On 'Logos' in Heraclitus

Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 47:1-29 (2014)
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In this paper, I offer a new solution to the old problem of how best to understand the meaning of the word ‘logos’ in the extant writings of Heraclitus, especially in fragments DK B1, B2 and B50. On the view I defend, Heraclitus was neither using the word in a perfectly ordinary way in these fragments, as some have maintained, nor denoting by it some kind of general principle or law governing change in the cosmos, as many have claimed. Rather, I argue, Heraclitus deliberately traded on the ordinary use of the word in his time (to refer to a written or spoken presentation of things as ‘thus and so’) to denote the world’s constant presentation of itself as ‘thus and so’ to all of us in our experience – a kind of cosmic self-revelation. I show how this captures the sense in which ‘the logos’ is said to be ‘common’ (xunos) and to be the kind of thing most people fail to comprehend even before hearing Heraclitus’ own account, all without detaching Heraclitus’ use of the word from its ordinary contemporary meaning. This interpretation suggests Heraclitus was a thinker more centrally concerned with human (mis)understanding than with speculative cosmology.



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Mark Johnstone
McMaster University

Citations of this work

Heraclitus' Rebuke of Polymathy: A Core Element in the Reflectiveness of His Thought.Keith Begley - 2020 - History of Philosophy & Logical Analysis 23 (1):21–50.
Man and Logos: Heraclitus’ Secret.A. V. Halapsis - 2020 - Anthropological Measurements of Philosophical Research 17:119-130.
On the Ethical Dimension of Heraclitus' Thought.Mark Johnstone - 2020 - In David Wolfsdorf (ed.), Early Greek Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 37-53.
Cosmic Interdependence: Heraclitus on Grounding.Richard Neels - 2021 - Ancient Philosophy Today 3 (1):30-53.

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References found in this work

Heraclitus.Daniel W. Graham - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Presocratic Philosophy.Patricia Curd - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Heraclitus on Measure and the Explicit Emergence of Rationality.Anthony A. Long - 2009 - In Dorothea Frede & Burkhard Reis (eds.), Body and Soul in Ancient Philosophy. De Gruyter. pp. 87-110.
1. Nous, Noein, and Their Derivatives in Pre-Socratic Philosophy.Kurt von Fritz - 1994 - In Alexander P. D. Mourelatos (ed.), The Pre-Socratics: A Collection of Critical Essays. Princeton University Press. pp. 23-85.

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