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Hegel’s Dialectics

“Dialectics” is a term used to describe a method of philosophical argument that involves some sort of contradictory process between opposing sides. In what is perhaps the most classic version of “dialectics”, the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato (see entry on Plato ), for instance, presented his philosophical argument as a back-and-forth dialogue or debate, generally between the character of Socrates, on one side, and some person or group of people to whom Socrates was talking (his interlocutors), on the other. In the course of the dialogues, Socrates’ interlocutors propose definitions of philosophical concepts or express views that Socrates challenges or opposes. The back-and-forth debate between opposing sides produces a kind of linear progression or evolution in philosophical views or positions: as the dialogues go along, Socrates’ interlocutors change or refine their views in response to Socrates’ challenges and come to adopt more sophisticated views. The back-and-forth dialectic between Socrates and his interlocutors thus becomes Plato’s way of arguing against the earlier, less sophisticated views or positions and for the more sophisticated ones later.

“Hegel’s dialectics” refers to the particular dialectical method of argument employed by the 19th Century German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel (see entry on Hegel ), which, like other “dialectical” methods, relies on a contradictory process between opposing sides. Whereas Plato’s “opposing sides” were people (Socrates and his interlocutors), however, what the “opposing sides” are in Hegel’s work depends on the subject matter he discusses. In his work on logic, for instance, the “opposing sides” are different definitions of logical concepts that are opposed to one another. In the Phenomenology of Spirit , which presents Hegel’s epistemology or philosophy of knowledge, the “opposing sides” are different definitions of consciousness and of the object that consciousness is aware of or claims to know. As in Plato’s dialogues, a contradictory process between “opposing sides” in Hegel’s dialectics leads to a linear evolution or development from less sophisticated definitions or views to more sophisticated ones later. The dialectical process thus constitutes Hegel’s method for arguing against the earlier, less sophisticated definitions or views and for the more sophisticated ones later. Hegel regarded this dialectical method or “speculative mode of cognition” (PR §10) as the hallmark of his philosophy and used the same method in the Phenomenology of Spirit [PhG], as well as in all of the mature works he published later—the entire Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences (including, as its first part, the “Lesser Logic” or the Encyclopaedia Logic [EL]), the Science of Logic [SL], and the Philosophy of Right [PR].

Note that, although Hegel acknowledged that his dialectical method was part of a philosophical tradition stretching back to Plato, he criticized Plato’s version of dialectics. He argued that Plato’s dialectics deals only with limited philosophical claims and is unable to get beyond skepticism or nothingness (SL-M 55–6; SL-dG 34–5; PR, Remark to §31). According to the logic of a traditional reductio ad absurdum argument, if the premises of an argument lead to a contradiction, we must conclude that the premises are false—which leaves us with no premises or with nothing. We must then wait around for new premises to spring up arbitrarily from somewhere else, and then see whether those new premises put us back into nothingness or emptiness once again, if they, too, lead to a contradiction. Because Hegel believed that reason necessarily generates contradictions, as we will see, he thought new premises will indeed produce further contradictions. As he puts the argument, then,

the scepticism that ends up with the bare abstraction of nothingness or emptiness cannot get any further from there, but must wait to see whether something new comes along and what it is, in order to throw it too into the same empty abyss. (PhG-M §79)

Hegel argues that, because Plato’s dialectics cannot get beyond arbitrariness and skepticism, it generates only approximate truths, and falls short of being a genuine science (SL-M 55–6; SL-dG 34–5; PR, Remark to §31; cf. EL Remark to §81). The following sections examine Hegel’s dialectics as well as these issues in more detail.

1. Hegel’s description of his dialectical method

2. applying hegel’s dialectical method to his arguments, 3. why does hegel use dialectics, 4. is hegel’s dialectical method logical, 5. syntactic patterns and special terminology in hegel’s dialectics, english translations of key texts by hegel, english translations of other primary sources, secondary literature, other internet resources, related entries.

Hegel provides the most extensive, general account of his dialectical method in Part I of his Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences , which is often called the Encyclopaedia Logic [EL]. The form or presentation of logic, he says, has three sides or moments (EL §79). These sides are not parts of logic, but, rather, moments of “every concept”, as well as “of everything true in general” (EL Remark to §79; we will see why Hegel thought dialectics is in everything in section 3 ). The first moment—the moment of the understanding—is the moment of fixity, in which concepts or forms have a seemingly stable definition or determination (EL §80).

The second moment—the “ dialectical ” (EL §§79, 81) or “ negatively rational ” (EL §79) moment—is the moment of instability. In this moment, a one-sidedness or restrictedness (EL Remark to §81) in the determination from the moment of understanding comes to the fore, and the determination that was fixed in the first moment passes into its opposite (EL §81). Hegel describes this process as a process of “self-sublation” (EL §81). The English verb “to sublate” translates Hegel’s technical use of the German verb aufheben , which is a crucial concept in his dialectical method. Hegel says that aufheben has a doubled meaning: it means both to cancel (or negate) and to preserve at the same time (PhG §113; SL-M 107; SL-dG 81–2; cf. EL the Addition to §95). The moment of understanding sublates itself because its own character or nature—its one-sidedness or restrictedness—destabilizes its definition and leads it to pass into its opposite. The dialectical moment thus involves a process of self -sublation, or a process in which the determination from the moment of understanding sublates itself , or both cancels and preserves itself , as it pushes on to or passes into its opposite.

The third moment—the “ speculative ” or “ positively rational ” (EL §§79, 82) moment—grasps the unity of the opposition between the first two determinations, or is the positive result of the dissolution or transition of those determinations (EL §82 and Remark to §82). Here, Hegel rejects the traditional, reductio ad absurdum argument, which says that when the premises of an argument lead to a contradiction, then the premises must be discarded altogether, leaving nothing. As Hegel suggests in the Phenomenology , such an argument

is just the skepticism which only ever sees pure nothingness in its result and abstracts from the fact that this nothingness is specifically the nothingness of that from which it results . (PhG-M §79)

Although the speculative moment negates the contradiction, it is a determinate or defined nothingness because it is the result of a specific process. There is something particular about the determination in the moment of understanding—a specific weakness, or some specific aspect that was ignored in its one-sidedness or restrictedness—that leads it to fall apart in the dialectical moment. The speculative moment has a definition, determination or content because it grows out of and unifies the particular character of those earlier determinations, or is “a unity of distinct determinations ” (EL Remark to §82). The speculative moment is thus “truly not empty, abstract nothing , but the negation of certain determinations ” (EL-GSH §82). When the result “is taken as the result of that from which it emerges”, Hegel says, then it is “in fact, the true result; in that case it is itself a determinate nothingness, one which has a content” (PhG-M §79). As he also puts it, “the result is conceived as it is in truth, namely, as a determinate negation [ bestimmte Negation]; a new form has thereby immediately arisen” (PhG-M §79). Or, as he says, “[b]ecause the result, the negation, is a determinate negation [bestimmte Negation ], it has a content ” (SL-dG 33; cf. SL-M 54). Hegel’s claim in both the Phenomenology and the Science of Logic that his philosophy relies on a process of “ determinate negation [ bestimmte Negation]” has sometimes led scholars to describe his dialectics as a method or doctrine of “determinate negation” (see entry on Hegel, section on Science of Logic ; cf. Rosen 1982: 30; Stewart 1996, 2000: 41–3; Winfield 1990: 56).

There are several features of this account that Hegel thinks raise his dialectical method above the arbitrariness of Plato’s dialectics to the level of a genuine science. First, because the determinations in the moment of understanding sublate themselves , Hegel’s dialectics does not require some new idea to show up arbitrarily. Instead, the movement to new determinations is driven by the nature of the earlier determinations and so “comes about on its own accord” (PhG-P §79). Indeed, for Hegel, the movement is driven by necessity (see, e.g., EL Remarks to §§12, 42, 81, 87, 88; PhG §79). The natures of the determinations themselves drive or force them to pass into their opposites. This sense of necessity —the idea that the method involves being forced from earlier moments to later ones—leads Hegel to regard his dialectics as a kind of logic . As he says in the Phenomenology , the method’s “proper exposition belongs to logic” (PhG-M §48). Necessity—the sense of being driven or forced to conclusions—is the hallmark of “logic” in Western philosophy.

Second, because the form or determination that arises is the result of the self-sublation of the determination from the moment of understanding, there is no need for some new idea to show up from the outside. Instead, the transition to the new determination or form is necessitated by earlier moments and hence grows out of the process itself. Unlike in Plato’s arbitrary dialectics, then—which must wait around until some other idea comes in from the outside—in Hegel’s dialectics “nothing extraneous is introduced”, as he says (SL-M 54; cf. SL-dG 33). His dialectics is driven by the nature, immanence or “inwardness” of its own content (SL-M 54; cf. SL-dG 33; cf. PR §31). As he puts it, dialectics is “the principle through which alone immanent coherence and necessity enter into the content of science” (EL-GSH Remark to §81).

Third, because later determinations “sublate” earlier determinations, the earlier determinations are not completely cancelled or negated. On the contrary, the earlier determinations are preserved in the sense that they remain in effect within the later determinations. When Being-for-itself, for instance, is introduced in the logic as the first concept of ideality or universality and is defined by embracing a set of “something-others”, Being-for-itself replaces the something-others as the new concept, but those something-others remain active within the definition of the concept of Being-for-itself. The something-others must continue to do the work of picking out individual somethings before the concept of Being-for-itself can have its own definition as the concept that gathers them up. Being-for-itself replaces the something-others, but it also preserves them, because its definition still requires them to do their work of picking out individual somethings (EL §§95–6).

The concept of “apple”, for example, as a Being-for-itself, would be defined by gathering up individual “somethings” that are the same as one another (as apples). Each individual apple can be what it is (as an apple) only in relation to an “other” that is the same “something” that it is (i.e., an apple). That is the one-sidedness or restrictedness that leads each “something” to pass into its “other” or opposite. The “somethings” are thus both “something-others”. Moreover, their defining processes lead to an endless process of passing back and forth into one another: one “something” can be what it is (as an apple) only in relation to another “something” that is the same as it is, which, in turn, can be what it is (an apple) only in relation to the other “something” that is the same as it is, and so on, back and forth, endlessly (cf. EL §95). The concept of “apple”, as a Being-for-itself, stops that endless, passing-over process by embracing or including the individual something-others (the apples) in its content. It grasps or captures their character or quality as apples . But the “something-others” must do their work of picking out and separating those individual items (the apples) before the concept of “apple”—as the Being-for-itself—can gather them up for its own definition. We can picture the concept of Being-for-itself like this:

an oval enclosing two circles, left and right; an arrow goes from the interior of each circle to the interior of the other. The oval has the statement 'Being-for-itself embraces the something-others in its content'. The circles have the statement 'the something-others'. The arrows have the statement 'the process of passing back-and-forth between the something-others'.

Later concepts thus replace, but also preserve, earlier concepts.

Fourth, later concepts both determine and also surpass the limits or finitude of earlier concepts. Earlier determinations sublate themselves —they pass into their others because of some weakness, one-sidedness or restrictedness in their own definitions. There are thus limitations in each of the determinations that lead them to pass into their opposites. As Hegel says, “that is what everything finite is: its own sublation” (EL-GSH Remark to §81). Later determinations define the finiteness of the earlier determinations. From the point of view of the concept of Being-for-itself, for instance, the concept of a “something-other” is limited or finite: although the something-others are supposed to be the same as one another, the character of their sameness (e.g., as apples) is captured only from above, by the higher-level, more universal concept of Being-for-itself. Being-for-itself reveals the limitations of the concept of a “something-other”. It also rises above those limitations, since it can do something that the concept of a something-other cannot do. Dialectics thus allows us to get beyond the finite to the universal. As Hegel puts it, “all genuine, nonexternal elevation above the finite is to be found in this principle [of dialectics]” (EL-GSH Remark to §81).

Fifth, because the determination in the speculative moment grasps the unity of the first two moments, Hegel’s dialectical method leads to concepts or forms that are increasingly comprehensive and universal. As Hegel puts it, the result of the dialectical process

is a new concept but one higher and richer than the preceding—richer because it negates or opposes the preceding and therefore contains it, and it contains even more than that, for it is the unity of itself and its opposite. (SL-dG 33; cf. SL-M 54)

Like Being-for-itself, later concepts are more universal because they unify or are built out of earlier determinations, and include those earlier determinations as part of their definitions. Indeed, many other concepts or determinations can also be depicted as literally surrounding earlier ones (cf. Maybee 2009: 73, 100, 112, 156, 193, 214, 221, 235, 458).

Finally, because the dialectical process leads to increasing comprehensiveness and universality, it ultimately produces a complete series, or drives “to completion” (SL-dG 33; cf. SL-M 54; PhG §79). Dialectics drives to the “Absolute”, to use Hegel’s term, which is the last, final, and completely all-encompassing or unconditioned concept or form in the relevant subject matter under discussion (logic, phenomenology, ethics/politics and so on). The “Absolute” concept or form is unconditioned because its definition or determination contains all the other concepts or forms that were developed earlier in the dialectical process for that subject matter. Moreover, because the process develops necessarily and comprehensively through each concept, form or determination, there are no determinations that are left out of the process. There are therefore no left-over concepts or forms—concepts or forms outside of the “Absolute”—that might “condition” or define it. The “Absolute” is thus unconditioned because it contains all of the conditions in its content, and is not conditioned by anything else outside of it. This Absolute is the highest concept or form of universality for that subject matter. It is the thought or concept of the whole conceptual system for the relevant subject matter. We can picture the Absolute Idea (EL §236), for instance—which is the “Absolute” for logic—as an oval that is filled up with and surrounds numerous, embedded rings of smaller ovals and circles, which represent all of the earlier and less universal determinations from the logical development (cf. Maybee 2009: 30, 600):

Five concentric ovals; the outermost one is labeled 'The Absolute Idea'.

Since the “Absolute” concepts for each subject matter lead into one another, when they are taken together, they constitute Hegel’s entire philosophical system, which, as Hegel says, “presents itself therefore as a circle of circles” (EL-GSH §15). We can picture the entire system like this (cf. Maybee 2009: 29):

A circle enclosing enclosing 10 ovals. One oval is labeled 'Phenomenology', another 'Logic', and two others 'Other philosophical subject matters'. The enclosing circle is labeled: the whole philosophical system as a 'circle of circles'

Together, Hegel believes, these characteristics make his dialectical method genuinely scientific. As he says, “the dialectical constitutes the moving soul of scientific progression” (EL-GSH Remark to §81). He acknowledges that a description of the method can be more or less complete and detailed, but because the method or progression is driven only by the subject matter itself, this dialectical method is the “only true method” (SL-M 54; SL-dG 33).

So far, we have seen how Hegel describes his dialectical method, but we have yet to see how we might read this method into the arguments he offers in his works. Scholars often use the first three stages of the logic as the “textbook example” (Forster 1993: 133) to illustrate how Hegel’s dialectical method should be applied to his arguments. The logic begins with the simple and immediate concept of pure Being, which is said to illustrate the moment of the understanding. We can think of Being here as a concept of pure presence. It is not mediated by any other concept—or is not defined in relation to any other concept—and so is undetermined or has no further determination (EL §86; SL-M 82; SL-dG 59). It asserts bare presence, but what that presence is like has no further determination. Because the thought of pure Being is undetermined and so is a pure abstraction, however, it is really no different from the assertion of pure negation or the absolutely negative (EL §87). It is therefore equally a Nothing (SL-M 82; SL-dG 59). Being’s lack of determination thus leads it to sublate itself and pass into the concept of Nothing (EL §87; SL-M 82; SL-dG 59), which illustrates the dialectical moment.

But if we focus for a moment on the definitions of Being and Nothing themselves, their definitions have the same content. Indeed, both are undetermined, so they have the same kind of undefined content. The only difference between them is “something merely meant ” (EL-GSH Remark to §87), namely, that Being is an undefined content, taken as or meant to be presence, while Nothing is an undefined content, taken as or meant to be absence. The third concept of the logic—which is used to illustrate the speculative moment—unifies the first two moments by capturing the positive result of—or the conclusion that we can draw from—the opposition between the first two moments. The concept of Becoming is the thought of an undefined content, taken as presence (Being) and then taken as absence (Nothing), or taken as absence (Nothing) and then taken as presence (Being). To Become is to go from Being to Nothing or from Nothing to Being, or is, as Hegel puts it, “the immediate vanishing of the one in the other” (SL-M 83; cf. SL-dG 60). The contradiction between Being and Nothing thus is not a reductio ad absurdum , or does not lead to the rejection of both concepts and hence to nothingness—as Hegel had said Plato’s dialectics does (SL-M 55–6; SL-dG 34–5)—but leads to a positive result, namely, to the introduction of a new concept—the synthesis—which unifies the two, earlier, opposed concepts.

We can also use the textbook Being-Nothing-Becoming example to illustrate Hegel’s concept of aufheben (to sublate), which, as we saw, means to cancel (or negate) and to preserve at the same time. Hegel says that the concept of Becoming sublates the concepts of Being and Nothing (SL-M 105; SL-dG 80). Becoming cancels or negates Being and Nothing because it is a new concept that replaces the earlier concepts; but it also preserves Being and Nothing because it relies on those earlier concepts for its own definition. Indeed, it is the first concrete concept in the logic. Unlike Being and Nothing, which had no definition or determination as concepts themselves and so were merely abstract (SL-M 82–3; SL-dG 59–60; cf. EL Addition to §88), Becoming is a “ determinate unity in which there is both Being and Nothing” (SL-M 105; cf. SL-dG 80). Becoming succeeds in having a definition or determination because it is defined by, or piggy-backs on, the concepts of Being and Nothing.

This “textbook” Being-Nothing-Becoming example is closely connected to the traditional idea that Hegel’s dialectics follows a thesis-antithesis-synthesis pattern, which, when applied to the logic, means that one concept is introduced as a “thesis” or positive concept, which then develops into a second concept that negates or is opposed to the first or is its “antithesis”, which in turn leads to a third concept, the “synthesis”, that unifies the first two (see, e.g., McTaggert 1964 [1910]: 3–4; Mure 1950: 302; Stace, 1955 [1924]: 90–3, 125–6; Kosek 1972: 243; E. Harris 1983: 93–7; Singer 1983: 77–79). Versions of this interpretation of Hegel’s dialectics continue to have currency (e.g., Forster 1993: 131; Stewart 2000: 39, 55; Fritzman 2014: 3–5). On this reading, Being is the positive moment or thesis, Nothing is the negative moment or antithesis, and Becoming is the moment of aufheben or synthesis—the concept that cancels and preserves, or unifies and combines, Being and Nothing.

We must be careful, however, not to apply this textbook example too dogmatically to the rest of Hegel’s logic or to his dialectical method more generally (for a classic criticism of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis reading of Hegel’s dialectics, see Mueller 1958). There are other places where this general pattern might describe some of the transitions from stage to stage, but there are many more places where the development does not seem to fit this pattern very well. One place where the pattern seems to hold, for instance, is where the Measure (EL §107)—as the combination of Quality and Quantity—transitions into the Measureless (EL §107), which is opposed to it, which then in turn transitions into Essence, which is the unity or combination of the two earlier sides (EL §111). This series of transitions could be said to follow the general pattern captured by the “textbook example”: Measure would be the moment of the understanding or thesis, the Measureless would be the dialectical moment or antithesis, and Essence would be the speculative moment or synthesis that unifies the two earlier moments. However, before the transition to Essence takes place, the Measureless itself is redefined as a Measure (EL §109)—undercutting a precise parallel with the textbook Being-Nothing-Becoming example, since the transition from Measure to Essence would not follow a Measure-Measureless-Essence pattern, but rather a Measure-(Measureless?)-Measure-Essence pattern.

Other sections of Hegel’s philosophy do not fit the triadic, textbook example of Being-Nothing-Becoming at all, as even interpreters who have supported the traditional reading of Hegel’s dialectics have noted. After using the Being-Nothing-Becoming example to argue that Hegel’s dialectical method consists of “triads” whose members “are called the thesis, antithesis, synthesis” (Stace 1955 [1924]: 93), W.T. Stace, for instance, goes on to warn us that Hegel does not succeed in applying this pattern throughout the philosophical system. It is hard to see, Stace says, how the middle term of some of Hegel’s triads are the opposites or antitheses of the first term, “and there are even ‘triads’ which contain four terms!” (Stace 1955 [1924]: 97). As a matter of fact, one section of Hegel’s logic—the section on Cognition—violates the thesis-antithesis-synthesis pattern because it has only two sub-divisions, rather than three. “The triad is incomplete”, Stace complains. “There is no third. Hegel here abandons the triadic method. Nor is any explanation of his having done so forthcoming” (Stace 1955 [1924]: 286; cf. McTaggart 1964 [1910]: 292).

Interpreters have offered various solutions to the complaint that Hegel’s dialectics sometimes seems to violate the triadic form. Some scholars apply the triadic form fairly loosely across several stages (e.g. Burbidge 1981: 43–5; Taylor 1975: 229–30). Others have applied Hegel’s triadic method to whole sections of his philosophy, rather than to individual stages. For G.R.G. Mure, for instance, the section on Cognition fits neatly into a triadic, thesis-antithesis-synthesis account of dialectics because the whole section is itself the antithesis of the previous section of Hegel’s logic, the section on Life (Mure 1950: 270). Mure argues that Hegel’s triadic form is easier to discern the more broadly we apply it. “The triadic form appears on many scales”, he says, “and the larger the scale we consider the more obvious it is” (Mure 1950: 302).

Scholars who interpret Hegel’s description of dialectics on a smaller scale—as an account of how to get from stage to stage—have also tried to explain why some sections seem to violate the triadic form. J.N. Findlay, for instance—who, like Stace, associates dialectics “with the triad , or with triplicity ”—argues that stages can fit into that form in “more than one sense” (Findlay 1962: 66). The first sense of triplicity echoes the textbook, Being-Nothing-Becoming example. In a second sense, however, Findlay says, the dialectical moment or “contradictory breakdown” is not itself a separate stage, or “does not count as one of the stages”, but is a transition between opposed, “but complementary”, abstract stages that “are developed more or less concurrently” (Findlay 1962: 66). This second sort of triplicity could involve any number of stages: it “could readily have been expanded into a quadruplicity, a quintuplicity and so forth” (Findlay 1962: 66). Still, like Stace, he goes on to complain that many of the transitions in Hegel’s philosophy do not seem to fit the triadic pattern very well. In some triads, the second term is “the direct and obvious contrary of the first”—as in the case of Being and Nothing. In other cases, however, the opposition is, as Findlay puts it, “of a much less extreme character” (Findlay 1962: 69). In some triads, the third term obviously mediates between the first two terms. In other cases, however, he says, the third term is just one possible mediator or unity among other possible ones; and, in yet other cases, “the reconciling functions of the third member are not at all obvious” (Findlay 1962: 70).

Let us look more closely at one place where the “textbook example” of Being-Nothing-Becoming does not seem to describe the dialectical development of Hegel’s logic very well. In a later stage of the logic, the concept of Purpose goes through several iterations, from Abstract Purpose (EL §204), to Finite or Immediate Purpose (EL §205), and then through several stages of a syllogism (EL §206) to Realized Purpose (EL §210). Abstract Purpose is the thought of any kind of purposiveness, where the purpose has not been further determined or defined. It includes not just the kinds of purposes that occur in consciousness, such as needs or drives, but also the “internal purposiveness” or teleological view proposed by the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle (see entry on Aristotle ; EL Remark to §204), according to which things in the world have essences and aim to achieve (or have the purpose of living up to) their essences. Finite Purpose is the moment in which an Abstract Purpose begins to have a determination by fixing on some particular material or content through which it will be realized (EL §205). The Finite Purpose then goes through a process in which it, as the Universality, comes to realize itself as the Purpose over the particular material or content (and hence becomes Realized Purpose) by pushing out into Particularity, then into Singularity (the syllogism U-P-S), and ultimately into ‘out-thereness,’ or into individual objects out there in the world (EL §210; cf. Maybee 2009: 466–493).

Hegel’s description of the development of Purpose does not seem to fit the textbook Being-Nothing-Becoming example or the thesis-antithesis-synthesis model. According to the example and model, Abstract Purpose would be the moment of understanding or thesis, Finite Purpose would be the dialectical moment or antithesis, and Realized Purpose would be the speculative moment or synthesis. Although Finite Purpose has a different determination from Abstract Purpose (it refines the definition of Abstract Purpose), it is hard to see how it would qualify as strictly “opposed” to or as the “antithesis” of Abstract Purpose in the way that Nothing is opposed to or is the antithesis of Being.

There is an answer, however, to the criticism that many of the determinations are not “opposites” in a strict sense. The German term that is translated as “opposite” in Hegel’s description of the moments of dialectics (EL §§81, 82)— entgegensetzen —has three root words: setzen (“to posit or set”), gegen , (“against”), and the prefix ent -, which indicates that something has entered into a new state. The verb entgegensetzen can therefore literally be translated as “to set over against”. The “ engegengesetzte ” into which determinations pass, then, do not need to be the strict “opposites” of the first, but can be determinations that are merely “set against” or are different from the first ones. And the prefix ent -, which suggests that the first determinations are put into a new state, can be explained by Hegel’s claim that the finite determinations from the moment of understanding sublate (cancel but also preserve) themselves (EL §81): later determinations put earlier determinations into a new state by preserving them.

At the same time, there is a technical sense in which a later determination would still be the “opposite” of the earlier determination. Since the second determination is different from the first one, it is the logical negation of the first one, or is not -the-first-determination. If the first determination is “e”, for instance, because the new determination is different from that one, the new one is “not-e” (Kosek 1972: 240). Since Finite Purpose, for instance, has a definition or determination that is different from the definition that Abstract Purpose has, it is not -Abstract-Purpose, or is the negation or opposite of Abstract Purpose in that sense. There is therefore a technical, logical sense in which the second concept or form is the “opposite” or negation of—or is “not”—the first one—though, again, it need not be the “opposite” of the first one in a strict sense.

Other problems remain, however. Because the concept of Realized Purpose is defined through a syllogistic process, it is itself the product of several stages of development (at least four, by my count, if Realized Purpose counts as a separate determination), which would seem to violate a triadic model. Moreover, the concept of Realized Purpose does not, strictly speaking, seem to be the unity or combination of Abstract Purpose and Finite Purpose. Realized Purpose is the result of (and so unifies) the syllogistic process of Finite Purpose, through which Finite Purpose focuses on and is realized in a particular material or content. Realized Purpose thus seems to be a development of Finite Purpose, rather than a unity or combination of Abstract Purpose and Finite Purpose, in the way that Becoming can be said to be the unity or combination of Being and Nothing.

These sorts of considerations have led some scholars to interpret Hegel’s dialectics in a way that is implied by a more literal reading of his claim, in the Encyclopaedia Logic , that the three “sides” of the form of logic—namely, the moment of understanding, the dialectical moment, and the speculative moment—“are moments of each [or every; jedes ] logically-real , that is each [or every; jedes ] concept” (EL Remark to §79; this is an alternative translation). The quotation suggests that each concept goes through all three moments of the dialectical process—a suggestion reinforced by Hegel’s claim, in the Phenomenology , that the result of the process of determinate negation is that “a new form has thereby immediately arisen” (PhG-M §79). According to this interpretation, the three “sides” are not three different concepts or forms that are related to one another in a triad—as the textbook Being-Nothing-Becoming example suggests—but rather different momentary sides or “determinations” in the life, so to speak, of each concept or form as it transitions to the next one. The three moments thus involve only two concepts or forms: the one that comes first, and the one that comes next (examples of philosophers who interpret Hegel’s dialectics in this second way include Maybee 2009; Priest 1989: 402; Rosen 2014: 122, 132; and Winfield 1990: 56).

For the concept of Being, for example, its moment of understanding is its moment of stability, in which it is asserted to be pure presence. This determination is one-sided or restricted however, because, as we saw, it ignores another aspect of Being’s definition, namely, that Being has no content or determination, which is how Being is defined in its dialectical moment. Being thus sublates itself because the one-sidedness of its moment of understanding undermines that determination and leads to the definition it has in the dialectical moment. The speculative moment draws out the implications of these moments: it asserts that Being (as pure presence) implies nothing. It is also the “unity of the determinations in their comparison [ Entgegensetzung ]” (EL §82; alternative translation): since it captures a process from one to the other, it includes Being’s moment of understanding (as pure presence) and dialectical moment (as nothing or undetermined), but also compares those two determinations, or sets (- setzen ) them up against (- gegen ) each other. It even puts Being into a new state (as the prefix ent - suggests) because the next concept, Nothing, will sublate (cancel and preserve) Being.

The concept of Nothing also has all three moments. When it is asserted to be the speculative result of the concept of Being, it has its moment of understanding or stability: it is Nothing, defined as pure absence, as the absence of determination. But Nothing’s moment of understanding is also one-sided or restricted: like Being, Nothing is also an undefined content, which is its determination in its dialectical moment. Nothing thus sublates itself : since it is an undefined content , it is not pure absence after all, but has the same presence that Being did. It is present as an undefined content . Nothing thus sublates Being: it replaces (cancels) Being, but also preserves Being insofar as it has the same definition (as an undefined content) and presence that Being had. We can picture Being and Nothing like this (the circles have dashed outlines to indicate that, as concepts, they are each undefined; cf. Maybee 2009: 51):

two circles with dashed outlines, one labeled 'Being' and one 'Nothing'.

In its speculative moment, then, Nothing implies presence or Being, which is the “unity of the determinations in their comparison [ Entgegensetzung ]” (EL §82; alternative translation), since it both includes but—as a process from one to the other—also compares the two earlier determinations of Nothing, first, as pure absence and, second, as just as much presence.

The dialectical process is driven to the next concept or form—Becoming—not by a triadic, thesis-antithesis-synthesis pattern, but by the one-sidedness of Nothing—which leads Nothing to sublate itself—and by the implications of the process so far. Since Being and Nothing have each been exhaustively analyzed as separate concepts, and since they are the only concepts in play, there is only one way for the dialectical process to move forward: whatever concept comes next will have to take account of both Being and Nothing at the same time. Moreover, the process revealed that an undefined content taken to be presence (i.e., Being) implies Nothing (or absence), and that an undefined content taken to be absence (i.e., Nothing) implies presence (i.e., Being). The next concept, then, takes Being and Nothing together and draws out those implications—namely, that Being implies Nothing, and that Nothing implies Being. It is therefore Becoming, defined as two separate processes: one in which Being becomes Nothing, and one in which Nothing becomes Being. We can picture Becoming this way (cf. Maybee 2009: 53):

Same as the previous figure except arched arrows from the Nothing circle to the Being circle and vice versa. The arrows are labeled 'Becoming'.

In a similar way, a one-sidedness or restrictedness in the determination of Finite Purpose together with the implications of earlier stages leads to Realized Purpose. In its moment of understanding, Finite Purpose particularizes into (or presents) its content as “ something-presupposed ” or as a pre-given object (EL §205). I go to a restaurant for the purpose of having dinner, for instance, and order a salad. My purpose of having dinner particularizes as a pre-given object—the salad. But this object or particularity—e.g. the salad—is “inwardly reflected” (EL §205): it has its own content—developed in earlier stages—which the definition of Finite Purpose ignores. We can picture Finite Purpose this way:

4 concentric ovals with the innermost one enclosing an oval and a circle; an arrow points inward from the outermost oval and is labeled 'Presents into or particularizes as'. The outermost oval is labeled 'Finite Purpose (the universality; e.g. 'dinner')'. The next most oval is labeled 'A pre-given object (e.g., 'salad')'. The next oval and the circle and oval in the center are labeled 'The content of the object, developed in earlier stages, that Finite Purpose is ignoring'.

In the dialectical moment, Finite Purpose is determined by the previously ignored content, or by that other content. The one-sidedness of Finite Purpose requires the dialectical process to continue through a series of syllogisms that determines Finite Purpose in relation to the ignored content. The first syllogism links the Finite Purpose to the first layer of content in the object: the Purpose or universality (e.g., dinner) goes through the particularity (e.g., the salad) to its content, the singularity (e.g., lettuce as a type of thing)—the syllogism U-P-S (EL §206). But the particularity (e.g., the salad) is itself a universality or purpose, “which at the same time is a syllogism within itself [ in sich ]” (EL Remark to §208; alternative translation), in relation to its own content. The salad is a universality/purpose that particularizes as lettuce (as a type of thing) and has its singularity in this lettuce here—a second syllogism, U-P-S. Thus, the first singularity (e.g., “lettuce” as a type of thing)—which, in this second syllogism, is the particularity or P —“ judges ” (EL §207) or asserts that “ U is S ”: it says that “lettuce” as a universality ( U ) or type of thing is a singularity ( S ), or is “this lettuce here”, for instance. This new singularity (e.g. “this lettuce here”) is itself a combination of subjectivity and objectivity (EL §207): it is an Inner or identifying concept (“lettuce”) that is in a mutually-defining relationship (the circular arrow) with an Outer or out-thereness (“this here”) as its content. In the speculative moment, Finite Purpose is determined by the whole process of development from the moment of understanding—when it is defined by particularizing into a pre-given object with a content that it ignores—to its dialectical moment—when it is also defined by the previously ignored content. We can picture the speculative moment of Finite Purpose this way:

4 concentric ovals with the innermost one enclosing an oval and a circle; arrows point inward from the outermost 3 ovals to the next one in. The outermost oval is labeled 'Finite Purpose (the universality; e.g. 'dinner')'. The nextmost oval is labeled both 'The Particularity or object (e.g., 'salad')' and 'The object (e.g., 'salad') is also a Purpose or universality with its own syllogism'. The next oval is labeled both 'The Singularity (e.g., 'lettuce' as a type)' and 'The Particularity (e.g., 'lettuce' as type)'. And the 4th oval is labeled both 'Inner' and 'The Singularity (e.g., 'this lettuce is here')'. The circle in the middle is labeled 'Outer' and the oval in the middle 'Mutually-defining relationship'. The 3 interior ovals (not including the innermost) are also labeled 'The second syllogism U-P-S'. The 3 outer ovals are also labeled 'The first syllogism U-P-S'.

Finite Purpose’s speculative moment leads to Realized Purpose. As soon as Finite Purpose presents all the content, there is a return process (a series of return arrows) that establishes each layer and redefines Finite Purpose as Realized Purpose. The presence of “this lettuce here” establishes the actuality of “lettuce” as a type of thing (an Actuality is a concept that captures a mutually-defining relationship between an Inner and an Outer [EL §142]), which establishes the “salad”, which establishes “dinner” as the Realized Purpose over the whole process. We can picture Realized Purpose this way:

4 concentric ovals with the innermost one enclosing an oval and a circle; arrows point inward from the outermost 3 ovals to the next one in and arrows also point in the reverse direction. The outermost oval is labeled 'Realized Purpose: the Purpose (e.g., 'dinner') is established as the Purpose or universality over the whole content'. The outward pointing arrows are labeled 'The return process established the Purpose (e.g., 'dinner') as the Purpose or universality over the whole content'. The nextmost oval is labeled 'The object and second Purpose (e.g., 'salad')'. The one next in is labeled 'The Singularity/Particularity (e.g., 'lettuce' as a type)'. The 3rd inward oval is labeled 'The second Singularity (e.g., 'this lettuce is here')'.

If Hegel’s account of dialectics is a general description of the life of each concept or form, then any section can include as many or as few stages as the development requires. Instead of trying to squeeze the stages into a triadic form (cf. Solomon 1983: 22)—a technique Hegel himself rejects (PhG §50; cf. section 3 )—we can see the process as driven by each determination on its own account: what it succeeds in grasping (which allows it to be stable, for a moment of understanding), what it fails to grasp or capture (in its dialectical moment), and how it leads (in its speculative moment) to a new concept or form that tries to correct for the one-sidedness of the moment of understanding. This sort of process might reveal a kind of argument that, as Hegel had promised, might produce a comprehensive and exhaustive exploration of every concept, form or determination in each subject matter, as well as raise dialectics above a haphazard analysis of various philosophical views to the level of a genuine science.

We can begin to see why Hegel was motivated to use a dialectical method by examining the project he set for himself, particularly in relation to the work of David Hume and Immanuel Kant (see entries on Hume and Kant ). Hume had argued against what we can think of as the naïve view of how we come to have scientific knowledge. According to the naïve view, we gain knowledge of the world by using our senses to pull the world into our heads, so to speak. Although we may have to use careful observations and do experiments, our knowledge of the world is basically a mirror or copy of what the world is like. Hume argued, however, that naïve science’s claim that our knowledge corresponds to or copies what the world is like does not work. Take the scientific concept of cause, for instance. According to that concept of cause, to say that one event causes another is to say that there is a necessary connection between the first event (the cause) and the second event (the effect), such that, when the first event happens, the second event must also happen. According to naïve science, when we claim (or know) that some event causes some other event, our claim mirrors or copies what the world is like. It follows that the necessary, causal connection between the two events must itself be out there in the world. However, Hume argued, we never observe any such necessary causal connection in our experience of the world, nor can we infer that one exists based on our reasoning (see Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature , Book I, Part III, Section II; Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding , Section VII, Part I). There is nothing in the world itself that our idea of cause mirrors or copies.

Kant thought Hume’s argument led to an unacceptable, skeptical conclusion, and he rejected Hume’s own solution to the skepticism (see Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason , B5, B19–20). Hume suggested that our idea of causal necessity is grounded merely in custom or habit, since it is generated by our own imaginations after repeated observations of one sort of event following another sort of event (see Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature , Book I, Section VI; Hegel also rejected Hume’s solution, see EL §39). For Kant, science and knowledge should be grounded in reason, and he proposed a solution that aimed to reestablish the connection between reason and knowledge that was broken by Hume’s skeptical argument. Kant’s solution involved proposing a Copernican revolution in philosophy ( Critique of Pure Reason , Bxvi). Nicholas Copernicus was the Polish astronomer who said that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around. Kant proposed a similar solution to Hume’s skepticism. Naïve science assumes that our knowledge revolves around what the world is like, but, Hume’s criticism argued, this view entails that we cannot then have knowledge of scientific causes through reason. We can reestablish a connection between reason and knowledge, however, Kant suggested, if we say—not that knowledge revolves around what the world is like—but that knowledge revolves around what we are like . For the purposes of our knowledge, Kant said, we do not revolve around the world—the world revolves around us. Because we are rational creatures, we share a cognitive structure with one another that regularizes our experiences of the world. This intersubjectively shared structure of rationality—and not the world itself—grounds our knowledge.

However, Kant’s solution to Hume’s skepticism led to a skeptical conclusion of its own that Hegel rejected. While the intersubjectively shared structure of our reason might allow us to have knowledge of the world from our perspective, so to speak, we cannot get outside of our mental, rational structures to see what the world might be like in itself. As Kant had to admit, according to his theory, there is still a world in itself or “Thing-in-itself” ( Ding an sich ) about which we can know nothing (see, e.g., Critique of Pure Reason , Bxxv–xxvi). Hegel rejected Kant’s skeptical conclusion that we can know nothing about the world- or Thing-in-itself, and he intended his own philosophy to be a response to this view (see, e.g., EL §44 and the Remark to §44).

How did Hegel respond to Kant’s skepticism—especially since Hegel accepted Kant’s Copernican revolution, or Kant’s claim that we have knowledge of the world because of what we are like, because of our reason? How, for Hegel, can we get out of our heads to see the world as it is in itself? Hegel’s answer is very close to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s response to Plato. Plato argued that we have knowledge of the world only through the Forms. The Forms are perfectly universal, rational concepts or ideas. Because the world is imperfect, however, Plato exiled the Forms to their own realm. Although things in the world get their definitions by participating in the Forms, those things are, at best, imperfect copies of the universal Forms (see, e.g., Parmenides 131–135a). The Forms are therefore not in this world, but in a separate realm of their own. Aristotle argued, however, that the world is knowable not because things in the world are imperfect copies of the Forms, but because the Forms are in things themselves as the defining essences of those things (see, e.g., De Anima [ On the Soul ], Book I, Chapter 1 [403a26–403b18]; Metaphysics , Book VII, Chapter 6 [1031b6–1032a5] and Chapter 8 [1033b20–1034a8]).

In a similar way, Hegel’s answer to Kant is that we can get out of our heads to see what the world is like in itself—and hence can have knowledge of the world in itself—because the very same rationality or reason that is in our heads is in the world itself . As Hegel apparently put it in a lecture, the opposition or antithesis between the subjective and objective disappears by saying, as the Ancients did,

that nous governs the world, or by our own saying that there is reason in the world, by which we mean that reason is the soul of the world, inhabits it, and is immanent in it, as it own, innermost nature, its universal. (EL-GSH Addition 1 to §24)

Hegel used an example familiar from Aristotle’s work to illustrate this view:

“to be an animal”, the kind considered as the universal, pertains to the determinate animal and constitutes its determinate essentiality. If we were to deprive a dog of its animality we could not say what it is. (EL-GSH Addition 1 to §24; cf. SL-dG 16–17, SL-M 36-37)

Kant’s mistake, then, was that he regarded reason or rationality as only in our heads, Hegel suggests (EL §§43–44), rather than in both us and the world itself (see also below in this section and section 4 ). We can use our reason to have knowledge of the world because the very same reason that is in us, is in the world itself as it own defining principle. The rationality or reason in the world makes reality understandable, and that is why we can have knowledge of, or can understand, reality with our rationality. Dialectics—which is Hegel’s account of reason—characterizes not only logic, but also “everything true in general” (EL Remark to §79).

But why does Hegel come to define reason in terms of dialectics, and hence adopt a dialectical method? We can begin to see what drove Hegel to adopt a dialectical method by returning once again to Plato’s philosophy. Plato argued that we can have knowledge of the world only by grasping the Forms, which are perfectly universal, rational concepts or ideas. Because things in the world are so imperfect, however, Plato concluded that the Forms are not in this world, but in a realm of their own. After all, if a human being were perfectly beautiful, for instance, then he or she would never become not-beautiful. But human beings change, get old, and die, and so can be, at best, imperfect copies of the Form of beauty—though they get whatever beauty they have by participating in that Form. Moreover, for Plato, things in the world are such imperfect copies that we cannot gain knowledge of the Forms by studying things in the world, but only through reason, that is, only by using our rationality to access the separate realm of the Forms (as Plato argued in the well-known parable of the cave; Republic , Book 7, 514–516b).

Notice, however, that Plato’s conclusion that the Forms cannot be in this world and so must be exiled to a separate realm rests on two claims. First, it rests on the claim that the world is an imperfect and messy place—a claim that is hard to deny. But it also rests on the assumption that the Forms—the universal, rational concepts or ideas of reason itself—are static and fixed, and so cannot grasp the messiness within the imperfect world. Hegel is able to link reason back to our messy world by changing the definition of reason. Instead of saying that reason consists of static universals, concepts or ideas, Hegel says that the universal concepts or forms are themselves messy . Against Plato, Hegel’s dialectical method allows him to argue that universal concepts can “overgrasp” (from the German verb übergreifen ) the messy, dialectical nature of the world because they, themselves, are dialectical . Moreover, because later concepts build on or sublate (cancel, but also preserve) earlier concepts, the later, more universal concepts grasp the dialectical processes of earlier concepts. As a result, higher-level concepts can grasp not only the dialectical nature of earlier concepts or forms, but also the dialectical processes that make the world itself a messy place. The highest definition of the concept of beauty, for instance, would not take beauty to be fixed and static, but would include within it the dialectical nature or finiteness of beauty, the idea that beauty becomes, on its own account, not-beauty. This dialectical understanding of the concept of beauty can then overgrasp the dialectical and finite nature of beauty in the world, and hence the truth that, in the world, beautiful things themselves become not-beautiful, or might be beautiful in one respect and not another. Similarly, the highest determination of the concept of “tree” will include within its definition the dialectical process of development and change from seed to sapling to tree. As Hegel says, dialectics is “the principle of all natural and spiritual life” (SL-M 56; SL-dG 35), or “the moving soul of scientific progression” (EL §81). Dialectics is what drives the development of both reason as well as of things in the world. A dialectical reason can overgrasp a dialectical world.

Two further journeys into the history of philosophy will help to show why Hegel chose dialectics as his method of argument. As we saw, Hegel argues against Kant’s skepticism by suggesting that reason is not only in our heads, but in the world itself. To show that reason is in the world itself, however, Hegel has to show that reason can be what it is without us human beings to help it. He has to show that reason can develop on its own, and does not need us to do the developing for it (at least for those things in the world that are not human-created). As we saw (cf. section 1 ), central to Hegel’s dialectics is the idea that concepts or forms develop on their own because they “self-sublate”, or sublate (cancel and preserve) themselves , and so pass into subsequent concepts or forms on their own accounts, because of their own, dialectical natures. Thus reason, as it were, drives itself, and hence does not need our heads to develop it. Hegel needs an account of self-driving reason to get beyond Kant’s skepticism.

Ironically, Hegel derives the basic outlines of his account of self-driving reason from Kant. Kant divided human rationality into two faculties: the faculty of the understanding and the faculty of reason. The understanding uses concepts to organize and regularize our experiences of the world. Reason’s job is to coordinate the concepts and categories of the understanding by developing a completely unified, conceptual system, and it does this work, Kant thought, on its own, independently of how those concepts might apply to the world. Reason coordinates the concepts of the understanding by following out necessary chains of syllogisms to produce concepts that achieve higher and higher levels of conceptual unity. Indeed, this process will lead reason to produce its own transcendental ideas, or concepts that go beyond the world of experience. Kant calls this necessary, concept-creating reason “speculative” reason (cf. Critique of Pure Reason , Bxx–xxi, A327/B384). Reason creates its own concepts or ideas—it “speculates”—by generating new and increasingly comprehensive concepts of its own, independently of the understanding. In the end, Kant thought, reason will follow out such chains of syllogisms until it develops completely comprehensive or unconditioned universals—universals that contain all of the conditions or all of the less-comprehensive concepts that help to define them. As we saw (cf. section 1 ), Hegel’s dialectics adopts Kant’s notion of a self-driving and concept-creating “speculative” reason, as well as Kant’s idea that reason aims toward unconditioned universality or absolute concepts.

Ultimately, Kant thought, reasons’ necessary, self-driving activity will lead it to produce contradictions—what he called the “antinomies”, which consist of a thesis and antithesis. Once reason has generated the unconditioned concept of the whole world, for instance, Kant argued, it can look at the world in two, contradictory ways. In the first antinomy, reason can see the world (1) as the whole totality or as the unconditioned, or (2) as the series of syllogisms that led up to that totality. If reason sees the world as the unconditioned or as a complete whole that is not conditioned by anything else, then it will see the world as having a beginning and end in terms of space and time, and so will conclude (the thesis) that the world has a beginning and end or limit. But if reason sees the world as the series, in which each member of the series is conditioned by the previous member, then the world will appear to be without a beginning and infinite, and reason will conclude (the antithesis) that the world does not have a limit in terms of space and time (cf. Critique of Pure Reason , A417–18/B445–6). Reason thus leads to a contradiction: it holds both that the world has a limit and that it does not have a limit at the same time. Because reason’s own process of self-development will lead it to develop contradictions or to be dialectical in this way, Kant thought that reason must be kept in check by the understanding. Any conclusions that reason draws that do not fall within the purview of the understanding cannot be applied to the world of experience, Kant said, and so cannot be considered genuine knowledge ( Critique of Pure Reason , A506/B534).

Hegel adopts Kant’s dialectical conception of reason, but he liberates reason for knowledge from the tyranny of the understanding. Kant was right that reason speculatively generates concepts on its own, and that this speculative process is driven by necessity and leads to concepts of increasing universality or comprehensiveness. Kant was even right to suggest—as he had shown in the discussion of the antinomies—that reason is dialectical, or necessarily produces contradictions on its own. Again, Kant’s mistake was that he fell short of saying that these contradictions are in the world itself. He failed to apply the insights of his discussion of the antinomies to “ things in themselves ” (SL-M 56; SL-dG 35; see also section 4 ). Indeed, Kant’s own argument proves that the dialectical nature of reason can be applied to things themselves. The fact that reason develops those contradictions on its own, without our heads to help it , shows that those contradictions are not just in our heads, but are objective, or in the world itself. Kant, however, failed to draw this conclusion, and continued to regard reason’s conclusions as illusions. Still, Kant’s philosophy vindicated the general idea that the contradictions he took to be illusions are both objective—or out there in the world—and necessary. As Hegel puts it, Kant vindicates the general idea of “the objectivity of the illusion and the necessity of the contradiction which belongs to the nature of thought determinations” (SL-M 56; cf. SL-dG 35), or to the nature of concepts themselves.

The work of Johann Gottlieb Fichte (see entry on Fichte ) showed Hegel how dialectics can get beyond Kant—beyond the contradictions that, as Kant had shown, reason (necessarily) develops on its own, beyond the reductio ad absurdum argument (which, as we saw above, holds that a contradiction leads to nothingness), and beyond Kant’s skepticism, or Kant’s claim that reason’s contradictions must be reined in by the understanding and cannot count as knowledge. Fichte argued that the task of discovering the foundation of all human knowledge leads to a contradiction or opposition between the self and the not-self (it is not important, for our purposes, why Fichte held this view). The kind of reasoning that leads to this contradiction, Fichte said, is the analytical or antithetical method of reasoning, which involves drawing out an opposition between elements (in this case, the self and not-self) that are being compared to, or equated with, one another. While the traditional reductio ad absurdum argument would lead us to reject both sides of the contradiction and start from scratch, Fichte argued that the contradiction or opposition between the self and not-self can be resolved. In particular, the contradiction is resolved by positing a third concept—the concept of divisibility—which unites the two sides ( The Science of Knowledge , I: 110–11; Fichte 1982: 108–110). The concept of divisibility is produced by a synthetic procedure of reasoning, which involves “discovering in opposites the respect in which they are alike ” ( The Science of Knowledge , I: 112–13; Fichte 1982: 111). Indeed, Fichte argued, not only is the move to resolve contradictions with synthetic concepts or judgments possible, it is necessary . As he says of the move from the contradiction between self and not-self to the synthetic concept of divisibility,

there can be no further question as to the possibility of this [synthesis], nor can any ground for it be given; it is absolutely possible, and we are entitled to it without further grounds of any kind. ( The Science of Knowledge , I: 114; Fichte 1982: 112)

Since the analytical method leads to oppositions or contradictions, he argued, if we use only analytic judgments, “we not only do not get very far, as Kant says; we do not get anywhere at all” ( The Science of Knowledge , I: 113; Fichte 1982: 112). Without the synthetic concepts or judgments, we are left, as the classic reductio ad absurdum argument suggests, with nothing at all. The synthetic concepts or judgments are thus necessary to get beyond contradiction without leaving us with nothing.

Fichte’s account of the synthetic method provides Hegel with the key to moving beyond Kant. Fichte suggested that a synthetic concept that unifies the results of a dialectically-generated contradiction does not completely cancel the contradictory sides, but only limits them. As he said, in general, “[t]o limit something is to abolish its reality, not wholly , but in part only” ( The Science of Knowledge , I: 108; Fichte 1982: 108). Instead of concluding, as a reductio ad absurdum requires, that the two sides of a contradiction must be dismissed altogether, the synthetic concept or judgment retroactively justifies the opposing sides by demonstrating their limit, by showing which part of reality they attach to and which they do not ( The Science of Knowledge , I: 108–10; Fichte 1982: 108–9), or by determining in what respect and to what degree they are each true. For Hegel, as we saw (cf. section 1 ), later concepts and forms sublate—both cancel and preserve —earlier concepts and forms in the sense that they include earlier concepts and forms in their own definitions. From the point of view of the later concepts or forms, the earlier ones still have some validity, that is, they have a limited validity or truth defined by the higher-level concept or form.

Dialectically generated contradictions are therefore not a defect to be reigned in by the understanding, as Kant had said, but invitations for reason to “speculate”, that is, for reason to generate precisely the sort of increasingly comprehensive and universal concepts and forms that Kant had said reason aims to develop. Ultimately, Hegel thought, as we saw (cf. section 1 ), the dialectical process leads to a completely unconditioned concept or form for each subject matter—the Absolute Idea (logic), Absolute Spirit (phenomenology), Absolute Idea of right and law ( Philosophy of Right ), and so on—which, taken together, form the “circle of circles” (EL §15) that constitutes the whole philosophical system or “Idea” (EL §15) that both overgrasps the world and makes it understandable (for us).

Note that, while Hegel was clearly influenced by Fichte’s work, he never adopted Fichte’s triadic “thesis—antithesis—synthesis” language in his descriptions of his own philosophy (Mueller 1958: 411–2; Solomon 1983: 23), though he did apparently use it in his lectures to describe Kant’s philosophy (LHP III: 477). Indeed, Hegel criticized formalistic uses of the method of “ triplicity [Triplizität]” (PhG-P §50) inspired by Kant—a criticism that could well have been aimed at Fichte. Hegel argued that Kantian-inspired uses of triadic form had been reduced to “a lifeless schema” and “an actual semblance [ eigentlichen Scheinen ]” (PhG §50; alternative translation) that, like a formula in mathematics, was simply imposed on top of subject matters. Instead, a properly scientific use of Kant’s “triplicity” should flow—as he said his own dialectical method did (see section 1 )—out of “the inner life and self-movement” (PhG §51) of the content.

Scholars have often questioned whether Hegel’s dialectical method is logical. Some of their skepticism grows out of the role that contradiction plays in his thought and argument. While many of the oppositions embedded in the dialectical development and the definitions of concepts or forms are not contradictions in the strict sense, as we saw ( section 2 , above), scholars such as Graham Priest have suggested that some of them arguably are (Priest 1989: 391). Hegel even holds, against Kant (cf. section 3 above), that there are contradictions, not only in thought, but also in the world. Motion, for instance, Hegel says, is an “ existent contradiction”. As he describes it:

Something moves, not because now it is here and there at another now, but because in one and the same now it is here and not here, because in this here, it is and is not at the same time. (SL-dG 382; cf. SL-M 440)

Kant’s sorts of antinomies (cf. section 3 above) or contradictions more generally are therefore, as Hegel puts it in one place, “in all objects of all kinds, in all representations, concepts and ideas” (EL-GSH Remark to §48). Hegel thus seems to reject, as he himself explicitly claims (SL-M 439–40; SL-dG 381–82), the law of non-contradiction, which is a fundamental principle of formal logic—the classical, Aristotelian logic (see entries on Aristotle’s Logic and Contradiction ) that dominated during Hegel’s lifetime as well as the dominant systems of symbolic logic today (cf. Priest 1989: 391; Düsing 2010: 97–103). According to the law of non-contradiction, something cannot be both true and false at the same time or, put another way, “x” and “not-x” cannot both be true at the same time.

Hegel’s apparent rejection of the law of non-contradiction has led some interpreters to regard his dialectics as illogical, even “absurd” (Popper 1940: 420; 1962: 330; 2002: 443). Karl R. Popper, for instance, argued that accepting Hegel’s and other dialecticians’ rejection of the law of non-contradiction as part of both a logical theory and a general theory of the world “would mean a complete breakdown of science” (Popper 1940: 408; 1962: 317; 2002: 426). Since, according to today’s systems of symbolic logic, he suggested, the truth of a contradiction leads logically to any claim (any claim can logically be inferred from two contradictory claims), if we allow contradictory claims to be valid or true together, then we would have no reason to rule out any claim whatsoever (Popper 1940: 408–410; 1962: 317–319; 2002: 426–429).

Popper was notoriously hostile toward Hegel’s work (cf. Popper 2013: 242–289; for a scathing criticism of Popper’s analysis see Kaufmann 1976 [1972]), but, as Priest has noted (Priest 1989: 389–91), even some sympathetic interpreters have been inspired by today’s dominant systems of symbolic logic to hold that the kind of contradiction that is embedded in Hegel’s dialectics cannot be genuine contradiction in the strict sense. While Dieter Wandschneider, for instance, grants that his sympathetic theory of dialectic “is not presented as a faithful interpretation of the Hegelian text” (Wandschneider 2010: 32), he uses the same logical argument that Popper offered in defense of the claim that “dialectical contradiction is not a ‘normal’ contradiction, but one that is actually only an apparent contradiction” (Wandschneider 2010: 37). The suggestion (by the traditional, triadic account of Hegel’s dialectics, cf. section 2 , above) that Being and Nothing (or non-being) is a contradiction, for instance, he says, rests on an ambiguity. Being is an undefined content, taken to mean being or presence, while Nothing is an undefined content, taken to mean nothing or absence ( section 2 , above; cf. Wandschneider 2010: 34–35). Being is Nothing (or non-being) with respect to the property they have as concepts, namely, that they both have an undefined content. But Being is not Nothing (or non-being) with respect to their meaning (Wandschneider 2010: 34–38). The supposed contradiction between them, then, Wandschneider suggests, takes place “in different respects ”. It is therefore only an apparent contradiction. “Rightly understood”, he concludes, “there can be no talk of contradiction ” (Wandschneider 2010: 38).

Inoue Kazumi also argues that dialectical contradiction in the Hegelian sense does not violate the law of non-contradiction (Inoue 2014: 121–123), and he rejects Popper’s claim that Hegel’s dialectical method is incompatible with good science. A dialectical contradiction, Inoue says, is a contradiction that arises when the same topic is considered from different vantage points, but each vantage point by itself does not violate the law of non-contradiction (Inoue 2014: 120). The understanding leads to contradictions, as Hegel said (cf. section 3 above), because it examines a topic from a fixed point of view; reason embraces contradictions because it examines a topic from multiple points of view (Inoue 2014: 121). The geocentric theory that the sun revolves around the Earth and the heliocentric theory that the Earth revolves around the sun, for instance, Inoue suggests, are both correct from certain points of view. We live our everyday lives from a vantage point in which the sun makes a periodic rotation around the Earth roughly every 24 hours. Astronomers make their observations from a geocentric point of view and then translate those observations into a heliocentric one. From these points of view, the geocentric account is not incorrect. But physics, particularly in its concepts of mass and force, requires the heliocentric account. For science—which takes all these points of view into consideration—both theories are valid: they are dialectically contradictory, though neither theory, by itself, violates the law of non-contradiction (Inoue 2014: 126–127). To insist that the Earth really revolves around the sun is merely an irrational, reductive prejudice, theoretically and practically (Inoue 2014: 126). Dialectical contradictions, Inoue says, are, as Hegel said, constructive: they lead to concepts or points of view that grasp the world from ever wider and more encompassing perspectives, culminating ultimately in the “Absolute” (Inoue 2014: 121; cf. section 1 , above). Hegel’s claim that motion violates the law of non-contradiction, Inoue suggests, is an expression of the idea that contradictory claims can be true when motion is described from more than one point of view (Inoue 2014: 123). (For a similar reading of Hegel’s conception of dialectical contradiction, which influenced Inoue’s account [Inoue 2014: 121], see Düsing 2010: 102–103.)

Other interpreters, however, have been inspired by Hegel’s dialectics to develop alternative systems of logic that do not subscribe to the law of non-contradiction. Priest, for instance, has defended Hegel’s rejection of the law of non-contradiction (cf. Priest 1989; 1997 [2006: 4]). The acceptance of some contradictions, he has suggested, does not require the acceptance of all contradictions (Priest 1989: 392). Popper’s logical argument is also unconvincing. Contradictions lead logically to any claim whatsoever, as Popper said, only if we presuppose that nothing can be both true and false at the same time (i.e. only if we presuppose that the law of non-contradiction is correct), which is just what Hegel denies. Popper’s logical argument thus assumes what it is supposed to prove or begs the question (Priest 1989: 392; 1997 [2006: 5–6]), and so is not convincing. Moreover, consistency (not allowing contradictions), Priest suggests, is actually “a very weak constraint” (Priest 1997 [2006: 104]) on what counts as a rational inference. Other principles or criteria—such as being strongly disproved (or supported) by the data—are more important for determining whether a claim or inference is rational (Priest 1997 [2006: 105]). And, as Hegel pointed out, Priest says, the data—namely, “the world as it appears ” (as Hegel puts it in EL) or “ordinary experience itself” (as Hegel puts it in SL)—suggest that there are indeed contradictions (EL Remark to §48; SL-dG 382; cf. SL-M 440; Priest 1989: 389, 399–400). Hegel is right, for instance, Priest argues, that change, and motion in particular, are examples of real or existing contradictions (Priest 1985; 1989: 396–97; 1997 [2006: 172–181, 213–15]). What distinguishes motion, as a process, from a situation in which something is simply here at one time and then some other place at some other time is the embodiment of contradiction: that, in a process of motion, there is one (span of) time in which something is both here and not here at the same time (in that span of time) (Priest 1985: 340–341; 1997 [2006: 172–175, 213–214]). A system of logic, Priest suggests, is always just a theory about what good reasoning should be like (Priest 1989: 392). A dialectical logic that admits that there are “dialetheia” or true contradictions (Priest 1989: 388), he says, is a broader theory or version of logic than traditional, formal logics that subscribe to the law of non-contradiction. Those traditional logics apply only to topics or domains that are consistent, primarily domains that are “static and changeless” (Priest 1989: 391; cf. 395); dialectical/dialetheic logic handles consistent domains, but also applies to domains in which there are dialetheia. Thus Priest, extending Hegel’s own concept of aufheben (“to sublate”; cf. section 1 , above), suggests that traditional “formal logic is perfectly valid in its domain, but dialectical (dialetheic) logic is more general” (Priest 1989: 395). (For an earlier example of a logical system that allows contradiction and was inspired in part by Hegel [and Marx], see Jaśkowski 1999: 36 [1969: 143] [cf. Inoue 2014: 128–129]. For more on dialetheic logic generally, see the entry on Dialetheism .)

Worries that Hegel’s arguments fail to fit his account of dialectics (see section 2 , above) have led some interpreters to conclude that his method is arbitrary or that his works have no single dialectical method at all (Findlay 1962: 93; Solomon 1983: 21). These interpreters reject the idea that there is any logical necessity to the moves from stage to stage. “[T]he important point to make here, and again and again”, Robert C. Solomon writes, for instance,

is that the transition from the first form to the second, or the transition from the first form of the Phenomenology all the way to the last, is not in any way a deductive necessity. The connections are anything but entailments, and the Phenomenology could always take another route and other starting points. (Solomon 1983: 230)

In a footnote to this passage, Solomon adds “that a formalization of Hegel’s logic, however ingenious, is impossible” (Solomon 1983: 230).

Some scholars have argued that Hegel’s necessity is not intended to be logical necessity. Walter Kaufmann suggested, for instance, that the necessity at work in Hegel’s dialectic is a kind of organic necessity. The moves in the Phenomenology , he said, follow one another “in the way in which, to use a Hegelian image from the preface, bud, blossom and fruit succeed each other” (Kaufmann 1965: 148; 1966: 132). Findlay argued that later stages provide what he called a “ higher-order comment ” on earlier stages, even if later stages do not follow from earlier ones in a trivial way (Findlay 1966: 367). Solomon suggested that the necessity that Hegel wants is not “‘necessity’ in the modern sense of ‘logical necessity,’” (Solomon 1983: 209), but a kind of progression (Solomon 1983: 207), or a “necessity within a context for some purpose ” (Solomon 1983: 209). John Burbidge defines Hegel’s necessity in terms of three senses of the relationship between actuality and possibility, only the last of which is logical necessity (Burbidge 1981: 195–6).

Other scholars have defined the necessity of Hegel’s dialectics in terms of a transcendental argument. A transcendental argument begins with uncontroversial facts of experience and tries to show that other conditions must be present—or are necessary—for those facts to be possible. Jon Stewart argues, for instance, that “Hegel’s dialectic in the Phenomenology is a transcendental account” in this sense, and thus has the necessity of that form of argument (Stewart 2000: 23; cf. Taylor 1975: 97, 226–7; for a critique of this view, see Pinkard 1988: 7, 15).

Some scholars have avoided these debates by interpreting Hegel’s dialectics in a literary way. In his examination of the epistemological theory of the Phenomenology , for instance, Kenneth R. Westphal offers “a literary model” of Hegel’s dialectics based on the story of Sophocles’ play Antigone (Westphal 2003: 14, 16). Ermanno Bencivenga offers an interpretation that combines a narrative approach with a concept of necessity. For him, the necessity of Hegel’s dialectical logic can be captured by the notion of telling a good story—where “good” implies that the story is both creative and correct at the same time (Bencivenga 2000: 43–65).

Debate over whether Hegel’s dialectical logic is logical may also be fueled in part by discomfort with his particular brand of logic. Unlike today’s symbolic logics, Hegel’s logic is not only syntactic, but also semantic (cf. Berto 2007; Maybee 2009: xx–xxv; Margolis 2010: 193–94). Hegel’s interest in semantics appears, for instance, in the very first stages of his logic, where the difference between Being and Nothing is “something merely meant ” (EL-GSH Remark to §87; cf. section 2 above). While some of the moves from stage to stage are driven by syntactic necessity, other moves are driven by the meanings of the concepts in play. Indeed, Hegel rejected what he regarded as the overly formalistic logics that dominated the field during his day (EL Remark to §162; SL-M 43–44; SL-dG 24). A logic that deals only with the forms of logical arguments and not the meanings of the concepts used in those argument forms will do no better in terms of preserving truth than the old joke about computer programs suggests: garbage in, garbage out. In those logics, if we (using today’s versions of formal, symbolic logic) plug in something for the P or Q (in the proposition “if P then Q ” or “ P → Q ”, for instance) or for the “ F ”, “ G ”, or “ x ” (in the proposition “if F is x , then G is x ” or “ F x → G x ”, for instance) that means something true, then the syntax of formal logics will preserve that truth. But if we plug in something for those terms that is untrue or meaningless (garbage in), then the syntax of formal logic will lead to an untrue or meaningless conclusion (garbage out). Today’s versions of prepositional logic also assume that we know what the meaning of “is” is. Against these sorts of logics, Hegel wanted to develop a logic that not only preserved truth, but also determined how to construct truthful claims in the first place. A logic that defines concepts (semantics) as well as their relationships with one another (syntax) will show, Hegel thought, how concepts can be combined into meaningful forms. Because interpreters are familiar with modern logics focused on syntax, however, they may regard Hegel’s syntactic and semantic logic as not really logical (cf. Maybee 2009: xvii–xxv).

In Hegel’s other works, the moves from stage to stage are often driven, not only by syntax and semantics—that is, by logic (given his account of logic)—but also by considerations that grow out of the relevant subject matter. In the Phenomenology , for instance, the moves are driven by syntax, semantics, and by phenomenological factors. Sometimes a move from one stage to the next is driven by a syntactic need—the need to stop an endless, back-and-forth process, for instance, or to take a new path after all the current options have been exhausted (cf. section 5 ). Sometimes, a move is driven by the meaning of a concept, such as the concept of a “This” or “Thing”. And sometimes a move is driven by a phenomenological need or necessity—by requirements of consciousness , or by the fact that the Phenomenology is about a consciousness that claims to be aware of (or to know) something. The logic of the Phenomenology is thus a phenomeno -logic, or a logic driven by logic—syntax and semantics—and by phenomenological considerations. Still, interpreters such as Quentin Lauer have suggested that, for Hegel,

phenomeno-logy is a logic of appearing, a logic of implication, like any other logic, even though not of the formal entailment with which logicians and mathematicians are familiar. (Lauer 1976: 3)

Lauer warns us against dismissing the idea that there is any implication or necessity in Hegel’s method at all (Lauer 1976: 3). (Other scholars who also believe there is a logical necessity to the dialectics of the Phenomenology include Hyppolite 1974: 78–9 and H.S. Harris 1997: xii.)

We should also be careful not to exaggerate the “necessity” of formal, symbolic logics. Even in these logics, there can often be more than one path from some premises to the same conclusion, logical operators can be dealt with in different orders, and different sets of operations can be used to reach the same conclusions. There is therefore often no strict, necessary “entailment” from one step to the next, even though the conclusion might be entailed by the whole series of steps, taken together. As in today’s logics, then, whether Hegel’s dialectics counts as logical depends on the degree to which he shows that we are forced—necessarily—from earlier stages or series of stages to later stages (see also section 5 ).

Although Hegel’s dialectics is driven by syntax, semantics and considerations specific to the different subject matters ( section 4 above), several important syntactic patterns appear repeatedly throughout his works. In many places, the dialectical process is driven by a syntactic necessity that is really a kind of exhaustion: when the current strategy has been exhausted, the process is forced, necessarily, to employ a new strategy. As we saw ( section 2 ), once the strategy of treating Being and Nothing as separate concepts is exhausted, the dialectical process must, necessarily, adopt a different strategy, namely, one that takes the two concepts together. The concept of Becoming captures the first way in which Being and Nothing are taken together. In the stages of Quantum through Number, the concepts of One and Many take turns defining the whole quantity as well as the quantitative bits inside that make it up: first, the One is the whole, while the Many are the bits; then the whole and the bits are all Ones; then the Many is the whole, while the bits are each a One; and finally the whole and the bits are all a Many. We can picture the development like this (cf. Maybee 2009, xviii–xix):

4 figures each contains a rounded corner rectangle bisected by a vertical rod. In #1 the rectangle boundary is labeled 'One' and each half is labeled 'Many'; the caption reads:'Quantum: 'one' refers to the outer boundary, 'many' within. #2 has the boundary also labeled 'One' but the halves labeled 'ones'; the caption reads: Number: 'one' on all sides. #3 has the boundary labeled 'Many' and the halves labeled 'Each a one'; the caption reads: Extensive and Intensive Magnitude: 'many' on the outer boundary, 'one' within'. #4 the rounded rectangle is enclosed by a box; the two halves are labeled 'Many (within)' and the space between the rectangle and the box is labeled 'Many (without)'; the caption reads: Degree: 'many' on all sides.

Since One and Many have been exhausted, the next stage, Ratio, must, necessarily, employ a different strategy to grasp the elements in play. Just as Being-for-itself is a concept of universality for Quality and captures the character of a set of something-others in its content (see section 1 ), so Ratio (the whole rectangle with rounded corners) is a concept of universality for Quantity and captures the character of a set of quantities in its content (EL §105–6; cf. Maybee 2009, xviii–xix, 95–7). In another version of syntactic necessity driven by exhaustion, the dialectical development will take account of every aspect or layer, so to speak, of a concept or form—as we saw in the stages of Purpose outlined above, for instance ( section 2 ). Once all the aspects or layers of a concept or form have been taken account of and so exhausted, the dialectical development must also, necessarily, employ a different strategy in the next stage to grasp the elements in play.

In a second, common syntactic pattern, the dialectical development leads to an endless, back-and-forth process—a “bad” (EL-BD §94) or “spurious” (EL-GSH §94) infinity—between two concepts or forms. Hegel’s dialectics cannot rest with spurious infinities. So long as the dialectical process is passing endlessly back and forth between two elements, it is never finished, and the concept or form in play cannot be determined. Spurious infinities must therefore be resolved or stopped, and they are always resolved by a higher-level, more universal concept. In some cases, a new, higher-level concept is introduced that stops the spurious infinity by grasping the whole, back-and-forth process. Being-for-itself (cf. section 1 ), for instance, is introduced as a new, more universal concept that embraces—and hence stops—the whole, back-and-forth process between “something-others”. However, if the back-and-forth process takes place between a concept and its own content—in which case the concept already embraces the content—then that embracing concept is redefined in a new way that grasps the whole, back-and-forth process. The new definition raises the embracing concept to a higher level of universality—as a totality (an “all”) or as a complete and completed concept. Examples from logic include the redefinition of Appearance as the whole World of Appearance (EL §132; cf. SL-M 505–7, SL-dG 443–4), the move in which the endless, back-and-forth process of Real Possibility redefines the Condition as a totality (EL §147; cf. SL-M 547, SL-dG 483), and the move in which a back-and-forth process created by finite Cognition and finite Willing redefines the Subjective Idea as Absolute Idea (EL §§234–5; cf. SL-M 822–3, SL-dG 733–4).

Some of the most famous terms in Hegel’s works—“in itself [ an sich ]”, “for itself [ für sich ]” and “in and for itself [ an und für sich ]”—capture other, common, syntactic patterns. A concept or form is “in itself” when it has a determination that it gets by being defined against its “other” (cf. Being-in-itself, EL §91). A concept or form is “for itself” when it is defined only in relation to its own content, so that, while it is technically defined in relation to an “other”, the “other” is not really an “other” for it. As a result, it is really defined only in relation to itself. Unlike an “in itself” concept or form, then, a “for itself” concept or form seems to have its definition on its own, or does not need a genuine “other” to be defined (like other concepts or forms, however, “for itself” concepts or forms turn out to be dialectical too, and hence push on to new concepts or forms). In the logic, Being-for-itself (cf. section 1 ), which is defined by embracing the “something others” in its content, is the first, “for itself” concept or form.

A concept or form is “in and for itself” when it is doubly “for itself”, or “for itself” not only in terms of content —insofar as it embraces its content—but also in terms of form or presentation, insofar as it also has the activity of presenting its content. It is “for itself” (embraces its content) for itself (through its own activity), or not only embraces its content (the “for itself” of content) but also presents its content through its own activity (the “for itself” of form). The second “for itself” of form provides the concept with a logical activity (i.e., presenting its content) and hence a definition that goes beyond—and so is separate from—the definition that its content has. Since it has a definition of its own that is separate from the definition of its content, it comes to be defined—in the “in itself” sense— against its content, which has become its “other”. Because this “other” is still its own content, however, the concept or form is both “in itself” but also still “for itself” at the same time, or is “in and for itself” (EL §§148–9; cf. Maybee 2009: 244–6). The “in and for itself” relationship is the hallmark of a genuine Concept (EL §160), and captures the idea that a genuine concept is defined not only from the bottom up by its content, but also from the top down through its own activity of presenting its content. The genuine concept of animal, for instance, is not only defined by embracing its content (namely, all animals) from the bottom up, but also has a definition of its own, separate from that content, that leads it to determine (and so present), from the top down, what counts as an animal.

Other technical, syntactic terms include aufheben (“to sublate”), which we already saw ( section 1 ), and “abstract”. To say that a concept or form is “abstract” is to say that it is only a partial definition. Hegel describes the moment of understanding, for instance, as abstract (EL §§79, 80) because it is a one-sided or restricted definition or determination ( section 1 ). Conversely, a concept or form is “concrete” in the most basic sense when it has a content or definition that it gets from being built out of other concepts or forms. As we saw ( section 2 ), Hegel regarded Becoming as the first concrete concept in the logic.

Although Hegel’s writing and his use of technical terms can make his philosophy notoriously difficult, his work can also be very rewarding. In spite of—or perhaps because of—the difficulty, there are a surprising number of fresh ideas in his work that have not yet been fully explored in philosophy.

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  • –––, 1962, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge , New York: Basic Books.
  • –––, 2002, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge , second edition, London: Routledge Classics.
  • –––, 2013, The Open Society and its Enemies , Princeton: Princeton University Press. (This is a one-volume republication of the original, two-volume edition first published by Princeton University Press in 1945.)
  • Rosen, Michael, 1982, Hegel’s Dialectic and its Criticism , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Rosen, Stanley, 2014, The Idea of Hegel’s “Science of Logic” , Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Singer, Peter, 1983, Hegel , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Solomon, Robert C., 1983, In the Spirit of Hegel: A Study of G.W.F. Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit” , New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Stace, W.T., 1955 [1924], The Philosophy of Hegel: A Systematic Exposition , New York: Dover Publications. (This edition is a reprint of the first edition, published in 1924.)
  • Stewart, Jon, 1996, “Hegel’s Doctrine of Determinate Negation: An Example from ‘Sense-certainty’ and ‘Perception’”, Idealistic Studies , 26(1): 57–78.
  • –––, 2000, The Unity of Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”: A Systematic Interpretation , Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
  • Taylor, Charles, 1975, Hegel , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wandschneider, Dieter, 2010, “Dialectic as the ‘Self-Fulfillment’ of Logic”, translated by Anthony Jensen, in The Dimensions of Hegel’s Dialectic , Nectarios G. Limmnatis (ed.), London: Continuum, pp. 31–54.
  • Westphal, Kenneth R., 2003, Hegel’s Epistemology: A Philosophical Introduction to the “Phenomenology of Spirit” , Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.
  • Winfield, Richard Dien, 1990, “The Method of Hegel’s Science of Logic ”, in Essays on Hegel’s Logic , George di Giovanni (ed.), Albany, NY: State University of New York, pp. 45–57.
How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.
  • Hegel on Dialectic , Philosophy Bites podcast interview with Robert Stern
  • Hegel , Philosophy Talks preview video, interview notes and recorded radio interview with Allen Wood, which includes a discussion of Hegel’s dialectics

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's dialectic is one of the most influential philosophical theories of the modern era. It has been studied and debated for centuries, and its influence can be seen in many aspects of modern thought. Hegel's dialectic has been used to explain a wide range of topics from politics to art, from science to religion. In this comprehensive overview, we will explore the major tenets of Hegel's dialectic and its implications for our understanding of the world. Hegel's dialectic is based on the premise that all things have an inherent contradiction between their opposites.

It follows that any idea or concept can be understood through a synthesis of the two opposing forces. This synthesis creates a new and higher understanding, which then leads to further progress and development. Hegel's dialectic has been used in many different fields, from philosophy to economics, and it provides an important framework for understanding how our world works. In this article, we will explore the historical origins and development of Hegel's dialectic. We will also examine its application in various fields, from politics to art, from science to religion.

Finally, we will consider the implications of Hegel's dialectic for our understanding of the world today. Hegel's dialectic is a philosophical theory developed by German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in the early 19th century. It is based on the concept of thesis, antithesis and synthesis , which are steps in the process of progress. The thesis is an idea or statement that is the starting point of an argument. The antithesis is a statement that contradicts or negates the thesis.

The synthesis is a combination of the two opposing ideas, which produces a new idea or statement. This process can be repeated multiple times, leading to an evolution of ideas. Hegel's dialectic has been used in many fields, such as politics and economics . It has been used to explain how ideas progress through debate and discussion.

In politics, it has been used to explain how different points of view can lead to compromise or resolution. In economics, it has been used to explain how different economic theories can lead to new solutions and strategies. Hegel's dialectic can also be applied to everyday life. For example, it can be used to resolve conflicts between people or groups.

Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis

Thesis and antithesis are two conflicting ideas, while synthesis is the result of their interaction. The dialectic process is a way of understanding how the world works, as it helps to explain the constant flux of ideas and events. It also helps to explain how change and progress are possible. Thesis and antithesis can be thought of as two sides of a coin. One side represents an idea or opinion, while the other side represents its opposite.

When the two sides come together, they create a synthesis that incorporates both sides. This synthesis can then be used to create new ideas or opinions. The dialectic process can be applied in various contexts, such as politics and economics. In politics, it can be used to explain how different factions come together to create policies that are beneficial to all parties. In economics, it can be used to explain how supply and demand interact to create a stable market. Hegel's dialectic can also be used in everyday life.

Applications of Hegel's Dialectic

For example, in the political sphere, it can be used to explore how different ideologies can be reconciled or how compromises can be reached. In economics, Hegel's dialectic has been used to explain the process of economic growth and development. It can be seen as a way of understanding how different economic systems interact with each other and how different economic actors are affected by changes in the marketplace. For example, it can help to explain how different economic policies can lead to different outcomes. Hegel's dialectic has also been applied to other social sciences, such as sociology and anthropology. In particular, it has been used to explore how different social systems interact with each other and how different social groups are affected by changes in their environment.

Using Hegel's Dialectic in Everyday Life

This process can be used to explain how various aspects of life, such as career or relationships, evolve over time. Thesis represents an idea or concept, while antithesis represents the opposite of that idea or concept. Synthesis is the resolution between the two opposing forces. This process is repeated until a conclusion is reached.

For example, in a career conflict between two people, one might present an idea while the other presents the opposite idea. Through discussion and negotiation, the two parties can come to a synthesis that meets both their needs. Hegel's dialectic can also be used to resolve conflicts between groups of people. It involves each party presenting their ideas and opinions, then engaging in dialogue to reach a compromise or agreement.

This process can be applied to any area of life, from politics and economics to relationships and personal growth. It helps to create understanding and respect between different perspectives, allowing everyone to come together in a meaningful way. By understanding and applying Hegel's dialectic in everyday life, we can better navigate our relationships and interactions with others. Through dialogue, negotiation, and compromise we can work towards resolutions that benefit all parties involved.

In economics, it has been used to explain how market forces interact with each other and how different economic theories can be used to explain the same phenomenon. The dialectic has also been used in other fields such as philosophy, science, and psychology. In philosophy, it has been used to explain the relationship between theory and practice and how theories evolve over time. In science, it has been used to explain the relationship between empirical evidence and logical reasoning.

This theory can be applied to any area of life, from career to relationships. The core of Hegel's dialectic involves the concept of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, which is a way of understanding how ideas evolve over time. In this way, the dialectic helps to identify contradictions in a situation and find a resolution through synthesis. In terms of its application to everyday life, the dialectic can be used to find common ground between two opposing sides. For example, if two people are in disagreement, the dialectic can help them identify the underlying issues and then work to resolve them.

Additionally, it can help individuals and groups identify areas where they have common interests, which can lead to more productive conversations and outcomes. The dialectic is also useful in understanding how different perspectives can lead to different solutions. By recognizing different points of view, individuals and groups can gain insight into why certain solutions may not work for everyone involved. This can help to create a more productive environment for collaboration. Finally, the dialectic can be used as a tool for self-reflection. By understanding how different ideas evolve over time and how different perspectives interact, individuals can gain insight into their own views and values.

For example, it can be used to explain the development of a new policy proposal or a new form of government. In economics, Hegel's dialectic can be used to explain the dynamics of supply and demand, or the emergence of a new economic system. In addition, Hegel's dialectic has been applied in other areas, such as education and religion. In education, this theory can be used to explain the process of learning and understanding new concepts. In religion, it can be used to explain the evolution of religious beliefs and practices over time.

This is followed by a synthesis of the two, which creates a new, higher form of understanding. This new understanding then forms the basis for further analysis, which can lead to further synthesis and resolution. Hegel's dialectic can be applied to any area of life, such as career or relationships. For example, if two people have different approaches to a problem, they can use the dialectic to work together to find a solution that works for both of them.

This could involve identifying their respective points of view and then looking for common ground where they can agree. As the synthesis forms, it can provide a basis for further discussion, which may eventually lead to a resolution. The same process can be used to resolve conflicts between groups, such as political parties or countries. By recognizing each side's point of view and then looking for common ground, it is possible to find ways to bridge the divide between them.

This can help create an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect, which can lead to constructive dialogue and positive outcomes. Hegel's dialectic is a valuable tool for helping people and groups come to agreement and harmony despite their differences. By recognizing both sides' points of view and then looking for common ground, it is possible to create a synthesis that can provide a basis for further discussion and resolution. Hegel's dialectic is a powerful philosophical tool that helps to explain how ideas evolve over time. Through the concept of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, it provides a framework for understanding how opposing forces interact and ultimately create new ideas and solutions.

This theory has been applied to many areas, such as politics and economics, and can be used in everyday life. The article has provided a comprehensive overview of Hegel's dialectic and its various applications.

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In philosophy, the triad of thesis, antithesis, synthesis (German: These, Antithese, Synthese; originally: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis) is a progression of three ideas or propositions. The first idea, the thesis, is a formal statement illustrating a point; it is followed by the second idea, the antithesis, that contradicts or negates the first; and lastly, the third idea, the synthesis, resolves the conflict between the thesis and antithesis. It is often used to explain the dialectical method of German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, but Hegel never used the terms himself; instead his triad was concrete, abstract, absolute. The thesis, antithesis, synthesis triad actually originated with Johann Fichte.

1. History of the Idea

Thomas McFarland (2002), in his Prolegomena to Coleridge's Opus Maximum , [ 1 ] identifies Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781) as the genesis of the thesis/antithesis dyad. Kant concretises his ideas into:

  • Thesis: "The world has a beginning in time, and is limited with regard to space."
  • Antithesis: "The world has no beginning and no limits in space, but is infinite, in respect to both time and space."

Inasmuch as conjectures like these can be said to be resolvable, Fichte's Grundlage der gesamten Wissenschaftslehre ( Foundations of the Science of Knowledge , 1794) resolved Kant's dyad by synthesis, posing the question thus: [ 1 ]

  • No synthesis is possible without a preceding antithesis. As little as antithesis without synthesis, or synthesis without antithesis, is possible; just as little possible are both without thesis.

Fichte employed the triadic idea "thesis–antithesis–synthesis" as a formula for the explanation of change. [ 2 ] Fichte was the first to use the trilogy of words together, [ 3 ] in his Grundriss des Eigentümlichen der Wissenschaftslehre, in Rücksicht auf das theoretische Vermögen (1795, Outline of the Distinctive Character of the Wissenschaftslehre with respect to the Theoretical Faculty ): "Die jetzt aufgezeigte Handlung ist thetisch, antithetisch und synthetisch zugleich." ["The action here described is simultaneously thetic, antithetic, and synthetic." [ 4 ] ]

Still according to McFarland, Schelling then, in his Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie (1795), arranged the terms schematically in pyramidal form.

According to Walter Kaufmann (1966), although the triad is often thought to form part of an analysis of historical and philosophical progress called the Hegelian dialectic, the assumption is erroneous: [ 5 ]

Whoever looks for the stereotype of the allegedly Hegelian dialectic in Hegel's Phenomenology will not find it. What one does find on looking at the table of contents is a very decided preference for triadic arrangements. ... But these many triads are not presented or deduced by Hegel as so many theses, antitheses, and syntheses. It is not by means of any dialectic of that sort that his thought moves up the ladder to absolute knowledge.

Gustav E. Mueller (1958) concurs that Hegel was not a proponent of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, and clarifies what the concept of dialectic might have meant in Hegel's thought. [ 6 ]

"Dialectic" does not for Hegel mean "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis." Dialectic means that any "ism" – which has a polar opposite, or is a special viewpoint leaving "the rest" to itself – must be criticized by the logic of philosophical thought, whose problem is reality as such, the "World-itself".

According to Mueller, the attribution of this tripartite dialectic to Hegel is the result of "inept reading" and simplistic translations which do not take into account the genesis of Hegel's terms:

Hegel's greatness is as indisputable as his obscurity. The matter is due to his peculiar terminology and style; they are undoubtedly involved and complicated, and seem excessively abstract. These linguistic troubles, in turn, have given rise to legends which are like perverse and magic spectacles – once you wear them, the text simply vanishes. Theodor Haering's monumental and standard work has for the first time cleared up the linguistic problem. By carefully analyzing every sentence from his early writings, which were published only in this century, he has shown how Hegel's terminology evolved – though it was complete when he began to publish. Hegel's contemporaries were immediately baffled, because what was clear to him was not clear to his readers, who were not initiated into the genesis of his terms. An example of how a legend can grow on inept reading is this: Translate "Begriff" by "concept," "Vernunft" by "reason" and "Wissenschaft" by "science" – and they are all good dictionary translations – and you have transformed the great critic of rationalism and irrationalism into a ridiculous champion of an absurd pan-logistic rationalism and scientism. The most vexing and devastating Hegel legend is that everything is thought in "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis." [ 7 ]

Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) adopted and extended the triad, especially in Marx's The Poverty of Philosophy (1847). Here, in Chapter 2, Marx is obsessed by the word "thesis"; [ 8 ] it forms an important part of the basis for the Marxist theory of history. [ 9 ]

2. Writing Pedagogy

In modern times, the dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis has been implemented across the world as a strategy for organizing expositional writing. For example, this technique is taught as a basic organizing principle in French schools: [ 10 ]

The French learn to value and practice eloquence from a young age. Almost from day one, students are taught to produce plans for their compositions, and are graded on them. The structures change with fashions. Youngsters were once taught to express a progression of ideas. Now they follow a dialectic model of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. If you listen carefully to the French arguing about any topic they all follow this model closely: they present an idea, explain possible objections to it, and then sum up their conclusions. ... This analytical mode of reasoning is integrated into the entire school corpus.

Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis has also been used as a basic scheme to organize writing in the English language. For example, the website advocates the use of this scheme in writing timed essays for the MCAT standardized test: [ 11 ]

For the purposes of writing MCAT essays, the dialectic describes the progression of ideas in a critical thought process that is the force driving your argument. A good dialectical progression propels your arguments in a way that is satisfying to the reader. The thesis is an intellectual proposition. The antithesis is a critical perspective on the thesis. The synthesis solves the conflict between the thesis and antithesis by reconciling their common truths, and forming a new proposition.
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Opus Maximum. Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 89.
  • Harry Ritter, Dictionary of Concepts in History. Greenwood Publishing Group (1986), p.114
  • Williams, Robert R. (1992). Recognition: Fichte and Hegel on the Other. SUNY Press. p. 46, note 37. 
  • Fichte, Johann Gottlieb; Breazeale, Daniel (1993). Fichte: Early Philosophical Writings. Cornell University Press. p. 249. 
  • Walter Kaufmann (1966). "§ 37". Hegel: A Reinterpretation. Anchor Books. ISBN 978-0-268-01068-3. OCLC 3168016. 
  • Mueller, Gustav (1958). "The Hegel Legend of "Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis"". Journal of the History of Ideas 19 (4): 411–414. doi:10.2307/2708045.
  • Mueller 1958, p. 411.
  • Chapter 2 of "The Poverty of Philosophy", by Karl Marx
  • Shrimp, Kaleb (2009). "The Validity of Karl Marx's Theory of Historical Materialism". Major Themes in Economics 11 (1): 35–56. Retrieved 13 September 2018. 
  • Nadeau, Jean-Benoit; Barlow, Julie (2003). Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France But Not The French. Sourcebooks, Inc.. p. 62. 
  • "The MCAT writing assignment.". Wisebridge Learning Systems, LLC. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 


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thesis antithesis and synthesis are elements of

What Is Dialectics? What Is The Triad Thesis?

Hegel’s dialectical triad, the synthesis, dialectical materialism and marxism, limitations of dialectics.

Dialectics underscores reality’s dynamic and contradictory nature, as seen in the Hegelian triad of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

Dialectics is a philosophical concept that originates from ancient Greek philosophy and has been developed and refined over centuries by various thinkers. At its core, dialectics is a way of reasoning and understanding the world that emphasizes reality’s dynamic, interconnected, and contradictory nature. 

The term ‘dialectics’ comes from the Greek word ‘dialektikḗ,’ which means the art of conversation or discussion. In the classical Greek tradition, dialectics was associated with the Socratic method of questioning and refuting opposing arguments to arrive at a deeper truth. 

In modern philosophy, dialectics has taken on a more specific meaning, implying a contradictory process between opposing sides that aims to supersede the logic of reductio ad absurdum . 

This means that if the premises of an argument result in a contradiction, the premises are false, rendering one either devoid of premises or devoid of any substantive foundation.

thesis antithesis and synthesis are elements of

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Hegel’s conception of dialectics is centered around the idea of a triad, which consists of three interconnected elements: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

The thesis represents the initial, established idea or position that serves as the starting point of the dialectical process. It is the generally accepted or dominant view on a particular issue or topic, providing a foundation upon which the dialectical exploration begins. The thesis is not necessarily absolute or infallible; it is simply the initial point of departure for the dialectical inquiry. It can be a specific theory, belief, social norm, or any established understanding that is widely held or considered the norm.

The antithesis is the opposing idea or position that arises in reaction to the thesis. It challenges and contradicts the existing thesis, often by highlighting its limitations, inconsistencies, or flaws. The antithesis represents a different perspective, a counterargument, or an alternative way of understanding the same issue or topic.

thesis antithesis and synthesis are elements of

It emerges as a response to the perceived inadequacies or shortcomings of the thesis, introducing a new element, a different set of assumptions, or a contrasting approach that challenges the status quo. The antithesis is not merely a negation of the thesis; it is a necessary component of the dialectical process, as it pushes the dialogue forward.

Also Read: What Is Metaphysics?

The  synthesis  is the resolution or reconciliation of the thesis and the antithesis. It represents a new, higher-level understanding that incorporates elements of both the thesis and the antithesis, while transcending their limitations. The synthesis is not a simple compromise or a midpoint between the two opposing positions; rather, it is a qualitatively different perspective that combines and transforms the previous viewpoints.

The synthesis arises from the dynamic interaction and tension between the thesis and the antithesis, as they challenge and inform each other. It represents a more comprehensive, nuanced, and integrated  understanding  of the issue or topic at hand.

The synthesis does not necessarily negate or completely discard the thesis and antithesis; instead, it incorporates their valuable aspects and elevates the discourse to a new level. This new synthesis then becomes the new thesis, leading to the emergence of a new antithesis, and the cycle continues, driving the dialectical process forward.

The thesis and antithesis are not seen as static, fixed entities, but rather as constantly evolving and interacting with one another. The synthesis, in turn, becomes a new thesis, which is then challenged by a new antithesis, leading to a further synthesis, and so on. Hegel saw this perpetual cycle  of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis as the driving force behind the development of knowledge, society, and history.

The Industrial Revolution exemplifies the dialectical process. The thesis was the dominance of traditional agricultural and craft-based economic systems. The antithesis was the rise of industrialization, mechanization, and the factory system. The synthesis was the development of modern capitalist industrial societies with new social classes, technologies, and economic structures.

Hegel’s dialectical philosophy had a profound influence on the development of Marxism and the idea of dialectical materialism. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founders of Marxism, appropriated and transformed Hegel’s dialectics to fit their materialist, revolutionary worldview. In Marxist dialectical materialism, the focus shifts from the realm of ideas to the material, economic, and social conditions of human existence. The dialectical process is seen as the driving force behind the development of human societies and the class struggle.

thesis antithesis and synthesis are elements of

The Marxist dialectical triad reworks the 3 components. Thesis becomes the existing mode of production, social relations, and the dominant class in a given society. Antithesis is the contradictions and conflicts within the existing social and economic system, which give rise to the oppressed class. Synthesis is the revolutionary transformation of the social and economic system, leading to a new, more just and equitable society.

For Marxists, the dialectical process is not simply an abstract philosophical concept, but a tool for understanding and transforming the material world. The goal of dialectical materialism is to identify and resolve the inherent contradictions within capitalist society, leading to a socialist revolution and the establishment of a communist society.

Also Read: Can History Be Changed By People?

Despite its widespread influence, dialectics has also faced significant criticism and limitations. The Hegelian-Marxist triad of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis has been criticized for being too simplistic and unable to capture the full complexity of real-world phenomena.

thesis antithesis and synthesis are elements of

Dialectical theories have been accused of exhibiting a deterministic view of history, suggesting that the dialectical process inevitably leads to a predetermined outcome. Some critics also argue that dialectical theories lack sufficient empirical evidence and are more rooted in philosophical speculation than in rigorous scientific observation and testing.

Dialectical theories, particularly in the Marxist tradition, have been criticized for being heavily influenced by ideological and political agendas, rather than being purely objective and scientific, and for downplaying the role of individual agency and free will in shaping historical and social developments.

Despite these criticisms, dialectics remain a powerful and influential philosophical framework that continues to be debated and developed by thinkers across various disciplines. Its emphasis on the dynamic, contradictory, and interconnected nature of reality has inspired many to challenge traditional, static, and linear modes of thinking and to seek a more nuanced understanding of the complex world in which we live.

thesis antithesis and synthesis are elements of

At its core, dialectics emphasizes the dynamic, interconnected, and contradictory nature of reality, and the constant process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis that drives the development of knowledge, society, and history.

While dialectics has faced significant criticism and limitations, it remains a powerful and influential framework for understanding the world around us. By embracing the dialectical perspective, we can challenge our assumptions, engage with opposing viewpoints, and strive for a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the complex and ever-changing reality we inhabit.

  • What is Dialectic?.
  • Dialectic Creativity, Based Upon Hegel's Triad of Thesis, ....
  • Hegel's Dialectics - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Mueller, G. E. (1958, June). The Hegel Legend of "Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis". Journal of the History of Ideas. JSTOR.

thesis antithesis and synthesis are elements of

Shreya Sethi is currently a law student at National Academy of Legal Studies & Research (NALSAR) University, Hyderabad. She likes to believe that she was born with a book in her hand and that she has subsequently only replaced it occasionally to suit her reading list. She also enjoys a good cup of tea as she watches a better sunset. She is passionate about history, arguably, the greatest story ever told

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Hegel-by-HyperText Resources

Excerpt from Hegel for Beginners

Source : Hegel for Beginners , by Llyod Spencer and Andrzej Krauze, Published by Icon Books, 14 of 175 pages reproduced here, minus the abundant illustrations.

"Classical reasoning assumes the principle of logical identity: A = A or A is not non-A".

"But in writing that book I became aware of employing a new and unprecedented way of thinking".

Dialectical Thinking

Aufhebung or sublation, a grammar of thinking.

"I liken my study of logic to the study of grammar. You only really see the rewards when you later come to observe language in use and you grasp what it is that makes the language of poetry so evocative".

Three Kinds of Contradiction

  • The three divisions of the Science of Logic involve three different kinds of contradiction. In the first division Being the opposed pair of concepts at first seem flatly opposed, as if they would have nothing at all to do with one another: Being Nothing / Quantity Quality. Only be means of analysis or deduction can they be shown to be intimately interrelated.
  • In the second division Essence the opposed pairs immediately imply one another. The Inner and the Outer, for example: to define one is at the same time to define the other.
  • In the third division the Concept [ Notion ] we reach an altogether more sophisticated level of contradiction. Here we have concepts such as identity whose component parts, Universality and Particularity, are conceptually interrelated.

Triadic Structure

  • The analytic logic of understanding which focuses the data of sense-experience to yield knowledge of the natural phenomenal world.
  • The dialectical logic of understanding which operates independently of sense-experience and erroneously professes to give knowledge of the transcendent noumena ("things in themselves" or also the "infinite" or the "whole")
  • Analytic understanding is only adequate for natural science and practical everyday life, not for philosophy.
  • Dialectic reason s not concerned with Kant's "transcendent", nor with the abstract "mutilated" parts of reality, but with reality as a totality , and therefore gives true knowledge.

What is Knowing?

"the whole of philosophy resembles a circle of circles".

Further Reading: Introduction to Shorter Logic | Meaning of Hegel's Logic

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synthesis , in philosophy , the combination of parts, or elements, in order to form a more complete view or system. The coherent whole that results is considered to show the truth more completely than would a mere collection of parts. The term synthesis also refers, in the dialectical philosophy of the 19th-century German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, to the higher stage of truth that combines the truth of a thesis and an antithesis . Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy underscores an existential type of synthesis. In Being and Nothingness, consciousness ( pour-soi ) is always trying to become being ( en-soi ), to achieve a synthesis, as it were, between no-thing and some-thing .


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Thesis, antithesis, synthesis

The classic pattern of academic arguments is:

Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

An Idea (Thesis) is proposed, an opposing Idea (Antithesis) is proposed, and a revised Idea incorporating (Synthesis) the opposing Idea is arrived at. This revised idea sometimes sparks another opposing idea, another synthesis, and so on…

If you can show this pattern at work in your literature review, and, above all, if you can suggest a new synthesis of two opposing views, or demolish one of the opposing views, then you are almost certainly on the right track.

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

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  • Rachel A. Gisewhite 2 &
  • Eric M. Eller 2  

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher and educator in the nineteenth century. Among his most famous theories is the Hegelian dialectic, which describes an ongoing process of evolution encompassing man, nature, and spirit into a holistic understanding of the universe. Humankind, as an embodied, subjective self, strives for the Absolute, or truth and growth. This self-realization can occur only if embedded within a community that values and grants freedom, and the historical and cultural context of the community serves as a foundation and launching point for continued evolution. Bildung is prominent within Hegel’s work, a term used to describe the education of the individual and collective toward a more ethical, socially responsive state. This chapter examines Hegel’s life, his social and historical context, and the central tenants of the Hegelian dialectic and Bildung to consider what this might mean for institutionalized education in a postmodern world. Through Bildung , it is possible to envision an educational system that promotes the learning of ethics in everyday life, value systems, and freedom of others.

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Hegel, G. W. F. (1991). Hegel: Elements of the philosophy of right . Cambridge University Press.

Hegel, G. W. F. (2018). Hegel: The phenomenology of spirit (M. Inwood, Trans.), Oxford University Press.

Hegel, G. W. F., Behler, E., Miller, A. V., Taubeneck, S. A., & Behler, D. (1991). Encyclopedia of the philosophical sciences in outline, and critical writings . Continuum.

Jessup, S. (2012). Education for citizenship and ‘ethical life’: An exploration of the Hegelian concepts of Bildung and Sittlichkeit . Journal of Philosophy of Education, 46 (2), 287–302.

Lilge, F. (1974). Philosophy and education in Hegel. British Journal of Educational Studies, 22 (2), 147–165.

Løvlie, L., & Standish, P. (2002). Introduction: Bildung and the idea of a liberal education. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 36 (3), 317–340.

Luqueer, F. L. (1896). Hegel as educator (vol. 2, p. 1). Macmillan.

Maclaren, K. (2008). The role of emotion in an existential education: Insights from Hegel and Plato. International Philosophical Quarterly, 48 (4), 472–492.

Martin, W. M. (2007). In defense of bad infinity: A Fichtean response to Hegel’s Differenzschrift. Hegel Bulletin, 28 (1–2), 168–187.

Moran, D. (2000). Introduction of phenomenology . Routledge.

Mueller, G. E. (1958). The Hegel legend of “thesis-antithesis-synthesis”. Journal of the History of Ideas, 19 (3), 411–414.

Pinkard, T. (2001). Hegel: A biography . Cambridge University Press.

Schnitker, S. A., & Emmons, R. A. (2013). Hegel’s thesis-antithesis-synthesis model. In A. L. C. Runehov & L. Oviedo (Eds.), Encyclopedia of sciences and religions . Springer. .

Stojanov, K. (2018). Education, self-consciousness and social action: Bildung as a neo-Hegelian concept (1st ed.). Routledge. .

Tubbs, N. (2008). Education in Hegel . Continuum International Publishing Group.

Zovko, J. (2018). Hegel’s concept of education from the point of view of his idea of ‘second nature’. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 50 (6), 652–661. .

Further Reading

Baur, M. (Ed.). (2014). G.W.F. Hegel: Key concepts . Routledge.

Beiser, F. C. (1993). The Cambridge companion to Hegel . Cambridge University Press.

Bristow, W. F. (2007). Hegel and the transformation of philosophical critique . Oxford University Press.

Butler, C., Seiler, C., & Hegel, C. B. G. (1984). Hegel: The letters . Indiana University Press.

DeLaurentiis, A., & Edwards, J. (Eds.). (2013). The Bloomsbury companion to Hegel . Continuum Press.

Houlgate, S., & Baur, M. (Eds.). (2011). A companion to Hegel . Blackwell.

Moyar, D., & Quante, M. (Eds.). (2008). Hegel’s phenomenology of Spirit: A critical guide . Cambridge University Press.

Pinkard, T. (1994). Hegel’s phenomenology: The sociality of reason . Cambridge University Press.

Rosenkranz, K. (1969). Hegels Leben (1844) . Reprographischer Nachdruck, WB Darmstadt.

Somr, M. (2013). GWF Hegel–education as a moment of historical reality. Studia Edukacyjne NR, 24 , 289–301.

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Gisewhite, R.A., Eller, E.M. (2023). Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. In: Geier, B.A. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Educational Thinkers . Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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Hegel and the Trinity

Peter benson explains why hegel was obsessed with the number three..

One of the best known popularizers of philosophy in Britain is Bryan Magee. Many people will fondly recall his illuminating series of interviews with philosophers for radio and television. So his lavishly illustrated book The Story of Philosophy (Dorling Kindersley, 2001) will attract many readers eager to learn more about the subject. Nor will they be disappointed, for it contains a wealth of information and useful summaries of philosophical ideas.

Nevertheless, I want to draw attention to a significant error in his chapter on Hegel (admittedly a notoriously difficult philosopher). The error is important because it represents a widespread misunderstanding of Hegel’s thought. Quite rightly, Magee emphasizes that, for Hegel, “everything — ideas, religion, the arts, the sciences, the economy, institutions, society itself — is always changing.” But he then goes on to say that Hegel “produced a vocabulary to describe [this process]. The process as a whole he called the dialectical process, or just the dialectic, and he analysed it as made up of three main stages .... thesis, antithesis, synthesis.”

This supposed ‘fact’ about Hegel’s philosophy continues to be frequently repeated in text-books and popular accounts of his ideas. Yet Hegel himself never used the words ‘thesis, antithesis, synthesis’ to characterize the dialectical process. It’s true that the word ‘antithesis’ occasionally appears in his writings. But I have never found any passage anywhere in his voluminous works where the third stage of a dialectic is referred to as a ‘synthesis’.

The use of these three words originates in a book about Hegel published shortly after his death (when he was no longer around to criticize it). The terminology was used again, greatly increasing its influence, in an 1847 book by a young philosopher named Karl Marx (I wonder whatever happened to him?)

If read carefully, Marx’s account of Hegel’s philosophy is fairly accurate. But his use of the word ‘synthesis’ has subsequently led to grave misunderstandings. Magee typifies this erroneous view when he writes, “because the synthesis is a new situation it contains new conflicts, and therefore becomes the beginning of a new triad of thesis, antithesis, synthesis.” Not surprisingly, statements like this have puzzled people and contributed to the exaggerated air of mystery surrounding Hegel’s thought. Are these new conflicts supposed to exist within the synthesis? (And if so, why are they different from the original conflicts out of which it was formed?) Or does the synthesis constitute a new thesis, over against which its equal and opposite antithesis must be formed? Both interpretations suggest a process which would carry on indefinitely, a waltz rhythm of:

1, 2, 3,
1, 2, 3,
1, 2, 3, all eternity.

If this is, indeed, a false and misleading interpretation of Hegel, how can we get a better idea of what he meant by ‘dialectic’, so that we can assess his philosophy more accurately?

Triads and Pyramids

First of all, it can’t be denied that Hegel was obsessed with dividing everything into threes. You don’t even need actually to read his books to recognize this — you only need to look at their contents pages. Each is divided into three sections, and each of those sections is further divided into three subsections, which themselves are often divided into three sub-sub-sections. Even individual paragraphs (sometimes even individual sentences ) frequently have three distinct parts. Why this obsession with the number 3? Did Hegel believe (as many people have) that there is a mystic meaning to this numeral?

Hegel wasn’t in fact a mystic (at least, not in that sense). He didn’t believe in mysteries at all. On the contrary, he thought that absolutely everything, ultimately, could be explained. And his own philosophy would provide the groundwork for this complete explanation (which he called ‘Absolute Knowledge’). This is an ambition somewhat similar to the ‘theories of everything’ sought by modern physicists. It doesn’t mean that one knows absolutely everything, only that one has a general underlying framework for all such knowledge.

Hegel set out his philosophy most fully in his Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences which, needless to say, has 3 volumes. The first is on Logic; the second is on Nature; and the third is on Spirit (which includes everything to do with human life). The whole work is constructed in Hegel’s dialectical manner, subdivided into smaller and smaller triads. And this demonstrates that Hegel’s dialectic is not an endless waltz. It is not formed like this:


Instead, Hegel’s dialectic is formed like this:

i ii iii i ii iii i ii iii
a,b,c a,b,c a,b,c a,b,c a,b,c a,b,c a,b,c a,b,c a,b,c

The dialectic forms a pyramid. The various sub-categories can be sub-divided further and further and further. But at the top everything converges on a single A (standing here for ‘Absolute Knowledge’). This Absolute Knowledge divides into its three aspects: I Logic; II Nature; III Spirit. And each of these is divided into further triads of sub-categories.

Of course none of us, not even Hegel, start our investigations from a position of Absolute Knowledge. That is, rather, where we hope to end up. Each little area of knowledge has to be slowly acquired over the course of our lives, and over the long laborious course of human history. According to Hegel, history also has a dialectical structure. Essentially, it is the process of starting way down on the pyramid, and making our way, with plodding effort, towards the top. History is not just a random succession of events. Its pattern arises partly because we can learn from the past, preventing ourselves from repeating it. Our growing knowledge is not just an aggregate accumulation of separate facts. At certain crucial turning points, our insight can rise to a new level of awareness, taking a step up the pyramid. This doesn’t happen by synthesizing everything we know, but rather by exhausting all of the possibilities at one level, so that we are forced to seek a completely new perspective. Having tried every available avenue, and found them all wanting, we are compelled into forming a new view of our world, to get us out of the maze we have been trapped in. Of course, after a brief period of euphoria, we find we are only in a new, and perhaps even darker maze. It is no wonder that Hegel calls the process “a highway of despair”. Only desperation and failure push our feet further forward.

The place where each of us starts on this journey depends on the historical period into which we happen to be born. Hegel himself was born in 1770, the same year as William Wordsworth. Both, in their youth, experienced the great excitement generated throughout Europe by the events of the French Revolution. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,” wrote Wordsworth. But it was a bliss that didn’t last. Hegel wrote about the French Revolution in his Phenomenology of Spirit in a chapter with the striking title ‘Absolute Freedom and Terror’. It was not enough, for Hegel, to bemoan the way that things had gone wrong, as if they might have followed a preferable path. In retrospect, it became possible to see such a descent into Terror as an inevitable consequence of the breakdown in stable social structures occasioned by the Revolution. Nevertheless, that breakdown itself was a necessary effect of the conflicts within the previous state of French society. The freedom that briefly erupted was not completely illusory, but new social structures would be needed to accommodate the legitimate demands of freedom. It should be obvious, however, that the next step could hardly be a synthesis of Freedom and Terror (containing, presumably, the ‘best’ parts of each)!

In fact, the next step in this historical dialectic took an unexpected turn. Paradoxically, individual freedom was best consolidated and developed (at this particular historical juncture) under a dictatorship (that of Napoleon). Such paradoxical results of historical dilemmas are the frequent focus of Hegel’s reflections.

Following this journey through Freedom, Terror, and Dictatorship, Europe entered a completely new phase of history, one dominated by the political philosophy of Liberalism and the pursuit of the Universal Rights of Man as first declared by the Revolutionaries in France. Liberal societies are marked by a striking and continuing conflict between the demand for individual rights and the need for social cohesion. “This collision, this problem is that with which history is now occupied,” wrote Hegel (in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History ), “and whose solution it has to work out in the future.”

So he did not believe that liberalism was a final ‘end of history’ (a view often wrongly attributed to him by more recent thinkers such as Kojève and Fukuyama). More significantly, from Hegel’s viewpoint, liberalism allowed for the dissemination of a new form of ethical thinking which placed individual choice at its centre. At a higher level of Hegel’s system from that of the sequential events of political history, there is a slow transition between different forms of ethical thought. And this whole level (of ethics) forms only one component of the even higher level which he calls Geist (‘Spirit’).

Hegel’s account of the twists and turns of history, set out most eloquently in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History , has proved endlessly fascinating to subsequent thinkers. But this has sometimes led to the mistaken belief that all of his thought is fundamentally a philosophy of history. It would be more true to say that this is only one aspect or, rather, one perspective view of the vast multi-levelled edifice of Hegel’s philosophy.

Triangles and the Trinity

It is possible to view Hegel’s system of thought from (at least) two directions. On the one hand, we can follow the process whereby, via alternating error and insight, the slow progress of humanity ascends towards Absolute Knowledge. This is the story Hegel tells in his Phenomenology of Spirit . On the other hand, we could start from the complete totality of everything, the Absolute itself, and show how this can be divided up into smaller and smaller aspects, until every different domain of the world, and of human life, reveals its place within the whole. This is the system as set out in Hegel’s Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences .

The first journey (the upward progress) is only propelled forward because, at each stage, dissatisfied humanity finds it has not arrived at the complete, coherent and consistent truth. For Hegel, complete truth can only be found in the whole, not the part, and in the way that each part has its assigned place within this whole. The ‘whole’ (which we might also call ‘Totality’ or ‘Absolute’) contains not only all substance (all ‘things’) but also subjectivity, which is equally a part of reality. And this ‘whole’ is, for Hegel, a unity. It is in fact (as Hegel states on many occasions) God, as the self-consciousness of the universe.

Hegel’s view of God is somewhat unorthodox, and his view of the relation of the individual human being to God is even more unorthodox. Nevertheless, he persistently insisted that he was a Christian, and that, among all the religions that have evolved historically on earth, Christianity was the most complete expression of truth. Out of all the various dogmas of the Christian Church, however, there is only one that figures prominently in Hegel’s discussions: the dogma of the Trinity — i.e. that there are three persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) within the single being of God.

So, if we look at Hegel’s system from the top downwards, starting with the totality and seeing how everything is contained within it, we can see more clearly the source of the tripartite divisions into which it repeatedly divides. The original triad, from which all the others can be derived, is formed by the three persons of one God. To get a grasp on Hegel’s dialectic, it is far more helpful to think in terms of Father, Son and Spirit, than to worry about the quasi-logical terms Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.

Does this mean that Hegel’s system ultimately has its foundation in Christian faith, and is of no relevance to unbelievers? Not at all. Hegel thought that his philosophy would replace faith with knowledge. The trinitarian structure of God was not to be taken on trust, but was revealed by the triadic structure of the world and of experience. Hegel’s dialectic is not the repeated application of a logical formula (Thesis; Negation of Thesis; Negation of the Negation; etc.). On the contrary, each of the triads that appears in Hegel’s work is discovered anew, through the specificities of each situation, following no path known in advance. But gradually they reveal a congruence with the three aspects of God as elucidated in Christian theology.

The doctrine of the Trinity was first expounded at length by St Augustine in his treatise De Trinitate , written around 400 A.D. This has been the basis for all subsequent discussions of the topic. (Thomas Aquinas, for example, relies heavily on Augustine.) Anticipating Hegel, Augustine found 22 different examples of triads in the cosmos and within the human being, which are analogous to the divine Trinity. The most important of these, in the human realm, is Mind, Knowledge, and Love.

This closely parallels Hegel’s principal division of his system into Logic, Nature, and Spirit. Hegel’s Logic is not (and was never intended to be) a set of principles of deductive reasoning like those of Aristotle. It is, rather, a systematic array of concepts, before those concepts are instantiated by particular things. As Hegel put it, only half-metaphorically, the content of his Logic is “the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and a finite mind.” Logic can therefore be aligned with God the Father: the ‘creative principle’, according to Augustine.

Nature is the created world, of which we can have knowledge. It is the world in which, in the famous words of St John’s Gospel, the Word (i.e. the concept) becomes flesh (i.e. concrete and particular). In the incarnation of Christ the universal (God) becomes particular (a single human being). Similarly, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature shows how the array of universal concepts from the Logic guide (without determining) the scientific search for specific knowledge of facts.

The third part of Hegel’s system is the Philosophy of Spirit. The word ‘Spirit’ ( Geist in German) is used by Hegel in a very specific sense which is at the core of his philosophy. Spirit, for Hegel, always involves relation. An isolated individual might be a consciousness, but only in relating with others can the level of Spirit (higher than that of mere consciousness) be reached. This is the level which includes all the phenomena of art, religion, and society.

The parallel with Augustine’s exposition of the Trinity is particularly striking here. In Book 15 of his treatise, Augustine writes “If the love whereby the Father loves the Son, and the Son the Father, reveals in an ineffable manner the union between both, what more fitting than that He, who is the Spirit, common to both, should be properly called love?” So the Holy Spirit is not so much a separate being (that vague and symbolic dove that appears in Renaissance paintings) but the embodiment of the love between the Father and the Son. There is the Father, the Son, and also the relation (of love) between them, which is Spirit (exactly as Hegel understands the word).

I can only give a very brief indication of the relevance of all this to Hegel’s philosophy as a whole. But it is worth considering the very first chapter of The Phenomenology of Spirit , one of the most widely discussed and persistently relevant sections of Hegel’s work, in which he gives a critique of empiricist attempts to ground truth in the unquestionability of sense data. The details of his discussion are well worth reading because the ideas he is criticizing remain widely influential today. But it is also worth looking at the structure of the chapter as a whole. First (paras. 94-99) Hegel considers the view that we have immediate knowledge of the object of our sense perceptions. Then (paras. 100-102), when this proves to be delusory, he considers the possibility that at least we have certainty of ourselves as the subjects of experience. Finally (paras. 103-110) he considers the view that the relation between subject and object must be an undoubted certainty.

At a pinch, we could call these three Positions the thesis, antithesis and synthesis. But the third position is not a combination of the first two, but a focus on the relation between them. It is therefore (at a lowly level) analogous to the Hegelian relational category of ‘Spirit’. And, far from resolving the conflict, the ‘synthesis’ proves just as unsatisfactory as the previous approaches, forcing the thinker to reconsider the whole way of posing the problem, using a new set of concepts which will move the discussion to a higher level and create the second triad in the book’s structured progress. And the third term of the first triad is not the first term of the second triad, which is already posed within the new conceptual schema.

As the Phenomenology ascends through a bewildering and fascinating maze of themes, involving philosophy, history and literature, it is easy to lose one’s bearings. Remembering that the Christian Trinity provides the underlying model for the Hegelian dialectic will help us to find our way through its notoriously convoluted twists and turns.

© Peter Benson 2003

Peter Benson has been a participant for several years in the seminars on Hegel run by Pamela Jencks at Birkbeck College, London.

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thesis antithesis and synthesis are elements of

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Hegel’s undiscovered thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectics. what only marx and tillich understood leonard f. wheat amherst: prometheus books, 2012; 400 pp. $32.00 (hardback).

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 September 2013

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1 See especially Chalybaus’ 1848 text Historical Development of Speculative Philosophy from Kant to Hegel .

2 See especially the Introduction of John and Elllis McTaggart’s A Commentary on Hegel’s Logic . Elibron Classics, 2005.

3 Verene, Donald Phillip. Hegel’s Absolute: An Introduction to Reading the Phenomenology of Spirit . Albany: SUNY Press, 2007.

4 Science of Logic .pg 53. A.V. Miller Trans. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1996.

5 This is most clearly expressed on page 224 of Hegel’s Encyclopedia Logic . W. Wallace Trans. Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1975.

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Persuasive Writing In Three Steps: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

April 14, 2021 by Ryan Law in

thesis antithesis and synthesis are elements of

Great writing persuades. It persuades the reader that your product is right for them, that your process achieves the outcome they desire, that your opinion supersedes all other opinions. But spend an hour clicking around the internet and you’ll quickly realise that most content is passive, presenting facts and ideas without context or structure. The reader must connect the dots and create a convincing argument from the raw material presented to them. They rarely do, and for good reason: It’s hard work. The onus of persuasion falls on the writer, not the reader. Persuasive communication is a timeless challenge with an ancient solution. Zeno of Elea cracked it in the 5th century B.C. Georg Hegel gave it a lick of paint in the 1800s. You can apply it to your writing in three simple steps: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

Use Dialectic to Find Logical Bedrock

“ Dialectic ” is a complicated-sounding idea with a simple meaning: It’s a structured process for taking two seemingly contradictory viewpoints and, through reasoned discussion, reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Over centuries of use the term has been burdened with the baggage of philosophy and academia. But at its heart, dialectics reflects a process similar to every spirited conversation or debate humans have ever had:

  • Person A presents an idea: “We should travel to the Eastern waterhole because it’s closest to camp.”
  • Person B disagrees and shares a counterargument: “I saw wolf prints on the Eastern trail, so we should go to the Western waterhole instead.”
  • Person A responds to the counterargument , either disproving it or modifying their own stance to accommodate the criticism: “I saw those same wolf prints, but our party is large enough that the wolves won’t risk an attack.”
  • Person B responds in a similar vein: “Ordinarily that would be true, but half of our party had dysentery last week so we’re not at full strength.”
  • Person A responds: “They got dysentery from drinking at the Western waterhole.”

This process continues until conversational bedrock is reached: an idea that both parties understand and agree to, helped by the fact they’ve both been a part of the process that shaped it.

Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.png

Dialectic is intended to help draw closer to the “truth” of an argument, tempering any viewpoint by working through and resolving its flaws. This same process can also be used to persuade.

Create Inevitability with Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

The philosopher Georg Hegel is most famous for popularizing a type of dialectics that is particularly well-suited to writing: thesis, antithesis, synthesis (also known, unsurprisingly, as Hegelian Dialectic ).

  • Thesis: Present the status quo, the viewpoint that is currently accepted and widely held.
  • Antithesis: Articulate the problems with the thesis. (Hegel also called this phase “the negative.”)
  • Synthesis: Share a new viewpoint (a modified thesis) that resolves the problems.

Hegel’s method focused less on the search for absolute truth and more on replacing old ideas with newer, more sophisticated versions . That, in a nutshell, is the same objective as much of content marketing (and particularly thought leadership content ): We’re persuading the reader that our product, processes, and ideas are better and more useful than the “old” way of doing things. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis (or TAS) is a persuasive writing structure because it:

  • Reduces complex arguments into a simple three-act structure. Complicated, nuanced arguments are simplified into a clear, concise format that anyone can follow. This simplification reflects well on the author: It takes mastery of a topic to explain it in it the simplest terms.
  • Presents a balanced argument by “steelmanning” the best objection. Strong, one-sided arguments can trigger reactance in the reader: They don’t want to feel duped. TAS gives voice to their doubts, addressing their best objection and “giv[ing] readers the chance to entertain the other side, making them feel as though they have come to an objective conclusion.”
  • Creates a sense of inevitability. Like a story building to a satisfying conclusion, articles written with TAS take the reader on a structured, logical journey that culminates in precisely the viewpoint we wish to advocate for. Doubts are voiced, ideas challenged, and the conclusion reached feels more valid and concrete as a result.

There are two main ways to apply TAS to your writing: Use it beef up your introductions, or apply it to your article’s entire structure.

Writing Article Introductions with TAS

Take a moment to scroll back to the top of this article. If I’ve done my job correctly, you’ll notice a now familiar formula staring back at you: The first three paragraphs are built around Hegel’s thesis, antithesis, synthesis structure. Here’s what the introduction looked like during the outlining process . The first paragraph shares the thesis, the accepted idea that great writing should be persuasive:


Next up, the antithesis introduces a complicating idea, explaining why most content marketing isn’t all that persuasive:


Finally, the synthesis shares a new idea that serves to reconcile the two previous paragraphs: Content can be made persuasive by using the thesis, antithesis, synthesis framework. The meat of the article is then focused on the nitty-gritty of the synthesis.


Introductions are hard, but thesis, antithesis, synthesis offers a simple way to write consistently persuasive opening copy. In the space of three short paragraphs, the article’s key ideas are shared , the entire argument is summarised, and—hopefully—the reader is hooked.

Best of all, most articles—whether how-to’s, thought leadership content, or even list content—can benefit from Hegelian Dialectic , for the simple reason that every article introduction should be persuasive enough to encourage the reader to stick around.

Structuring Entire Articles with TAS

Harder, but most persuasive, is to use thesis, antithesis, synthesis to structure your entire article. This works best for thought leadership content. Here, your primary objective is to advocate for a new idea and disprove the old, tired way of thinking—exactly the use case Hegel intended for his dialectic. It’s less useful for content that explores and illustrates a process, because the primary objective is to show the reader how to do something (like this article—otherwise, I would have written the whole darn thing using the framework). Arjun Sethi’s article The Hive is the New Network is a great example.


The article’s primary purpose is to explain why the “old” model of social networks is outmoded and offer a newer, better framework. (It would be equally valid—but less punchy—to publish this with the title “ Why the Hive is the New Network.”) The thesis, antithesis, synthesis structure shapes the entire article:

  • Thesis: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram grew by creating networks “that brought existing real-world relationships online.”
  • Antithesis: As these networks grow, the less useful they become, skewing towards bots, “celebrity, meme and business accounts.”
  • Synthesis: To survive continued growth, these networks need to embrace a new structure and become hives.

With the argument established, the vast majority of the article is focused on synthesis. After all, it requires little elaboration to share the status quo in a particular situation, and it’s relatively easy to point out the problems with a given idea. The synthesis—the solution that needs to reconcile both thesis and antithesis—is the hardest part to tackle and requires the greatest word count. Throughout the article, Arjun is systematically addressing the “best objections” to his theory and demonstrating why the “Hive” is the best solution:

  • Antithesis: Why now? Why didn’t Hives emerge in the first place?
  • Thesis: We were limited by technology, but today, we have the necessary infrastructure: “We’re no longer limited to a broadcast radio model, where one signal is received by many nodes. ...We sync with each other instantaneously, and all the time.”
  • Antithesis: If the Hive is so smart, why aren’t our brightest and best companies already embracing it?
  • Thesis: They are, and autonomous cars are a perfect example: “Why are all these vastly different companies converging on the autonomous car? That’s because for these companies, it’s about platform and hive, not just about roads without drivers.”

It takes bravery to tackle objections head-on and an innate understanding of the subject matter to even identify objections in the first place, but the effort is worthwhile. The end result is a structured journey through the arguments for and against the “Hive,” with the reader eventually reaching the same conclusion as the author: that “Hives” are superior to traditional networks.

Destination: Persuasion

Persuasion isn’t about cajoling or coercing the reader. Statistics and anecdotes alone aren’t all that persuasive. Simply sharing a new idea and hoping that it will trigger an about-turn in the reader’s beliefs is wishful thinking. Instead, you should take the reader on a journey—the same journey you travelled to arrive at your newfound beliefs, whether it’s about the superiority of your product or the zeitgeist-changing trend that’s about to break. Hegelian Dialectic—thesis, antithesis, synthesis— is a structured process for doing precisely that. It contextualises your ideas and explains why they matter. It challenges the idea and strengthens it in the process. Using centuries-old processes, it nudges the 21st-century reader onto a well-worn path that takes them exactly where they need to go.

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Ryan is the Content Director at Ahrefs and former CMO of Animalz.


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What is Hegel's concept of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, in simple terms?

thesis antithesis and synthesis are elements of

Steven Reidbord M.D.

Consumer Behavior

Dialectics in psychotherapy, an introduction to the meaning and central role of dialectics in therapy..

Posted September 13, 2019 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

The word “dialectic” has a long history, from ancient Greek philosophers, through Hegel and Marx, and to the present day. Its meaning has changed over the centuries, and according to different thinkers. In psychotherapy , “dialectic” is almost wholly associated with dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), where the term identifies a particular type of treatment. In reality, dialectics as used in DBT is a feature of all schools of psychotherapy.

Broadly speaking, a dialectic is a tension between two contradictory viewpoints, where a greater truth emerges from their interplay. Socratic dialog, in which philosophers mutually benefit by finding defects in each other’s arguments, is a classic example. In the early 19th century, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel described a universal dialectic, commonly summarized as “thesis, antithesis, synthesis.”

His esoteric philosophy holds that every thesis, or proposition, contains elements of its own negation. Only by considering both the thesis and its contradiction (antithesis) can one synthesize a greater truth. This process never ends, as the new synthesis itself contains antithetical elements. The term veered in meaning with Marx’s dialectical materialism, and in yet other directions with more contemporary writers. But DBT uses the Hegelian sense, and that is our focus here.

Marsha Linehan faced a problem as she developed DBT in the late 1970s. Her behavioral strategies implicitly pathologized those she sought to help. Clients thought: “If I need to change, there must be something wrong with me.” To avoid re-traumatizing them, she turned to Zen Buddhism’s self-acceptance and focused on clients’ strengths. But this, in turn, downplayed their real need to change. Dr. Linehan and her colleagues realized they would have to integrate change (thesis) and acceptance (antithesis) into a larger truth that incorporates both (synthesis).

This is the fundamental dialectic of DBT, although there are others. For example, the therapist is trustworthy and reliable, but also makes mistakes. The client is doing his or her best but wants to do better. Although worded here using “but” for clarity, DBT teaches clients to use “and” instead. (The therapist is reliable and makes mistakes.) In doing so, the therapeutic task is to embrace the truth of both propositions at once, not to choose one over the other.

An uneasy tension between acceptance and the need for change exists in all psychotherapy, not just DBT. Indeed, this tension underlies a question commonly posed to new clients: “What brings you in now?” Therapy begins only when emotional discomfort and the perceived need for change outweigh the inertia (i.e., acceptance), reluctance, and other factors that precluded it before. Then, once in therapy, change versus acceptance is often an explicit struggle. File for divorce or work on one’s marriage ? Learn to be bolder or accept that one is shy by nature? Change physically through exercise or plastic surgery, or become more comfortable with the body one has?

When clients grapple with such questions, therapists of any school should refrain from choosing sides or giving advice. Except in extreme cases, we simply don’t know which option is best for the individual in our office.

However, it goes further than this. As Hegel wrote, a clash of thesis and antithesis may result in a new third way, a synthesis that incorporates, yet transcends, both sides of the argument. This “union of opposites” was first described by pre-Socratic philosophers (and by Taoists, as in the well-known Yin-Yang symbol of interdependence). The concept was later adopted by alchemists, who observed that compounding two dissimilar chemicals can result in a third unlike either parent (e.g., sodium, a highly reactive metal, plus chlorine, a poisonous gas, produces table salt). Carl Jung, who studied alchemy, weaved the union of opposites into his various psychological writings. It forms the basis of his “transcendent function” that leads to psychological change; an accessible introduction to this concept can be found here .

The shuttling to and fro of arguments and affects represents the transcendent function of opposites. The confrontation of the two positions generates a tension charged with energy and creates a living, third thing … a movement out of the suspension between the opposites, a living birth that leads to a new level of being, a new situation. Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 8. 2nd ed., Princeton University Press, 1972. p. 67-91 .

One need not be a Jungian to recognize creative, “third-way” processes in therapy. Instead of being caught on the horns of a dilemma, it often helps to take a step back and appreciate the validity of both positions: It is valid to seek autonomy and relatedness. It is valid to be serious and to play. And it is certainly valid to accept oneself while also striving to change. Insight is our term in depth psychotherapy for achieving synthesis: a position that reconciles and transcends thesis and antithesis, makes sense emotionally, and works in one’s life. In this way, dialectical tension generates all creativity and psychological growth.

thesis antithesis and synthesis are elements of

©2019 Steven Reidbord MD . All rights reserved.

Steven Reidbord M.D.

Steven Reidbord, M.D. , is a psychiatrist and psychiatric educator with a private practice in San Francisco.

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  1. Hegel's Dialectics

    For G.R.G. Mure, for instance, the section on Cognition fits neatly into a triadic, thesis-antithesis-synthesis account of dialectics because the whole section is itself the antithesis of the previous section of Hegel's logic, the section on Life (Mure 1950: 270).

  2. Hegel's Dialectic: A Comprehensive Overview

    An overview of Hegel's dialectic, a philosophical theory that explains how ideas progress through thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

  3. Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

    In philosophy, the triad of thesis, antithesis, synthesis (German: These, Antithese, Synthese; originally: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis) is a progression of three ideas or propositions. The first idea, the thesis, is a formal statement illustrating a point; it is followed by the second idea, the antithesis, that contradicts or negates the first; and lastly, the third idea, the synthesis ...

  4. What Is Dialectics? What Is The Triad Thesis?

    Also Read: What Is Metaphysics? The Synthesis The synthesis is the resolution or reconciliation of the thesis and the antithesis. It represents a new, higher-level understanding that incorporates elements of both the thesis and the antithesis, while transcending their limitations.

  5. Excerpt from Hegel for Beginners

    The synthesis does not do this. It has "overcome and preserved" (or sublated) the stages of the thesis and antithesis to emerge as a higher rational unity. Note: This formulation of Hegel's triadic logic is convenient, but it must be emphasised that he never used the terms thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

  6. PDF Thesis:Antithesis:Synthesis Structure

    Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis Structure in Presentations and Papers All presentations and papers in CISC 497 are expected to address the social, ethical and legal issues of a topic using the thesis, antithesis, synthesis framework of dialectical reasoning. Dialectical reasoning is a method of reasoning in which one starts with a thesis and develops a contradictory antithesis, both with ...

  7. Synthesis

    synthesis, in philosophy, the combination of parts, or elements, in order to form a more complete view or system. The coherent whole that results is considered to show the truth more completely than would a mere collection of parts. The term synthesis also refers, in the dialectical philosophy of the 19th-century German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel ...

  8. Thesis, antithesis and synthesis

    An Idea (Thesis) is proposed, an opposing Idea (Antithesis) is proposed, and a revised Idea incorporating (Synthesis) the opposing Idea is arrived at. This revised idea sometimes sparks another opposing idea, another synthesis, and so on…

  9. PDF The Hegel Legend of "Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis"

    Thesis, antithesis, synthesis, Marx says in Das Elend der Philosophie,is Hegel's purelylogical formulafor the movementof pure reason,and the whole system is engendered by thisdialectical movement of thesis,antithe-sis, synthesisof all categories.

  10. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

    The final proposition, that despite the potential immorality of aborting a fetus, there are certain values to be considered in the practice, is the synthesis. The human mind is full of contradictory thoughts and notions (thesis v. antithesis) but continuously strives to find resolution in the synthesis.

  11. Hegelian Dialectics as a Source of Inspiration for the Intelligence

    The Hegelian formula is typically expressed as follows: Thesis represents an idea or opinion; antithesis represents the counter-opinion or opposite idea; synthesis represents the domain where thesis and antithesis intersect and overlap.

  12. Hegel and the Trinity

    Are these new conflicts supposed to exist within the synthesis? (And if so, why are they different from the original conflicts out of which it was formed?) Or does the synthesis constitute a new thesis, over against which its equal and opposite antithesis must be formed?

  13. PDF The Dialectical Circumplex Model: A Theory of Dialectic and Its

    Undiscovered Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis Dialectics, however, reaffirms the connection between Hegel and the triadic dialectic while offering a reinterpretation of the Hegelian dialectical format. Still, Wheat dismisses the dialectical method as outdated and without value.

  14. Dialectic

    In classical philosophy, dialectic ( 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 ...

  15. Hegel's Undiscovered Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis Dialectics. What Only

    Hegel's Undiscovered Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis Dialectics. What Only Marx and Tillich UnderstoodLEONARD F. WHEAT Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2012; 400 pp. $32.00 (hardback) - Volume 52 Issue 4

  16. Persuasive Writing In Three Steps: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

    Thesis, antithesis, synthesis (or TAS) is a persuasive writing structure because it: Reduces complex arguments into a simple three-act structure. Complicated, nuanced arguments are simplified into a clear, concise format that anyone can follow. This simplification reflects well on the author: It takes mastery of a topic to explain it in it the ...

  17. The Increasing Importance of Syntheses and the Synthesizing Mind

    The synthesis could be an "average" of the two or the complete triumph of one over the other, though more often it combines elements from each. Naturally, the synthesis becomes the new thesis. Howard Gardner, in "Five Minds for the Future," calls one important human mental aspect the synthesizing mind [2].

  18. Dialectic Definition, Models & Examples

    Much like in the scientific method, philosophers will need to take the merits of both the thesis and antithesis into account, creating a new thesis called the synthesis.

  19. What is Hegel's concept of thesis, antithesis and synthesis ...

    Antithesis refers to the refutation of the idea. Synthesis is the moulding of the idea and its refutations into a new idea. For instance, I can crudely write an example like this: Thesis - There is a God. Antithesis - There is a lot of bad in the world. Synthesis - There is a God but His ways are mysterious. See below: A couple of things to ...

  20. Dialectics in Psychotherapy

    Insight is our term in depth psychotherapy for achieving synthesis: a position that reconciles and transcends thesis and antithesis, makes sense emotionally, and works in one's life.

  21. Dialectical materialism

    Dialectical materialism is a materialist theory based upon the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that has found widespread applications in a variety of philosophical disciplines ranging from philosophy of history to philosophy of science. [1] [2] As a materialist philosophy, Marxist dialectics emphasizes the importance of real-world ...

  22. Hegal: thesis, antithesis, synthesis Flashcards

    Study with Quizlet and memorize flashcards containing terms like thesis, is there tension between the thesis and antithesis, antithesis and more.

  23. Thesis, antithesis & synthesis

    Abstract. In the field of alternative journalism, my work seeks to build empathy and combat inequalities of representation within a specified community of viewer-participants. Through MA thesis work, I built flexible, minimalist design systems that succeeded by receding—by eliminating expressive elements and pushing contributor content ...

  24. Summer SAVY, Session 4 Day 2, Page to the Stage (7th

    After lunch, we segued from Aristotle's first hieratical element to the second, considering the role of Character. ... (Here ends the Beginning or the Thesis; here begins the Middle or Antithesis) ... (And here's the End or Synthesis)