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This article is about uses of the word Logos in ancient Greek philosophy and in Christianity – for other uses, see Logos (disambiguation).

The Greek word λόγος or logos is a word with various meanings but which is often translated into English as "word" but can also mean reason, principle, standard, or logic among other things. It has varied use in the philosophy, analytical psychology, and religion.

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Use in ancient philosophy

Logos was used by Heraclitus, one of the more eminent Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, to describe human knowledge and the inherent order in the universe, a background to the essential change which characterizes day-to-day life. Logos as the inherent rationality of the universe is also something of a precursor to the concept of the collective unconscious, described by Carl Jung, as this fragment from Heraclitus suggests:

    "One must follow what is common; but, even though the Logos is common, most people live as though they possessed their own private wisdom." (Fr.2) The common is what is open to all, what can be seen and heard by all. To see is to let in with open eyes what is open to view, i.e. what is lit up and revealed to all. The dead (the completely private ones) neither see nor hear; they are closed. No light (fire) shines in them; no speech sounds in them. And yet, even they participate in the cosmos. The extinguished ones also belong to the continuum of lighting and extinguishing that is the common cosmos. The dead touch upon the living sleeping, who in turn touch upon the living waking. (Fr. 26)

By the time of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, logos was the term used to describe the faculty of human reason and the knowledge men had of the world and of each other. Plato (who had many mystical tendencies) engaged in the conceit of describing logos as a living being in some of his dialogues. Aristotle, who studied under Plato and who was much more of a practical thinker, first developed the concept of logic as a depiction of the rules of human rationality.

The Stoics understood Logos as the animating power of the universe, which further influenced how this word was understood later on (in 20th century psychology, for instance).

Use in Christianity

The prologue of the Gospel of John calls Jesus the Logos (usually translated as "the Word") and played a central role in establishing the doctrine of Jesus' divinity and the Trinity. (See Christology.) The opening verse reads: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (ESV).

Scholars of the Bible have suggested that John made creative use of "Logos" as a double entendre to communicate to both Jews, who were familiar with the Wisdom tradition in Judaism, and Hellenists, especially followers of Philo. Each of these two groups had its own history associated with the concept of the Logos, and each could understand John's use of the term from one or both of those contexts. Especially for the Hellenists, however, John turns the concept of the Logos on its head when he claimed "the Word became flesh" (v. 14). Similarly, some translations of the Gospel of John into Chinese have used the word "Tao (道)" to translate the "Logos" in a provocative way.

Gordon Clark famously translated Logos as "Logic" in the opening verses of the Gospel: "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 were therefore not a secular principle imposed on the Christian worldview.

Comparison with Eastern religions

Although Eastern religions don't use the word Logos because their sacred texts and practitioners did not use the Greek language, there are ideas with varying degrees of similarity to the philosophical and Christian uses. Two concepts with some parallels to Logos are Tao and dharma, and another from Hindu cosmology is the concept of Aum.

See also


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