logos, I. Antiquity

  • Alfred Dunshirn (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


The word logos generally refers to the (spoken) word, though it should be borne in mind that this does not mean a single word but the combination of several words. An ancient encyclopaedia entry – the 100th of the pseudo-Platonic Definitions – defines logos as “a voice in signs that can name every single thing that exists” (Horoi). The verb belonging to logos is legein, it designates speaking as well as picking up or collecting. Thus, logos can be understood as selecting and meaningfully compiling. This in turn shows that logos as an assembly or “interweaving” (Plato) of words can refer to a narrative, a sentence, a speech or an argument as well as to a proportion or a measure. In Early Greek thought, Heraclitus uses logos to refer to an entity that holds together the conflicting forces of the cosmos. In Platonic-Aristotelian philosophy, as with the Sophists, one can observe the discussion of various kinds of logoi to which truth and falsity are attributed. In the Stoa, the logos becomes the (materially conceived) divine, which determines everything in the world completely rationally. In ancient Christian literature, which was strongly influenced by Neoplatonism, logos finally appears in the “event of Jesus Christ” (Bultmann) as “the WORD”, as the divine demand that reveals itself to mankind. The outstanding significance of the various conceptions of logos in European intellectual history is apparent not least in the critique of logocentrism, as formulated above all in the 20th century.


This work is published under the Creative Commons License 4.0 (CC BY-ND 4.0).
Type, method or approach