LOGOS: From Greek Philosophy to Islamic Perception

First we have to think what we mean[1] by Logos, and as it has been interpreted in many aspects I’ll try to be more specific identifying its different meanings:

a) The literal meaning:

word, saying, speech, discourse, thought, proportion, ratio, reckoning, akin to the Greek present’s infinitive "legein": to choose, gather, recount, tell over speak.

In order to understand the aspects of the pre-mentioned concepts we ought to analyze each one of them:

1.  Account: a description of an event or experience

2.  Discourse: communication of thought by words; talk; conversation, formal discussion of a subject in speech or writing, as a dissertation, treatise, sermon

3.  Law: Nomos ( ناموس ) according to which everything is settled

4.  Pattern: a regular form or sequence discernible in the way in which something happens or is done

5.  Proportion: comparative relation between things or magnitudes, proper relation between things or parts, relative size or extent, portion or part in its relation to the whole, symmetry, harmony, or balance.

6.  Ratio: the relation between two similar magnitudes with respect to the number of times the first contains the second.

7.  Reasoning: is the mental cognitive process of looking for causesfor beliefs, conclusions, actions and feelings.

8.  Reckoning: count, computation, calculation.

9.  Saying: something said, especially a proverb or apothegm.

10.  Speech: the faculty or power of speaking, oral communication, ability to express one's thoughts and emotions by speech sounds and gesture.

11.  Thought : the product of metal activity; the art or process of thinking; the product of thinking; the capacity or faculty of thinking, reasoning, imaging; consideration or reflection, meditation, contemplation or recollection.

12.  Word: a unit of language consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning.

b) Philosophical meaning:

The rational principle that governs and develops the universe.

c) Theological meaning:

1.  For Hebrews: The word of God “ Dabar Yahweh”

2.  For Christians:

a.  The divine word or reason of God “incarnated in Jesus Christ (John 1: 1-14)

b.  The Wisdom and Knowledge and Will of God

3.  For Muslims:

a.  The word (saying) of ALLAH,

b.  The divine order by which ALLAH creates and preserves the universe.

And now keeping in mind these key words:

Account / Discourse / Law / Pattern / Proportion / Reasoning / Ratio / Reckoning / Saying / Speech / Thought / Word

Painting of Johannes Moreelse

I refer to the term LOGOS ascribed to the eminent Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (544 – 475 BC), as appeared in his single book which was placed in the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, and which later had been divided[2] into three sections, one on cosmology, one on politics (and ethics), and the final on theology.

Unfortunately it reached us only in form of fragments[3] and quotations, of which we conclude the thought of the great philosopher.

The following verses will help us to understand what Heraclitus assigned to the term of Logos and how he perceived it:

·  All things come out of the One and the One out of all things. ... I see nothing but Becoming. Be not deceived! It is the fault of your limited outlook and not the fault of the essence of things if you believe that you see firm land anywhere in the ocean of Becoming and Passing. You need names for things, just as if they had a rigid permanence, but the very river in which you bathe a second time is no longer the same one which you entered before.

·  «Μὲν οὖν φησιν εἶναι τὸ πᾶν διαιρετὸν ἀδιαίρετον, γενητὸν ἀγένητον, θνητὸν ἀθάνατον, λόγον αἰῶνα, πατέρα υἱὸν, θεὸν δίκαιον· οὐκ ἐμοῦ, ἀλλὰ τοῦ λόγου ἀκούσαντας ὁμολογεῖν σοφόν ἐστιν ἓν πάντα εἶναι[4]»

Everything is divided and undivided, begotten and unbogotten, mortal and immortal, logos eternal, father and son, god righteous, listen not to me but the Logos that speaks through me, it is wise to acknowledge that all things are one!

·  (τοῦ δὲ) λόγου[5] τοῦδ' ἐόντος (ἀεὶ) ἀξύνετοι γίγνονται ἄνθρωποι καὶ πρόσθεν ἢ ἀκοῦσαι καὶ ἀκούσαντες τὸ πρῶτον· γινομένων γὰρ (πάντων) κατὰ τὸν λόγον τόνδε ἀπείροισιν ἐοίκασι, πειρώμενοι καὶ ἐπέων καὶ ἔργων τοιούτων, ὁκοίων ἐγὼ διηγεῦμαι διαιρέων ἕκαστον κατὰ φύσιν καὶ φράζων ὅκως ἔχει. τοὺς δὲ ἄλλους ἀνθρώπους λανθάνει ὁκόσα ἐγερθέντες ποιοῦσιν, ὅκωσπερ ὁκόσα εὕδοντες ἐπιλανθάνονται.

This Logos is always existent, but men fail to understand it both, before they have heard it, and when they have heard it for the first time. For, although all things happen according to (or rather by way of) this Logos, men seem as if they had no acquaintance with it when they make acquaintance with such works and words as I expound, dividing each thing according to its nature, and explaining how it really is. The rest of mankind" – that is to say, presumably, all except Heraclitus, who professes to have read the riddle of the Universe – "are unconscious of what they do when they are awake, just as they forget what they do when asleep.

The being or Entity which Heraclitus calls Logos that speaks through him is ever-existent, uncreated and imperishable. It is what he calls elsewhere "ever-living fire πῦρ ἀείζωον". Otherwise he is meaning that men are altogether sunk in spiritual and intellectual slumber! They don't understand the things with which they meet, nor when they are taught do they have knowledge of them, although they think they have.

·  ᾧ μάλιστα διηνεκῶς ὁμιλοῦσι λόγῳ[6] τῷ τὰ ὅλα διοικοῦντι, τούτῳ διὰφέρονται, καὶ οἷς καθ᾽ ἡμέρην ἐγκυροῦσι, ταῦτα αὐτοῖς ξένα φαίνεται.

Although intimately connected with the Logos which orders the whole world, men keep setting themselves against it, and the things which they encounter every day seem quite foreign to them.

Since Greek Logos means something like Pattern rather than Reason, then our incapacities at grasping larger and larger patterning is one of the limiting factors of Mind.

·  ἦθος γὰρ ἀνθρώπειον μὲν οὐκ ἔχει γνώμας[7], θεῖον δὲ ἔχει.

Human nature has no real understanding, only the divine nature has it.

Heraclitus meant by "theion" or divine something different than the deities of Greek mythology and the state formal religion of the poleis.

·  ἀξύνετοι ἀκούσαντες κωφοῖσιν ἐοίκασι· φάτις αὐτοῖσιν μαρτυρεῖ παρεόντας ἀπεῖναι[8].

Fools, although they hear, are like the deaf. To them the adage applies that "when present they are absent".

In a day when we try to describe any physical or mental deficiency as being "challenged", this sounds rude and unthinking. But it is unrealistic to avoid using the ancient and traditional words "deaf" or "retarded", and Heraclitus has none of our modern over-sensitivity. For Heraclitus it is simpler: You talk to a deaf man and he doesn't answer; you talk to a fool and he says "uh!". Same reaction for both, of course for entirely different reasons. But for all of us, when discussing the nature of the Logos, we tend not to be really present at all.

·  Ἀλλὰ τῶν μὲν θείων τὰ πολλὰ, ἀπιστίῃ διαφυγγάνει μὴ γιγνώσκεσθαι[9].

What is divine escapes men's notice because of their incredulity.

The divine is not readily apparent, learning is a matter of mental perception of a higher power, but not religion in the usual sense.

·  ψυχῆς ἐστι λόγος ἑωυτὸν αὔξων[10].

Soul has its own inner law of growth.

Since as above Soul is without limit, infinite expansion is a natural possibility, as seen from the inside of the soul's identity.

·  ψυχῆς πείρατα ἰὼν οὐκ ἂν ἐξεύροιο πᾶσαν ἐπιπορευόμενος ὁδόν· οὕτω βαθὺν λόγον ἔχει[11].

You could not discover the limits of soul, even if you traveled by every path in order to do so; such is the depth of its meaning.

·  ὁ θεὸς ἡμέρη εὐφρόνη, χειμὼν θέρος, πόλεμος εἰρήνη, κόρος λιμός (τἀναντία ἅπαντα· οὗτος ὁ νοῦς), ἀλλοιοῦται δὲ ὅκωσπερ (πῦρ), ὁπόταν συμμιγῇ θυώμασιν, ὀνομάζεται καθ᾽ ἡδονὴν ἑκάστου[12].

God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety but he undergoes transformations, just as (fire) when combined with incenses, is named according to the particular aroma which it gives off.

Obviously he introduced the universal balance through the opposites in which LOGOS as the coherent power of God Creates and Preserves the Universe though out His transformations.


Now I’ll refer to the interpretations of the term according to the successors of Heraclitus, mentioning how they were influenced by him, and at which extent they perceived or modified his term.

According to Butcher[13] the doctrine of the divine immanence and the notion of world-unity is also the leading idea in the drama of Sophocles (496 - 406 BC). "Undeserved Suffering"[14] while it is

Account / Discourse / Law / Pattern / Proportion / Reasoning / Ratio / Reckoning / Saying / Speech / Thought / Word

exhibited in Sophocles under various lights, always appears as part of the permitted evil, which is a condition of a just and harmoniously ordered universe. Man is able to overcome all kinds of obstacles and is able to be inventive and creative, but he is mortal and therefore limited. Suffering is simply part of the nature of things, but learning can be gained from it, and through suffering man can achieve dignity.

According to Euripides (480 - 406 BC) the entire Cosmos reveals itself as a work of unalterable law, which Heraclitus, and after him Euripides, call DIKE, so that in the view of both this DIKE (Justice) is not simply moral but a cosmic force[15].

While for Heraclitus a perceived object is a harmony between two fundamental units of change, a waxing and a waning. He typically uses the ordinary word "to become" (gignesthai or ginesthai, root sense of being born), which led to his being characterized as the philosopher of becoming rather than of being. He recognizes the changing of objects with the flow of time. For Plato (428 – 347 BC) one experienced unit is a state, or object existing, which can be observed. The time parameter is set at "ever"; that is, the state is to be presumed present between observations. Change is to be deduced by comparing observations, but no matter how many of those you are able to make, you cannot get through the mysterious gap between them to account for the change that must be occurring there.

The term also exists in the Aristotelian Trinity (384 – 322 BC): Pathos, Ethos, Logos

For Aristotle Logos is the logic used to support a claim (induction and deduction); can also be the facts and statistics used to help support the argument[16]. Also logos refers to the internal consistency of the message--the clarity of the claim, the logic of its reasons, and the effectiveness of its supporting evidence. The impact of logos on an audience is sometimes called the argument's logical appeal.

Logos (Logical) means persuading by the use of reasoning.

Ethos: the source's credibility, the speaker's/author's authority

Pathos: the emotional or motivational appeals; vivid language, emotional language and numerous sensory details.

Account / Discourse / Law / Pattern / Proportion / Reasoning / Ratio / Reckoning / Saying / Speech / Thought / Word

The equation of logos with logic is untenable in light of Aristotle's conceptions of the nature of man and the nature of rhetoric[17]

Epicurus[18] (341 - 270 BC) proposing to find in reason and knowledge the secret of a happy life the things are much easier for him as he perceived logos as the wisdom laying in the benign nature of the universe. He rejected the existence of forms and patterns and the immaterial soul, and he said that the gods have no influence on our lives.

According to the Stoics[19], the world is strictly material, and ultimately composed of fire (hearkening back to Heraclitus). However, this material has two principles. One, the passive, proceeds from divine activity and will be resolved back into God in a cosmic conflagration. This is the unending cycle. The second principle of the world is active. It is God. The Stoics held that this active principle is equally well named as logos, pneuma, world-reason, and world soul. It is essential to note that this principle is immanent to the world. This means that cosmology = theology. God is neither separate from, nor different in being from, the world. Rather, God is the most cohesive aspect of the world.

For Zeno of Citium (334 – 262 BC) happiness is a good flow of life," and this can only be achieved through the use of right Reason coinciding with the Universal Reason, (Logos)[20] which governs everything.

Cleanthes (330 – 230 BC) adopted what appears to be the Heraclitean logos modified! In his poem “Hymn to Zeus” he stated that Zeus (The GODHEAD) rules the universe with law (νόμος) wielding on its behalf the "forked servant", the "fire" of the "ever-living lightening." So far nothing has been said that differs from the Zeus of Homer. But then, says Cleanthes, Zeus uses the fire to "straighten out the common logos" that travels about (φοιτᾶν, "to frequent") mixing with the greater and lesser lights (heavenly bodies). This is Heraclitus' logos, but now it is confused with the "common nomos", which Zeus uses to "make the wrong (περισσά, left or odd) right (άρτια, right or even)" and "order (κοσμεῖν) the disordered (άκοσμα).

Account / Discourse / Law / Pattern / Proportion / Reasoning / Ratio / Reckoning / Saying / Speech / Thought / Word

For me Philo of Alexandria (20 BC – 50 AD), is of excessive importance regarding what formed later the Islamic Dialectic Theology (علم الكلام), therefore he deserves to be mentioned with some details.

The Stoic modification of Heraclitus' idea of the Logos was also influential on Jewish philosophers such as Philo of Alexandria who connected it to "Wisdom personified" ( الحكمة المشخصة ) as God's creative principle. Philo uses the term Logos throughout his treatises on Hebrew Scripture in a manner clearly influenced by the Stoics.

Following the Stoics, he designates God as "the efficient cause" ( علة فاعلة ) and matter as "the affected cause" ( العلة المتأثرة ).