Dialectically Speaking

I have spent an inordinate amount of time over the years trying to understand the dialectic. There are different kinds of dialectic. Plato’s for example. But I am thinking particular of Hegel’s. He laid out the "structure" or "form" of the dialectic pretty clearly. Thesis; Antithesis; Synthesis. Usually this form if represented pictorially by a triangle:



This looks simple enough, I guess. It’s the kind of things teachers like to draw and then stop talking about it. Because actually the whole damn thing is damn complicated. Hegel appears to claim for example that the synthesis does not represent a canceling out or answer to or something like that to the first two terms (thesis, antithesis) but that the first two terms are lifted up and preserved in the synthesis. He uses the word "aufhebung" frequently translated as sublated." Or to put it another way, nothing is lost in the process of the dialectic.

I have been interested in this partly because I am interested in the dialectic and partly because I am interested in the development of the psyche-soma. In the development of the psyche soma–nothing is cancelled out, everything is retained starting in the womb. Without the first primordial steps in the womb, none of the later steps in the development would be possible. Or for example, some people are concerned–whether they should be or not–when their child begins to walk and never crawls. Crawling is a prelude–and some thing necessary–for the next state of walking.

So in these diagrams I am trying…with great difficult..to fathom the notion of sublation. Yes, the primal steps are necessary. But more than that the steps that come later are not "higher" or "superior" stages of development–since all the steps in the development are necessary to the overall developmental process. It is hard to call the primal steps inferior when no steps would be possible without them.

The following represents my attempt to think about this critical issue of sublation (also related to the negation of the negation).



Here I plug some simple concepts into the dialectical triangle. Sometimes under thesis I have seen A and under antithesis I have see Not A. The synthesis would be then (A=not A). This suggests a pretty unstable configuration and one reason the more logically oriented have dismissed the dialectic entirely. How can A equal Not A? But here comes the negation of the negation (necessary to preserve the sublation as it appears in the synthesis). A is negated by Not A which turns out to be A in the synthesis as the negation of the negation (not A).

So I write in yes and then no which is the opposite of yes; and I arrive at Maybe–which preserves both the yes and the no–but in qualified form. The definitive yes and the definitive no are both cancelled out, yet preserved (I think) in "maybe."

Here’s level two:




Here again, I attempt to preserve, sublate, all the terms so far encountered. The prior synthesis splits to become maybe yes or maybe no. Now things get even more tricky. Hegel’s dialectic feels like it jumps; and people have complained about the transitions in the Phenomenology of Mind. Like, OK, I buy this, but how the hell do you get in the above diagram from maybe yes maybe no to Who Knows? Hell, it seems like a logical step to me…Maybe Yes, Maybe No..who knows? Also I think I am doing what Hegel does overall which is to move from the flat assertion of the truth of something–yes this is so, no this is not–to the role of the human subject in the construction of "knowledge."

Take the nature and nurture debate. Personally I consider this a completely sterile chicken-egg debate. Scientists have tried to study the subject statistically and come up with the surprising conclusion, hey, as far as we can tell it’s 50% nature, 50% nurture. Freaking idiots. More alarmingly though as I see it is the fact that this question is viewed sub species aeternitatis (i.e. outside of and beyond time). Given this perspective, the subject (i.e. the person who is nurtured or natured) is completely left out of the equation BECAUSE the subject exists only in and by means of time. So there may be a sort of logic to my "who knows" because I am returning to and rooting the prior terms of my dialect in a subject, a who, that exists in time

OK…here comes level 3:



Well, I am not entirely satisfied with this third step. True, I have preserved the terms, all terms so far, in the thesis and then in the antithesis; but the synthesis strikes me as lame. Maybe I should drop that "can" and just go with "Who knows maybe yes, maybe no." Or perhaps I am getting at the idea or the question of whether or not it is possible to claim that one knows "confusion," or "conflict," or "contradiction," or "ambiguity" or "paradox." And perhaps also if one can claim to know "ambiguity" is one claming to know the unknowable as "ambiguity" and so in the process closing off the dialectic completely.

I don’t know frankly. Frankly I don’t know what it is even that I am trying to think. But this may say something about the dialectic generally; it’s a bit of a trip; it can turn this way or that at any one of its hinges. The idea here–if there is an idea at all–Hegel would probably call it a notion, not an idea–is "knowable" only in its unfolding.

Enough unfolding for now. But I am pretty sure this idea of the dialectic is related to the bildung and the bildung in turn is related to a view of the education as developmental or as rooted in the development of the individual.


3 Replies to “Dialectically Speaking”

  1. Hey Nick, is your birthday the 12th or the 14th? One is your birthday and the other is their anniversery….whichever, Happy Birthday! Sometimes the dialectic is called three-value logic, which used to really throw a monkey-wrench into things in our symbolic logic class at UCI grad school…..on a gut level, I think the dialectic is experienced in process philosophy….or even in existential philosophy…..do we start with a blank slate and then build up our reality, or do we carve our own little niche out of a huge dark glob of what is?

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