Through Logos

One of my core beliefs: Being arises through language. An individual is cohesive, reflective and whole, not because he is a biological unity, but because he is a dialogical unity.  He is a dialogical unity thanks to the running conversation constantly unfolding in his mind. The quality of that conversation is bound up with the seriousness with which his inner voices pursue comprehensive, enduring, respectful agreement among themselves.

Talking to yourself does not mean you are insane. On the contrary, talking to yourself clearly and respectfully is sanity itself.

The same holds true for groups of individuals: a group is cohesive, reflective and whole thanks to the running conversation that takes among its members. The quality of that conversation is bound up with the seriousness with which the members pursue comprehensive, enduring, respectful agreement among themselves.

Individuals and groups go wrong for the same reason: Voices are suppressed, humanity denied.


I am going to pull together a number of thematically related passages from the ancient world.


Chuang Tzu, one of the principle thinkers of Taoism, told this famous story:

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.


The Dhammapada opens with the Buddha (which means the “awakened one”) saying:

All the phenomena of existence have mind as their precursor, mind as their supreme leader, and of mind are they made. If with an impure mind one speaks or acts, suffering follows him in the same way as the wheel follows the foot of the chariot’s drawer.

All the phenomena of existence have mind as their precursor, mind as their supreme leader, and of mind are they made. If with a pure mind one speaks or acts, happiness follows him like his shadow that never leaves him.


Around the same time one of the earliest Greek philosophers, Heraclitus made some cryptic statements about something he called Logos:

Although this Logos is eternally valid, yet men are unable to understand it — not only before hearing it, but even after they have heard it for the first time. That is to say, although all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos, men seem to be quite without any experience of it — at least if they are judged in the light of such words and deeds as I am here setting forth.

My own method is to distinguish each thing according to its nature, and to specify how it behaves; other men, on the contrary, are as neglectful of what they do when awake as they are when asleep.

We should let ourselves be guided by what is common to all. Yet, although the Logos is common to all, most men live as if each of them had a private intelligence of his own.

Although intimately connected with the Logos, men keep setting themselves against it.

Listening not to me but to the Logos, it is wise to acknowledge that all things are one.


In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus (who is himself called the Logos, “The Word”) said:

If the flesh came into being because of spirit, that is a marvel, but if spirit came into being because of the body, that is a marvel of marvels…


The author of the fourth Gospel, John, opened with this famous passage:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

A student of phenomenalism or existentialism might at this point be tempted to say with Solomon: There is nothing new under the sun.


Mind arises through logos and mind is the basis of all being. Spirit is synonymous with mind.


dialogue: from dia– “across, through” + legein (logos) “speak, word.”

diabolic: from dia– “across, through” + ballein “to throw.”


Try this on: Dialogue, “through words”, unifies subjectivities. The diabolical “throws across” the boundary of the individual’s own mind all other subjectivities. The diabolical subject takes himself to be the sole subjectivity. In other words, the essence of the diabolical is solipsism.

Diabolism refuses to acknowledge subjectivity beyond one’s own, not only theoretically but practically. The practical consequence of denying other subjectivities is refusal to engage in dialogue.

The practical consequence of acknowledging other subjectivities is dialogue.


From Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan’s monologue:

Is this the Region, this the Soil, the Clime,
Said then the lost Arch Angel, this the seat
That we must change for Heav’n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since hee
Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: fardest from him is best
Whom reason hath equald, force hath made supream
Above his equals. Farewel happy Fields

Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then hee
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built

Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.


Returning to the original point, an individual can be solipsistic, but it is also possible for a group to be collectively solipsistic, to view its own self-understanding to be the sole understanding, and to agree among itself that its self-agreement is license to refuse dialogue with other groups or individuals beyond its horizon. Behind this anti-dialogical attitude is a belief that it can use coercive force as a substitute for agreement. They say: “I will not reason with you. I do not have to reason with you. Your desires and objections mean nothing to me.” Have you heard this before? Whether an individual says it, or a couple says it, or a group says it, or a whole nation says it: whoever says it undermines dialogue and incarnates the anti-logos.

When minds gather in the spirit of logos, each regarding the other as “thou”, as a fellow subject like himself, and allows dialogue to do its miraculous horizon-fusing work and the conversation has itself through them: whoever does this overcomes the darkness of the diabolic and incarnates the logos.

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