The Problem of Meaning in St. Augustine’s Thinking on the Sign


Author: QU Ran, PhD Candidate, The Research Center for Literary Theory and Aesthetics,  Shandong University; TU Youxiang, Professor, Department of Chinese Language and Literature, Sun Yat-sen  University.


The concept of “meaning” takes center stage in St. Augustine’s writings, serving as both a mental and linguistic element. It plays a pivotal role in establishing a triadic relationship of signification, encompassing the sign, meaning, and the thing it signifies. Augustine’s exploration of meaning draws from the Stoic tradition and gives rise to the emergence of “Expressionist semiotics,” which stands in contrast to traditional inference-based semiotics. This new theoretical framework represents a significant departure.

This departure is not only evident in the connection between meaning and inner language, where the former undergoes transformation by the latter, but also in the placement of meaning within the process of communication. This repositioning makes meaning the cornerstone of expression and comprehension, rather than simply existing within the referential relationship between words and objects. Consequently, meaning takes on qualities of openness and infinity, breaking free from its prior static and closed state. Understanding is transformed into an interactive process, where individuals actively engage. Augustine’s theory of meaning, which bears similarities to modern semiotics, held a subversive significance in its historical context.


Meaning, inner word, epistemology, reference, communication

Full Text (International Version):

QU Ran jscc