I asked this question in linguistics but I don't know if you have a better idea So this term has had a lot of impact religiously and philosophically, yet I still do not understand why logos as discourse or word was taken by Stoics and Platonists as some divine principle and by scientists as logic or -logy, like biology, geology, etc. What does that have to do?

I mean you can make sense of the later sense as discourse of life, discourse of the earth, the list of things that can be said about life or earth. But why logic, what does that have to do with it? What does "word" have to do with "a divine intermediary that builds or animates the world"? Can anyone explain how the senses of the word evolve? Some references for this transition?

  • Maybe a religion forum or a forum on Classical Greece would be a better fit for this question. Sep 27, 2023 at 19:15
  • potentially an interesting question, but lacks focus as it is
    – user67675
    Sep 27, 2023 at 19:35
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    @DavidGudeman I strongly disagree, clearly Platonism had to do something with the evolution of the word
    – Lina Jane
    Sep 27, 2023 at 20:09
  • @LinaJane It might be better to say that words don't evolve (there's no criteria of correctness such as fitness in natural selection) but merely change. I answered, but it might help to review semantic shift before reading it.
    – J D
    Sep 28, 2023 at 19:22
  • See physics vs physiology, arguably physics requires either more 'logic' in modern sense or the ancient cosmos 'Logos'. Both logy and Logos has the same root 'log', which etymologically seems about recording words in material with a coiled long axis which explains it's composed of 'l' and 'o', also there seems some sense that a long axis 'l' keeps reading 'go' on. Obviously biology and geology needs to log myriad categories and types of specific knowledges, not unlike a modern day big database (log). Sure logged words reflect thoughts but they still need language to record and communicate... Sep 28, 2023 at 23:22

3 Answers 3


why logos as discourse or word was taken by Stoics and Platonists as some divine principle and by scientists as logic or -logy, like biology, geology, etc. What does that have to do?

You have it backward.

The original sense of logos is that of the principle which put order into the original chaos. It was a way of explaining the fact that there was order in the world.

The Greek λόγος (lógos) is related to Ancient Greek λέγω (légō), which derives from the Proto-Indo-European root leǵ-, which meant "I put in order, arrange, gather, choose, count, reckon, discern, say, speak".

Christianity came later to reclaimed the idea for itself, recycling it as the "creative word of God".

The idea of logos also gave rise to the two complementary ideas of natural laws and logic: natural laws as what explains the order of the world, and logic as what puts order in the human mind.

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    Logos comes from Proto Indo European so the oldest sense was word. So what you say is the greek philosophers thought that logos was an ordering principle of the universe because they thought it was the discourse of a Demiurge? "The universe ordered by intellectual speech" Wouldn't something like thoughts instead of word make more sense then? Didn't Plato believe the universe was a thought of the Demiurge? If so instead of logos as discourse it should have been thoughts in greek, maybe nous? Why did they choose logos instead of "thoughts" in greek? What of Aristotle Logos, Pathos, etc.
    – Lina Jane
    Sep 28, 2023 at 16:59
  • @LinaJane "Logos comes from Proto Indo European so the oldest sense was word." See my edit. Sep 29, 2023 at 9:41

I don't know if what you are referring to is a historical transition. It looks more like several meanings for the same word, which is common. Logos in the theological sense, with a uppercase L, means that God designed the universe to function according to laws, laws that He chose and edicted. So in this view, the act of creating the universe was a speech act by God. He wrote the code.

Like in Genesis, "He said: let X be, and X was." Or like in John: "In the beginning was the Word..."

  • i think the question is asking how 'logos' came to be used in its secondary senses/contexts. i don't even know which of these came first though
    – user67675
    Sep 27, 2023 at 19:44
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    @prof_post Exactly. What was originally first meant by the word logos is at best an etymology question, at worst a guess. But we can still understand the multiple uses of the word today, and how they relate to one another. logos with a small l is "discourse", while Logos with a big L is simply the discourse of God, through which He creates/created the world.
    – Olivier5
    Sep 27, 2023 at 19:54
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    I mean but what does logic have to do with words? Logic is not just words, and why the obsession of words as an act of creation? I think this has to do with the greeks viewing the demiurge as some kind of intellectual being and therefore his thoughts are actions from a "Platonic" real of forms to a material one and the Jews saw the connection to the idea of breath as life, ruach. But what do words have to do with logic, logic is about structure of sentences and their truth-preservation,. If I say "cheese lovers unite" those are a bunch of words yet they are not a logical argument for voting.
    – Lina Jane
    Sep 27, 2023 at 20:06
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    @prof_post for example look at Aristotle Pathos, Logos and Ethnos, he is using Logos meaning word as reason as a persuasive technique, yet you would not give me your saving if I say to you "Mars is a planet" That is a true meaningful sentence, but not a valid argument, so it is devoid of reason
    – Lina Jane
    Sep 27, 2023 at 20:35

Okay, so what you are asking after is conceptual analysis of a term used in philosophy. Linguists would better suited to explain to you the science of how written and spoken words acquire meanings and then change over time. There's a whole sub-discipline related to etymology called historical linguistics. Without getting into contemporary theories on it, such as those offered by cognitive semantics, my preferred theory, let's just say that words are coined and then follow rules of association which may alter the morphology and semantics. Some insight can be found in the WP article on 'logos':

logos (UK: /ˈloʊɡɒs, ˈlɒɡɒs/, US: /ˈloʊɡoʊs/; Ancient Greek: λόγος, romanized: lógos, lit. 'word, discourse, or reason') is a term used in Western philosophy, psychology and rhetoric; it connotes an appeal to rational discourse that relies on inductive and deductive reasoning. Aristotle first systemised the usage of the word, making it one of the three principles of rhetoric alongside ethos and pathos.

So, it comes from Ancient Greek probably with the literal meaning of 'word' and the figurative meanings 'discourse' and 'reason'. You can see the obvious connection. Discourse which generally entails reason, uses words. Thus our 'dialogue' is 'discourse between two' and 'logic' is 'the form reason takes'. Biology literally translated is 'life-words', 'life-discourse', or 'life-logic' all three of which are constructions much like our own Anglo-Saxon kennings.

Now, once a word is in circulation the meaning can change either unintentionally by usage or intentionally by stipulation. Philosophers routine coin neologisms and repurpose written and spoken words as reference with new meanings. This is called a stipulative definition. This is called semantic shift and can be severe enough that meanings may become unrelated or opposite to original usage. It is common in philosophy because philosophers attempt to create a more expressive language. From WP:

Semantic change (also semantic shift, semantic progression, semantic development, or semantic drift) is a form of language change regarding the evolution of word usage—usually to the point that the modern meaning is radically different from the original usage.

You ask:

But why logic, what does that have to do with it? What does "word" have to do with "a divine intermediary that builds or animates the world"?

Logic is a property that inheres to language (coming from Latin tounge :D) and is made of words. And why might Plato have associated it with divinity? Well consider that words were considered real by Plato under his theory of Forms which were close to the divine, particularly the Form of the Good.

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    Well I asked in linguistics and they had no answer, so...
    – Lina Jane
    Sep 28, 2023 at 19:35
  • I suggested you ask them about semantic shift. Ir's a question of philosophers analysis to ask about semantic shift of a philosophers term. Your question is in the right place.
    – J D
    Sep 28, 2023 at 20:23
  • I know. But where do you think linguist studies how a sense of a word comes from? Presumably this would have meant digging up the books of Plato in the original language and possibly if the sense-change did not come from him, then some pre-Socratics and that way we could see the change. Like how quark changed from a funny Joyce word to one used by physicists to denote a type of particle, but this would have required a lot of digging through sources. Because you guys are philosophers I would have thought you would know about this transition. It happened thanks to philosophers after all, right?
    – Lina Jane
    Sep 29, 2023 at 1:44
  • That is to say I understand how logos can come to mean a divine intermediary by a Platonic theory where raw intellect is perfection and thus a Demiurges words are logos,What I needed was some confirmation of that and why logic was linked up with that given that the word was used by Aristotle already to mean reason,which made me confused because the sense of logic as ordering principle and then reason or logic would presumably have come after logos as divine reason and it would have required some time to settled in that way.So that is why the logic sense of logos did not fit and I was confused
    – Lina Jane
    Sep 29, 2023 at 1:47
  • Linguistics changes take time and it seemed so weird for it to change to logic as reason so soon, after all Plato was Aristotle teacher, right? So the change from word, to act of god to reason was too fast in my mind. Sorry for my confusion, I guess.
    – Lina Jane
    Sep 29, 2023 at 1:52

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