Logic in the East and the West:
Does It Differ?
Logic is the study of the methods and rules of
necessary and valid inference. Across cultures, different
cultures have had different philosophical viewpoints, which have
led some to assume that logic in the East is different from
logic in the West. This view is erroneous,
logic is the same throughout history and across cultures.
may be different from Western
philosophy because the premises with which each
philosophical system began were different. But this does not
amount to a difference in logic, per se. Prominent
concepts in logic from respective cultures are compared and
contrasted. This paper affirms the universality of one logic and
presents the Biblical worldview as the only philosophy which
explains and accounts for it.
It is pertinent to define the terms involved
in any discussion before proceeding into the details of the
topic. If the definitions are not clear and precise, then the
communicator might fail to get his message across, because the
meaning that he has in mind might not be what the reader or
listener assumes. To avoid any equivocation in
communication, it saves time and confusion for both the
communicator and listener, if definitions are made explicit from
“It is not logical to say that.”
“My logic collapses at this point.”
“What kind of logic is that?”
“Logic cannot answer that.”
Survey those four statements. The person
making the first statement implicitly assumes that there are
“logical” and “illogical” ways to say things. The second
statement brings out the idea that there is “my logic” and “your
logic.” The third statement assumes that there are different
“kinds” of logic. The fourth assumes that “logic” is some sort
of repository from which we get answers, or there are some
domains in which logic does not apply. Now, put these four
persons together in a discussion on “logic,” and you will find
that it is virtually impossible to move forward in thought
because of the privatized meanings that each has in mind.
In scholarly presentations and writings, we
can expect the audience to have a reasonable degree of
familiarity with academic terms. But looking for the same
agreement with a
junkyard owner, the farmer, or the plumber (or in some cases,
even college students) can truly be considered “Great
Expectations.” Of course, colloquial usage of the terms will
have some connection with the formal academic use, but there
would be a great deal of variation with each individual,
sometimes leading to contradictory meanings. Hence, for academic
concerns, I shall adhere to the definitions inside the
ivory towers, rather than going to the junkyard, metal workshop,
There are two ways to study definitions. One
method is to trace the etymological roots of the word under
consideration, look at how it has “evolved” over time, study
translations from various languages, compare the linguistic
cognates, and so on. The other method is to look to the
“experts.” Look at how they have defined it, assuming that there
is a reasonable degree of similarity between them. Now, there
might be fine points of disagreement between the experts
themselves, but if there is a great deal of disagreement, we may
be dealing with completely different concepts or words
If I define logic as the science of necessary
inference, and another says that logic is the art of living
wisely, you can see the ostensible difference in concepts. Of
course, necessary inference is needed for living wisely, but
that is not the immediate concern that I have in mind when I
define the term. Hence, even as we look to the “scholars,”
please keep this issue in mind.
Given below are the “textbook” definitions
from some authors. My intention is to show the unanimity of
“Logic is the study of the methods and
principles used to distinguish correct reasoning from incorrect
reasoning. There are objective criteria with which correct
reasoning may be defined. The aim of logic is to discover and
make available those criteria that can be used to test argument
and sort out good arguments from bad ones.” (Copi and Cohen)
“Logic really means putting your thoughts in
order. It studies the methods we use to analyze information and
draw valid conclusions. It puts all these methods in order that
gives us the right way to draw conclusions.” (Geisler and
“Logic, in the most general acceptance of the
term, may be regarded as the systematic study of thought.”
“Logic is concerned with the principles of
valid inference” (Kneale and Kneale)
“Logic is the science of necessary inference.”
As a summary, Wikipedia
states: “logic is the formal systematic study of the principles
of valid inference and correct reasoning.”
Putting it simply, does A follow from B (or C,
P1: It is raining
P2: The ground is wet
C: Therefore, the cow is a four-legged animal.
The falsity of such an inference is obvious.
However, the invalidity of most of the detailed philosophical
arguments and fallacies in them are not transparent for the
untrained reader or listener. Logic makes the whole process of
inference a deliberate one and elucidates the “objective
criteria” (Copi & Cohen) that helps differentiate correct
reasoning from incorrect reasoning.
The moment one mentions “logic,” the first
character who might appear is Aristotle. However, the history
includes many more persons from different cultures who have
illustrated the ideas of inference in their respective
languages. Logic, the way it is framed in most university
curricula today, has largely expanded on what started
in Greece over two millennia ago.
Today, there are several topics which are
included under the category of logic, such as philosophic logic,
computational logic, syllogistic logic, propositional logic,
predicate logic, modal logic, mathematical logic, and so on. How
did these specialties and divisions happen? Let me borrow an
example from medicine (my current field).
The world of allopathic medicine, as of today
is a highly specialized field, but was not in the beginning.
Surveying the progress from Antiquity through the Middle Ages,
then to the Renaissance period until now, one is astonished to
see how the whole process happened.
Ignoring the development from antiquity, let’s
move back in history for just a short time. Several decades ago,
the family physician was the quintessential doctor, who treated
just about every ailment from head to toe. But today, a
cerebrovascular neurosurgeon, specializing in the posterior
fossa, will not normally operate on the lumbar spine
(though that also comes under the domain of neurosurgery), let
alone do a laparoscopic hysterectomy on woman or a mitral valve
repair of the heart. Of course, all allopathic doctors
(regardless of their specialization) would share a basic
understanding of human anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and
other disciplines at a reasonable level. But the requirement of
fine skills in different fields, segregates the practioners into
different camps. At this juncture, it is pertinent to quote
Bernard Shaw: “Every profession is a conspiracy against the
Likewise, in the field of logic, as time wore
on and applications were found in other fields of inquiry, the
science expanded to include several specializations. It is
helpful to note the growth of these specializations in their
relevant historical context. Kneale and Kneale in their classic
work, Development of Logic, trace it from
pre-Aristotelian times, down through Aristotle, the Megarians,
the Stoics, the Romans, the progress in Medieval and Renaissance
times, finding applications in Number and Set Theory, and
culminating in the philosophy of mathematics. Elsevier’s
multi-volume Handbook of the History of Logic, is the
most comprehensive work on the subject to date. Following a
similar pattern to the Kneales, they begin with logic in Greece,
Arabia and India, tracking it down to the Medieval and
Renaissance ages, then moving on the rise of “modern logic”
showing the change in perspectives from Leibniz to Frege,
covering mathematical logic from Russell to Church, moving on to
modal logic, finally culminating in probability theory and
decision theory in today’s intellectual climate.
Now, it is important to know the basics from
which these specialized fields have evolved. The superstructure
is a result of a long period of progressive growth on the
basics. The skyscraper is built on the foundation which is not
immediately visible. But without that base, the skyscraper would
not even exist. When one savors a burrito, but few, if
any, consciously thinks
about the flour and individual ingredients in the filling. But
it is those things which make it taste the way it does.
Likewise, in the field of logic, while delving deep into the
specialized categories, one cannot ignore the basics that have
formed the foundation.
In this paper, I will restrict myself to the
foundations of logic. My aim is to contrast “Eastern” logic from
“Western” logic and challenge the commonly parroted
misconception that logic is different in the East and the West.
It was Rudyard Kipling, after his service in British colonial
government in India who remarked: “East is east, and the West is
west, and never the twain shall meet.” What were the exact
differences in his mind that led him to state this, we do not
know. But this idea trickled down to common consciousness.
The East-West dichotomy initially began as a
sociological concept to explain cultural differences
(worldviews), but has now broadened to include logic as well. Of
course, I concede that the philosophical viewpoints in different
cultures will be different, but it is a fallacious inference to
say that they are so because logic itself in these
various cultures is different. That is, the methods of inference
themselves are different; therefore, the resulting
philosophies are different. That is the idea I intend to refute.
My thesis is simple: the reason why the
philosophies of the East were different from the West is because
the first principles and individual premises in respective
philosophical systems were different. Hence, when each
philosophical system is seen as a whole (with all the
implications and deductions from the individual premises), it
would obviously be quite different from any worldview that does
not share the same premises.
But the rules of
inference are universal. This can be recognized across
cultures, but no secular philosopher or logician can explain why
it is so. (Only the
Bible-believing Christian can.)
Before going into the technical details of
inference in various cultures, let me ask one question, which
would be the linchpin of my thesis: “If differing philosophical
viewpoints from different cultures are a result of different
inference methods, does it mean that philosophical viewpoints in
the same cultures will be homogenous?” Someone with even a
cursory grasp of philosophy will say a resounding, “No!”
The basic idea is where logic is relative and
changing among cultures. If logic is different in different
cultures; there are differing philosophies in different
cultures. Then, it should follow that all philosophic viewpoints
from a particular culture should agree with each other, since
at least among themselves, logic should have a unanimous
operation. That is, different methods of logic (in different
cultures) have produced different philosophies. So, if the
method of logic is the same in a particular culture, would it
result in identical philosophies?
A brief look at
philosophical viewpoints in different cultures strikingly
disprove such an idea..
In Greece, from epistemology to theories on
time, different philosophers held different views. Parmenides
said change and motion were impossible, while Heraclitus
believed everything was constantly changing and in motion. Plato
disagreed with both, and with his theory of Forms, set a sort of
middle ground between the two.
Among the Chinese, Gaozi argued that there was
no common human nature; Mengzi held that there was a common
human nature and that it is basically good. Xunzi agreed with
Mengzi that there was a common human nature, but disagreed that
it was good. He argued instead that human nature is basic and
selfish. Dong Zongshu combined both the views.
Likewise, in India (the country of my birth
and education), there were six orthodox schools and three
unorthodox schools each of which used the same debate techniques
(which are nothing but methods of inference) to support their
different views. Carvacans were materialistic atheists, denying
the existence of any spiritual realities.
Shankara argued that everything in the world was a
spiritual manifestation of Brahman, but that Brahman was not a
personal god. Madhava and Ramanuja believed in the plurality of
physical objects and gods.
If the argument is that geographical and
cultural diversity accounts for difference in methods of
inference, then within the same cultures there should be no
“different” viewpoints, since they would all be the same. It
would be redundant to speak of “they” since multiple
philosophies would not exist. There would be one grand amalgam
of a worldview for each respective culture limited by
geographical considerations. As we have seen above, such
agreement is far from the case.
I do not deny that there are “right” and
“wrong” ways to infer; but inference on the whole is what it
is regardless of geography, culture, and time.
The right and wrong ways
of inference has to be universal across cultures. Otherwise,
cross-cultural examination and communication, and language
translation cannot even occur
Let me quote the same argument:
P1: It is raining
P2: The ground is wet
C: Therefore, the cow is a four-legged animal.
Just imagine there are two cultures with
different languages separated by a millennia, and let’s call
them A and B. Imagine also that the above argument is written in
the respective languages. Now, if someone in culture A says this
inference is wrong, and someone in culture B says that this
inference is right, then one can say that what is called
“inference” in culture A is different from culture B. But even
then, it does not mean that inference is different. It only
means that we should question whether the term “inference” can
be rightly applied to culture B’s activity of arriving at
Inference means this implies that,
or this follows from that. Since that is not
happening in culture B, we cannot call that inference.
Developing a system of thought, or even coherently talking for a
short period of time in such a culture would be impossible.
Unless there is permanence and unanimity of the principles of
inference, once cannot say anything in a meaningful fashion. And
unless there is a universality of thought patterns,
cross-cultural communication will remain impossible.
In fact, Gene Blocker, even argues that with
regards to strict philosophical argumentation, it is difficult
to see gross differences between Eastern and Western
philosophers. He writes:
Though it is certainly controversial, it is my
account that philosophy strictly defined (excluding folklore,
mythology, pre-philosophical religious writings, and so on), is
not culture dependent, as are other aspects of culture, and that
as a result, non-Western accounts of the self, causality, human
nature, virtue, appearance, and reality, and sensation and
reason are comparable with Western versions. Indeed, it has been
my experience that those who are familiar with and trained in
philosophy (ie., Western philosophy), are generally unable to
distinguish statements from Eastern and Western philosophers,
unless given the philosopher’s names.
For example, consider these.
The shadow of a flying bird never moves, and
the wheel of a chariot never touches the ground.” Many
attributed this to Greek philosopher Xeno, while it was from the
Now let someone try doing away with the
authority of the ruler….and then watch and see how the people of
the world treat each other. He will find that the powerful
impose upon the weak and rob them, the many terrorize the few
and extort from them, and in no time, the whole world will be
given to chaos and destruction.” Many wonder where Hobbes said
this, when in fact this was from the third century Chinese
Whoever has already risen will not be able to
arise. Whatsoever has not arisen, will not arise. Either a
phenomenon has already arisen, or else it will arise; there is
no other possibility beyond these two….. If a phenomenon were to
exist inherently it should be permanent. If a phenomenon were to
exist inherently, it would either exist permanently, or else
undergo complete disintegration: it cannot occur in a way which
is different from these two.” Was it Parmenides, Zeno, or
Melisus who said this? Neither. It was the second century Indian
What is denoted by the word cow is not the
mere individual itself, without any qualifications, and as apart
from the universal to which it belongs, but the individual as
qualified by and along with the universal.” This is not from
Aristotle, but the fifth century Nyaya logicians of
across cultures separated by geography and time, there is a
great deal of philosophical commonality. Despite having
vastly different philosophical systems on the whole, these
different worldviews share some common viewpoints. This
commonality is explained by the common premises where the
systems agree. If they share common viewpoints, they have to
share common methods of inference, through which they arrive at
the respective conclusions from their initial premises.
Thus, logic – the rules
of inference – does not vary from culture to culture.
This, in itself, should settle the
discussion. Inference methodologies across various cultures will
further ground this conclusion.
A Tale of Two
Logic has developed in
India, Arabia, and China. Since the
Arabs improvised on Aristotle, I shall not take them in the
comparative study. I am no expert sinologist, but as far as I
have researched for this paper, there is no official text
written by any Chinese thinker on methods of inference.
Hence, I shall confine myself with comparing Greece and India. The ideal and most
comprehensive way to study the two approaches to logic is to
contrast Aristotle’s Organon (particularly Prior
Analytics) with the Indian text Tarkasamagriha and
the Nyaya Sutras. If we want to study the texts “as they
are,” I should quote them in Greek and Sanskrit, but you might
have to spend time learning those languages. To save us time, I
shall quote English translations of relevant texts, when needed.
Since this effort is not a detailed study on
either Indian or Grecian approaches to logic, but merely a
contrast to elucidate the similarities between the two, I shall
limit myself to how the
most basic logical concepts have been expressed in these
different cultures. I have deliberately refrained from delving
into the comparison of technical details, since that would
virtually require a book on the subject.
When translating a certain word from language
A to language B, we need to find the most appropriate word in
language B for the corresponding word in language A. When we
cannot find a word in language A with the exact meaning of that
in language B, the word or words that most closely resembles it
has to be used in translation. For example, what is the Sanskrit
translation of the word ‘philosophy’? Is there any word which
exactly means “love of wisdom”? Not really. The Sanskrit terms
which come closest to English meaning are dharshana and
thathva which mean ‘vision of truth and reality’ and
‘nature of reality’ respectively. Thus, though exact words in
two languages might not be available to represent ideas, the
ideas themselves can be conveyed with as many (or little) words
In the beginning of this paper, I quoted
different “Western” definitions of logic. Let us now turn to
India. Kautilya (350 to 283 BC), a statesman-philosopher of the
Mauryan Empire, defined logic as: “the lamp of all branches of
knowledge, the means to accomplish all works, and support all
It is called Nyayavidya or Nyayasastra by Vatsyana
Pakilaswamin, as mentioned by him in his Nyayabhasya: “It
is called ‘anviksa’ (investigation), because it consists
in reviewing (anu iksana) a thing previously apprehended.
The science that proceeds by this ‘investigation’ is
anviksiki, nyayavidya, nyayasastra, the
‘Science of Reasoning’ (Logic).”
Ramakrishna Puligandla, philosophy professor
at University of Toledo, writes:
Nyaya is unique not only for its recognition of the
need for and priority of method but also for its explicit
and elaborate formulation of the principles of enquiry.
Nyaya, then is chiefly concerned with the canons of
correct thinking and valid reasoning as methodological tools
for acquiring knowledge of reality. For this reason,
Nyaya is often referred to as tarkasastra, the
science of reasoning (or simply, logic).
Now, how different is that from present
Western conceptions of logic? Insignificant, if at all! So, with
regards to definitions, we can see that both cultures have had
the same conceptions.
When we looked at the development of the
system of methodical inference in Greece, it was directly linked
up with the methods of “demonstration” that were previously
followed in geometry by Pythagoras and his followers.
This paved the path of the high level of abstraction that was
achieved by Aristotle in his classic work Prior Analytics,
where he expounds on syllogistic patterns.
India, logic was elaborately
explained under what was considered rules of debate, whereby
philosophers from different schools stated and defended their
views. Other philosophers at different times in history
improvised and expanded on earlier traditions. They taught
techniques on how to conduct debates successfully, what tricks
to learn, how to find loopholes in the opponents’ position, and
what pitfalls to be weary of.
First, consider the assertion that logic in
the East follows synthesis, and the West follows antithesis.
Many Eastern philosopher, both those of the East and the West)
present a that “both-and” logic, while they say that in the West
logic is “either-or.” Rather than blaming it on logic as such,
one should say in the East it was “both-and” philosophy,
while in the West it was “either-or” philosophy. In
India, no doubt, this philosophical posture (i.e., the tendency
to affirm both sides of the contradiction), has indeed
influenced methodology to a certain extent. But the fundamental
laws of thought are the same in Greek and Indian approaches to
To say that logic is the West is different
from the West would imply things like only the West recognized
logical contradictions, while the East did not. This position is
obviously false. The reason Indian philosophy is considered to
be mysterious and enchanting is because it
tolerated contradictions, despite
Rather than affirming either of the contradictory propositions,
there was an attempt to affirm both. Indian philosophers were
aware of these contradictions, the same way the Greeks were.
Otherwise there would be no conscious attempt to “synthesize”
Logic is the same for both groups. What is a
contradiction in the West is a contradiction in the East. In the
West, they affirmed one of the contradictory propositions, while
in the East they attempted to affirm both. Obviously, this
latter effort did not make sense. Hence, there were frequent
appeals to mystery, which
was a subtle maneuver to deceive the rest from seeing the
obvious inconsistencies in their philosophies.
Ravi Zacharias, Christian author and speaker,
narrates that after a certain talk, a professor challenged him
saying that the way of logic in
is “both-and” and not “either-or.” After a series of
conversations, Zacharias, had to point out to him that he had to
use “either-or” to assert the “both-and.” That is, the professor
was saying it is either “both-and” or nothing
else. This demonstration shows that the law of non-contradiction
There is no “both-and” anywhere in the universe. (For more
on Zacharias' comments, see
This reality is exemplified when one considers
how the tetralemma is twisted in Buddhist philosophy.
There are three fundamental laws of thought, which makes
rational thought and meaningful communication possible. They
 The law of identity (A is A)
 The law of non-contradiction (nothing is
both A and non-A in the same time and same sense)
 The law of excluded middle (either A or
The tetralemma is a derivative of the
laws of thought, which states that for any given proposition X,
there are four possibilities.
Both (X and not-X)
Neither (X nor not-X)
Applying this in Buddhist thought, one would
have something like this:
Everything is real and not real.
Both real and not real.
Neither real nor not real.
That is Lord Buddha's teaching.
In Buddhist thought, the tetralemma was
called the Catuskoti, which was popularized by
Nagarjuna. In this case, either of the first two
propositions can be affirmed, but not both. Nagarjuna, given his
particular mental tendencies, wanted to affirm and deny both of
the possibilities. The result was skepticism and to cloak the
irrationality, his defenders had to say things like “we have
reached the limits of thought,” “it is beyond ordinary logic,”
and so on.
Avi Sion, in his aptly titled book,
Buddhist Illogic, says this about Nagarjuna:
He does not succeed in this quest. For his
critique depends on a misrepresentation of logical science. He
claims to show that logic is confused and self-contradictory,
but in truth what he presents as the thesis of logical science
is not what it claims for itself but precisely what it
explicitly forbids. If logic were false, contradictions would be
acceptable. Thus, funnily enough, Nagarjuna appeals to our
logical habit in his very recommendation to us to ignore logic.
In sum, though he gives the illusion that it is reasonable to
abandon reason, it is easy to see that his conclusion is
foregone and his means are faulty.
Nagarjuna recognized the nature of a
contradiction. In spite of this recognition, his intellectual
posture was to affirm both sides of it, due to his peculiar
mental inclination. Richard Robinson remarks:
What Nagarjuna wishes to prove is the
irrationality of Existence, or the falsehood of reasoning which
is built upon the logical principle that A equals A.... Because
two answers, assertion and denial, are always possible to a
given question, his arguments contain two refutations, one
denying the presence, one the absence of the probandum.
This double refutation is called the Middle Path.
(Emphasis is his.)
Nagarjuna's knowledge of logic is about on the
same level as Plato’s. It is pre-formal, and consists of a
number of axioms and rules of inference which he manipulates
intuitively, with great dexterity but also with occasional
The principle of contradiction is invoked
constantly throughout the Karikas. It is stated in general form
in two places:
 "For entity and negation of entity do not
occur within a unity." (7.30)(10)
 "For real and non-real, being mutually
contradictory, do not occur in the same locus." (8.7)
Applications of the rule with narrower values for the terms are
 "For birth and death do not occur at the
same time." (21.3)
 "Nirvana cannot be both entity and
non-entity, (since) nirvana is unconditioned, and entity and
non-entity are conditioned." (25.13)
 "For the two do not occur within one
place, just as light and darkness do not." (25.14)(11)
 "He would be non-eternal and eternal, and
that is not admissible." (27.17) The law of the excluded middle
is twice invoked explicitly:
 "Other than goer and non-goer, there is no
third one that goes." (2.8)(12)
"Other than goer and non-goer, there is no
third one that stays." (2.15)
In other examples, "tertium non datur" is
 "He who posits an entity becomes entangled
in eternalism and annihilism, since that entity has to be either
permanent or impermanent." (21.14)
Since Nagarjuna's argumentation relies on
numerous dichotomies, the principle of contradiction is
necessary to most of his inferences.
As we can see in these above propositions, the
laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle are
explicitly applied. So, is Eastern logic really different from
Western logic? The
answer seems obvious.
Avicenna, the celebrated Arabian
philosopher, who improvised on Aristotle, stated the following
for those who deny the nature of contradictions:
As for the obstinate, he must be plunged into
fire, since fire and non-fire are identical. Let him be beaten,
since suffering and not suffering are the same. Let him be
deprived of food and drink, since eating and drinking are
identical to abstaining. (Metaphysics I.8, 53.13–15).
One might fear being an Indian philosopher in
Avicenna’s land! The one’s love for affirming both sides of the
contradiction might be the death knell of not just his mental
capacity, but his very life itself.
The Chinese developed the yin-yang theory,
which loosely translated means opposites are interconnected.
Again, the Chinese did recognize that opposites did
exist. They could
identify a contradiction. But due to their particular
intellectual attitude, they wanted to establish a connection
between them. Xinyan Jiang in his article, The Law of
Non-Contradiction and Chinese Philosophy,
argues that once the “Chinese concept” of contradictories is
understood, the inconsistency between Chinese paradoxes and the
Aristotelian view of contradiction will disappear. I reply
saying that the difference will “disappear” only when
‘contradiction’ means the same thing to both the Chinese and
Aristotle. If the Chinese “concept” of contradiction varies
greatly from Aristotle, then they are dealing with a totally
different concept altogether.
this serves to prove that the law of non-contradiction is
universal, and that it cannot be avoided for any meaningful
conversation. Logic is the same in the East as it is in the
West. Both of them recognized a contradiction for what it is.
But due to their intellectual tendencies and commitments, those
in the East attempted to swallow a contradiction, while the West
did not. This difference
resulted in different
not different systems of logic.
Comparison, Language, and Logic
As mentioned earlier, there might not be an
exact word in a certain language for the corresponding word in
another language. But the ideas themselves can easily be
expressed in various languages with as many (or little) words as
necessary. So, one fundamental tenet of cross-cultural
examination is that we will express the ideas of another culture
with the “lenses” of our cultures (worldview). First, in
translation we will use the words in our language to describe
their ideas. Next, we will use our categories to correspond to
theirs. This methods is unavoidable (unless one chooses to leave
some words in the original language, as many do with Heidegger’s
Dasein), but this
difference is not relativism.
No matter what the language and culture, when
studying one through the “lens” of another, the objectivity of
the ideas does not have to be lost. This congruence exists
because ideas transcend
language. That is, the same idea can be expressed in
different languages. Language as such is not a limiting
factor for intellectual expression. What limits the expression
of thoughts is available terms for translation from one language
to another. The solution to this difficulty is to either develop
a new word (which summarizes the idea), or convey the idea in
the foreign language with as many (already existing) words as
needed, or simply use the word from the original language. No
doubt, in regular conversation, it is cumbersome to use many
words to represent a concept due to the lack of a single word
which can summarize the whole concept. It’s only a pragmatic
concern, which need not cause irrational conclusions that there
are “limits of language.”
Language is the symbolic representation of
thoughts. Thus, different symbols (what we call words which
include written characters and spoken sounds) can be used to
express the same idea in different languages. The following
different symbols (in Greek, Tamil, Hindi, Russian, and Spanish)
represent the same idea, which in English is translated: “In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
ஆதியிலே வார்த்தை இருந்தது,
அந்த வார்த்தை தேவனிடத்திலிருந்தது,
В начале было Слово, и Слово было у Бога, и Слово было Бог.
En el principio ya era la Palabra, y aquel que es la Palabra era
con el Dios, y la Palabra era Dios.
Native speakers from respective languages can
speak these words, and you would have the audible equivalent of
these words. All these different symbols convey the same
idea. These symbols (both written and spoken) will be dissimilar
in different cultures, but the meaning (the ideas that these
symbols represent) will be the same. This reality is why
cross-cultural communication is possible.
So, if ideas and thoughts can be (and, in
fact, have been) transmitted from culture to culture, what makes
the process possible—the commonality of the rules of thought
that govern different cultures. It is the universality of logic
that makes it possible for one culture to communicate their
thoughts with another culture, although the symbolic
representation of these thoughts are considerably different.
is the basis for grammar which in turn is the basis for language.
One cannot have language without logic. Of course, grunts and
groans and scratch marks from paws are always possible, but
those methods are what animals do. We are concerned with
interaction and communication of thoughts between humans in
different cultures. Logic transcends language in the specific
sense that it is universal and is applied in all languages.
This agreement is the reason that is a new language were to crop
up tomorrow, we could still find ways of communicating and
translating thoughts to and from that respective language with
its idiosyncratic symbols, due to the similarity – and
universality – of logic between both (and all) the languages.
(In World War II, Navajo Indians were able to
break Japanese code without ever learning their language!)
The Image of
God and the Noetic Effects of the Fall
secular philosopher has accounted for universality of logic.
On the basis of naturalism or evolutionary philosophy, no one
can account how humans in different cultures share similar
foundations for thought. The origin of speech and language in
the Trinity is the answer to our question about the universality
of logic. They
communicate with each other and made man in their image.
The reader is directed to this resource for further
Here, I shall set forth Biblical anthropology and explain how
Christ, the Logos of God, is the foundation for the
rationality of the universe and the human mind.
“In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God.”
Through Him all things (including language,
communication, and yes, logic) were created!
The Biblical doctrine of creation states that
men and women are made in the “image and likeness of God”
Thus, an understanding of God is prior to an understanding of
man. Anthropology presupposes theology, and this order is found
in most texts of systematic theology. Although man is made in
the “image of God,” he does not mirror God’s attributes in every
way. God is omniscient. We are not. God is omnipotent. We are
not. God is eternal. We are not. We need to know about God’s
attributes and which of those has limited expression in man – in
other words, God has communicable and incommunicable attributes.
The Bible begins by presenting the act of
creation and the method God employed in the process. Based on
Genesis, Chapter One alone, we can come to some elementary
conclusions about the image of God. The first act of God is to
speak, “In the beginning God said….” He spoke the whole of
creation into existence (Genesis 1: 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, and
26). Man was created “in the image of God” on the sixth day as
the crown of all creation.
God spoke. Thus, image must include linguistic
ability. And after God created man, He spoke to him and gave him
a command – that is, words to obey (Genesis 2:16, 17). This
action necessitates that Adam was created with faculties of
understanding and reason in order to process verbal information.
He had to know the difference between obedience and disobedience
of God’s commands. There was a priori, necessary
equipment instilled in man at the time of creation, and
continues to be instilled in every one is who has been born
since then (Romans 2:15)
God modeled clay and then breathed into it the
breath of life, and then man became a living being – both body
and spirit put together (Genesis 2:7). It is the image of God
that separates us from the rest of creation.
“But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of
the Almighty that gives him understanding.” Job 32:8
“[God] who teaches more to us than to the
beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the
air?” Job 35:11
“For God did not endow [the ostrich] with
wisdom or give her a share of good sense.” Job 39:17
Thus, the “breath
of the Almighty” is what gives man understanding, “teaches” him,
and makes him “wiser” than the animals. He was given “wisdom”
and “good sense” as opposed to the ostrich which was not endowed
with these. Hence, the image of God refers to a rational mind.
This “image” is the ground for logic as common to all men.
Some say that the “image of God” refers to
morality. But, what they overlook is that
man is moral precisely
because he is rational. God commanded Adam and Eve not to
eat from the tree of life. They disobeyed and fell. For Adam and
Eve to obey God, they needed to understand His commands. They
needed to understand what is good and what is evil. They needed
to discern the difference between obeying God and disobeying
Him. All those
concepts are a matter of rational thinking.
We do not call a dog immoral because he mates
with more than one female during mating season. We do not speak
about righteous cows or wicked horses. Animals are not moral
because they are not rational. Moral judgments do not apply to
animals because they are not rational. They cannot understand
the commands of God, which is why they cannot obey them. On the
other hand, man is a rational being. He can understand the
commands of God and is expected to obey them. Refusal
constitutes sin. Thus, in the most basic essence, sin is a lapse
in rationality. And this moral failure is what happened during
the Fall. The “image of God” was not destroyed, but distorted.
From one man, God made all nations (Acts
17:26). This origin explains the universality of the image of
God. This origin explains why a contradiction is the same in the
East and the West. Due to varying lapses in rationality, one
group affirmed both sides of the contradiction, while the other
did not (at least in theory; no one’s thinking is ever perfect).
As a result of the Fall, man’s ability to
think correctly has been greatly hampered. This effect is
referred to as the “noetic effects of sin.” He cannot think
correctly about God, though God has made such knowledge clear to
him, as explained in Romans 1:18-32. Men suppress the truth by
their wickedness, while God had already made things plain to
them. Since creation, God’s divine attributes have clearly been
seen so that men who refuse to acknowledge God are without
excuse. Their “thinking” was futile and their “foolish hearts”
were darkened. They deluded themselves to be wise, when in fact,
they were actually fools. They exchanged the truth of God for a
lie and worshipped created things rather than the Creator. Also,
their rejection of the knowledge of God has caused them to
indulge in reprehensive behavior which is morally deviant,
violating God’s ontological status for sexuality.
Sin’s effect on the mind has been
comprehensive. It has affected his whole thinking. Theologians
call this “total depravity”—total as affecting every thought and
action of man, not “total” in the sense that he is as bad as he
could possibly be. Before regeneration, man is in spiritual
darkness. “The god
of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers” (2 Corinthians
4:4). Because of this effect, he cannot think correctly about
God, even though God has revealed true propositions to sinful
man in nature and experience. This knowledge is called general
revelation, because it is given to all men at all times,
regardless of geographical and cultural boundaries in nature and
experience. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 illustrate this point. This
reality explains the commonality of thought across cultures
separated by geographical boundaries and time. Ideas of deity,
divine favor, punishment, justice, benevolence, chivalry, love,
the afterlife, and so on, are universal. God has instilled in
man his law (Romans 2:15). This instillation is called the
conscience (rational or
However, because of their wickedness, men
deliberately suppress this knowledge and practice abominable
things, thus inviting further divine judgment upon themselves.
Thus, general revelation in itself does not have a salvific
purpose. To attain redemption, man needs special revelation,
that is, propositional content from the Bible which gives true
statements about God, man, sin, salvation, and judgment.
Regeneration is the prerequisite condition for man to
accept these truths.
Thus, as long as man is in this state of
spiritual blindness, he cannot believe true propositions about
God. Ephesians 4:17-19 describes the spiritual state of man
before conversion. Unbelievers live in the “futility of their
thinking,” “darkened in understanding,” and separated from the
life of God because of the “ignorance” that is in them because
of their hardened hearts. Unbelievers are the way they are
because they do not think correctly, that is, Biblically, about
God. And the cure to this also targets the mind. So, when God
grants repentance by regeneration, people are led to “a
knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).
Only Christ can lift the sinner out of the
epistemological abyss and grant him “the light of the knowledge
of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). In Ephesians 4:23-24, we are told
to be “made new in the attitude of our minds.” So, Christians
must no longer think we way we did
before our conversion. We have to put on the new self which is
being “renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator”
Can you see the Scripture’s emphasis on
defining the “spiritual life” in terms of intellect? Just
because something is “spiritual” doesn’t automatically mean that
it is mystical or esoteric. The Biblical model of spirituality
is centered on the mind, and this fact should be the target in
evangelism and discipleship. When man is born in sin, the “image
of God” is in a distorted state, and at conversion God begins to
work on it restoring it gradually to conform it to the likeness
It takes a sovereign work of God whereby he
converts sinful man’s mind (regeneration) and grants him faith.
God has given us everything we need for sanctification through
knowledge of Him (2 Peter 1:3). The subsequent development as a
Christian consists of growing in knowledge and grace (2 Peter
3:18), renewing the mind, which leads to transformation, so that
we can know and do the good pleasing and perfect will of God
In Psalm 32:9 God says, “Do not be like the
horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be
controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”
Therefore, to despise
rationality is to mock and insult God’s wisdom in the way He
made us. If we shun knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of
the things of God, we are not acting like “mature Christians,”
but like brute beasts which have no understanding.
Those who are regenerated by Christ, who seek
to conform their thoughts to God’s thoughts (Romans 12:2) will
be growing more and more towards a coherent rationality which is
“mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16).
Christ is introduced as the logos in
the Gospel according to John. By the time the apostle wrote, the
term logos was richly invested with considerable philosophical
background and meaning.
The logos, as conceived by some Greeks, was considered to
be the principle of rationality that governed the universe.
In the prologue
to John’s Gospel, it is clear that everything (not just logic)
exists because of Christ. “Without him nothing was made that has
been made.” But here, this verse is talking about all created
things, while logic is not something created. It has eternally
existed in the mind of God. “In the beginning
was the logos, and
the logos was with
God, and the logos was
God.” Thus, the laws of logic are not arbitrary cultural
conventions that vary from place to place. The laws of logic
eternally existed in the mind of God. They reflect the manner of
God’s thinking. They are not man’s invention. Aristotle and the
others merely recognized what already existed.
In NIV and KJV translations,
logos is translated “word.” This translation came from
Jerome, when writing the Latin Vulgate. He used verbum to
translate logos. Even if we want to translate logos
as wisdom, we can safely assume that John knew enough of Greek
to use sophia there. He does not use that word. Why? John
wants to convey something very specific there, in the prologue,
by using the word logos. Why it is so? That takes us to
the Hellenistic world.
There is the
alleged claim that John is borrowing from Greek philosophers to
construct his theology. Now, John could be using the term
logos, not to adapt it, but to provide an answer to it.
If John did not want to
have any reference to the technical meaning of the word
logos, as used in his day, he would have rather used
another word. He does not, because he is not borrowing the word
logos but filling it with its true meaning.
Now, John uses
the word logos to identify Christ. Is Christ the rational
order of the universe? Yes, He is. But, is He the impersonal
order that the Greeks had in mind? No. Is Christ the foundation
of rationality in every man? Yes, He is. But, is He the spark of
rationality that pervaded all created things (mountains and
trees included), as some Greeks believed? No. The Logos
became flesh. Could the Greeks have conceived of such a
thing—not in their most extreme imaginations.
Gordon Clark sums it up well:
idea, the great idea that differentiates the Christian Logos
doctrine from every pagan philosophy and as well as from the
semi-Jewish Philonic doctrine, is the incarnation of the Word,
the Reason, or the Wisdom of God. The Logos became flesh.
So utterly contradictory and even repulsive to all pagan Greek
speculation is this that one is astounded to read reputed
scholars who characterize John as Hellenistic and dependent on
Gnostic, Stoic, or Platonic sources.
The apostle John
establishes Christ as the foundation for rationality in the
universe and man (the Light that enlightens every man) and not
some vague pantheistic rational order that pervades the cosmos.
The Johannine Logos was meant to answer and counteract
false views of the logos in which were popular in pagan thought
at that time.
It is the
eternally existent Christ who is the foundation for rationality
and order in the universe and the human mind. The laws of logic
are not cultural mores, but eternally existent, universal,
immutable principles which describe how God thinks. What is a
genuine contradiction to God is a genuine contradiction to man.
What is a genuine contradiction to men in one culture has to be
a genuine contradiction to men in another culture. East or West
– God made all the nations in the world in his image—a mind that
is designed to think logically. The laws of logic are not
learned by sense experience, but are instilled in man’s mind by
God as a priori
equipment. Christ, the Logos of God is the one and only
foundation for logic and rationality in this universe.
The East is different from West because of
their relative tolerance for contradictions, and not because
they could not recognize a contradiction. Logic was the same in
the East and the West, but due to idiosyncratic intellectual
inclinations and differing first principles and premises, each
culture developed philosophies of its own. The Bible states that
God made man in the image of God, and from one man made the
nations. The universality and permanence of logic can be
accounted for only on this basis. Jesus Christ is the supreme
rational being and creator in the universe who holds all things
together. The laws of logic are not arbitrary cultural
conventions, but they reflect the eternal principle of thought
in the mind of God. Logic is the way God thinks. Because God is
immutable, the laws of logic do not vary from East to West!
I have nothing
against the profession of a farmer or plumber, per se!
I just wanted to point out that those who have devoted
their lives to academic concerns, are far more adept at
summarizing philosophical concepts than someone who is
in a more “practical” profession, and does not deal
with these issues on a day-to-day basis.
Sometimes, these same “commoners” know are more
consistently logical better than academicians!
Irving Copi & Carl Cohen,
Introduction to Logic, 2002 by Prentice-Hall,
Inc., p. 1.
Norman L. Geisler
& Edward M. Brooks, Come Let Us Reason, 1990 by
Baker Book House Company, p. 11.
A Short History of Logic, published by William
Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh
and London, MCMXI, p. 1.
William Kneale &
Martha Kneale, The Development of Logic, 1962
by Oxford University
Gordon H. Clark,
Logic, 1985 by The Trinity Foundation.
Some scoff at
Wikipedia, but in comparisons to Encyclopedia
Britannica, it has been show to be at least as
Gene H. Blocker,
World Philosophy: An East West Comparative
Introduction to Philosophy, 1999 by Prentice-Hall,
A System of Indian Logic: the Nyaya System of
Inference, 2003 by Routledge, p. ix.
Puligandla, Fundamentals of Indian Philosophy,
1996 by D.K Print World (P) Ltd, p. 181.
Kneale, p. 2 – 6.
Character of Logic in
India, 1998 by
of New York, Albany, p 2.
‘The Law of Non-contradiction and Chinese Philosophy,’
History and Philosophy of Logic, 1464-5149,
Volume 13, Issue 1, 1992, pp. 1 – 14.
The image is not
the form of the Trinity, but the ability to think and
Cheung, Ultimate Questions and Gordon Clark,
Introduction to Christian Philosophy.
Since God is
pure Spirit, His “breath” cannot be “air,” it must be
spiritual—likely a rational mind.
Not only Satan,
but man’s atheistic thinking, as well.
See Gordon H.
Clark, The Johannine Logos, 1989 by The Trinity
Ibid, p 109, in
the combined volume What is Saving Faith? 2004
by Trinity Foundation.