Re: Humpty Dumpty

From: CWestf5155 (
Date: Thu Mar 19 1998 - 12:02:32 EST

Dear Edgar,

Briefly--I didn't mean that Heraclitus would think himself to be the village
idiot. I mean that he would think (rhetorically speaking with all due
respect) that you might be a village idiot because you as a stranger (with no
prior relationship or appropriate context) came up and uttered LOGOS.

Try meandering down the street and uttering 'Kierkegaard' to total strangers.
People will get all sorts of messages most of which would reflect on you. I'd
be surprised if a listener immediately responded with a philosophical

Jepthah uttered 'Alas, my daughter!' in a context which gave it meaning, even
though the reason for his distress had to be explained (context of situation &
context of culture are very prominent here--especially since he had a daughter
and she was present).

For your reasoning to work, Heraclitus would have to use LOGOS exclusively for
'the universersal principle of reason', and not for its 10 or so other
meanings. I would gather that he used this kind of terminology in
philosophical discussions, but in his home (among children, servants, slaves,
wife too if he was married) if LOGOS was in the conversation, it would tend to
have one of the other meanings.

Cindy Westfall
PhD Student, Roehampton

In a message dated 98-03-19 11:25:18 EST, you write:

> >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
> 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,
> 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
> 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
> 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
> to Heraclitus)
> is inherent in all humans.
> >>I think that you need to make a distinction between language in use on
> 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
> the FUSIS of LOGOS.

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