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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In search of zoon logon echon

Seb is studying for exams and asked me last night what the Greek term for "rational animal" is in Aristotle. Having never come across such a term in my admittedly quite sparse reading of Aristotle in Greek, I set out to find it. What I found was a load of crap academic studies referring to a "zoon logon echon" that is rumored to have appeared in Aristotle and even citing Bekker numbers (though wildly disparate ones) pointing to its alleged location, and NONE OF THEM WERE TRUE.

For example, this claims (along with pretty much every scholarly discussion that bothered to cite that I found on Google Books) that the phrase comes up in Ethics 1098a3-5. While there is certainly discussion of rationality there, there is no "zoon logon echon." Then there is this dude, who sends us to "the beginning of Book VI," which again tells us about the rational principle in the soul but never uses this mythical "zoon logon echon." There were also citations to the Metaphysics, where this phrase appears to be equally absent.

This is depressing. Can't these people just admit that Heidegger says this phrase exists but they don't know enough Greek to find it with the help of their Big Fucking Dictionaries? Why give fake citations?

Also, peeps, where is this phrase really?

11 comments:

Caelius said...

The first thing I can tell you is no translations of Aristotelian works used by the Perseus Project use the phrase "rational animal." It is used in a translation of works by Epictetus, Quintilian, and Strabo. In Epictetus, it is zoo logike.

Aristotle does refer to man as a political animal in the first book of the Politics as you know.

Caelius said...

My best guess is that the phrase itself is a paraphrase of Politics (1253a ~10), "λόγον δὲ μόνον ἄνθρωπος ἔχει τῶν ζῴων", which puts together all of the necessary elements. The oldest reference I can find to the phrase in JSTOR is from a paper by Walter Cerf (1942), which suggests it may have been a popular German paraphrase, especially since don't people like to discuss contradictions between or relative suitability of man as a political, reasonable, or linguistic animal?

Caelius said...

I'll cite my source on the guess as a paper entitled, "Human Nature and Human Existence— On the
Problem of the Distinction Between Man and Animal" by Chan-fai Cheung of the Department of Philosophy, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Miss Self-Important said...

Yes, this is also my guess about what happened--all these scholars of Heidegger just assimilated the neologism. Which is perfectly acceptable, but then why pretend to cite Aristotle without even LOOKING at what you're citing?

Matt said...

I agree that "rational animal" is a perfectly good paraphrase for what Aristotle says is the nature of men at Ethics 1098a1-20. (He says, essentially, that there must be something distinctive about men that makes them different from other animals, and what it is is reason, and that reasoning in this way is the function of men.) But I suspect that it is a paraphrase. (Maybe it's in Plato somewhere, though. I'll not bother to look.) The specific claim doesn't appear in some good commentaries on the Ehtics- Bostock's or the Broadie/Rowe version. (Heidegger also seems to be one of those philosophers who, when you read his work on other philosophers, you learn more about Heidegger than you do the philosopher nominally under discussion.)

As for me, I just want to learn the Greek for "featherless bi-ped" so that I can look more erudite.

Gaurav said...

You humanities people are so silly.

arethusa said...

I think Caelius is right. By the way, a useful source for such questions would be the textual search in the TLG online (not the full canon of authors, but the major ones).

**warning: very user unfriendly site, but I bet Harvard has the full and equally user unfriendly CD-ROM networked**

Anonymous said...

In his book 'Parmenides' Heidegger is states that it is a later corruption of the Greek by the Romans: 'zoion logon echon' is to the early Greeks the 'being that emerges from itself', that later becomes 'rational animal'...zoion becomes 'animal' instead of 'life' - 'logon' becomes 'ratio'

Anonymous said...

Yes, in Parmenides on page 68 on the English translation. But Heidegger does not provide a source for ζῷον λόγον ἔχον

Edward DeVere said...

All this amazing B.S. is why humanities are being phased out and science, technical, engineering, and medical (STEM) is taking over. Who wants to fund professors babbling about such piles of useless crap? Especially when there's no friggin money, taxpayers and students are in revolt, and everybody just wants a job and there aint enough of em to go around anymore.

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, that is a profound and interesting thought. But no one here is being paid to think about this question. Also, that's not what STEM stands for, though I appreciate the effort to clarify.