Augustine on the Varieties of Understanding and Why There is No Learning from Words

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Abstract

This paper examines Augustine’s account of understanding and its attainment in De Magistro. Following Myles Burnyeat (1987), it is often held that Augustine is especially concerned with explanatory understanding (a complex cognitive state characterised by its synoptic nature and awareness of explanatory relations) and that a principal thesis of De Magistro – that there is no learning from words – should be construed not as the claim that testimony is deficient in producing justification in the hearer, but rather as the claim that testimony fails to impart explanatory understanding. Against this view, I argue that in De Magistro Augustine is not in fact especially concerned with explanatory understanding but with various other forms of cognisance (which have hitherto not been clearly characterised or sufficiently distinguished) and that Augustine’s claim that there is no learning from words cannot be construed as typically proposed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy
PublisherOxford University Press
Pages1-31
Volume3
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • Augustine
  • Epistemology
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Testimony
  • Understanding

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