From Ancient Greek Logos to European Rationality


  • Georgia APOSTOLOPOULOU University of Ioannina (Greece)



Logos, reason, rationality, myth, dialectics, order, human identity, subject, freedom, nature, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, idea of Europe


Because of history, culture, and politics, European identity has its archetypical elements in ancient Greek culture. Ancient Greek philosophy brought Logos to fore and defined it as the crucial problem and the postulate of the human. We translate the Greek term Logos in English as reason or rationality. These terms, however, do not cover the semantic field of Logos since this includes, among other things, order of being, ground, language, argument etc. The juxtaposition of Logos (reason) to myth makes up the matrix of rationalism. Ancient Greek culture, however, was a culture of Logos (reason) as well as of myth and had enough room for forms, gods, and heroes, for science, poetry, and religious festivities. While ancient Greek culture seems to follow the logic of forms, modern European culture follows the logic of things.

Plato criticizes myth and, at the same time, he sets out a philosophy of myth. He follows the principle of ‘giving reason’ (logon didonai) about things, as his master Socrates did. He establishes dialogue and defines dialectics as the science of principles and ideas and their relations to the things of this world. Aristotle did not accept Plato’s interpretation of Logos. He considered dialectics only as a theory of argumentation and defined his ‘first philosophy’ or ‘theology’ as the science of highest Being. His program of rationalism is based on ontology and accepts the primordial relation of Logos, life, and order of things.

European modernity begins in philosophy with Descartes’ turn to the subject. Descartes defines the main elements of European rationality and their problems. He brings to fore the human subject as the ‘I’ that is free to doubt about everything it can know except itself.  Knowledge has to consolidate the power and the mastery of humans over things and nature. Besides, the distinction between soul and body in terms of thinking thing and extended thing does not allow a unique conception of the human. Especially Kant and Hegel attempted to eliminate the impasses of Descartes’ and of Cartesians. While Kant defined freedom as the transcendental idea of reason, Hegel highlighted the reconciliation of spirit and nature.

Nowadays there is a confusion regarding rationality. The power of humans over nature and over other humans as nature is increasing. We have lost the measure of our limits. Perhaps we need the ancient Greek grammar of Logos in order to define the measure and the limits of modern European rationality.


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Author Biography

Georgia APOSTOLOPOULOU, University of Ioannina (Greece)

Professor (Em.) of Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy at
the University of Ioannina (Greece), Member of the International
Academy for Philosophy


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How to Cite

APOSTOLOPOULOU, G. (2016). From Ancient Greek Logos to European Rationality. WISDOM, 7(2), 118–130.