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Heraclitus’ Logos

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Assess the importance of Logos in Heraclitus’ thought.BibliographyEssay on Heraclitus’ LogosAssess the importance of Logos in Heraclitus’ thought.From even a cursory review of the fragments of discourse attributed to Heraclitus, it is uncontroversial to assert that the logos as a concept is of integral importance to his philosophy, sincehe uses the term so copiously; why it is important, however, is not as immediately clear. The understanding of the nature of the logos and consequently the understanding of its role in his thought varies between commentators. To understand the importance of the logos in Heraclitus accordingly requires an examination of the term and the place it might have in his wider philosophy. As such, the main body of this essay constitutes an examination of this kind: the first section will explore the etymology, uses and various translations of the term logos with a view to establishing its meaning, or meanings, for Heraclitus; the second section will investigate the role of the logos in his philosophical theories on nature (his conjectures about the universe, politics and theology). Logos has many different translations and uses in the Greek language. It can literally mean ‘something spoken’, a ‘saying’, ‘word’, ‘sentence’ or ‘oration’. It can also mean ‘thought’, ‘intention’, ‘idea’ or ‘illocution’. It derives from lego, meaning ‘to speak’ or ‘to say’ (lexis, meaning ‘word’ or ‘phrase’, is also derived from this). Usually the term is translated as ‘account’, a record or narrative of events. The extensive range of meanings and uses of the word logos has lead to varying explanations of its meaning from Heraclitus’ interpreters.Hippolytus, in his Refutation of All Heresies, like other commentators translates logos as ‘account’, though he is apparently convinced that Heraclitus’ use of the term can be identified with the traditional Biblical usage of logos as meaning ‘the Word’, i.e. the Word of God. In this theological sense, the logos is equivalent to God’s divine ‘plan’ or God’s law; hence, as all things happen in accordance with the logos (kata logos), they are in accordance with the Word, God’s law or God’s will:Heraclitus says that the universe is divisible and indivisible, generated and ungenerated, mortal andimmortal, Word and Eternity, Father and Son, God and Justice. “Listening not to me but to theaccount, it is wise to agree that all things are one”, Heraclitus says... that the universe is the Word,always and for all eternity, he says in this way: “Of this account which holds forever men proveuncomprehending, both before they hear it and when first they have heard it. For although all thingscome about in accordance with this account, they are like tiros as they try words and deeds of thesort which I expound as I divide each thing according to nature and say how it is.”This interpretation suggests that the logos is the divine will of God and the universe is the manifestation of this will. This seems to fit with Heraclitus’ other descriptions of the logos’ relation tothe universe. However, Hippolytus’ interpretation of logos is biased towards a Christian conception ofGod and creation, as his agenda in the Refutation is to discredit heresies – in this case, the heresy of Noetus, who he presumed to be influenced by Heraclitus. From his other uses of the term, it isn’t clear that Heraclitus’ idea of the logos is consistent with the personal, monotheistic idea of God found in the Judeo-Christian tradition.Another interpretation of the term logos, as meaning ‘logic’, ‘reason’ or ‘thought’, can also be arrivedat from Heraclitus’ writings and from its usage. At times he describes the logos as a ‘shared account’of reality, a view which everyone holds but which they mistakenly think to be their own opinion: “Butalthough the account is comprehensive, most men live as if they had a private comprehension of their own”; “Thinking is common to all”; “Speaking with comprehension one should rely on what is comprehensive of all”. This suggests that the logos is an objective account of human experience, as reason and logic are objective as they rely on a priori deduction. However, this would be inconsistent with the view of Sextus Empiricus that Heraclitus is an empiricist; he says, “Those things which are learned by sight and hearing I honour more”. He seems to think that the comprehensive account is not arrived at through rational deduction, but through the senses. The logos is accessed via signs andsubtleties of the perceived world: “the lord whose oracle is in Delphi neither declares nor conceals, but gives a sign”. Even so, it will not be detected by people who do not understand it – one must lookinwards at their own nature to acquire the necessary understanding of the message received through the senses. It is an unapparent truth underlying the obvious; “nature loves to hide”, he says, and “the hidden attunement is better than the obvious one”. This implies that the logos is perhaps, to Heraclitus, the hidden cause behind the apparent order in the natural world. This would fit well with Hippolytus’ interpretation of the logos as divine law.In Donald Zeyl’s Encyclopaedia of Classical Philosophy, K.F. Johansen suggests that Heraclitus “deliberately plays on the various meanings of logos”. This seems likely; the logos represents law, thought and an account of physical reality all at once, rather than being restricted to any single meaning. Heraclitus was known for equivocality in his writing, and it would be consistent with his character to take advantage of the diversity in the usage of the term in order to convey its mystery and its pervasive nature. For example, in order to convey the creative power of conflict, Heraclitus plays on the multiple meanings of bios, which means ‘bow’ and also ‘life’: “Thus the word for the bow is bios, its deed is death.” So perhaps all of the meanings and uses that have been considered are correct in some way, to the extent that they do not contradict one another.The part this concept has in Heraclitus’ extended philosophy set out in the fragments of his works OnNature will now be explored. The logos seems to reveal a unity in nature to Heraclitus. The apparent existence of opposites and plurality are purportedly illusory;


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