The School of Athens, by Raphael.

Dialectic (also dialectics and the dialectical method) is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues. The dialectical method is dialogue between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject, who wish to establish the truth of the matter by dialogue, with reasoned arguments.[1] Dialectics is different from debate, wherein the debaters are committed to their points of view, and mean to win the debate, either by persuading the opponent, proving their argument correct, or proving the opponent's argument incorrect — thus, either a judge or a jury must decide who wins the debate. Dialectics is also different from rhetoric, wherein the speaker uses logos, pathos, or ethos to persuade listeners to take their side of the argument.

The Sophists taught arête (Greek: ἀρετή, quality, excellence) as the highest value, and the determinant of one's actions in life. The Sophists taught artistic quality in oratory (motivation via speech) as a manner of demonstrating one's arête. Oratory was taught as an art form, used to please and to influence other people via excellent speech; nonetheless, the Sophists taught the pupil to seek arête in all endeavours, not solely in oratory.

Socrates favoured truth as the highest value, proposing that it could be discovered through reason and logic in discussion: ergo, dialectic. Socrates valued rationality (appealing to logic, not emotion) as the proper means for persuasion, the discovery of truth, and the determinant for one's actions. To Socrates, truth, not arête, was the greater good, and each person should, above all else, seek truth to guide one's life. Therefore, Socrates opposed the Sophists and their teaching of rhetoric as art and as emotional oratory requiring neither logic nor proof.[2] Different forms of dialectical reasoning emerged from the Indosphere (Greater India) and in the West (Europe), and throughout history; Socratic method, Hindu, Buddhist, Medieval, Hegelian dialectics, Marxist, Talmudic, and Neo-orthodoxy.



The philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

The purpose of the dialectic method of reasoning is resolution of disagreement through rational discussion, and, ultimately, the search for truth.[3][4] One way to proceed — the Socratic method — is to show that a given hypothesis (with other admissions) leads to a contradiction; thus, forcing the withdrawal of the hypothesis as a candidate for truth (see reductio ad absurdum). Another dialectical resolution of disagreement is by denying a presupposition of the contending thesis and antithesis; thereby, proceeding to sublation (transcendence) to synthesis, a third thesis.

It is also possible that the rejection of the participants' presuppositions is resisted, which then might generate a second-order controversy.[5]

Fichtean Dialectics (Hegelian Dialectics) is based upon four concepts:

  1. Everything is transient and finite, existing in the medium of time.
  2. Everything is composed of contradictions (opposing forces).
  3. Gradual changes lead to crises, turning points when one force overcomes its opponent force (quantitative change leads to qualitative change).
  4. Change is helical (spiral), not circular (negation of the negation).[6]

The concept of dialectic existed in the philosophy of Heraclitus of Ephesus, who proposed that everything is in constant change, as a result of inner strife and opposition.[7][8][9] Hence, the history of the dialectical method is the history of philosophy.[10]

The Classical Greek philosopher Plato.

Western dialectical forms

Classical philosophy

In classical philosophy, dialectic (Greek: διαλεκτική) is a form of reasoning based upon dialogue of arguments and counter-arguments, advocating propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses). The outcome of such a dialectic might be the refutation of a relevant proposition, or of a synthesis, or a combination of the opposing assertions, or a qualitative improvement of the dialogue.[11][12]

Moreover, the term dialectic owes much of its prestige to its role in the philosophies of Socrates and Plato, in the Greek Classical period (4–5 c. BC). Aristotle said that it was the pre-Socratic philosopher Zeno of Elea who invented dialectic, of which the dialogues of Plato are the examples of the Socratic dialectical method.[13]

Socratic dialogue

The Classical Greek philosopher Socrates.

In Plato's dialogues and other Socratic dialogues, Socrates attempts to examine someone's beliefs, at times even first principles or premises by which we all reason and argue. Socrates typically argues by cross-examining his interlocutor's claims and premises in order to draw out a contradiction or inconsistency among them. According to Plato, the rational detection of error amounts to finding the proof of the antithesis.[14] However, important as this objective is, the principal aim of Socratic activity seems to be to improve the soul of his interlocutors, by freeing them from unrecognized errors.

For example, in the Euthyphro, Socrates asks Euthyphro to provide a definition of piety. Euthyphro replies that the pious is that which is loved by the gods. But, Socrates also has Euthyphro agreeing that the gods are quarrelsome and their quarrels, like human quarrels, concern objects of love or hatred. Therefore, Socrates reasons, at least one thing exists which certain gods love but other gods hate. Again, Euthyphro agrees. Socrates concludes that if Euthyphro's definition of piety is acceptable, then there must exist at least one thing which is both pious and impious (as it is both loved and hated by the gods) — which Euthyphro admits is absurd. Thus, Euthyphro is brought to a realization by this dialectical method that his definition of piety is not sufficiently meaningful.

There is another interpretation of the dialectic as a method of intuition which is suggested in The Republic.[15] Simon Blackburn writes that the dialectic in this sense is used to understand "the total process of enlightenment, whereby the philosopher is educated so as to achieve knowledge of the supreme good, the Form of the Good”.[16]

Medieval philosophy

Dialectics (also called logic) was one of the three liberal arts taught in medieval universities as part of the trivium. The trivium also included rhetoric and grammar.[17][18][19][20]

Based mainly on Aristotle, the first medieval philosopher to work on dialectics was Boethius.[21] After him, many scholastic philosophers also made use of dialectics in their works, such as Abelard,[22] William of Sherwood,[23] Garlandus Compotista,[24] Walter Burley, Roger Swyneshed and William of Ockham.[25]

This dialectic was formed as follows:

  1. The Question to be determined
  2. The principal objections to the question
  3. An argument in favor of the Question, traditionally a single argument ("On the contrary..")
  4. The determination of the Question after weighing the evidence. ("I answer that...")
  5. The replies to each objection

Modern philosophy

The concept of dialectics was given new life by Hegel (following Fichte), whose dialectically dynamic model of nature and of history made it, as it were, a fundamental aspect of the nature of reality (instead of regarding the contradictions into which dialectics leads as a sign of the sterility of the dialectical method, as Kant tended to do in his Critique of Pure Reason).[26][27] In the mid-19th century, the concept of "dialectic" was appropriated by Marx (see, for example, Das Kapital, published in 1867) and Engels and retooled in a non-idealist manner, becoming a crucial notion in their philosophy of dialectical materialism. Thus this concept has played a prominent role on the world stage and in world history. In contemporary polemics, "dialectics" may also refer to an understanding of how we can or should perceive the world (epistemology); an assertion that the nature of the world outside one's perception is interconnected, contradictory, and dynamic (ontology); or it can refer to a method of presentation of ideas and conclusions (discourse). According to Hegel, "dialectic" is the method by which human history unfolds; that is to say, history progresses as a dialectical process.

Hegelian dialectic

Hegelian dialectic, usually presented in a threefold manner, was stated by Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus as comprising three dialectical stages of development: a thesis, giving rise to its reaction, an antithesis, which contradicts or negates the thesis, and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis. Although this model is often named after Hegel, he himself never used that specific formulation. Hegel ascribed that terminology to Kant.[28] Carrying on Kant's work, Fichte greatly elaborated on the synthesis model, and popularized it.

On the other hand, Hegel did use a three-valued logical model that is very similar to the antithesis model, but Hegel's most usual terms were: Abstract-Negative-Concrete. Sometimes Hegel would use the terms, Immediate-Mediated-Concrete. Hegel used these terms hundreds of times throughout his works.[29]

The formula, Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis, does not explain why the Thesis requires an Antithesis. However, the formula, Abstract-Negative-Concrete, suggests a flaw in any initial thesis—it is too abstract and lacks the negative of trial, error and experience. The same applies to the formula, Immediate-Mediated-Concrete. For Hegel, the Concrete, the Synthesis, the Absolute, must always pass through the phase of the Negative, that is, Mediation. This is the actual essence of what is popularly called Hegelian Dialectics.

To describe the activity of overcoming the negative, Hegel also often used the term Aufhebung, variously translated into English as "sublation" or "overcoming," to conceive of the working of the dialectic. Roughly, the term indicates preserving the useful portion of an idea, thing, society, etc., while moving beyond its limitations. (Jacques Derrida's preferred French translation of the term was relever).[30]

In the Logic, for instance, Hegel describes a dialectic of existence: first, existence must be posited as pure Being (Sein); but pure Being, upon examination, is found to be indistinguishable from Nothing (Nichts). When it is realized that what is coming into being is, at the same time, also returning to nothing (in life, for example, one's living is also a dying), both Being and Nothing are united as Becoming.[31]

As in the Socratic dialectic, Hegel claimed to proceed by making implicit contradictions explicit: each stage of the process is the product of contradictions inherent or implicit in the preceding stage. For Hegel, the whole of history is one tremendous dialectic, major stages of which chart a progression from self-alienation as slavery to self-unification and realization as the rational, constitutional state of free and equal citizens. The Hegelian dialectic cannot be mechanically applied for any chosen thesis. Critics argue that the selection of any antithesis, other than the logical negation of the thesis, is subjective. Then, if the logical negation is used as the antithesis, there is no rigorous way to derive a synthesis. In practice, when an antithesis is selected to suit the user's subjective purpose, the resulting "contradictions" are rhetorical, not logical, and the resulting synthesis is not rigorously defensible against a multitude of other possible syntheses. The problem with the Fichtean "Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis" model is that it implies that contradictions or negations come from outside of things. Hegel's point is that they are inherent in and internal to things. This conception of dialectics derives ultimately from Heraclitus.

Hegel has outlined that the purpose of dialectics is "to study things in their own being and movement and thus to demonstrate the finitude of the partial categories of understanding"[32]

One important dialectical principle for Hegel is the transition from quantity to quality, which he terms the Measure. The measure is the qualitative quantum, the quantum is the existence of quantity.[33]

"The identity between quantity and quality, which is found in Measure, is at first only implicit, and not yet explicitly realised. In other words, these two categories, which unite in Measure, each claim an independent authority. On the one hand, the quantitative features of existence may be altered, without affecting its quality. On the other hand, this increase and diminution, immaterial though it be, has its limit, by exceeding which the quality suffers change. [...] But if the quantity present in measure exceeds a certain limit, the quality corresponding to it is also put in abeyance. This however is not a negation of quality altogether, but only of this definite quality, the place of which is at once occupied by another. This process of measure, which appears alternately as a mere change in quantity, and then as a sudden revulsion of quantity into quality, may be envisaged under the figure of a nodal (knotted) line".[34]

As an example, Hegel mentions the states of aggregation of water: "Thus the temperature of water is, in the first place, a point of no consequence in respect of its liquidity: still with the increase or diminution of the temperature of the liquid water, there comes a point where this state of cohesion suffers a qualitative change, and the water is converted into steam or ice".[35] As other examples Hegel mentions the reaching of a point where a single additional grain makes a heap of wheat; or where the bald-tail is produced, if we continue plucking out single hairs.

Another important principle for Hegel is the negation of the negation, which he also terms Aufhebung (sublation): Something is only what it is in its relation to another, but by the negation of the negation this something incorporates the other into itself. The dialectical movement involves two moments that negate each other, something and its other. As a result of the negation of the negation, "something becomes its other; this other is itself something; therefore it likewise becomes an other, and so on ad infinitum".[36] Something in its passage into other only joins with itself, it is self-related.[37] In becoming there are two moments:[38] coming-to-be and ceasing-to-be: by sublation, i.e. negation of the negation, being passes over into nothing, it ceases to be, but something new shows up, is coming to be. What is sublated (aufgehoben) on the one hand ceases to be and is put to an end, but on the other hand it is preserved and maintained.[39] In dialectics, a totality transforms itself; it is self-related.

Marxist dialectics

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels proposed that G.F. Hegel had rendered philosophy too abstractly ideal:

The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.[40]

In contradiction to Hegelian idealism, Karl Marx presented Dialectical materialism (Marxist dialectics):

My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e. the process of thinking, which, under the name of ‘the Idea’, he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of ‘the Idea’. With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought. (Capital, Afterword, Second German Ed., Moscow, 1970, vol. 1, p. 29).

In Marxism, the dialectical method of historical study became intertwined with historical materialism, the school of thought exemplified by the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. In the USSR, under Joseph Stalin, Marxist dialectics became "diamat" (short for dialectical materialism), a 19th-century social theory by Joseph Dietzgen emphasising the importance of commodities and the effects of their exchange. Dietzgen sparingly used the theory to explain the nature of socialism and social development, but was not academically studied until the Soviet Union indoctrinated the philosophy as Marxist. A dialectical method was fundamental to Marxist politics, e.g. the works of Karl Korsch, Georg Lukács and certain members of the Frankfurt School. Soviet academics, notably Evald Ilyenkov and Zaid Orudzhev, continued pursuing unorthodox philosophic study of Marxist dialectics; likewise in the West, notably the philosopher Bertell Ollman at New York University.

Friedrich Engels proposed that Nature is dialectical, thus, in Anti-Dühring he said that the negation of negation is:

A very simple process, which is taking place everywhere and every day, which any child can understand as soon as it is stripped of the veil of mystery in which it was enveloped by the old idealist philosophy.[41]

In Dialectics of Nature, Engels said:

Probably the same gentlemen who up to now have decried the transformation of quantity into quality as mysticism and incomprehensible transcendentalism will now declare that it is indeed something quite self-evident, trivial, and commonplace, which they have long employed, and so they have been taught nothing new. But to have formulated for the first time in its universally valid form a general law of development of Nature, society, and thought, will always remain an act of historic importance.[42]

Marxist dialectics is exemplified in Das Kapital (Capital), which outlines two central theories: (i) surplus value and (ii) the materialist conception of history; Marx explains dialectical materialism:

In its rational form, it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom, and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension an affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time, also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is, in its essence, critical and revolutionary.[43]

Class struggle is the central contradiction to be resolved by Marxist dialectics, because of its central role in the social and political lives of a society. Nonetheless, Marx and Marxists developed the concept of class struggle to comprehend the dialectical contradictions between mental and manual labor, and between town and country. Hence, philosophic contradiction is central to the development of dialectics — the progress from quantity to quality, the acceleration of gradual social change; the negation of the initial development of the status quo; the negation of that negation; and the high-level recurrence of features of the original status quo. In the USSR, Progress Publishers issued anthologies of dialectical materialism by Lenin, wherein he also quotes Marx and Engels:

As the most comprehensive and profound doctrine of development, and the richest in content, Hegelian dialectics was considered by Marx and Engels the greatest achievement of classical German philosophy. . . . “The great basic thought”, Engels writes, “that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which the things, apparently stable no less than their mind images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away . . . this great fundamental thought has, especially since the time of Hegel, so thoroughly permeated ordinary consciousness that, in its generality, it is now scarcely ever contradicted. But, to acknowledge this fundamental thought in words, and to apply it in reality in detail to each domain of investigation, are two different things. . . . For dialectical philosophy nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it, except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher. And dialectical philosophy, itself, is nothing more than the mere reflection of this process in the thinking brain.” Thus, according to Marx, dialectics is “the science of the general laws of motion both of the external world and of human thought”.[44]

Lenin describes his dialectical understanding of the concept of development:

A development that repeats, as it were, stages that have already been passed, but repeats them in a different way, on a higher basis (“the negation of the negation”), a development, so to speak, that proceeds in spirals, not in a straight line; a development by leaps, catastrophes, and revolutions; “breaks in continuity”; the transformation of quantity into quality; inner impulses towards development, imparted by the contradiction and conflict of the various forces and tendencies acting on a given body, or within a given phenomenon, or within a given society; the interdependence and the closest and indissoluble connection between all aspects of any phenomenon (history constantly revealing ever new aspects), a connection that provides a uniform, and universal process of motion, one that follows definite laws — these are some of the features of dialectics as a doctrine of development that is richer than the conventional one. [44]

Rothenfelde modern dialectics

In the Soviet Union dialectics of Marx developed in two directions - the ideological propaganda and research methodology. Some research scientists have used the dialectic of Hegel and Marx to interpret the results of natural sciences - physics, etc.. One of them was Yuri Rothenfelde (born in 1940). At the same time he created the non-classical dialectic (Not-Hegelian dialectic).

Doctoral dissertation, consultant V.S. Gott - "Becoming a non-classical dialectics" (1991). In 1991 Ph.D. Rothenfelde Y. has published a monography dedicated to the nonclassical dialectic - Rothenfelde Y.A. Non-classical dialectic. - M: Ray, 1991.

Leading the research theme was the problem of differentiating the concept of "specific identity". It lies between the abstract identity and absolute difference. He managed to differentiate an infinite number of specific differences.

The scheme of Hegel:

Abstract identity - Specific identity (or identity of opposites) - Absolute difference.

Yuri Rothenfelde divided "specific identity" to the specific differences. And express them in a series of philosophical categories. These categories became the basis of non-classical dialectic. Rothenfelde Y. called them "the comparative category".

The scheme of Rothenfelde:

The first series:

Abstract identity <- Meaning Assigned (less relatively more) - ...etc.< Absolute difference

Second series:

Abstract identity <- Opposite (the middle between the smaller and more) -...etc. < Absolute difference

These categories describe the types of symmetry, antisymmetry and asymmetry. Abstract identity - the mirror symmetry, the Absolute difference - asymmetry. Meaning assigned - translational symmetry, the Opposite - the mirror antisymmetry, etc.. That philosophy is connected with physics. For example. The right and left hand - Abstract identity - Mirror symmetry.

Indian forms of dialectic

Indian continental debate: an intra- and inter-Dharmic dialectic

Anacker (2005: p. 20), in the introduction to his translation of seven works by Vasubandhu (fl. 4th c.), a famed dialectician of the Gupta Empire, contextualizes the prestige of dialectic and cut-throat debate in classical India and makes references to the possibly apocryphal story of the banishment of Moheyan post-debate with Kamalaśīla (fl. 713-763):

Philosophical debating was in classical India often a spectator-sport, much as contests of poetry-improvisation were in Germany in its High Middle Ages, and as they still are in the Telegu country today. The king himself was often the judge at these debates, and loss to an opponent could have serious consequences. To take an atrociously extreme example, when the Tamil Śaivite Ñānasambandar Nāyanār defeated the Jain ācāryas in Madurai before the Pāṇḍya King Māravarman Avaniśūlāmani (620-645) this debate is said to have resulted in the impalement of 8000 Jains, an event still celebrated in the Mīnāksi Temple of Madurai today. Usually, the results were not so drastic; they could mean formal recognition by the defeated side of the superiority of the winning party, forced conversions, or, as in the case of the Council of Lhasa, which was conducted by Indians, banishment of the losers.[45]

Brahmin/Vedic/Hindu dialectic

While western philosophy traces dialectics to ancient Greek thought of Socrates and Plato, the idea of tension between two opposing forces leading to synthesis is much older and present in Hindu Philosophy.[46] Indian philosophy, for the most part subsumed within the Indian religions, has an ancient tradition of dialectic polemics. The two complements, "purusha" (the active cause) and the "prakriti" (the passive nature) brings everything into existence. They follow the "rta", the Dharma (Universal Law of Nature).

Jain dialectic

Anekantavada and Syadvada are the sophisticated dialectic traditions developed by the Jains to arrive at truth. As per Jainism, the truth or the reality is perceived differently from different points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth.[47][48] Jain doctrine of Anekantavada states that an object has infinite modes of existence and qualities and, as such, they cannot be completely perceived in all its aspects and manifestations, due to the inherent limitations of being human. Only the Kevalis - the omniscient beings - can comprehend the object in all its aspects and manifestations, and that all others are capable of knowing only a part of it. Consequently, no one view can claim to represent the absolute truth. According to Jains, the ultimate principle should always be logical and no principle can be devoid of logic or reason.[49] Thus one finds in the Jain texts, deliberative exhortations on any subject in all its facts, may they be constructive or obstructive, inferential or analytical, enlightening or destructive.[50]

Syādvāda is the theory of conditioned predication which provides an expression to anekānta by recommending that epithet Syād be attached to every expression.[51] Syādvāda is not only an extension of Anekānta ontology, but a separate system of logic capable of standing on its own force. The Sanskrit etymological root of the term Syād is "perhaps" or "maybe", but in context of syādvāda, it means "in some ways" or "from a perspective." As reality is complex, no single proposition can express the nature of reality fully. Thus the term "syāt" should be prefixed before each proposition giving it a conditional point of view and thus removing any dogmatism in the statement.[52] Since it ensures that each statement is expressed from seven different conditional and relative view points or propositions, it is known as theory of conditioned predication. These seven propositions also known as saptabhangi are:[53]

  1. syād-asti – "in some ways it is"
  2. syād-nāsti - "in some ways it is not"
  3. syād-asti-nāsti - "in some ways it is and it is not"
  4. syād-asti-avaktavyaḥ - "in some ways it is and it is indescribable"
  5. syād-nāsti-avaktavyaḥ - "in some ways it is not and it is indescribable"
  6. syād-asti-nāsti-avaktavyaḥ - "in some ways it is, it is not and it is indescribable"
  7. syād-avaktavyaḥ - "in some ways it is indescribable"

Buddhist dialectic

Buddhism has developed sophisticated, and sometimes highly institutionalized traditions of dialectics during its long history. Nalanda University, and later the Gelugpa Buddhism of Tibet, are examples. The historical development and clarification of Buddhist doctrine and polemics, through dialectics and formal debate, is well documented. Buddhist doctrine was rigorously critiqued (though not ultimately refuted) in the 2nd century by Nagarjuna, whose uncompromisingly logical approach to the realisation of truth, became the basis for the development of a vital stream of Buddhist thought. This dialectical approach of Buddhism, to the elucidation and articulation of an account of the Cosmos as the truth it really is, became known as the Perfection of Wisdom and was later developed by other notable thinkers, such as Dignaga and Dharmakirti (between 500 and 700). The dialectical method of truth-seeking is evident throughout the traditions of Madhyamaka, Yogacara, and Tantric Buddhism. Trisong Detsen, and later Je Tsongkhapa, championed the value of dialectic and of formalised training in debate in Tibet.

Dialectical theology

Neo-orthodoxy, in Europe also known as theology of crisis and dialectical theology,[54][55] is an approach to theology in Protestantism that was developed in the aftermath of the First World War (1914–1918). It is characterized as a reaction against doctrines of 19th-century liberal theology and a more positive reevaluation of the teachings of the Reformation, much of which had been in decline (especially in western Europe) since the late 18th century.[56] It is primarily associated with two Swiss professors and pastors, Karl Barth[57] (1886–1968) and Emil Brunner (1899–1966),[54][55] even though Barth himself expressed his unease in the use of the term.[58]

Dialectical method and dualism

Another way to understand dialectics is to view it as a method of thinking to overcome formal dualism and monistic reductionism.[59] For example, formal dualism regards the opposites as mutually exclusive entities, whilst monism finds each to be an epiphenomenon of the other. Dialectical thinking rejects both views. The dialectical method requires focus on both at the same time. It looks for a transcendence of the opposites entailing a leap of the imagination to a higher level, which (1) provides justification for rejecting both alternatives as false and/or (2) helps elucidate a real but previously veiled integral relationship between apparent opposites that have been kept apart and regarded as distinct. For example, the superposition principle of quantum physics can be explained using the dialectical method of thinking—likewise the example below from dialectical biology. Such examples showing the relationship of the dialectic method of thinking to the scientific method to a large part negates the criticism of Popper (see text below) that the two are mutually exclusive. The dialectic method also examines false alternatives presented by formal dualism (materialism vs idealism; rationalism vs empiricism; mind vs body, etc.) and looks for ways to transcend the opposites and form synthesis. In the dialectical method, both have something in common, and understanding of the parts requires understanding their relationship with the whole system. The dialectical method thus views the whole of reality as an evolving process.

Dialectical biology

In The Dialectical Biologist (Harvard U.P. 1985 ISBN 0-674-20281-3), Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin sketch a dialectical approach to biology. They see "dialectics" more as a set of questions to ask about biological research, a weapon against dogmatism, than as a set of pre-determined answers. They focus on the (dialectical) relationship between the "whole" (or totality) and the "parts." "Part makes whole, and whole makes part" (p. 272). That is, a biological system of some kind consists of a collection of heterogeneous parts. All of these contribute to the character of the whole, as in reductionist thinking. On the other hand, the whole has an existence independent of the parts and feeds back to affect and determine the nature of the parts. This back-and-forth (dialectic) of causation implies a dynamic process. For example, Darwinian evolution points to the competition of a variety of species, each with heterogeneous members, within a given environment. This leads to changing species and even to new species arising. A dialectical biologist fully accepts this picture then looks for ways in which the competing creatures (which serve as the internal conflicts in the environment) lead to changes. The changes would manifest in the creatures themselves, through the creatures embracing biological adaptations which provide them with advantages, and in the environment itself, as when the action of microbes encourages the erosion of rocks. Further, each species is part of the "environment" of all the others.


Many philosophers have offered critiques of dialectic, and it can even be said that hostility or receptivity to dialectics is one of the things that divides twentieth-century Anglo-American philosophy from the so-called "continental" tradition, a divide that only a few contemporary philosophers (among them, G.H. von Wright, Paul Ricoeur, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Richard Rorty, Charles Taylor) have ventured to bridge.

It is generally thought dialectics has become central to "Continental" philosophy, while it plays no part in "Anglo-American" philosophy. In other words, on the continent of Europe, dialectics has entered intellectual culture (or at least its counter-culture) as what might be called a legitimate part of thought and philosophy, whereas in America and Britain, the dialectic plays no discernible part in the intellectual culture, which instead tends toward positivism. A prime example of the European tradition is Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason, which is very different from the works of Popper, whose philosophy was for a time highly influential in the UK where he resided (see below). Sartre states:

Existentialism, like Marxism, addresses itself to experience in order to discover there concrete syntheses; it can conceive of these syntheses only within a moving, dialectical totalisation which is nothing else but history or – from the strictly cultural point of view which we have adopted here --"philosophy-becoming-the world."[60]

Karl Popper has attacked the dialectic repeatedly. In 1937 he wrote and delivered a paper entitled "What Is Dialectic?" in which he attacked the dialectical method for its willingness "to put up with contradictions".[61] Popper concluded the essay with these words: "The whole development of dialectic should be a warning against the dangers inherent in philosophical system-building. It should remind us that philosophy should not be made a basis for any sort of scientific system and that philosophers should be much more modest in their claims. One task which they can fulfill quite usefully is the study of the critical methods of science" (Ibid., p. 335).

In chapter 12 of volume 2 of The Open Society and Its Enemies (1944; 5th rev. ed., 1966) Popper unleashed a famous attack on Hegelian dialectics, in which he held that Hegel's thought (unjustly, in the view of some philosophers, such as Walter Kaufmann,[62]) was to some degree responsible for facilitating the rise of fascism in Europe by encouraging and justifying irrationalism. In section 17 of his 1961 "addenda" to The Open Society, entitled "Facts, Standards and Truth: A Further Criticism of Relativism," Popper refused to moderate his criticism of the Hegelian dialectic, arguing that it "played a major role in the downfall of the liberal movement in Germany,. . . by contributing to historicism and to an identification of might and right, encouraged totalitarian modes of thought.  . . . [and] undermined and eventually lowered the traditional standards of intellectual responsibility and honesty".[63]


In the past few decades, European and American logicians have attempted to provide mathematical foundations for dialectical logic or argument (logic). There had been pre-formal treatises on argument and dialectic, from authors such as Stephen Toulmin (The Uses of Argument), Nicholas Rescher (Dialectics), and van Eemeren and Grootendorst (Pragma-dialectics). One can include the communities of informal logic and paraconsistent logic. However, building on theories of defeasible reasoning (see John L. Pollock), systems have been built that define well-formedness of arguments, rules governing the process of introducing arguments based on fixed assumptions, and rules for shifting burden. Many of these logics appear in the special area of artificial intelligence and law, though the computer scientists' interest in formalizing dialectic originates in a desire to build decision support and computer-supported collaborative work systems.[64]

See also


  1. ^ The Republic (Plato), 348b
  2. ^ see Gorgias, 449B: "Socrates: Would you be willing then, Gorgias, to continue the discussion as we are now doing [Dialectic], by way of question and answer, and to put off to another occasion the (emotional) speeches [Rhetoric] that [the Sophist] Polus began?"
  3. ^ Pinto, R. C. (2001). Argument, inference and dialectic: collected papers on informal logic. Argumentation library, vol. 4. Dordrecht:Kluwer Academic. pp. 138–139.
  4. ^ Eemeren, F. H. v. (2003). Anyone who has a view: theoretical contributions to the study of argumentation. Argumentation library, vol. 8. Dordrecht:Kluwer Academic. p. 92.
  5. ^ The Musicologist Rose Rosengard Subotnick gives this example: "A question posed in a Fred Friendly Seminar entitled Hard Drugs, Hard Choices: The Crisis Beyond Our Borders [1] (aired on WNET on February 26, 1990), illustrates that others, too, seem to find this dynamic enlightening: 'Are our lives so barren because we use drugs? Or do we use drugs because our lives are so barren?' The question is dialectical to the extent that it enables one to grasp the two opposed priorities as simultaneously valid."
  6. ^ Jon Mills (2005). Treating attachment pathology. Jason Aronson. pp. 159–166. ISBN 9780765701329. http://books.google.com/books?id=zglsKFJdshMC&pg=PA159. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  7. ^ Herbermann, C. G. (1913) The Catholic encyclopedia: an international work of reference on the constitution, doctrine, and history of the Catholic church. New York: The Encyclopedia press, inc. Page 160
  8. ^ Howard Ll. Williams, Hegel, Heraclitus, and Marx's Dialectic. Harvester Wheatsheaf 1989. 256 pages. ISBN 0-7450-0527-6
  9. ^ Denton Jaques Snider, Ancient European Philosophy: The History of Greek Philosophy Psychologically Treated. Sigma publishing co. 1903. 730 pages. Pages 116-119.
  10. ^ Cassin, Barbara (ed.), Vocabulaire européen des philosophies [Paris: Le Robert & Seuil, 2004], p. 306, trans. M.K. Jensen)
  11. ^ Ayer, A. J., & O'Grady, J. (1992). A Dictionary of Philosophical Quotations. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers. Page 484.
  12. ^ McTaggart, J. M. E. (1964). A commentary on Hegel's logic. New York: Russell & Russell. p. 11
  13. ^ ([fr. 65], Diog. IX 25ff and VIII 57)
  14. ^ Vlastos, G., Burnyeat, M. (Ed.) (1994) Socratic Studies, Cambridge U.P. ISBN 0-521-44735-6 Ch. 1
  15. ^ Popper, K. (1962) The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1, London, Routledge, p. 133.
  16. ^ Blackburn, Simon. 1996. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford
  17. ^ Abelson, P. (1965). The seven liberal arts; a study in mediæval culture. New York: Russell & Russell. Page 82.
  18. ^ Hyman, A., & Walsh, J. J. (1983). Philosophy in the Middle Ages: the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish traditions. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co. Page 164.
  19. ^ Adler, Mortimer Jerome (2000). "Dialectic". Routledge. Page 4. ISBN 0-415-22550-7
  20. ^ Herbermann, C. G. (1913). The Catholic encyclopedia: an international work of reference on the constitution, doctrine, and history of the Catholic church. New York: The Encyclopedia press, inc. Page 760 - 764.
  21. ^ From topic to tale: logic and narrativity in the Middle Ages, by Eugene Vance,p.43-45
  22. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: Peter Abelard". Newadvent.org. 1907-03-01. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01036b.htm. Retrieved 2011-11-03. 
  23. ^ William of Sherwood's Introduction to logic, by Norman Kretzmann,p.69-102
  24. ^ A History of Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy, by Peter Dronke,p.198
  25. ^ Medieval literary politics: shapes of ideology, by Sheila Delany,p.11
  26. ^ Nicholson, J. A. (1950). Philosophy of religion. New York: Ronald Press Co. Page 108.
  27. ^ Kant, I., Guyer, P., & Wood, A. W. (2003). Critique of pure reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page 495.
  28. ^ The Accessible Hegel. Michael Allen Fox. Prometheus Books. 2005. p.43. Also see Hegel's preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), secs. 50, 51, p.29. 30.
  29. ^ GWF Hegel: The System. Howard P. Kainz (Ohio U. Press, 1996).
  30. ^ See 'La différance' in Margins of philosophy. Alan Bass, translator. University of Chicago Books. 1982. p. 19, fn 23.
  31. ^ Hegel. "Section in question from Hegel's ''Science of Logic''". Marxists.org. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hl/hlbeing.htm#HL1_82. Retrieved 2011-11-03. 
  32. ^ Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1874. The Logic. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. 2nd Edition. London: Oxford University Press. Note to §81
  33. ^ Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1874. The Logic. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. 2nd Edition. London: Oxford University Press. §§107-111
  34. ^ Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1874. The Logic. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. 2nd Edition. London: Oxford University Press. §§108-109
  35. ^ Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1874. The Logic. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. 2nd Edition. London: Oxford University Press. §108
  36. ^ Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1874. The Logic. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. 2nd Edition. London: Oxford University Press. §93
  37. ^ Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1874. The Logic. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. 2nd Edition. London: Oxford University Press. §95
  38. ^ Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1812. Hegel's Science of Logic. London. Allen & Unwin. §§176-179.
  39. ^ Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1812. Hegel's Science of Logic. London. Allen & Unwin. §185.
  40. ^ Marx, Karl (1873) Capital Afterword to the Second German Edition, Vol. I [2]
  41. ^ Engels, Frederick, (1877) Anti-Dühring,Part I: Philosophy, XIII. Dialectics. Negation of the Negation. [3]
  42. ^ "Engels, Frederick, (1883) ''Dialectics of Nature:''II. Dialectics". Marxists.org. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/don/ch02.htm. Retrieved 2011-11-03. 
  43. ^ Marx, Karl, (1873) Capital Vol. I, Afterword to the Second German Edition. [4]
  44. ^ a b Lenin, V.I., On the Question of Dialectics: A Collection, pp. 7-9. Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1980.
  45. ^ Anacker, Stefan (2005, rev.ed.). Seven Works of Vasubandhu: The Buddhist Psychological Doctor. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass. (First published: 1984; Reprinted: 1986, 1994, 1998; Corrected: 2002; Revised: 2005), p.20
  46. ^ Paul Ernest; Brian Greer; Bharath Sriraman (30 June 2009). Critical issues in mathematics education. IAP. p. 327. ISBN 9781607520399. http://books.google.com/books?id=AHO9s9DDV5QC&pg=PA327. Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  47. ^ Dundas (2002)
  48. ^ Koller, John M. (July, 2000).
  49. ^ Duli Chandra Jain (ed.) (1997) p.21
  50. ^ Hughes, Marilynn (2005) P. 590
  51. ^ Chatterjea, Tara (2001) p.77-87
  52. ^ Koller, John M. (July 2000). "Syādvāda as the epistemological key to the Jaina middle way metaphysics of Anekāntavāda". Philosophy East and West (Honululu) 50 (3): Pp.400–8. ISSN 00318221. http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=59942245&Fmt=4&clientId=71080&RQT=309&VName=PQD. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  53. ^ Grimes, John (1996) p. 312
  54. ^ a b "Original Britinnica online". http://original.britannica.com/eb/topic-409012/neoorthodoxy. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  55. ^ a b "Britannica Encyclopedia (online)". http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/409012/neoorthodoxy#tab=active~checked%2Citems~checked&title=neoorthodoxy%20--%20Britannica%20Online%20Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  56. ^ "Merriam-Webster Dictionary(online)". http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/neo-orthodox. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  57. ^ "American Heritage Dictionary (online)". http://www.bartleby.com/61/91/N0059100.html. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  58. ^ See Church Dogmatics III/3, xii.
  59. ^ Biel, R. and Mu-Jeong Kho (2009) "The Issue of Energy within a Dialectical Approach to the Regulationist Problematique," Recherches & Régulation Working Papers, RR Série ID 2009-1, Association Recherche & Régulation: 1-21.
  60. ^ Jean-Paul Sartre. "The Search for Method (1st part) Sartre, 1960, in Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, transl. Hazel Barnes, Vintage Books". Marxists.org. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/critic/sartre1.htm. Retrieved 2011-11-03. 
  61. ^ Karl Popper,Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge [New York: Basic Books, 1962], p. 316.
  62. ^ Walter Kaufmann. "kaufmann". Marxists.org. http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/kaufmann.htm. Retrieved 2011-11-03. 
  63. ^ Karl Popper,The Open Society and Its Enemies, 5th rev. ed., vol. 2 [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966], p. 395
  64. ^ See Logical models of argument, CI Chesñevar, AG Maguitman, R Loui - ACM Computing Surveys, 2000 and Logics for defeasible argumentation, H Prakken - Handbook of philosophical logic, 2002 for surveys of work in this area.

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  • Dialectic — • Greek dialektike (techne or methodos), the dialectic art or method, from dialegomai I converse, discuss, dispute; as noun also dialectics; as adjective, dialectical Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Dialectic     Dialectic …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • dialectic — DIALÉCTIC, Ă, dialectici, ce, s.f., adj. 1. s.f. Teorie generală a principiilor devenirii realităţii, a dezvoltării naturii, societăţii şi gândirii; teorie şi metodă generală de cunoaştere a realităţii şi de transformare revoluţionară a acesteia …   Dicționar Român

  • Dialectic — Di a*lec tic, n. Same as {Dialectics}. [1913 Webster] Plato placed his dialectic above all sciences. Liddell & Scott …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • dialectic — UK US /ˌdaɪəˈlektɪk/ adjective [before noun] ► MANAGEMENT, MEETINGS using questions and answers as a method of examining something or of finding a solution to a problem: »Conflict and disagreement are a necessary part of a dialectic approach …   Financial and business terms

  • dialectic — [adj] logical, rational analytic, argumentative, controversial, dialectical, persuasive, polemical, rationalistic; concept 529 Ant. illogical, irrational dialectic [n] logic, reasoning argumentation, contention, debate, deduction, discussion,… …   New thesaurus

  • dialectic — Philosophy ► NOUN (also dialectics) (usu. treated as sing. ) 1) the investigation of the truth of opinions, especially by logical discussion. 2) enquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions. 3) the existence or action of opposing… …   English terms dictionary

  • dialectic — [dī΄ə lek′tik] n. [ME dialetik < OFr dialetique < L dialectica (ars) < Gr dialektikē (technē), the dialectic (art) < dialektikos: see DIALECT] 1. [often pl.] the art or practice of examining opinions or ideas logically, often by the… …   English World dictionary

  • Dialectic — Di a*lec tic, Dialectical Di a*lec tic*al, a. [L. dialecticus, Gr. ?: cf. F. dialectique. See {Dialect}.] 1. Pertaining to dialectics; logical; argumental. [1913 Webster] 2. Pertaining to a dialect or to dialects. Earle. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • dialectic — I noun applied logic, apprehension, argumentation, brainwork, cerebration, chain of reasoning, cogitation, concluding, consideration, contemplation, deducing, deduction, deliberation, deriving, discursive reasoning, drawing conclusions, force of… …   Law dictionary

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  • dialectic — (n.) 1580s, earlier dialatik (late 14c.), from O.Fr. dialectique (12c.), from L. dialectica, from Gk. dialektike (techne) (art of) philosophical discussion or discourse, fem. of dialektikos of conversation, discourse, from dialektos discourse,… …   Etymology dictionary

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