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Logos (pronounced /’loʊɡɒs/ or /’lɒgɒs/; Greek λόγος logos) is an important term in philosophy, analytical psychology, rhetoric and religion.


Heraclitus (ca. 535–475 BCE) established the term in Western philosophy as meaning both the source and fundamental order of the cosmos. The sophists used the term to mean discourse, and Aristotle applied the term to rational discourse. The Stoic philosophers identified the term with the divine animating principle pervading the universe. After Judaism came under Hellenistic influence, Philo adopted the term into Jewish philosophy. The Gospel of John identifies Jesus as the incarnation of the Logos, through which all things are made. The gospel further identifies the Logos as divine (theos).  Second-century Christian Apologists, such as Justin Martyr, identified Jesus as the Logos or Word of God, a distinct intermediary between God and the world.


In current use, Logos may refer to the Christian sense, identifying Jesus with the Word of God, though in academic discussions the term is more directly used in a rhetorical discussion.





In ordinary, non-technical Greek, logos had two overlapping meanings. One meaning referred to an instance of speaking: "sentence, saying, oration"; the other meaning was the antithesis of ργον ergon or νέργεια energeia ("action" or "work"), which was commonplace. Despite the conventional translation as "word", it is not used for a word in the grammatical sense; instead, the term λέξις lexis is used. However, both logos and lexis derive from the same verb λέγω. It also means the inward intention underlying the speech act: "hypothesis, thought, grounds for belief or action."


It derives from the verb λέγω legō "to count, tell, say, speak".  The primary meaning of logos is: something said; by implication a subject, topic of discourse, or reasoning. Secondary meanings such as logic, reasoning, etc. derive from the fact that if one is capable of λέγειν (infinitive) i.e. speech, then intelligence and reason are assumed.


Its semantic field extends beyond "word" to notions such as "thought, speech, account, meaning, reason, proportion, principle, standard", or "logic". In English, the word is the root of "logic," and of the "-ology" suffix (e.g., geology).



Use in ancient philosophy




The writing of Heraclitus (ca. 535–475 BCE) was the first place where the word logos were given special attention in ancient Greek philosophy.  Though Heraclitus "quite deliberately plays on the various meanings of logos", there is no compelling reason to suppose that he used it in a special technical sense, significantly different from the way it was used in ordinary Greek of his time.


This LOGOS holds always but humans always prove unable to understand it, both before hearing it and when they have first heard it. For though all things come to be in accordance with this LOGOS, humans are like the inexperienced when they experience such words and deeds as I set out, distinguishing each in accordance with its nature and saying how it is. But other people fail to notice what they do when awake, just as they forget what they do while asleep. (Diels-Kranz 22B1)


For this reason it is necessary to follow what is common. But although the LOGOS is common, most people live as if they had their own private understanding. (Diels-Kranz 22B2)


Listening not to me but to the LOGOS it is wise to agree that all things are one. (Diels-Kranz 22B50)


Aristotle's rhetorical logos


Aristotle defined logos as argument from reason, one of the three modes of persuasion. The other two modes are pathos (Greek: πάθος), persuasion by means of emotional appeal, and ethos, persuasion through convincing listeners of one's moral competence. An argument based on logos needs to be logical, and in fact the term logic derives from it. Logos normally implies numbers, polls, and other mathematical or scientific data.


Logos has some advantages:

·        Data are (ostensibly) difficult to manipulate, so it is harder to argue against a logos argument.

·        Logos makes the speaker look prepared and knowledgeable to the audience, enhancing ethos.


The Stoics


In Stoic philosophy, which began with Zeno of Citium c. 300 BCE, the logos were the active reason pervading the universe and animating it. It was conceived of as material, and is usually identified with God or Nature. The Stoics also referred to the seminal logos, ("logos spermatikos") or the law of generation in the universe, which was the principle of the active reason working in inanimate matter. Humans, too, each possess a portion of the divine logos.


Philo of Alexandria


Philo (20 BC - 50 AD), a Hellenized Jew, used the term logos to mean the creative principle. Philo followed the Platonic distinction between imperfect matter and perfect idea. The logos were necessary, he taught, because God cannot come into contact with matter. He sometimes identified logos as divine wisdom. He taught that the Logos was the image of God, after which the human mind (νος) was made. He calls the Logos the "archangel of many names," "taxiarch" (corps-commander), the "name of God," also the "heavenly Adam", the "man, the word of the eternal God." The Logos is also designated as "high priest," in reference to the exalted position which the high priest occupied after the Exile as the real center of the Jewish state. The Logos, like the high priest, is the expiator of sins, and the mediator and advocate for men: κέτης ("Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres Sit," § 42 [i. 501], and παράκλητος ("De Vita Mosis," iii. 14 [ii. 155]).  “The Logos is the first-born and the eldest and chief of the angels.”



Use in Christianity




Logos is usually translated as "the Word" in English Bibles such as the KJV.


Gordon Clark (1902 - 1985), a Calvinist theologian and expert on pre-Socratic philosophy, famously translated Logos as "Logic": "In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God." He meant to imply by this translation that the laws of logic were contained in the Bible itself and was therefore not a secular principle imposed on the Christian world view.


The notorious question of how to translate logos is treated in Goethe's Faust, with Faust finally opting for die Tat ("deed/action").


Some Chinese translations have used the word "Tao ()".


The term Logos also reflects the term dabar Yahweh ("Word of God") in the Hebrew Bible.


John 1:1


The author of John adapted Philo's concept of the Logos, identifying Jesus as an incarnation of the divine Logos that formed the universe.  (cf Proverbs 8:22-36) The Gospel of John begins with a Hymn to the Word, which identifies Jesus as the Logos and the Logos as divine. The first verse has been translated as declaring the Logos to be God. Various contemporary (Mormon & Jehovah’s Witness') translations make the Logos out to be "a god" or divine.


John's placement of the Word at creation reflects Genesis, in which God (Elohim) speaks the world into being, beginning with words "Let there be light."


Translation A (“God”)

·        1611 “the Word was God” King James Version (Authorized Version)

·        1946 “the Word was God” Revised Standard Version, to be understood as identifying Jesus as divine

·        1973 “the Word was God” New International Version

·        1995 “and was truly God” Contemporary English Version

·        2001 “and God was the Word” Wycliffe New Testament


Translation B (“a god,” “divine”)

·        1808 “and the word was a god” — The New Testament, in An Improved Version, Upon the Basis of Archbishop William Newcome’s New Translation: With a Corrected Text, London.

·        1864 “and a god was the Word” — Emphatic Diaglott (J21, interlinear reading), by Benjamin Wilson, New York, and London

·        1935 “and the Word was divine” — The Bible—An American Translation, by J. M. Powis Smith and Edgar J. Goodspeed, Chicago

·        1950 “and the Word was a god” — New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (version of the Jehovah’s Witnesses), Brooklyn

·        1998 “and it [the divine word] was what God was” – Scholar’s Version, meant to convey general meaning rather than literal translation, from the Jesus Seminar


Christ the Logos


Christians who profess belief in the Trinity often consider John 1:1 to be a central text in their belief that Jesus is the Divine Son of God, in connection with the idea that Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are equals.


Christian apologist Justin Martyr (c 150) identified Jesus as the Logos. He portrayed Jesus not as "the Maker of all things" but as "the Angel of the Lord", subject to the Maker of all things.  Justin wrote that the Logos had distributed truth to all people, that it had taken human form in Jesus to teach the truth and to redeem humanity from demons, and that Jesus was therefore worthy of worship as on in second place to God.


Early Christians who opposed the concept of Jesus as the Logos c 170 were known as alogi.


In Roman Catholicism


On April 1, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who would become Pope Benedict XVI just over two weeks later) referred to the Christian religion as the religion of the Logos:


Christianity must always remember that it is the religion of the "Logos." It is faith in the "Creator Spiritus," in the Creator Spirit, from which proceeds everything that exists. Today, this should be precisely its philosophical strength, in so far as the problem is whether the world comes from the irrational, and reason is not, therefore, other than a "sub-product," on occasion even harmful of its development or whether the world comes from reason, and is, as a consequence, its criterion and goal. The Christian faith inclines toward this second thesis, thus having, from the purely philosophical point of view, really good cards to play, despite the fact that many today consider only the first thesis as the only modern and rational one par excellence. However, a reason that springs from the irrational, and that is, in the final analysis, itself irrational, does not constitute a solution for our problems. Only creative reason, which in the crucified God is manifested as love, can really show us the way. In the so necessary dialogue between secularists and Catholics, we Christians must be very careful to remain faithful to this fundamental line: to live a faith that comes from the "Logos," from creative reason, and that, because of this, is also open to all that is truly rational.


Catholics can use logos to refer to the moral law written in human hearts. This comes from Jeremiah 31:33 (prophecy of new covenant): "I will write my law on their hearts." St. Justin wrote that those who have not accepted Christ but follow the moral law of their hearts (logos) follow God, because it is God who has written the moral law in each person's heart. Though man may not explicitly recognize God, he has the spirit of Christ if he follows Jesus' moral laws, written in his heart.



Jung's analytical psychology


In Carl Jung's analytical psychology, the logos are the masculine principle of rationality and consciousness. Its female counterpart, eros (Greek, love), represents interconnectedness. Carl Jung used the term for the masculine principle of rationality. A form of government where 'words' are the most important thing is called logocracy.



Similar concepts


In modern philosophy


Early 20th century movements towards specificity of operational definitions have developed an analog to logos in the concept of world view (or worldview) when used as Weltanschauung (German pronunciation: [ˈvɛltanˌʃaʊ.ʊŋ]) meaning a "look onto the world." It implies a concept fundamental to German philosophy and epistemology and refers to a wide world perception. Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual interprets the world and interacts in it. The German word is also in wide use in English, as well as the translated form world outlook. (Compare with ideology). Weltanschauung is the conceptualization that all ideology, beliefs and political movements are both limited and defined by these schemata of common linguistic understanding.


Goethe has his Faust translate John's logos as "Will".


The idea is similar to Apollinarism.



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