On 'Logos' in Heraclitus


Authors
Mark Johnstone
McMaster University
Abstract
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.
Keywords Heraclitus  presocratic  logos
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