The Conceptual Content of Augustinian Illumination

Philosophy and Theology 22 (1/2):3-26 (2010)
Abstract
The prevailing interpretation of Augustine’s theory of divine illumination suggests that illumination provides the human mind with the content of our a priori concepts. While there is strong textual evidence to support this view, I contend it offers an incomplete picture of the work illumination does in Augustine’s epistemology. Based on an analysis of Augustine’s solution to the paradox of language acquisition in De magistro, I argue illumination also supplies the mind with the content of all our empirical concepts. In this text, Augustine calls our attention to the problem that learning the meaning of words by even the simplest of means—through direct acquaintance (i.e., by having an object pointed out to us and labeled with a name)—turns out to require a relatively sophisticated grasp of the word’s usage in the first place, one that depends on illumination to provide the content of all our universal concepts
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