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Listening to the Logos

Speech and the Coming of Wisdom in Ancient Greece

Christopher Lyle Johnstone

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Series: Studies in Rhetoric/Communication


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Series Editor’s Preface

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pp. ix-x

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 ...

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pp. xi-xii

The author is grateful for permission to use previously published material from the following sources: “Sophistical Wisdom: Politikê Aretê and ‘Logosophia,’” Philosophy and Rhetoric 39, no. 4 (2006): 265–89, © 2006 by the Pennsylvania State University, by permission of the Penn State University Press, University Park; ...

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pp. 1-3

Early in my career I published three essays (1980, 1981, 1983) that, in examining how ethical standards for communication might be devised, focus on connections between speech and wisdom—between oral expression, sophia, and phronêsis. In the first of these essays I conclude from a synthetic reading of the Nicomachean Ethics, ...

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One: The Greek Stones Speak: Toward an Archaeology of Consciousness

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pp. 4-12

The relationship between wisdom and utterance, reflected at times in more specific connections between philosophy and rhetoric, has been a focus of intellectual interest in the West since at least the time of Heraclitus of Ephesus (ca. 500 B.C.E.). Parmenides, Empedocles, Protagoras, Gorgias, Socrates, Plato, Isocrates, Aristotle, ...

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Two: Singing the Muses’ Song: Myth, Wisdom, and Speech

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pp. 13-35

The visions of wisdom bequeathed to us by ancient Greeks find their fullest expression in classical thought, but they originate in the vision of the seer, the revelation of the oracle, and the verse of the poet, whose utterances are products of the psychic state of entheos, “full of the god” or “inspired.”1 ...

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Three: Physis, Kosmos, Logos: Presocratic Thought and the Emergence of Nature-Consciousness

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pp. 36-85

Some years ago I went with my wife and younger son to visit Penn’s Cave, a central Pennsylvania limestone cavern that can be examined only by boat because the stream that formed it still runs through it, creating a lake for its entire length. We toured the cavern under the direction of a professional guide who controlled the boat ...

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Four: Sophistical Wisdom, Socratic Wisdom, and the Political Life

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pp. 86-145

How should one live one’s life? What are the values that one should seek to realize in one’s conduct? By what moral standards should our actions be judged, and how are these standards to be discovered? What legitimizes the laws that govern society? Are law and morality rooted in the nature of things, or are they merely matters of custom and convention? ...

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Five: Civic Wisdom, Divine Wisdom: Isocrates, Plato, and Two Visions for the Athenian Citizen

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pp. 146-187

The decades from the birth of Isocrates in 436 b.c.e. to his death in 338 were among the most tumultuous in Athenian history. When Isocrates was born, Athens was at the pinnacle of its military, economic, and cultural power in the Aegean world. When Plato was born almost a decade later, the Peloponnesian War was already under way. ...

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Six: Speculative Wisdom, Practical Wisdom: Aristotle and the Culmination of Hellenic Thought

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pp. 188-214

If Thales can justly be called the father of Greek philosophy, Aristotle was his most fecund descendant. In his hands (and mind) the philosophic impulse initiated by Thales and nurtured by other Presocratic thinkers, challenged and redirected by the Sophists and Socrates, honed and extended by Plato, ...

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pp. 215-224

I commenced this inquiry seeking, in the Greek wisdom literature of the archaic and classical periods, coherent accounts of how founders of the Western intellectual tradition conceived wisdom, understood its means of acquisition and expression, and viewed the role of logos (broadly conceived) in these processes. ...


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pp. 225-268


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pp. 269-294


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pp. 295-300

E-ISBN-13: 9781611171754
Print-ISBN-13: 9781570038549

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Studies in Rhetoric/Communication