Sunday, June 28, 2009

Greek Words 3

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Logos (λόγος) – word, speech, discourse, account, statement, reason, proportion, argument

G. B. Kerferd’s entry in the Encyclopedia reads: “The Greek noun logos, derived from the root found in the verb lego, ‘I say,’ in the classical period covered a wide range of meanings expressed by quite different words in most modern languages. Thus word, speech, argument, explanation, doctrine, esteem, numerical computation, measure, proportion, plea, principle, and reason (whether human or divine)—all represent standard meanings of the one Greek word. Earlier attempts to trace a logical progression of meanings of the history of the word are now generally acknowledged to lack any secure foundation, and even to try to trace out the history of a single ‘logos doctrine’ [a logos logos?—MK] in Greek philosophy is to run the risk of searching for a simple pattern when the truth was much more complex.”

Of Heraclitus, Kerferd says he “combined at least three ideas which we tend to separate: our human thought about the universe, the rational structure of the universe itself, and the source of that rational structure. Heraclitus’ logos as source of rationality in the universe was an immanent principle, and while it was itself a sort of intelligence, it does not seem to have been regarded as either conscious or intelligent, in the sense of itself indulging in the activity of thinking. A further step was taken by Anaxagoras through his doctrine of a principle of intelligence in the universe that was not mixed with all other things and so was not completely immanent, but he called this principle ‘nous’ and not ‘logos.’”

Continuing that thought with Plato and Aristotle, Kerferd says, “The Platonic universe was itself organized on rational principles, but this organization was produced by an entity called Nous and not Logos, and Aristotle also used the term ‘nous’ in connection with his own doctrine of the unmoved mover, an entity to which he did not hesitate to assign the activity of thinking.” He also says, “The Sophists used the term ‘logos’ both for arguments and for what arguments were about, so that ‘right reason’ (orthos logos) tended to be used both of a correct argument or theory and of the rational structure or principle which the argument or theory was about, but it was used of particular cases rather than of any universal single principle.” (Encyclopedia, vol. 5, 83)

In the Encyclopedia’s entry on Heraclitus, Michael C. Stokes says, “Heraclitus abandoned genetic explanations of the world, believing it uncreated. In his view, all events take place according to a ‘Logos,’ a term he left undefined. Since the Logos can be heard, it must be expressible in words…. Logos is both discourse and contents, both the truth about things and the principle on which they function. … The Greek word logos can mean ‘proportion,’ and for Heraclitus one change takes place in the same proportion as the reverse change. The English word that best covers Heraclitus’ philosophical uses of ‘Logos’ is ‘formula.’” (Encyclopedia, vol. 3, 477)

Gilbert Ryle includes a section in his entry on Plato on the use of logos in Plato’s Theaetetus: “True belief plus a ‘logos.’ When the discussion at last reverts to the original question What is knowledge? it is quickly shown that knowledge is not to be equated, as Theaetetus had suggested, with correct opinion. The jurors may be persuaded of truths about an event that they have not witnessed. The eyewitness knows what happened, but they do not know it, but only believe correctly that what he reports to them did happen. So knowing is not the same as correctly believing. It is now [Theaetetus, 201c-d—MK] suggested that knowledge must be not just true belief, but true belief plus something else, namely, a logos.” (Encyclopedia, vol. 6, 328)

In his translation of the Theaetetus, John McDowell, says in a note on this section: “At 201c9, and throughout this part of the dialogue, ‘account’ represents the Greek noun logos. The English word adequately fits either or both of the notions which figure in the passages echoed by the new definition…. There are two points not captured by this translation which are relevant to the interpretation of this part of the dialogue: (a) One of the senses of the cognate verb legein is ‘enumerate’. This is particularly important at 206e-208b. (b) The most common sense of the cognate verb is ‘say’: in its associated sense, the noun applies to the form of words which one utters when one says something. I have, however, avoided the translation ‘statement’, partly because it would obscure the echoes of earlier passages mentioned above, and partly because it would imply the ascription to Plato of a clarity about what it is to say something which, in this part of the dialogue, he seems to be working towards rather than already to possess.” (McDowell, Theaetetus, 230-231) I would also note that this section of the Theaetetus is often referred to as that which gave us the basic understanding of knowledge as “justified true belief.”

Hans-Georg Gadamer says, “To be sure, logos does not mean ‘word,’ but ‘discourse,’ ‘language,’ ‘account;’ ultimately, it is everything that is articulated in discourse, thought, and reason. Thus the definition of man that has come down to us through the centuries is that of the animal rationale, the creature that has reason, confirming at every stage the latest pride in reason. But logos is not ‘reason’ but ‘discourse’—precisely words that one person says to another. It is not an accumulation of words like the classified fragments that form the dictionary or so-called Wörterbuch (literally, ‘book of words’). Rather, the logos consists of words already disposed toward unity of a sense, the sense of discourse. We call that the unity of the sentence.” (Gadamer, Praise of Theory, 4)

Allan Bloom, in a footnote to his first translation of logos to “argument,” says: “The Greek word is logos which most simply means ‘speech’ and is derived from the verb ‘to speak.’ It can also mean story, discourse, argument, and reason; it is speech and what speech implies—human reason as expressed in speech.” (Bloom, Republic of Plato, 443-444n.25)

John Herman Randall, Jr. says in relation to Aristotle, “to understand the world of Greece means for Aristotle an understanding of language, of discourse, of logos, as the instrument of thinking and knowing. We think, we know, we understand, in terms of language, by describing things in words, by making statements about things, by reasoning from one fact to another, by employing discourse. ‘Discourse’ and ‘reason’ are one and the same thing—in Greek they are designated by one and the same word, logos.” (Randall, Aristotle, 6)

In his glossary to Aristotle’s Rhetoric, George A. Kennedy translates it as: “word, sentence, rational argument, speech, tale, esteem, etc.” (Kennedy, On Rhetoric, 317)

In the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Roger Crisp says in its entry: “term with the following main philosophical senses. (1) Rule, principle, law. E.g., in Stoicism the logos is the divine order and in Neoplatonism the intelligible regulating forces displayed in the sensible world. The term came thus to refer, in Christianity, to the Word of God, to the instantiation of his agency in creation, and, in the New Testament, to the person of Christ. (2) Proposition, account, explanation, thesis, argument. E.g., Aristotle presents a logos from first principles. (3) Reason, reasoning, the rational faculty, abstract theory (as opposed to experience), discursive reasoning (as opposed to intuition). E.g., Plato’s Republic uses the term to refer to the intellectual part of the soul. (4) Measure, relation, proportion, ratio. E.g., Aristotle speaks of the logoi of the musical scales. (5) Value, worth. E.g., Heraclitus speaks of the man whose logos is greater than that of others.” (Cambridge Dictionary, 518)

Likewise, Nicholas Dent, in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy: “A Greek word, of great breadth of meaning, primarily signifying in the context of philosophical discussion the rational, intelligible principle, structure, or order which pervades something, or the source of that order, or giving an account of that order. The cognate verb legein means ‘say’, ‘tell’, ‘count’. Hence the ‘word’ which was ‘in the beginning’ as recounted at the start of St John’s Gospel is also logos. The root occurs in many English compounds such as biology, epistemology, and so on. Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, makes use of a distinction between the part of the soul which originates a logos (our reason) and the part which obeys or is guided by a logos (Oxford Companion, 511-512)

Richard McKeon includes the Greek to guide the Latin equivalence: “RATIO, reason, nature, relation, principle, ground, argument, definition, criterion, (λόγος). Sometimes used as indentical with intellectus [“intellect, understanding, meaning, conception, idea” (463)—MK], then divided into speculative and practical reason; sometimes taken for the action of the understanding, most of all for the discursive act of understanding.” (McKeon, Selections, 488)

Mythos (μύθος) – speech, story, tale, legend, myth

S. G. Pembroke, in his article on myth, gives us a good orientation to mythos: “In the earliest Greek literature, it means no more than speech or utterance, and is already contrasted with action in much the same way that logos (which came to replace it in this sense) was in the time of Thucydides placed in opposition to fact, the pair standing respectively for theory and practice.”

He continues: “In the specific sense of speech, mythos was gradually ousted by the new term. Herodotus’ predecessor Hecataeus of Miletus began his work by contrasting the version of things he was to set out (the verbal form mytheitai is used) with the accounts (logoi) given by other Greeks, the distinction lying not in the greater degree of rationality of the latter but rather (as he explicitly tells us) in that his own version is what he believes to be the truth, whereas other accounts are many and ridiculous. In Pindar, on the other hand, mythoi are associated with falsehood and contrasted with the true logos, and although some skill is required for their elaboration, he is explicit that this can deceive and may even be a force for wrongdoing. Herodotus alternates between representing his work as a single discourse (logos) and as one sub-divided into a plurality of separate logoi, yet he rejects as mythos the traditional picture of the River Ocean encircling the world and the story of the Egyptians attempting to submit Heracles to a human sacrifice. In the former case he adds that this picture is beyond the bounds of proper inquiry, but ‘story’ in the sense suggested earlier is probably a close equivalent. Ironically, this anticipates the famous claim made by Thucydides for the superiority of his own account of the Greek past over earlier versions in both verse and prose, and for the permanent value of his description of the Peloponnesian War: the prevalent traditions used by the writers of prose could not be subjected to rigorous criticism but had in the process of time ‘won out’ towards ‘the mythical’, and he was aware that the absence of this element of story-telling (to mythodes) might appear unattractive to the less assiduous of his own readers. With Plato, the polarity between mythos and logos is virtually complete: the stories we tell children are false in the sense that they are not literally accurate (the adjective pseudes does not distinguish fiction from lying, as Augustine was able to do in contrasting ficta with mendacia), yet they contain an element of truth—a formulation which points to the need for stories to be interpreted but gives no indication as to how this should be set about.” (The Legacy of Greece, 301-302)

(I should note that with Plato, Pembroke was alluding to “gennaion pseudes,” the phrase commonly translated as “noble lie,” in The Republic, 414b-415c. Allan Bloom and Paul Shorey both follow this tradition, but F. M. Cornford and Desmond Lee both dissent. Cornford, in his The Republic of Plato, translates it as “bold flight of invention” and says of it, “This phrase is commonly rendered by ‘noble lie,’ a self-contradictory expression no more applicable to Plato’s harmless allegory than to a New Testament parable of the Pilgrim’s Progress, and liable to suggest that he would countenance the lies, for the most part ignoble, now called propaganda.” (Cornford, Republic of Plato, 106n.1) The reproach is directed in the main towards R. G. H. Crossman’s Plato Today, a book written in the 1930s which sighted Plato as a totalitarian and was followed in the forties by Karl Popper’s much more powerful The Open Society and Its Enemies. Cornford’s fellow Cambridge man, Lee, came out with his Penguin translation in the fifties and said a bit more strongly: “Plato has been criticized for his Foundation Myth as if it were a calculated lie. That is partly because the phrase here translated ‘magnificent myth’ … has been conventionally mistranslated ‘noble lie’; and this has been used to support the charge that Plato countenances manipulation by propaganda.” (Lee, The Republic, 177))

Jane Ellen Harrison, in her very controversial book, Themis (which is Greek for “institution” or “law”) offers a key description: “A mythos to the Greek was primarily just a thing spoken, uttered by the mouth. Its antithesis or rather correlative is the thing done, enacted, the ergon or work. … From sounds made by the mouth, to words spoken and thence to talk or story told the transition is easy. Always there is the same antithesis of speech an action which are but two different ways of expression emotion, two forms of reaction; the mythos, the tale told, the action recounted, is contrasted with the action actually done. It is from this antithesis that the sense of unreality, nonexistence gradually arises.” (Harrison, Themis, 328)

Allan Bloom, in a footnote to his first translation of mythos to “tales,” says: “The Greek word is mythos; first meaning no more than ‘a speech’ (as in Homer), it comes to mean ‘a story,’ very often one connected with religious traditions. The poets are the makers of the mythoi; the meaning and reliability of mythoi is an important question in Plato.” (Bloom, Republic of Plato, 442n.17)

Hans-Georg Gadamer, in a vaulted discussion of different ancient senses of “the word,” counterposes to “the word of the question,” roughly the dialectical sense, “the other word, the old rival of the Greek religious and philosophical tradition, the poetic word of poetry and legend. Of course ‘legend’ is used in a fairly emphatic sense here, and means more than just the mythical form of information usually called ‘legend’ (Sage) in the epic memory of humankind. ‘Legend’ here designates in its entirety the word’s special claim to autonomy, not to be saying something that would then need to be confirmed or certified, but rather something that is certain precisely in its being said. That is the age-old meaning of mythos, a word that for the most part gets used somewhat inaccurately. Mythos is that which displays its authentic power of truth only by being said repeatedly, and not by being rigorously questioned on the strength of a certainty situated outside the tradition of the legend. Thus a poem is legend, in the sense that the word no longer refers to anything outside…. Rather, everything gets gathered into what is said, as it were. Now, this kind of legend is the word at its most authentic—it is word to such an extent that it becomes impossible to separate its significance from its sound. Hence the ideal of poetic legend is fulfilled in its untranslatability.” (Gadamer, Praise of Theory, 13)

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