A dialectic, from the Greek: διαλεκτική (dialektikḗ) is a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject, but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments.
A dialectic is neither a debate nor a rhetorical argument but rather an intellectual dissertation with the intent to further our knowledge of the truth. Truth through reasoning and logic, rather than fact.
The dialectic method can be seen as an alternate approach to science, which is fact based, albeit empirical. Science furthers our understanding of our reality through emperical data. Data that can be reproduced and independently verified.
Both dialectic and scientific methods seek the truth of the matter at hand and must be deemed valid for as long as they cannot be disproven.
For instance, we all know that our planet Earth revolves around the Sun and yet very few of us are able to establish and verify this as a fact. One of the very first persons who argued this to be a fact - Galileo Galilei - was put under house arrest for the rest of his life and up to this day there are still some who believe this heliocentric concept to be a lie.
What is true and what we perceive to be true, what is fact and what we perceive to be factual are not necessarily the same thing.
Truthfully, how many of our decisions are truly fact based and not a concoction of our hearts and minds ? A mixture of logic reasoning and illogical feelings of sorts?
When we read the newspapers, browse the web or watch television what makes us believe the information involved? When do we decide in our minds to go with the story that is being presented to us?
Yes, the scientific method of fact finding and establishment of the truth is to be preferred at all times, and yet it cannot explain all occurrences in our reality. In comes the Hegelian dialectic as alternate method to make sense of it all.
Who was Hegel?
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher. He achieved wide renown in his day and although he remains a divisive figure, his canonical stature within (Western) philosophy is universally recognised.
Hegel has influenced many thinkers and writers whose positions widely vary. The philosophies of Marx and Nietzsche, phenomenology, existentialism and psychoanalysis - all had their beginnings in Hegel.
So what are we make to of it all? Our life, the world we live in and the things happening therein?
Problem, Reaction, Solution
The Hegelian dialectic is usually presented in a threefold manner.
Thesis, the originating matter at hand, giving rise to a reaction, antithesis, which contradicts or negates the thesis, and the tension between the two being resolved by means of synthesis. Or in more simplistic terms: problem, reaction, solution.
When and wherever problems arise in our lives, in our world, these are followed up by reactions which eventually evolve and are resolved in solutions of sorts.
Important to note is that whether Hegelian problem-reaction-solution mechanisms occur out of 'natural' causes, whether they are random, coincidental, manufactured or fabricated, this is not relevant to the dialectic. This is key to whoever wants to understand and apply the dialectic reasoning. It doesn’t matter...
So for instance, whether global warming (problem) is a reality as the scientists tell us and as we are about to adapt and direct our economies (reaction) towards environmental friendly and sustainable (solution), this is not relevant from the perspective of the Hegelian dialectic. Keep that in mind. The global warming issue conforms to the dialectic is all we can say from a dialectic point of view.
Real life examples
Are there any other matters that conform to the dialectic? Well, let’s give it a try...
In the 1920's communism was perceived as a threat to world peace and stability (problem). The reaction was to combat communism when and wherever its ugly head reared, resulting in WW2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, The Cold War and its proxies. The synthesis, solution, was to establish 'democracies', wealth and prosperity. This reasoning seems to conform to the dialectic.
Communism is no longer a problem. We have established new theses.
Today's theses are for instance terrorism and drugs trafficking. The War on Terror and the War on Drugs are reactions to the perceived global threat of radicalised Islam and threats to public health. If these are in concordance with the dialectic then where are they us leading to? What is their synthesis? Evermore state control? religious upheaval?
Again, whether these threats are real or fake is not relevant to the dialectic, but the reactions they trigger are real as much as the proposed solutions affect real people. They are relevant.
The United States is culpable and should take responsibility for the monster ISIS is.
Logic without regard for the actions involved or its consequences
It seems to me that the Hegelian logic and reasoning is in effect regardless of the issues, the actions involved and its consequences. There is no right or wrong. Or so it seems.
What now if we would reverse this logic? What if we observe the solutions we try to achieve from the opposite direction? Would we come up with different (re)actions. Would we identify the problems differently?
What if the Pope had freed Galileo from his house arrest, would the Sun all of a sudden start to revolve around the Earth?
What if we were to release all the people imprisoned because of reasons of opposite political or religious beliefs. Would our societies fail?
What if all drug dealers would be put back on the streets again, would our children become drug addicts overnight or die from a drug overdose in the near future?
What if all the prisoners of war from Guantanamo Bay and imprisoned elsewhere would be sent back to their home countries, would our democracies become destabilised overnight and turn into Islamic States in the foreseeable future?
I don't think so.
Logic makes sense
The Hegelian discourse through reasoned arguments can only be meaningful in order to establish the truth. It is its sole purpose. The truth and nothing but the truth so help us God. The Hegelian dialectic as well as others and science alike are tools for us to discern and establish the truth.
We live in fact driven societies and yet we have very little means to verify the facts presented to us to be true. Where you there when it happened? I wasn't...
We live on a planet that revolves around the Sun and unless one is an astronaut there is no way of knowing this to be true. We assume it is true because others tell us it is so. It somehow makes sense to us. It is the logical thing...
We trust our scientists and we believe our policy makers, but we should be mindful of the fact that words like trust and belief have no relevancy in the Hegelian dialectic nor may be relevant to those who apply its reasoning in real life.
Although Hegel has been seen in the 20th century as the originator of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis triad, Hegel however, never used it as an explicit phrase and the origins of the Hegelian dialectic must be attributed to Johann Gottlieb Fichte.
- Portrait of Hegel by Jakob Schlesinger (1792-1855) - Photographer unknown, public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=615903