the material for this perspective on sense knowledge from reading Greek sources, or Latin translations by Marius Victorinus of Greek texts of Plotinus, where the latter summarizes Aristotle’s De anima, and perhaps texts of Porphyry, or in some other manner is hard to say, but there can be no doubt that Augustine thinks our sense knowledge is reliable and depends upon direct experience of sensible objects, even if he tends towards saying that the senses are active in the production of their own acts, rather than wholly passive in the manner that many Aristotelian commentators would maintain.  But once we take note of this background, we start to see the source of the puzzle that the next portion of the text draws us into: how do we have similarly direct acquaintance to the acquaintance we have of sensibles with the universals that can be grasped only by our intellectual powers?  For we must have some prior acquaintance with them, if we have words, i.e., signs, of them.

Augustine gives us no complex theory of how we know intelligibles here; he simply asserts that we do not get them from each other but rather get them by taking counsel from the Truth that dwells within: the inner Teacher that dwells within the mind.  The model that Augustine uses is, naturally, the standard one of light.[5]  Just as the physical light of the heavenly bodies allows us to see what we can, so this inner light of the mind displays intelligible items to us; we use the senses to come to know about bodies, but consult the truth with our reasons to know intelligibles:

When we deal with items that we see with our minds, that is with our understanding and reason, we speak of such things as present in that inner light of truth, whereby he, who is called the inner man, is enlightened and enjoys such things.  Then too, however, a hearer of our discourse, if he too sees such things in the secret and simple eye of his mind is aware of what I am talking about in his own gaze, not by means of my words.  Therefore, I do not teach such a person when I say things that are true and he sees those same true things, for he is taught not by my words at all, but by the things themselves rendered manifest by God displaying them within us and that is why such a person could respond when he is asked about such matters.[6]

So far we might think, as many interpreters have thought, that we are getting a slightly adjusted Platonism here; Augustine is just tweaking the theory of Ideas inherited from Plato in such a way that he does not have to endorse any version of anamnesis and the preexistence of the soul to account for the presence of intelligibles to the human mind.  But actually such a view cannot be quite right for at least two reasons. First, Augustine was actually still tinkering with the possibility of the pre-existence of the soul at this point in his thought, as he tells us later in the Retractationes relating to De libero arbitrio.  Second, the point that Augustine emphasizes about the universals is not so much their being predicable of many as opposed to the individual items discerned by the senses, but their being present in such a way that each inquirer sees them in a publicly available ‘space’ distinct from each of the inquirer’s minds as well as the immutable character of those intelligibles.  The former point we have seen in the quotation just given, while the latter is described briefly when Augustine tells us about the Teacher, as Christ, the Power and Everlasting Wisdom of the Immutable God.  But these points are given even more articulation in the related Cassiciacum dialogue, De libero arbitrio, to which we now turn.

III: The Doctrine of Divine Illumination in De libero arbitrio (and elsewhere)

To review the entire dialogue De libero arbitrio would lengthen our presentation considerably, so I shall confine our attention to the second book’s progress.  We begin that book with the query of whether, in solving the problem of whether God causes evil, God should have given us free choice of the will inasmuch as it is through the exercise of that gift that we go astray.  Augustine presses Evodius on the point whether he knows or merely believes that God exists; Evodius says he unswervingly believes, but wishes to understand that God exists (II.ii5,16), and Augustine says that the order of their inquiry will be to show whether God exists, then whether all things are from God insofar as they are good, and finally whether free choice is to be reckoned among the good things.

The road to God’s existence begins with the interlocutors affirming that they exist (otherwise, they could not even be deceived) and that things exist hierarchically: some merely exist and are not alive, some are alive and exist, and some understand, are alive, and exist.  When the interlocutors turn to the examination of the senses, they are exploring the realm of what is alive and exists, for Augustine insists that the entire range of sense cognition, both the external and internal senses, is found in the higher animals.[7]  In the case of the senses, the internal sense is superior to the external insofar as what judges is prior to what is judged and the internal sense judges the external, being aware of the proper objects of the external senses through their activity and being aware of their functioning or not – a point that Augustine illustrates by appealing to an animal being aware that it is not seeing and so opening its eyes.  None of the senses can be aware of the limits, however, of its own operation; sight does not know that color is its proper object.  Indeed, only reason can know the proper objects of the senses as well as the distinction between proper and common objects of the senses; in addition to knowing that there is an inner sense and judging its limitations and object.  Reason, then, is what is prior to all else in a human being and what allows humans to be classified at the level of items that are, sense, and understand (De lib. arb.

But another distinction is introduced by Augustine before he leaves the realm of the senses: the distinction between public and private objects of awareness.  There is something inherently public about the senses of sight and hearing; we hear with our own senses of hearing, see with our own senses of sight, but the sights and sounds are public – there are in the cases mentioned, as Augustine says, no objects so perceived that are exclusively mine or yours, but the object is present to each of us (“...sed unum illud praesto sit utrique nostrum et simul ab utroque videatur”: De lib. arb. II. vii. 63).  But things become a little less public with smell, touch, and taste, for unlike in the cases of sight and hearing, we cannot both at one and the same time get the whole of the perceived object; rather, when you touch one part of something, I cannot simultaneously perceive that same part, and much the same is true of smells and tastes, for in the latter case the object is actually consumed in the act of sensing it.  The private is, accordingly, what each us perceives going on within him alone – such as a headache or toothache – and what appertains to his own nature, but the public is what all suitably placed sentient agents perceive with no corruption or change within their perception (De lib. arb. II. vii. 19. 78).

Clearly, the problem that lies before the inquirers at this juncture is what the proper object of reason is and what the items are that reason allows us to know.  Augustine first mentions the order of number.  Number is neither properly perceived by the senses, nor are mathematical truths among items that change; rather the numbers and mathematical truths generally are among the things we know that are present to us all and are unchangeable.  Yet wisdom seems to be of the same sort; especially if we describe wisdom as the truth in which the Highest Good is discerned and held on to.  Phenomenologically, this turns up in the desire of all to be happy, and the acknowledgement by all that wisdom is the source of happiness. (De lib. arb. II ix.27-x.27; ed. Green, 255).

Yet Augustine presses these points further: wisdom and the rules of wisdom are commonly available and at least implicitly recognized by all.  For example, the proposition that we should live justly, that the inferior should be subordinated to the superior, that we should give each person what is rightfully theirs are principles that rule over our lives of action and are recognized by all.  Metaphysical truths connected to these truths are equally recognized universally: that the eternal is prior to the temporal, that the incorruptible is better than the corruptible, and so forth.  Augustine calls these principles the rules of wisdom and argues that they are items of reference in both our activities of knowledge and choice.  Consequently, as principles, they cannot be at the same level that we rational animals are, for they are prior to our activities; they rule in the sense of judge us, we do not judge them, but judge rightly, if we do, in accordance with them.  As Augustine tells us:

Wherefore you (Evodius) cannot deny that there is an Unchangeable Truth that contains all of these truths that are unchangeably true.  That Truth you cannot say is mine or yours, or belongs to any other man, but belongs to all who discern these inalterable truths that are present in wondrous ways as a secret yet public Light and made available to us in common.  Anything that is so common to all those who reason and understand, who can claim that it pertains to anyone of our natures? You remember, I take it, what we said about the senses of the body when we treated those points earlier: that just as colors and sounds we grasp commonly by our senses of the eyes and the ears – the colors and sounds that you and I hear and see simultaneously together – do not pertain to the nature of our eyes and ears but are common objects of perception, so too the things that you and I grasp in common by our own minds, you cannot claim to belong to the nature of either of our minds.[8]

We now can begin to appreciate the technique of Augustine in the two dialogues we have examined.  In the De magistro he moves from words to the things that the words ultimately must signify, showing that always the functionality of signs trades on a prior and direct acquaintance with things.  When it comes to sensible things, the source is clearly experience.  But what then do we do to explain how signs of universal concepts and principles work?  We need to argue that they are available to the mind directly so that we may be said to have acquaintance with them, but, given their character as present to all yet unchanging, that must mean they are available to the mind in the Truth that is prior to the mind and all other creatures.  In the De libero arbitrio matters proceed similarly, though with a twist.  Though the main topic of the entire work is the problem of God and the cause of evil, in the segment we looked at the existence of God is what the target is for the inquiry.  The path leading to God goes by way of our cognitive powers, starting with our senses.  Once we have examined and delimited the objects and manner of disclosure of the senses we turn to the intellect.  Once we do so we come to quickly to the conclusion that there are publicly available objects of understanding just as common to our minds as sights are to our eyes.  These objects, however, cannot be accounted for by any process that would allow them to be in our minds – or for that matter be produced by our minds – for the character of the objects is immutability.  Hence, the objects of the mind must be available to us in an Unchangeable Truth that is prior to our mind, a public yet secret light as Augustine puts it: public because available to all, secret because none of us can see with our eyes the Light whereby we see these unchanging truths and the Truth itself can go unrecognized by the mind if it does not reflect upon how it knows the unchanging truths it knows.  If the way above is shown through words in De magistro, the way above is shown by cognition and its features in De libero arbitrio.

We could go on to examine more works by Augustine in which the thesis of divine illumination is either formally or incidentally mentioned.  In all cases, however, we would find the following constants: the truths appealed to as examples of the objects of the mind would be characterized as Unchangeable Truths available to us all in a Light above our minds.  Given these constants, what should we say philosophically about Augustine: is his epistemology just a Christianized version of Platonism or, perhaps, Plotinianism?  The answer, according to many, should be affirmative.  But I really do not think so, and not simply for the reasons already mentioned.  The major ontological divide for Augustine does not occur at the points that it does for either Plato or Plotinus.  For Plato, there is one divide between the sensible and the intelligible, that is between the sensible individual items of the world we grasp by our senses and the Forms; yet there is another divide between the Forms and the First Principle.  The latter is sometimes termed the Good, but also the One.  No matter what the name, the Highest Reality is above even the Forms, yet it causes, in a way never disclosed by Plato, the intelligibility of the Forms and thus their reality.  For Plotinus, there are three levels prior to the sensible world and the derivation of reality is much more clearly depicted: the One is beyond being and beyond Mind, from the One Intellect comes forth, followed by Soul, and the Material World is formed by Soul drawing upon Mind.  This doctrine of emanation  --  in which the Highest Thing causes everything else with the causal process proceeding in stages -- has a long afterlife, being the source of much of late Greek philosophical speculation in figures such as Porphyry and Proclus, but it also forms a major theme in the Arabic philosophical tradition, as may be seen in the Liber de causis, al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes.

What does Augustine make of these ‘Platonic’ doctrines and how does he differ?  For one thing, Augustine insists there is one fundamental divide that supersedes all others and that is the divide of creation.  Everything is either created or it is Uncreated.  If it is the latter, it is eternal, that is prior to any and all time; if it is the former, it is changeable and thus in time.  We can see the difference of this metaphysical outlook in our own problem: Augustine is not merely concerned to find a one apart from the many, in the manner that Plato treated the problem of the universals, but to locate the Unchangeable Source of intelligibility.  In other words, it is the unchangeable character of the universals that needs a much more fundamental explanation in Augustine and that explanation can only be found in the Unchangeable Uncreated Principle that is the source of our created world.


[1] “Ego autem credas velim neque me vilia ludicra hoc instituisse sermone, quamvis fortasse ludamus, idque ipsum tamen non puerili sensu aestimandum sit, neque parva bona vel mediocria cogitare.  Et tamen, si dicam vitam esse quandam beatam eandemque sempiternam, quo nos, Deo duce, id est ipsa veritate, gradibus quibusdam infirmo gressui nostro accomodatis perduci cupiam, vereor ne ridiculus videar, qui non rerum ipsarum, quae signficantur, sed signorum consideratione tantam viam ingredi coeperim.” Sancti Aurelii Augustini, De magistro, VIII 21, ed. K.D. Daur in Corpus Christianorum, XXIX, pars, II.2 (Turnholti: Typographi Brepols Editores Pontificii, 1970), 180.

[2] “…tamen, quia ipsa verba cogitamus, nos intus apud animum loqui, sic quoque locutione nihil aliud agere quam commemorare, cum memoria, cui verba inhaerent, ea revolvendo facit venire in mentem res ipsas, quorum signa sunt verba. ” (CCSL, ed., 159:73-76)

[3] “...quod si diligentius consideremus, fortasse nihil invenies, quod per sua signa discatur. Cum enim mihi signum datur, si nescientem me invenerit, cuius rei signum sit, docere me nihil potest ; si vero scientem, quid disco per signum?  Non enim mihi rem quam significat ostendit verbum, cum lego ‘et sarabarae eorum non sunt commutatae’.  ... Etenim cum primum istae duae syllabae, cum dicimus ‘caput’ aures meas impulerunt tam nescivi quid signifcarent quam cum primo audirem legeremve ‘sarabaras’.  Sed cum saepe diceretur ‘caput’, notans atque animaadvertens, quando diceretur, repperi vocabulum esse rei, quae mihi erat, videndo, notissima.  Quod priusquam repperissem, tantum mihi sonus erat hoc verbum ; signum vero ese didici, quando cuius rei signum esset inveni ; quam quidem, ut dixi, non significatu, sed aspectu didiceram.  Ita magis signum, re cognita, quam, signo dato, ipsa res discitur.” De mag. X.33, 192.

[4] “Hactenus verba valuerunt, quibus ut plurimum tribuam, admonent tantum, ut quaeramus res, non exhibent, ut norimus.  ... Verbis igitur nisi verba non discimus, immo sonitum strepitumque verborum ; nam, si ea, quae signa non sunt verba esse non possunt, quamvis iam auditum verbum nescio tamen verbum esse, donec quid significet sciam ... Verissima quippe ratio est et verissime dicitur, cum verba proferuntur, aut scire nos quid significent, aut nescire ; si scimus commemorari potius quam discere, si autem nescimus nec commemorari quidem, sed fortasse ad quaerendum admoneri. ” De mag. X.36, 194.

[5] On the metaphor of light common to both Plato and Aristotle, as well as later ancient philosophers, see R.E. Houser, “Philosophical Development through Metaphor: Light among the Greeks,” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 64 (1990), 75-85.

[6] “Cum vero de his agitur, quae mente conspicimus, id est, intellectu atque ratione, ea quidem loquimur, quae praesentia contuemur in illa interiore luce veritatis, qua ipse, qui dicitur homo interior, illustratur et fruitur ; sed tum quoque noster auditor, si et ipse illa secreto ac simplici oculo videt, novit quod dico sua contemplatione, non verbis meis.  Ergo ne hunc quidem doceo vera dicens vera intuentem ; docetur enim non verbis meis, sed ipsis rebus Deo intus pandente manifestis ; itaque de his etiam interrogatus respondere posset.”  De mag. XII 40 ; 197-198.

[7] “...illum sensum interiorem, quem quidem infra rationem et adhuc nobis communem cum bestiis superius indigavimus....” Augustine, De lib. arb. II,iv,20.44 (ed. Green, 244).

[8] “Quapropter nullo modo negaveris esse incommutabilia veritatem, haec omnia quae incommutabiliter vera sunt continentem, quam non possis dicere tuam vel meam vel cuiuscumque hominis, sed omnibus incommutabilia vera cernentibus tamquam miris modis secretum et publicum lumen praesto esse ac se praebere communiter.  Omne autem quod communiter omnibus ratiocinantibus atque intelligentibus praesto est, ad ullius eorum proprie naturam pertinere quis dixerit ?  Meministi enim, ut opinor, quid de sensibus corporis paulo <ed. Green ; paula> ante tractatum sit : ea scilicet quae oculorum vel aurium sensu communiter tangimus, sicuti sunt colores et soni, quos ego et tu simul videmus vel simul audimus, non pertinere ad oculorum nostrorum auriumve naturam, sed ad sentiendum nobis esse communia, sic ergo etiam illa quae ego et tu communiter propria quisque mente conspicimus, nequaquam dixeris ad mentis alicuius nostrum pertinere naturam.” De lib. arb. II xii 33.130-xii.33.133 ; ed. Green, 259-260).


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Patrick Nazeck (’19) -- quote 1

“No one here tells us what to think. We read the great books, look into them deeply, and then discuss them actively in class, which has forced me to take responsibility for my own education.”

– Patrick Nazeck (’19)

Ridgecrest, California

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