Simply Explained: What a logos is

The term logos (plural: logoi) has two meanings that are related but not identical. On the one hand, the term logos is used in rhetoric, where it denotes the use of consistency and evidence in arguments, and on the other hand, the term is used in philosophy.

In this article we will confine ourselves to the philosophical rather than the rhetorical approach to the word. And yes, there is more than one Logos -which I was not really aware of for a long time.

A Logos is simplified said, a representation of any (also individual) reason. Mostly meant, however, is the superior logos, the human or divine reason, respectively the comprehensive sense (partly also called world reason). The logos is so to speak the understanding how things are, the knowledge how they have to be as well as the corresponding action and it is divided into the two further distinctions.

As mentioned, logos means both human and divine reason. Human reason is the rationality in the human mind that strives to achieve universal understanding and harmony, which is the philosophical approach. The divine reason is the universal intelligence, respectively ruling power, which determines the cosmos and reveals itself to mankind. This meaning of logos is also found in theology, where it is often called "the divine".

Where does the philosophical term logos come from?

The term Logos is traced back to the Greek philosopher Heraclith. He used the word logos for the first time for the description of rational divine intelligence. Also today in scientific discussion now and then the spirit of God is talked about.

Heraclitus was a Stoic. Thus, the term logos is understandably attributed to the Stoics, who held that humans and animals are equally part of a universal divine and/or superior order.

This is where the basic understanding of law and morality originates. If one as a Stoic aligns his life according to the Logos, one would correspond to the divine will, or the divine order. In this way, freedom, happiness and the meaning of life can be recognized, which in turn leads to a fulfilled life.

The Christian church developed the concept of logos accordingly. Thus, the philosophical concept became the religious possibility for everyone to participate in God's salvation - that is, to participate in the divine plan.

In the New Testament John 1:1 and in other places the expression is found Word of Godbut also depending on the output Logos. That is, God's ability to speak to man and to communicate to him the possibility of uniting the human with the divine, respectively the personal and the absolute. The Logos of God is therefore especially embodied in Christ, since the latter acts as a bridge between man's inner spiritual need and the response proclaimed by the Christian message.

There are Christian communities that reject the doctrine of the Logos, because it is considered highly philosophical and therefore not to be considered religious. However, there are also theologians who insist on speaking of the Logos in relation to Christianity in order to be in a position to teach the doctrine of God in the first place.

One of these advocates is the theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich. According to his view "he who sacrifices the Logos principle sacrifices the idea of a living God, and he who rejects the application of this principle to Jesus as the Christ rejects his character as the Christ." 

This, in turn, would mean that the Christian religion would degenerate into a lifeless collection of fiefdoms that could be accepted or rejected without having any tangible impact in terms of life. For without our participation in the Logos through our reason and the understanding of God's love, will and power as a living and active force in the world, something crucial would be missing.

Use of the word "logos" in philosophy

Since the meaning of the word logos changes depending on the context, this also applies to the use of the word. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, we will limit ourselves to the philosophical meaning of the word and not to the rhetorical one.

That's how we will therefore keep it with the use. In any case, the two go hand in hand.

Contrary to popular belief, there is not only one Logos, but several. Already Heraclitus used the word in different contexts.

For example, in his texts and letters, he speaks not only of a logos but of a particular one, depending on the context.

Paintings from Johan Moreelse (1602-1634): Heraclitus

As mentioned above, the word logos includes not only the divine reason, but also the human reason. And this is exactly what Heraclitus points out. According to the surviving fragments of Heraclitus, there once existed a book called "On Nature", which unfortunately has not been handed down in its entirety, as it was largely lost over the centuries.

In one of the fragments (which are collections of his lore) Heraclitus comments that people do not understand the concept of logos in this book, but instead would be content to receive explanations of individual components of the universe and nature without ever understanding the overarching rules and trajectories (as explained by Gregory B. Sadler), although the Logos encompasses and contains everything. Heraclitus then talks about the individual logos of the people, which can bring one closer to the logos or, as in this case, further away from it.

For example, a logos cannot denote the absolute logic of all things but also a logic or assumption of its own - or, as in the case of humans, a false one.

Summarized the superior logos is therefore on the one hand, always a representation which creates explainability and follows a certain logic and on the other hand always a certain fact. Thus, a logos can always be pointed out, explored, justified and understood with a certain rationality, but this can be successful by the own logos of the or can be delayed.

I hope I have been able to give you some understanding of the concept of logos or logoi. It is a big topic and therefore difficult to treat in short.

Own opinion about the philosophical logos

The Logos is a fascinating concept and helps to see and feel oneself as part of the whole. Somehow you become aware that you inevitably belong to it and it is easier to make sense of your own actions.

The Logos is further rather felt as a fact and less as a mere concept, which is due to the fact that almost every human being can understand that there are certain regularities and a certain logic in all things. Only the corresponding perception differs in certain cases by subjective sensations of the individual, which makes the whole topic very exciting.

I also find exciting the fact that the logos perfectly depict the creationism anchored in Western cultures and thus provide a nice contrast to concepts that speak of a coincidence. An example is for example the myth of the fully automatic model Alan Watts had talked about. The related article you can find here.

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