Re: Re: Humpty Dumpty

From: Edgar Foster (
Date: Thu Mar 19 1998 - 10:23:48 EST

Dear Cindy,

You wrote:

>Dear Edgar,

>Let me clarify my point. If you walked up to Heraclitus and said 'LOGOS' without
introduction or qualification, he would attempt to create some kind of context in
which your utterance made sense. You seem to assume that he would
automatically think about the universal principle of reason. I contend that unless
it was common in his culture to approach a stranger and utter one cryptic word that
he would be more likely to think of the village idiot.<<

As I thought about this debate last night, I realized that nobody can win this argument.
The debate will go on. In Plato's Cratylus, the issue is raised as to whether language
arises from FUSIS or NOMOS. Does a word have meaning in isolation or in context?
The argument still goes on today. While I am only expressing my viewpoint, I hardly
think that Heraclitus would have to be viewed as the village idiot because he made
what to us might seem like a "cryptic" statement. When Jephthah's daughter came out
of his house after he rerurned home, he simply said "ALAS, my daughter!" ALAS! is
a powerful word in and of itself. Likewise, when I tell my child--GO!- he doesn't
need a context to elucidate the meaning of my interjection. :) While the thought
of uttering only LOGOS to Heraclitus is purely hypothetical, I think it illustrates
a valid concept. Words--even in isolation--have meaning.

>Part of the meaning of an utterance is the context of culture and the context of
situation. The context of culture includes appropriate speech patterns for the occasion.
The context of situation includes the relationship between the participants. I would
suggest that for LOGOS to have the specific meaning of the 'universal principle of
reason' that it would have to appear in the appropriate context with appropriate
participants (which would differentiate
it from its other ten or so uses).<<

As you well know, LOGOS did not always carry the meaning of "word." Even today, "Word"
is an inadequate translation of LOGOS. In Faust, Goethe associates the LOGOS with
the word "deed." In Heraclitus, LOGOS clearly denotes "the universal principle of
reason" (the Divine spark in humanity). I find it highly improbable that Heraclitus
searched through varied meanings of LOGOS to come up with "the universal principle
of reason." This usage seems indigenous to Heraclitus. The Stoics and Philo utilized
the word in a slightly different manner. It seems as if Heraclitus chose this word
for its appropriateness vis-a'-vis his concept of the LOGOS which (according to Heraclitus)
is inherent in all humans.

>>I think that you need to make a distinction between language in use on the one
hand and dictionary definitions and the range of meanings in semantic domains
on the other hand.<<

I am making that distinction. LOGOS--defined as the "universal principle of reason"--could
not have been a dictionary definition at that time, it was not used in the this manner
prior to Heraclitus, and the "universal principle of reason" was not assigned to
any semantic domain. So, what moved him to use LOGOS in this manner? I say it was


Edgar Foster
Classics Major
Lenoir-Rhyne College
Hickory NC

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