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The Hegelian Dielectic

  1. Jul 28, 2010 #1
    In a lot of conspiracy video's mention Hegel as introducing the following idea:

    "If you want to speed up social change you create a crisis"

    although I'm pretty sure that this is a misleading statement as I think Hegel was referring to a conflict of ideas (aka a contradiction) rather then any deliberately created social crisis. This idea seems similar to the current popular idea of cognitive dissonance.


    Were people when faced with two contradictory ideas in the mind must either rationalize away this contradiction or reevaluate their ideas. When people are no longer able to rationalize they must change their position.

    Some authors suggest that the Hegelian Dialectic is not simply a fictional narrative but rather played out in the social narative in current events. That is we are presented with two conflicting ideas though the media, the thesis and the anti-thesis from which we are supose to re-evaluate the thesis (this is known as the systheis) and come to a position which is in the middle but closer to the thesis then the anti-thesis.

    http://s243a.amplify.com/2010/07/28/hegels-dialectic/ [Broken]

    So in the unlikely scenero proposed in the following paper:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/11679099/What-is-the-Hegelian-Dialect [Broken]

    capitalism is the thesis, communism is the anti thesis and communitarianism is the synthesis as it is closer to capitalism then communism but lies in the middle between and individualistic centered philosophy and a collectivist philosophy. It of course seems highly unlikely that such a narrative could be deliberately played out on the world stage as a way of steering "social progression".

    Unfortunately Heglian logic isn't even mentioned in the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy because it was considered only as historicaly revlevent by current thinkers such as Berchant Russell.

    http://johns243acreighton.amplify.com/2010/07/28/russell-on-the-hegelian-dielectic/ [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 8, 2010 #2
    I have always associated this logic with Marxism, i.e. that crisis in capitalism would lead to a communist revolution. The first time I noticed the logic expressed in popular culture was in the movie, Finding Nemo, where one of the fish comes up with the plan to break the filter so the tank will get so dirty that the dentist will have to clean it. There's a great scene where Gil, the lead fish, and Nemo are looking with satisfaction over the dysfunctional tank with utopian background music.

    Anyway, I used to think of this as a clever strategy for influencing social change but I came to favor the deliberate constructive process of evolution over revolution stimulated by necessity. The reason is that all you really do by inciting revolution is create a significant-enough amount of violence that people are afraid to do anything except cater to the will of the rebels, which essentially amounts to dictatorial rule by force.

    I also think that this hegelian logic is a lazy person's approach to social change, since creating a crisis can be as easy as sabotaging productive processes, whereas working toward change actually involves replacing productive processes with alternatives. Of course, what do you do when you're dealing with a economic system that takes any attempt to generate alternative processes and capitalizes on them in order to generate profit that stimulates economic recovery of the status quo? Certainly the bolshevics failed in their approach, as has anyone else who has attempted to topple capitalism/socialism by force. I think the answer lies in cultural awareness but how do you spread that when there is loads of counter-ideology that allows people to block out things that don't reinforce their everyday faith in profit, income, and consumption (the fuel for maintaining the status quo) as their daily bread?

    Before I get branded a communist or other revolutionary, which I get accused of from time to time, I should just mention that I think the solution lies in the kind of radical republicanism that motivated Lincoln and others during the time of the US civil war. I have read that those republicans were inspired by Marx to a form of communism, but I don't see republicanism as communism because of the fundamental difference between individualism and collectivism, i.e. private and public property. Still, if people would methodically work toward more independent individual control over as many economic aspects of human life as possible, and only leave those best served by mass-production to corporate and government control, I think the result would be very much like what Marx envisioned with communism except people would be free individuals instead of robots subjugated to an imagined collective good.
  4. Aug 8, 2010 #3


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    On cognitive dissonance: This is in fact about people finding excuses not to change their beliefs, finding ways to ignore evidence that should demand change.

    On dialectics: This is not some irrelevant weird branch of logic but in fact the basis of Greek metaphysics.

    Greek thought was the search for the fundamental. And what the Greeks found was that the fundamental always came in complementary pairs - thesis and anti-thesis as Hegel later put it.

    You start with a symmetry (the metaphysical proposition that anything might be the case) and then break that symmetry (to find out what is crisply the case, and thus also what exactly is not the case). But then it turns out that both sides of the divide are equally true, equally necessary, equally fundamental, as concepts.

    So is the world fundamentally substance or form, discrete or continuous, stasis or flux, atom or void, chance or necessity? At every turn of Greek thought, a symmetry breaking always resulted in two opposed, yet also complementary, limits on being.

    The dialectic itself was the reasoning process of Socrates. If I can claim one thing strongly, then you can make just as good a case for its anti-thesis.

    And it became a principle of logic when Aristotle framed the law of the excluded middle.

    But where things went wrong after that is that people wanted to believe that only one choice could be fundamental (if necessity is true, then chance must be a false idea, etc). Kant for example argued that antimonies, as he called them, were a sign of conceptual pathology (when instead, I am arguing, they are evidence of conceptual success - the most robust dichotomies endure because they are a true symmetry breaking, and symmetry breakings must have two directions, two opposed limits).

    Hegel tried to salvage logic by building dichotomisation into the structure of argument. So he came up with the developmental process of thesis => anti-thesis => syn-thesis.

    It sort of can work, but it is missing some things - or rather, it was never well understood by most people.

    The aim goes beyond mere negation and then arriving at a middle road. Instead, the aim is to make a clear separation towards two equal truths, and then mix them across all scales to arrive at an equilibrium mixture. So you do not average across thesis and anti-thesis to come to some gaussian mean. Instead you mix these two things to arrive at a more complex state with a geometric mean, a fractal structure.

    Given the example here is social structure and a possible dichotomy between socialism and capitalism, I would argue that societies are symmetry-broken along the faultline of competition~co-operation. Or individualism and collectivism.

    And so an ideal society would recognise this - that both competition and co-operation are essential, yet mutually exclusive, behaviours. They are thesis and antithesis and yet both are "true". We need both even if they seem to be working against each other. And the way we achieve this (in an ideal society) would be to have both tendencies freely mixed over all scales of society.

    So the synthesis is not about averaging across competitive and co-operative responses so as to arrive at some bland intermediate state of action. Instead, we want both to be as strongly expressed as possible, but then freely mixed, freely in interaction, so that the synthesis is a dynamic product of the best of both.

    Social democracy is an attempt at creating such a compound or blended state. Enough downward action or global constraint (laws, welfare net, institutions, civil society) to produce strong co-operation, mixed with enough upwards, individualistic, striving to produce strong competition.

    Communism - or totalitarianism pretending to be socialism - clearly was too constraining on individual creative freedom (it was about collective control rather than collective co-operation).

    Free market systems can likewise become too individualistic, unbalanced in the other direction.

    The Marxist take on dialectics seems to be more about challenging existing social structures, as you say. But they were responding to an unbalanced social world with too much individual freedom at the top, too much exploitation and repression at the bottom. It seemed logical to smash things down, let it all grow again, better the second time round. Yet what communism often ended up achieving was to smash things down and simply let a different elite recreate an unbalanced social system - a failure of the practice rather than the theory.

    As to Hegel's legacy (and Hegel, remember, was only really making explicit what had always been implicit in Greek metaphysic), well the most important person to take things a step further was CS Peirce.

    Hegel also remains well known to those in modern systems science.
  5. Aug 8, 2010 #4
    apeiron, great explanation. However, you miss one fundamental problem, which is obfuscation in modern economic ideology. Capitalism is associated with competition but corporatism is predicated on cooperation among individuals acting within the corporate bureaucracy. Then shortcomings of corporatism and relative market-control are blamed on the competitive nature of capitalism. Do you see how this allows corporatism to pursue its agenda by blaiming its failures on capitalism in a way that promotes anti-competitive measures?

    Someone should name this at a level comparable to the Hegelian dialectic. Maybe it should be called the Strawman dialectic: attribute the thing you want to transcend on your opponent and by doing so garner support for the very thing that is criticized while promoting the thing that helps it along.
  6. Aug 8, 2010 #5


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    Not sure I completely follow you here, but I think you are agreeing with me that a good social system is one that does full justice to both competition and co-operation.

    So corporatism would be good where it does this, and bad when the desire to regulate becomes an over-regulation.

    The problem is that people always want to take sides - they want to be left or right. And yet the need is to be able to harness both individualism and collectivism in a synergistic balance.

    I should have also noted that political opinions are not just dichotomised by the thesis~antithesis of individualism~collectivism, but also libertarianism~authoritarianism.

    You can have right wingers who are very conservative (hate gay marriage, religious fundamentalist) and right wingers who are very liberal (your preferences are your choice). Same with left wingers. Some free and easy, others believe there is a single answer that should be enforced.

    The question then is can the liberal~authoritarian dynamic also be subsumed under the larger umbrella of competition~co-operation? Or does it reflect something else, such as plasticity~stability. Conservatives (left or right) think they have the answers and so there is only a single direction for society to head in. While libertarians think the answers are unknown and so society needs to explore all directions.

    I'll have to consider that some more. But my arguement would still be that if a dichotomy like libertarian~conservative is a valid one, then an ideal society would want to harness the energy of both polarities (and would not seek to stiffle either voice).
  7. Aug 8, 2010 #6
    Economically, the government does harness both sides by generating fiscal stimulus either through government spending or through tax cuts and private spending. Actual fiscal conservatism is not tolerated because it would require people to live without income/spending whenever the economy tightened up. This is unimaginable for people who assume absolute interdependency of a modern economy compared with a pre-modern one.

    Also, what you don't get about the co-operation of corporatism is that it already synthesizes competition by promoting profit and income competition. This, in turn, stifles price competition because competing for higher profits and incomes requires revenues that would be lost if price competition closed the gap between costs and prices. Nevertheless, price competition is sacrificed in the process - which undermines your comfortable assumption that logical synthesis between co-operation and competition automatically results in a happy balance. In reality, one form of competition is eclipsing another - and co-operation is the means of suppressing the form of competition that would benefit consumers.
  8. Aug 19, 2010 #7


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    Please correct me where necessary, as, given Hegel didn’t use the terms and there are many examples that may not fit an easy description, that, despite the many descriptions linked to, I would like to write my understanding. Hegel’s dialectic triad, as I understand it, involves parts and a whole. A positive abstract/thesis relies on a negative position/antithesis both relying on the other for existence. Via reason these are a positive concrete/ideal/idea/reality/synthesis on another level, like a phase transition. Wholeness, according to Hegel, is superior to the parts.

    Also, dialectics has been considered a rejection of both dualism and monistic reductionism, where opposing parts are transcended by a leap to a higher level.

    A favourite explanation, wonderfully exemplified here, in post 974-

    Or, another example would be in thinking of day and night as defining each other and as opposing each other, but then finding that neither contradicts each other in a bigger view that takes in the revolutions of earth orbiting the sun.

    I don’t think cognitive dissonance example given is not a great interpretation of Hegel’s rationalization described here, nor is the creation of a crisis.

    Or regarding dialectics as I described them, dialectics could be considered too abstract, too idealistic, too asymmetrically favouring the positive, too spatially and temporally ambiguous, too reliant on reason, of relying too much upon stable binaries, of being totalitarian, etc.

    Variations have been produced like by Marx who changed the idealism to materialism http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/poverty-philosophy/ch02.htm . Further, regarding a socio-political syntheses, similar arguments have arrived at different interpretations, e.g., the agnonistic pluralism of Laclau and Mouffe,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agonism, or deliberative democracy or Jameson’s work, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fredric_Jameson , among others. There are other interpretations too, where the dialectic is symbolic, allows plurality of meaning and metaphors, leaving residue like the “objet petit a”, like in the works of Lacan. Structuralism explained a spatial vertical axis.

    In this sense, and others, I like in some ways how Hegel was addressed by Derrida (deconstruction being this reply). Firstly, I think Derrida didn’t impose judgements of positive or negative. He showed a perspective that didn’t require the vertical axis. Instead of attaining an Hegelian ideal, the idea, or a Marxist humanistic/conscious/ material application, I think Derrida remains with discourse, as is the dialectic itself. He seemed to do this by investigating the seemingly binary parts, disclosing their instability and assumptions, uncovering in the boundaries a complex multiplicity of temporal always already (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Always_already) meanings, more real than the binary parts. (I think Brooks has suggested these may be recursive.)

    To be consistent, dialectics could be considered an abstract (part), too. I think that some of Derrida’s ideas work well as a constitutive and threatening reply to this, as the dialect is also to Derrida’s discourse. And I think something of temporally fluctuating multiplicity of meanings of Hegel’s dialectic triad have also been shown here.
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  9. Aug 19, 2010 #8


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  10. Aug 19, 2010 #9


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    The Hegelian approach (like Ying Yang) is half right IMO.

    One view is that reality strongly divides into complementary truths, and then the obvious next step is to heal this rift somehow to arrive at an even greater truth.

    The other view is that reality strongly divides, and is then in fact created, by the mixing or interacting of these truths.

    So one view is transendent, the other emergent.

    Then of course there is the third view - because the first view does not seem to arrive at any destination (it suggests and endless Hegelian spiral of ab-reaction and synthesis) then we end up with an endless process of deconstruction or discourse. Plural truth, which is no truth at all because everything is relative and culture-bound.

    The second view (emergent dichotomies) by contrast would claim to arrive at metaphysically fundamental dichotomies.

    If you take a dichotomy like discrete~continuous, or stasis~flux, for example, there can be no transcending synthesis. But you can mix these things over all scales to create a "whole system". Stasis~flux can be modelled for instance as self-organised criticality - the old edge of chaos stuff. Scalefree stability~plasticity.

    So you get your third thing (the synthesis). But it is not about annihilating or transcending what was previously created. Instead, it is just the system that arises from the free mixing of a symmetry that has been broken over all scales.

    It is definitely to do with phase transitions. But more accurate to see it as a description of a system at the point of the transition - at the moment of scalefree criticality.

    Anyway, the point is that Hegel only had it half right. The Marxists got it even less right. Others like Peirce were nearer to the mark.

    But the central idea is correct. Monadism leads to dualism (once something is possible, so is something else which is its asymmetric "other"). Then once you have two things, a third becomes possible - the system that arises due to their mixing or interaction. So all more complex ontologies are triadic.
  11. Aug 19, 2010 #10
    I think that by modeling the dialectical process in this way, you are possibly missing the point of dialectical reasoning, which is that truth results from critical engagement of a thesis, not from modeling a process of truth-finding and adhering to that. It would be like if I told you that the best way for us to have a real argument instead of a scripted one would be to disagree and become emotionally involved in our respected positions. Then if you would proceed to model that whole process out to the point of it being exactly scripted, the argument would no longer be an argument but a scripted drama. The same is true with critical reasoning. To generate the dialectic, you have to critically engage some thesis with an anti-thesis. If you stand outside the process and try to control it that way, you don't have a dialectical process at all - unless you consider representational modeling as an anti-thesis for the reality it models as the thesis. But how would that work when what you are modeling is the dialectical process itself?
  12. Aug 19, 2010 #11


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    Well, Peirce takes precisely this approach - an internalist stance. Yet still argues for an absolute form - a generalised model of the dialectic.

    Internalism says we can only model the world. But then modelling is imagining the view from outside.

    And yes, this is a "dialectic" answer. But the dichotomy is between global models and local measurements rather than global models and "reality".
  13. Aug 20, 2010 #12
    That sums it up pretty well, doesn't it? Is it possible to model things externistically without dominating the dialectic with a relationship between knower and known that is essentially harmonious? Can you model dialectical reason in dialectical conflict with dialecti-cism? I would say you are doing this by contradicting dialectical reasoning in the way you model it, but will it lead to a synthesis without the anti-thesis that the model itself is anti-dialectical?

    Maybe instead of "reality" or "local measurements," you could just say "the empirical." Certainly there is conflict between any model or theory and direct empiricism. I suppose that is the dialectical process of science : theory-building and then empirical tests leading to theoretical innovations. But, as you probably well know, many people are taking an externalist approach to this dialectical process by attempting to control what is addressed in the dialectical process and what isn't. I think such people just don't like to roll their sleeves up and conflict with existing theories. It's safer to police those theories against contestation.
  14. Sep 5, 2010 #13


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    I think my post was confusing as it was about a possible relationship between ideas as a different and perhaps consistent application of Hegel’s dialectic. This included Hegel’s ideas about reason/logic/a metaphysical model and also included ideas about binary positions that both, constitute and threaten the other, or, put differently, are internal and external to each other. Again, these positions are not just external, nor are they homogeneous and so reducible, but instead are internal and heterogeneous. E.g. ‘Derrida's famous term “différance” refers to this relation in which machine-like repeatability is internal to irreplaceable singularity and yet the two remain heterogeneous to one another’ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/derrida/ ).

    So while other comments regarding Derrida may be arguable, for example, Norris claims Derrida showed the impossibility of relativism, I don’t think they were about this relationship, but about these ideas individually.

    But suggestions which may further Hegelian consistency may also be appropriate for other ideas concerning binaries, for example, that humanly employed empirical support may be vulnerable to subjectivity in assumptions, selection, marginalisation and interpretations has become fairly well accepted, and that critiques of detailed metaphysical ideas by such differing perspectives available here, within guidelines, would seem particularly valuable.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2010
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