21 April 2024

Logos and Pancake

What is logos? And what does it have to do with pancake? I shall deal with these two questions consecutively.

What is logos?

τὶ ἐστιν λόγος; What is logos? ‘What is …?’ is the favourite question of ancient Greek philosophy, a question skipped over by the modern sciences because they already assume they know what they are talking about when they proceed to construct their models to explain why this or that happened or happens. For Greek thinking, by contrast, asking ‘What is …?’ leads to an attempt to determine the whatness or essence of something, which Aristotle terms its τὸ τὶ ἦν εἶναι, or ‘the what-it-was-ness’ of an entity, also known as the εἶδος (eidos) or ‘look’ which an entity presents of itself to the mind (νοῦς), i.e. the ontological look of its mode of being as somewhat. The full ‘beingness’ or οὐσία of an entity presented to (or presencing for) the mind is given by the unity of its εἶδος with its ὕλη, or matter. εἶδος is often rendered in English as ‘form’. 

How does this help in saying what logos is? And why is it important to understand what it is? The logos plays a prominent role in determining who we are as humans. The famous definition of the human being given by Aristotle determines how we conceive or interpret ourselves as human beings even today, namely as a species of animal. The Aristotelean definition runs τὸ ζῷον λόγον ἔχον, i.e. as the animal that has the logos or, in Latin, the animal rationale. The logos becomes thereby ratio, reason. The human being is thus cast as the generic animal having the specific difference of reason or intelligence that defines it as a specific kind animal at the top of the animal kingdom. Modern evolutionary theory adopts this cast of human being, i.e. the way in which the human being presents itself to the mind, as a self-evident fact and proceeds to study the evolution of the human animal as well as many other kinds of animal over vast stretches of linear time. 

As the rational animal, the human being is said to be guided by reason, or rather, that it should be guided by reason if it is to live up to its proper ontological definition. An irrational human being is regarded as something less than human, whereas reason itself is praised as the quality of the human being that has brought forth astonishing achievements. But substituting reason for logos only replaces one question by another. The Greek verb corresponding to λόγος is λεγειν, which signifies, apart from ‘to say, to speak’, also ‘to gather, to select’, similar to how Latin ‘legere’ signifies ‘to read’ or ‘to lecture’, also ‘to gather, to select’. The definition of the human being as ‘the animal that has the logos’ is therefore often given as ‘the animal that has language’. Having language is postulated as the specific difference that is supposed to set us humans apart from other animals. This is then contested by modern sciences such as biology and psychology when they attempt to demonstrate that other animals, too, or even plants, have language, or al least a recognizable rudimentary language.  

Logos as language is also interpreted as syllogistic reasoning. In formal logic, also inherited from Aristotle, you learn how to argue by applying rules of inference to the premisses that 'close them together' in the.con-clusion (_syl-logismos_, συλλογισμός) . Hence modern analytic philosophy is conceived as logical argumentation, with the analytic philosopher arguing for his position against other positions. This adversarial style of argumentative philosophy is taken to be self-evident, with debates being fought out among opinionated subjects each advocating and defending an -ism position. One attacks the other's premisses and/or his application of the rules of inference. The premisses asserted have to be factually correct; truth itself is conceived as empirically established factual correctness. Alternatively, a position may be regarded as a set of 'beliefs' that have to be shown to be untenable because they lead to patently false conclusions. Adopting and holding an -ism position takes precedence over opening one's mind to the phenomena themselves in order to understand them, to conceive them as well as you possibly can by moving arduously through and dismantling your own distorting misconceptions.

But what of that other signification of λεγειν as ‘to gather, to select’. Is the human being a kind of animal that is able to gather and select? One immediately thinks of early homo sapiens conceived as hunters and gatherers. However, the gathering and selecting performed by the logos must have a deeper connection with the essence of human being itself, with its very whatness or εἶδος. In general, the εἶδος is the eidetic look of an entity that presents itself to the human mind that is thus able to understand the entity concerned in its whatness, i.e. its what-it-already-was, i.e. its τὸ τὶ ἦν εἶναι. For Aristotle’s thinking, the eidetic look presents itself to the mind above all in the determination of that kind of movement the Greeks call τέχνη ποιητική, i.e. the technique or art of making, for which Aristotle developed his ontology of efficient, productive movement, the only explicit ontology of movement handed down from Greek thinking, and the one implicitly underlying all the modern sciences today in their unrelenting striving to master all kinds of movement, even those for which an ontology of productive, efficient-causal movement is unsuited. The art of making is guided by the maker’s foreseeing the eidetic look of what is to be made. The maker has this fore-sight as a know-how pertaining to the specific art, as when a wine-maker gathers in the harvest of grapes and selects those suitable for a sort of wine he has in mind, whilst sorting out those not suitable. 

Aristotle investigates the ontology of efficient-causal, productive movement in Book VIII (Theta) of his Metaphysics. This goes to show that the investigation of physical movement (κίηησις, μεταβολή) is itself metaphysical in the sense of ontological, i.e. a mode of being. The key concept for the attempt here to clarify what the logos is, is that of δύναμις μετὰ λόγου, that is, a power guided by the logos. The δύναμις (power, force) at work is ἐνέργεια (energeia, literally: at-work-ness), a movement on the way to bringing forth in actuality the fore-seen εἶδος (eidos) as the finished τέλος.(telos, end) This is where the legein of the logos comes into its own. The legein of the logos in the mind has the task of selecting what belongs to the fore-seen eidos of what is to be pro-duced, i.e. brought forth, and what does not, The selection is one of inclusion and exclusion looking into the temporal dimension of the future. An example will help to make this clearer. 

Pancake recipe as εἶδος

Making a pancake is an instance of τέχνη ποιητική belonging to the art of cookery. It requires the cook to fore-see in the mind (νοῦς) the eidos of the pancake that is to be finally made, the telos, which is the purpose for the sake of which (οὖ ἔνεκα) the cook is undertaking the making, along with all the steps that have to be taken, and those to be avoided, in achieving this end. The cook, possessing the know-how of cookery, has to select the appropriate ingredients, the flour, egg, salt and water, along with the appropriate tools, such as a frying pan (not a saucepan) and the hot plate of a stove (not the oven). Only a pinch of salt (not a teaspoonful) is required, and only a cup of water, and 100 grams of flour (not more). The ingredients have to be thoroughly mixed with a whisk (not a rolling pin) after sifting the flour into a basin of an appropriate size. The frying pan has to be given a little oil (not too much) and heated to an appropriate temperature. The mixture has to be poured into the frying pan and fried for the appropriate time (to avoid burning), being turned from one side to the other at the right time (not too soon, not too late). All this making requires knowingly including what has to be done and excluding what has to be avoided to actualize the envisaged eidos of a finished pancake as telos, which is the fore-seen end of the making, at which the movement of cooking comes to an end and has its end (ἐντελέχεια, literally, in-end-have-ness) of a pancake ready to eat. 

Further reading: On the interpretation of δύναμις μετὰ λόγου as selective (auswählend, ein- und ausschließend) cf. Martin Heidegger Aristoteles, Metaphysik θ 1-3 Vorlesung SS1931, ed. Heinrich Hüni, Gesamtausgabe Klostermann, Frankfurt/M. 1981 § 14 GA33:150ff.

No comments:

Post a Comment