The Greek word logos has a rich variety of meanings in ancient Greek philosophy, all occurring within the general semantic field of language, discourse, and reason. In philosophical contexts, the Latin equivalent is ratio.
Divine Principle of Cosmic Form and Order
In Stoic thought, the logos is the universal force that forms and sustains all things.
- → 6.1 “The Universal Substance is docile and ductile; and the Reason (logos) that controls (dioikeô) it has no motive in itself to do wrong…all things come into being and fulfill their purpose as it (logos) directs” ( Med. 1916, 131).
- → 7.134 “They [Stoics] hold that there are two principles (archai) in the universe, the active principle (to poioun) and the passive (to paschon). The passive principle, then, is a substance without quality, i.e. matter, whereas the active is the reason (logos) inherent in this substance, that is God” ( Vit. Phil. 1925, 2:238–39).
As seen in the above quotation, the Stoics closely associated reason with God:
- → 2.10 “For the divine mind (mens divina) cannot exist without reason (ratio), and divine reason cannot but have this power to establish right and wrong…reason came into existence simultaneously with the divine mind” ( Leg. 1928, 380–83).
- → 7.136 “God, who is the seminal reason (logos spermatikos) of the universe” ( Vit. Phil. 1925, 2:241).
Speech and Rational Thought
Logos is closely tied to thought and language, insofar as language expresses significance and meaning.
- → 4 [16b] understands logos as a “meaningful utterance” (phônê semanikê), a group of words that carries semantic meaning (a sentence), making either a positive (kataphasis) or a negative judgment (apophrasis; Int. 1938, 120–21).
- → 206d comments that the primary function of logos is to “make one’s own thought (dianoia) clear through speech by means of verbs and nouns” ( Theaet. 1921, 240–41).
- → 263e “thought and speech (logos) are the same; only the former, which is a silent inner conversation (dialogos) of the soul with itself, has been the special name of thought (dianoia)…vocal utterance through the mouth has the name of speech” (logos; Soph. 1921, 440–41).
James uses logos in this outer sense in Jas 3:2, “if someone does not go astray in his speech” (logos).
A Defining Characteristic of Human Beings
Logos is what distinguishes humans from animals.
- → 1.1.10–11 [1253A]: logos is what distinguishes humans from animals, and enables humans to live in community and distinguish right (to dikaion) from wrong (to adikon; Pol. 1932, 11).
- → 76.9–10 “And what quality is best in man? It is reason (ratio); by virtue of reason he surpasses the animals, and is surpassed only by the gods. Perfect reason (ratio perfecta) is therefore the good peculiar to man; all other qualities he shares in some degree with animals and plants…When this is right and has reached perfection, man’s felicity is complete” ( Ep. 1917, 2:151–53).
Logos and the Human Soul
Reason is closely associated with the human soul:
→ 439–41: In the Platonic tradition, the soul is tripartite: the rational (logistikon) should govern the “spirited” (thumoeides) and “appetitive” (epithumêtikon) parts of the soul ( Resp. 2013, 417–27); cf. → 21). Conf.→ 245c–254e has a famous allegory which depicts the logistikon as a charioteer controlling two unruly horses. Phaedr.
→ 1.13.10 [1102a] “the soul consists of two parts, one irrational (alogon) and the other capable of reason” (logon exon; Eth. Nic. 1934, 63).
In Greek philosophy, then, the soul is the battleground between rational and irrational powers. Reason is associated with virtues and true happiness, irrationality is associated with vices and unhappiness.
Stoic Thought: Reason the Key to Human Action
Reason is key to the Stoic analysis of a person’s actions. The senses provide a person with “presentations” (phantasia); human reason endows these presentations with rational propositions. A person’s reason assents to these propositions, resulting in an impulse that leads to an action.
- → 11 [1037F] reports Chrysippus’ teaching that “impulse (hormê) of man is reason prescriptive of action for him…Repulsion is prohibitive reason” ( Stoic. rep. 1976, 451).
- → 2.88: A passion, on the contrary, “is an impulse (hormê) which is excessive and disobedient to the dictates of reason, or a movement of soul which is irrational and contrary to nature” ( Anth.→, 1:410). 1987
James refers to the impulse (hormê) of a ship’s pilot in Jas 3:4.