BMCR 2009.05.04

Response: O’Daly on Hunink on Emmanuel Bermon (ed.), La signification et l’enseignement

Response to 2009.02.49

Response by

Vincent Hunink’s review (2009.02.49) of Emmanuel Bermon’s book on Augustine’s De magistro regrettably fails to engage with the details of B.’s study. I should declare a connection with B.’s work: I was a member of the international panel of scholars that examined an earlier version of it as part of his habilitation dossier in 2005, and we have regularly discussed our individual Augustine projects since then. I do not offer here an alternative review of B.’s book, merely draw attention to its scope and importance.

It is an account, unparalleled in detail and depth, of the formation and development of Augustine’s views on semiotics, and language and learning theory against the background of earlier ancient philosophy of language, especially in Plato, the Stoics, and Varro. This would be interesting in itself: Augustine’s is the most sustained analysis of language that we have from Greek and Roman antiquity. But more than that, through its serious, critical comparison between Augustine and Wittgenstein — starting from Wittgenstein’s reaction, in Philosophical Investigations, to Augustine’s account of a child’s language learning in the Confessions — it focuses, not merely on similarities and differences between the two, but on enduring issues and problems in theory of language (medieval as well as modern theories other than Wittgenstein’s, including Bertrand Russell’s, are discussed). It takes into account Augustine’s technical interests in grammar and dialectic, and in the role of language in teaching, and, as in B.’s earlier book Le Cogito dans la pensée de saint Augustin (2001) — where comparisons were made with Descartes and Husserl — a wide range of texts and arguments, ancient and modern, is examined with historically informed attention to terminology, linguistic usage, and the structure and development of arguments. And, for all the wealth of technical detail, the book is written in a clear, accessible, and elegant style.