Logos

Warning: What you are about to read is philosophical. Don’t be daunted. Stick with it. I want to hear what you think!

Logotherapy comes from the word logos. There are several meanings to this word. Like everyone before him Frankl had his own definition. For him, Logos is meaning and thus logotherapy is healing through meaning.

Concepts always need defining, particularly when different people define them differently. Right now I am not interested in Frankl’s definition but rather in the earlier roots of the concept as it was conceived by the pre-Socratic Heraclitus, insofar as those roots have nurtured and given sustenance to Frankl’s logotherapy.

I want to know what these traces are. Ideas are carried by the one who promotes them and at the same time have been carried for a long time, so that what someone says today (Frankl) is not entirely detached from the original carrier/s.

We can deepen our understanding of Frankl by seeing the origin of logos in Heraclitus, even though the idea has changed over time.

What did Logos mean to Heraclitus? Logos meant that:

All things are in flux or change.

There is an orderly, law-governed process of change in the universe. Logos is the principle of this organization of all things in flux.

There is an intelligence at work in the order of change and human intelligence is a manifestation of this.

Logos gives unity to all things. There is unity in diversity. All is directed by the one Logos.

The following quote seemed particularly pertinent to me: According to Heraclitus’ metaphysics, the world is ordered, guided, and unified by a rational structure, a single divine law, which he calls the “logos”. Matching the divine cosmic logos, happily, is a logos that resides in each of our souls. Our private logos (presumably something like our faculty of reason) allows us access to the divine logos, and thus reopens the possibility of human knowledge. Observation without an understanding of the logos is useless, but observation coupled with an understanding of the logos yields true knowledge.

Though the logos is an independently existing truth available to all (a fact which he underscores by speaking about a logos in each human soul), most people fail to recognize it. In two highly vivid metaphors, Heraclitus describes the folly of those multitudes who attempt to investigate nature without understanding the logos. He compares these people first to sleepers; like sleeping minds, the mind that does not understand the logos cannot receive information from the outside world. What goes on in a sleeping mind is purely subjective and is not connected to what is going on in the real world. Similarly, those who investigate nature without understanding the logos only gain access to their own subjective worlds, not to the real, objective one.

The following two paragraphs are my unauthorized translation of Kol Hanevu’a, Rav David Cohen (ma’amar 1 par 23-24)

Logos and Pessimism

From the philosophy of change/movement and the heard Logos comes the pessimism of the despondent philosopher, the antiquated, that is softened only with the drunkenness of wine, when he comes in this concept of change to the unity of life and death….In their life they are dead…movement is also the source of Heraclitus’ active Logos, whose metaphors are similar to the metaphors of Ecclesiastes in content and form. (par. 23)

Wisdom and change

Change is the beginning of wisdom, that is known through agitation of the innermost soul. Thus it is practical-moral, and one who finds it finds life. The source of wisdom, as spelled out in Ecclesiastes, is in change, in the flow of streams that go to the sea, in search of the flow of movement, in the word, the root of what stands, the advantage. From this comes pessimism, until [such time that we arrive at] the end of the matter, that is heard [an allusion to the verse in Ecclesiastes, “In the end of the matter all is heard…”], in the word, the Logos, fear of God is pure, standing eternal…(par. 24)

I am not a philosopher and I have no answers. The benefit of philosophy for me is only in the practical difference it can make. My purpose therefore is to lay out some ideas and leave some open questions:

• What is your understanding of the historical development of the concept of logos in people’s minds over time?

• Where can do you find traces of Heraclitus’ ideas in Frankl’s logotherapy?

• How does the analysis of Rav David Cohen (“the Nazir”) of Heraclitus shed light on things?

• What practical difference does logos make in your day-to-day existence?

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