Listening to the Logos: Speech and the Coming of Wisdom in Ancient Greece

Listening to the Logos: Speech and the Coming of Wisdom in Ancient Greece

Listening to the Logos: Speech and the Coming of Wisdom in Ancient Greece

Listening to the Logos: Speech and the Coming of Wisdom in Ancient Greece


In Listening to the Logos, Christopher Lyle Johnstone provides an unprecedented comprehensive account of the relationship between speech and wisdom across almost four centuries of evolving ancient Greek thought and teachings&-from the mythopoetic tradition of Homer and Hesiod to Aristotle's treatises.Johnstone grounds his study in the cultural, conceptual, and linguistic milieu of archaic and classical Greece, which nurtured new ways of thinking about and investigating the world. He focuses on accounts of logos and wisdom in the surviving writings and teachings of Homer and Hesiod, the Presocratics, the Sophists and Socrates, Isocrates and Plato, and Aristotle. Specifically Johnstone highlights the importance of language arts in both speculative inquiry and practical judgment, a nexus that presages connections between philosophy and rhetoric that persist still. His study investigates concepts and concerns key to the speaker's art from the outset: wisdom, truth, knowledge, belief, prudence, justice, and reason. From these investigations certain points of coherence emerge about the nature of wisdom&-that wisdom includes knowledge of eternal principles, both divine and natural; that it embraces practical, moral knowledge; that it centers on apprehending and applying a cosmic principle of proportion and balance; that it allows its possessor to forecast the future; and that the oral use of language figures centrally in obtaining and practicing it.Johnstone's interdisciplinary account ably demonstrates that in the ancient world it was both the content and form of speech that most directly inspired, awakened, and deepened the insights comprehended under the notion of wisdom.


In Listening to the Logos: Speech and the Coming of Wisdom in Ancient Greece, Christopher Lyle Johnstone explores how the ancient Greeks thought about the connections between wisdom and speech. He finds not a unified idea of how these connections can or should develop but a consistent inquiry into the issues of speech, language, dialogue, and argument on the one hand and the pursuit of wisdom on the other. Are these separate, perhaps even competing or incompatible, disciplines and practices, or interacting principles, or resources for one another?

Johnstone focuses on the Greek world in the period 620–322 B.C.E., when, according to his account, understandings of the world that had been grounded largely in myth were joined rapidly by new rational, naturalistic, and philosophical modes. The three centuries studied in this work saw the interacting development of what came to be called philosophy and rhetoric. Johnstone’s book is not so much a history of early Greek philosophy or early Greek rhetoric as a synthetic account of the emerging and enduring sense of the connections between speech and wisdom from early Greek thought to the flowering of systematic rhetorical and philosophical thought.

Johnstone traces the complex relations among language and thought as variously understood in Homer, Hesiod, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Protagoras, Gorgias, Socrates, Plato, Isocrates, and Aristotle. At the same time, Johnstone draws widely on generations of scholarship that inform our understandings of these issues and thinkers.

Johnstone provides an appreciation of the achievements of fourth-century B.C.E. Greek rhetorical and philosophical thought without, however, losing his simultaneous appreciation of the earlier modes of thought and expression from which they emerged. Listening to the Logos is the fruit of one scholarteacher’s lifetime of study and reflection and a book to which scholars and students of rhetoric may turn for instruction and refreshment.


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