In classical philosophy, dialectic (διαλεκτική) is controversy: the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments respectively advocating propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses). The outcome of the exercise might not simply be the refutation of one of the relevant points of view, but a synthesis or combination of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue. The presupposition of a dialectical dialogue is that the participants share at least some meanings and principles of valid inference, even if they do not agree.
In Medieval Europe, dialectics (or logic) was one of the three original liberal arts collectively known as the trivium (the other members are rhetoric and grammar). In ancient and medieval times both rhetoric and dialectic were understood to aim at being persuasive (through dialogue).
The aim of the dialectical method, often known as dialectic or dialectics, is to try to resolve the disagreement through rational discussion, and ultimately, the search for truth. 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 also reductio ad absurdum). Another way of trying to resolve a disagreement is by denying some presupposition of both the contending thesis and antithesis; thereby moving to a third (syn)thesis or "sublation". However, the rejection of the participant's presuppositions can be resisted, which might generate a second order controversy.
Within this broad qualification, dialectics have a rich and varied history. It has been stated that the history of dialectic is identical to the extensive history of philosophy.. The basic idea perhaps is already present in Heraclitus of Ephesus, who held that all is in constant change, as a result of inner strife and opposition Only fragments of his works and commentary remain, however. Briefly, the term "dialectic" owes much of its prestige to its role in the philosophy of Socrates and Plato, where it figures as the logical method of philosophy, which these thinkers apply by developing an elenchus, that is cross-examination for the purpose of refutation. According to Aristotle, it was Zeno of Elea who 'invented' dialectic.
In Hinduism, certain dialectical elements can be found in the embryo, such as the idea of the three phases of creation (Brahma), maintenance of order (Vishnu) and destruction or disorder (Shiva). Hindu dialectic is discussed by Hegel, Engels, and Ian Stewart, who has written on Chaos Theory. Stewart establishes that the relationship between the gods Shiva and Vishnu is not the antagonism between good and evil, but the dynamic and developmental relationship of harmony and discord.
The very earliest religious writings in ancient India, the Vedas, which date from around 1500 BC, in a formal sense, are hymns to the gods, but as Hegel also points out, Eastern religions are very philosophical in character. The gods have less of a personal character and are more akin to general concepts and symbols. We find these elements of dialectics in Hinduism as Engels has explained . The deities of the Vedas may be fruitfully engaged as personifications and manifestations of aspects of the ultimate truth and reality, Dharma.
Syādvāda is the theory of conditioned predication which provides an expression to anekānta by recommending that epithet Syād be attached to every expression. 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. 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:
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 elaborate, thus wrong.
Hegelian dialectic, usually presented 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. This model is named after Hegel but he himself never used such a formulation and denounced such ways of thinking. Rather it is due to Fichte. Hegel himself preferred 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.
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.
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 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.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 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"
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.
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".. 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 that he also terms Aufhebung (sublation): Something is only what it is in its relationship 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, a somewhat and an another. As a result of the negation of the negation, "something becomes an other; this other is itself somewhat; therefore it likewise becomes an other, and so on ad infinitum". Something in its passage into other only joins with itself, it is self-related.. In becoming there are two moments: 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) is on the one hand ceases to be and is put to an end, but on the other hand it is preserved and maintained. In dialectics, a totality transform itself, it is self-related.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels believed Hegel was "standing on his head," and endeavoured to put him back on his feet, ridding Hegel's logic of its orientation towards philosophical idealism, and conceiving what is now known as materialist or Marxist dialectics. This is what Marx had to say about the difference between Hegel's dialectics and his own:
In the work of Marx and Engels the dialectical approach to the study of history became intertwined with historical materialism, the school of thought exemplified by the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. (Marx himself never referred to "historical materialism.") A dialectical methodology came to be seen as the vital foundation for any Marxist politics, through the work of Karl Korsch, Georg Lukács and certain members of the Frankfurt School. Under Stalin, Marxist dialectics became synonymous with what was called "diamat" (short for dialectical materialism). The "diamat" was a social theory coined by 19th century philosophy Joseph Dietzgen which emphasized commodities and the effects of their exchange over time. Dietzgen used his theory sparingly to explain the nature of socialism and social development, but it was never researched academically until the Soviet Union indoctrinated the philosophy. Some Soviet academics, most notably Evald Ilyenkov, continued with unorthodox philosophical studies of the Marxist dialectic, as did a number of thinkers in the West. One of the best known North American dialectical philosophers is Bertell Ollman, Professor of Political Science at New York University.
Engels argued that all of nature is dialectical. In Anti-Dühring he contends that negation of negation is
In Dialectics of Nature, Engels states,
Marxists view dialectics as a framework for development in which contradiction plays the central role as the source of development. This is perhaps best exemplified in Marx's Capital, which outlines two of his central theories: that of the theory of surplus value and the materialist conception of history. In Capital, Marx had the following to say about his dialectical methodology:
At the heart of Marxist dialectics is the idea of contradiction, with class struggle playing the central role in social and political life. Marx and subsequent Marxists also identify other historically important contradictions, such as those between mental and manual labor and town and country. Contradiction is the key to all other categories and principles of dialectical development: development by passage of quantitative change into qualitative ones, interruption of gradualness, leaps, negation of the initial moment of development and negation of this very negation, and repetition at a higher level of some of the features and aspects of the original state.
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) have ventured to bridge.
It is generally thought that whilst there are a few notable exceptions, in general 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. In America and Britain, by contrast, 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:
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" 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 Hegel's thought (unjustly, in the view of some philosophers, such as Walter Kaufmann,) 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" (The Open Society and Its Enemies, 5th rev. ed., vol. 2 [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966], p. 395).
Popper's interpretation however makes it difficult to explain why politicians hailing the cause of human freedom argue that "history will prove them right"
Göhler, Gerhard (1980): Die Reduktion der Dialektik durch marx. Strukturveraenderungen der dialektischen Entwicklung in der Kritik der Politischen Oekonomie, Stuttgart
Kimmerle, Heinz (Edit.) (1986): Dialektik – Modelle von Marx bis Althusser. Beitraege der Bochumer Dialektik – Arbeitsgemeinschaft, Bochum