What is Dialectics?
Ooops, this post started as a short post to discuss how different people used the term "dialectics." It suddenly turned into a summary of the posts that I've been writing on proof of brain for the last two months. It is also relevant to the history of science.
The term "dialectics" plays an extremely role in the history of ideas. Like most terms, "dialectics" has different meanings in different contexts. It also has different translations in different languages.
Google shows "διαλεκτική" as the Greek word for Dialectic and "αναλυτικός" for analytics.
The story starts with Pythagoras. Legends claim that Pythagoras held whole numbers in high esteem and that he believed that everything could be expressed as a ratio of whole numbers. Mathematics call the set of ratios of whole numbers the Rational Numbers.
Legend tells that Pythagoras was driven to distraction by proofs that showed that the hypotenuse of the unit square (the square root of two) could not be expressed as a rational number.
Mathematicians call these numbers Irrational Numbers. One calls the union of the Rational and Irrational Numbers Real Numbers.
In common usage, people use the term "rational" and "irrational" to refer to things that make or don't make any sense.
Parmenides of the Eleatic School saw the problems with trying to explain the world with Rational Numbers and concluded that all is one. Philosophers call this theory "Monism."
A group of thinkers called The Atomists posited that the universe was composed of tiny indivisible structures called "atoms." Attempts to describe the atoms kept leading to irrational results.
Zeno of Elea developed a collection of paradoxes to debunk the claims of the Atomists and support Parmenides' belief in Monism.
Many people call Zeno's system of arguing from paradoxes "dialectics." NOTE, a local warlord had Zeno executed as his work challenged the political structure.
I like to use an example that I call "The Twisty Grid." Imagine that two surveyors mapped an island and that both surveys used a slightly different grid plan. The measurements of the first survey will appear irrational to the measurements of the second survey.
There was a group of intellectuals for hire in Athens called Sophists. The Sophists were known for arguing the position of the highest bidder. Apparently there are few if any examples of the Sophist arguments or methodology. I suspect they avoided writing down their arguments so that they could change them for the next disputation.
Socrates was a Sophist. He did not write down his arguments. Leaders of the Athenian Democracy forced Socrates to commit suicide.
Plato and Xenophan were among the students of Socrates who did write down the arguments. Plato wrote down a series of dialogs that involved a supplicant questioning Socrates about important ethical terms.
The dialogs are a formal example of open inquiry that philosophers call "The Socractic Method." Some people call the Socratic Method "dialectics."
Aristotle liked to categorize things. He categorized different types of speach. We call arguments that lead people astray "fallacies." Aristotle found the most productive form of argument a syllogism.
A syllogism has a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion. One calls the major premise a reason. This process of forming a conclusion from a reason is often called "reasoning."
The Aristotelian tradition called the process of finding the best premises "dialectics."
Some people call the study of logic dialectics.
NOTE: Aristotle advocated a path called "The Middle Way." The Middle Way avoids the use of paradoxes and absolutes. We can see this in the Greek views about virtues. A virtue is a beneficial quality. Each virtue has two vices. The first is the lack of the virtue. The second is an excess of the virtue.
The Greek Tragedy is an example of the middle way. In a tragedy a protagonist is brought down by a tragic flaw which is usually a virtue taken to excess.
Cicero and the Liberal Arts
The disputes between Greek philosophers were passionate and there often deep divisions.
The Roman Philosopher Cicero developed a conciliatory approach to teaching Greek Philosophy called "The Liberal Arts." The Liberal Arts built on a foundation called "The Trivium." The three legs of the Trivium are Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric.
Grammar refers to the structure of language and logic is the structure of ideas. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.
People who study the Trivium learn how to formulate and express ideas. The Trivium emoploys dialectical arguments in disputations to determine the best path forward.
It was common for Roman Senators to travel to Athens or Alexandria to study logic. Classical Liberals idolize the Roman Senate as a body that would employ the liberal arts in disputations to direct the nation.
The Roman Empire saw the petty disputations as annoying and concentrated on exercising power.
At the collapse of the Roman Empire, Boethius desperately created the first Latin Translation of Aristotle work. He also translated other treasures of antiquity. A friend hid Boethius' work before the King hand Boethius brutally tortured and murdered.
Notice how the political class routinely persecutes and even murders people who promote reason?
Now lets look at the Bible.
The Jewish Scriptures presents a monotheistic tradition that claims that Adam and Eve took a bite of the apple of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Good and Evil are opposites. Many theorists use the term "dualism" to refer to thought systems based on oppositional logic. Some people call systems based on oppositional logic dialectics. The Bible could be called a dialectics between good and evil.
The scriptures claim that God gave The Law to Moses to help people separate Good from Evil. The law forbade the misuse of God's name. Misusing God's name is blasphemy.
it is likely that New Testament was written by Jewish Scholars who studied Greek Philosophy.
The story of Jesus says the Monotheistic God took human form as Jesus. The rulers feared Jesus; so they put him one trial. During the trial they asked if Jesus was "The Son of Man" and Jesus concurred.
The trial is an example of the reflexive paradox. If Jesus was just a man; then he would be guilty of the charges. Christianity holds that since Jesus was God in human form, he was innocent of the charge.
During the Crucifixion Christ stated: Forgive them for they know not what they do?
This is the ultimate resolution of the paradox. Christians hold that the crucifixion ushered in a state of grace. It is the ultimate act of conciliation.
Logic in Islam
The study of logic was popular in the Middle East in the first few centuries. Islam appeared in a world that was open to new ideas.
Islam presents a much stronger version of Monotheism that holds that there is one truth and Islamic scholars have that truth. Zealots have a tendency of destroying the writings of people they don't like.
The first Islamic Scholars were good at developing at advancing the study of math and logic. This period is called the Golden Age of Islam. As Islam became entrenched the society appears to have lost its edge.
Logic in the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire did not encourage the study of logic either. Like the Middle East, the Roman culture appeared to deteriorate.
The Western half of the Roman Empire fell in 511 AD.
Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Empire. It was a walled city on the Bosporous and was in constant threat of invasion. As Constantinople was under constant threat, The city was notoriously secretive.
We really don't know the state of affairs in Constantinople as the city was largely destroyed in 1453 when it fell to the Turks.
The Rediscover of Logic
The Renaissance got going when people in Europe began rediscovering the works of Aristotle. These came from the Islamic World, Christian Monasteries and the rediscovery of Boethius.
The rediscovery of logic is typified by the work of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Aquinas applied the Aristotelian method to the study of scriptures to produce several works. The most notable is "The Summa Theologica."
The Florentine Renaissance
To restore the glory of Rome, the City of Florence adopted a Republican Form of Government. They encouraged the study of the classics and developed marvelous inventions. Historians call this period The Florentine Renaissance.
One of these innovations was the development of Double Entry Accounting by the Franciscan Friar Luca Pacioli. Double Entry accounting produces reports which make it easier to value businesses.
Double Entry accounting led to innovations in banking. There were many banks. The Medici was a particularly aggressive banking family that established a banking monopoly.
The Medici encouraged tradesmen to take out loans. This led to a financial bubble. When the bubble burst the Medici called in the loans and established themselves as the new lords.
A historian named Machiavelli, who was probably distraught at the collapse of the Florentine Republic, penned several works including The Prince and Art of War. These works praised the actions taken by Generals and Kings to suppress the masses as virtuous.
Modern thinkers adore Machiavelli and consider Machiavelli to be the father of Political Science.
I think Machiavelli is important because he exposed to the world the way that the ruling class actually thinks.
Florence became rich during the Renaissance. They hosted the Council of Florence which established the principle of Purgatory.
The Medici bought their way into Papacy. To monetize the Church, the Medici started selling "indulgences" claiming the indulgences would save people from Purgatory.
Martin Luther, who studied logic, was upset at this work. He penned a work titled "The Ninety-five Theses" which was a disputation on the power and efficacy of indulgences.
This led to a schism in the Christian world which dominated European Politics for the next centuries.
The Medici was wealthy. They bought their family into the French Throne. Catherine de' Medici married King Henry II. On the King's death, she became the most powerful figure in France.
A sect of Calvinists called the Huguenots began questioning the monarchy.
On Saint Bartholomew's Day in 1572 AD, agents of the Medici marched through Paris and massacred the Huguenots. Estimates of the death toll range from a few thousands to 70,000.
The German Experience
Germany was divided into three parts. Much of modern day Germany was controlled by an entity called The Holy Roman Empire that traced its lineage to Charlemagne. It was controlled by the Hapsburg family and loyal to the Pope.
The Catholic Church formed an order of fighting monks called the Teutonic Knights in 1190 to defend pilgrimage routes to the Holy Land.
As a side project the Teutonic Knights conquered a land called Prussia which stretched from Berlin to Lithuania.
The leader of the Teutonic Knights sided with Martin Luther in the Protestant Reformation and the knights formed the Kingdom of Prussia with Königsberg as its capital.
England controlled several German states including Hanover.
The English Experience Starting with the Magna Carta
The Barons of England were unhappy with the rule and heavy taxation of King John. A group of barons called The Magnum Concilium forced King John to sign the Magnum Carta which reigned in some of the King's taxing authorities.
This laid the foundation for the Parliament of England. The original council did not meet regularly and its influence waxed and waned through the centuries.
The parliament added representatives of the Church then added representatives from large towns called "burgesses." The council eventually split in two. With the upper chamber called The House of Lords and lower chamber The House of Commons.
England Becomes Protestant
King Henry VIII had an arranged marriage with Catherine of Aragon in 1509. Catherine stubbornly refused to produce a male heir.
Anne Boleyn convinced King Henry to accept Protestantism. He did so. King Henry confiscated the property of the church which he sold to fund his wars. He forced people to sign a loyalty oath.
Anne Boleyn stubbornly refused to produce a male heir.
What's with these women?
King Henry worked through bevy of wives, killing those who refused to his bidding of producing a male heir.
English Religious Wars
England suffered a number of fierce wars as kings switched between Protestant and Catholic views.
The fortunes of parliament would wax and wane during these wars.
The Act of Settlement of 1701
Schools in England had formed their curriculum around the Liberal Arts. Boethius and Thomas Aquinas had significant impact on the curriculum.
Apparently Parliament feared that a King who received a liberal arts education might favor the Catholic world view. This would re-ignite the religious wars.
So, the Parliament enacted the Act of Settlement of 1701 which stipulated that the King must have a Protestant education.
When Queen Anne died in 1714, the crown passed over the heads of her close relatives and fell on the head of Georg Ludwig who ruled over Hanover ... which is in Germany.
The Hanoverian Kings, along with the Kings of Prussia, funded the German University system. The German Universities were tasked with creating a new protestant curriculum which would replace the liberal arts curriculum.
The Great German Thinkers
The Germans felt that they were tasks with creating a new world view.
King Frederick hired the French philosopher Voltaire to tutor his son Frederick. This made Voltaire the philosopher to kings. Voltaire adored the basic structure of Machiavelli which taught kings and generals how to lord over the people.
There are some negative optics associated with Machiavelli, so Voltaire instructed Frederick to present a softened version of Machiavelli's royal logic is a piece called The "Anti-Machiavel."
Notice the clever trick of refuting an ideology to conserve the basic structure of the ideology. That is something Machiavelli would enjoy.
King Frederick started a tiff called the Seven Years War as an effort to gain territory from the Holy Roman Empire. This war launched the French and Indian Wars in the colonies.
Lets Get to the Thinkers.
The first great German Thinker was Christian Wolff (1679 – 1754). Apparently Wolff dreamt of creating a new form of Monism. Remember, Monism was the ideology of Parmenides. He wrote huge volumes with critiques of the ancients.
Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) is said to have never stepped foot out of his beloved Königsberg ... the capital of Prussia.
Kant's writings assumed that Wolff accurately portrayed the complete history of the Western Philosophy.
Kant assumed that his refutations of Wolff somehow refuted all works in philosophy before him.
Kant's primary work is called A Critique of Pure Reason. The work showed proved that an arrogant bastard who never stepped foot outside his hometown and who spent his whole career contemplating his naval could produce dense volumes filled with words that really meant nothing.
Kant is adored.
He is considered by legions of elitist professors to be the greatest thinker in human history, with the possible exception of Marx.
Kant noticed that the introduction of the Copernican model changed the way that people saw the solar system.
Kant decided that this process of changing the world view should be the highest aim of the philosopher.
Kant claimed to find a fundamental dichotomy between "a prior" and "a posteriori" thought. He then claimed that the discovery of this dichotomy led to a fundamental change in the world.
Today we would use the term "paradigm shift."
BTW: a dichotomy is a form of dualism.
NOTE: Just like absolutes, dichotomies tend to lead to paradoxes. Kant's writings are rife with paradox.
What did was he made dialectics the primary focus of logic and he put analytics in the back seat.
The followers of Kant consider Kant to be the first philosopher of the modern age. People of this tradition use the term modern to mean anything after Kant.
Elitists adore Kant. The paradox-ridden ramblings of Kant pulled the study of philosophy from the masses and made it elite.
But lets take a quick break to look at world events.
English Politics and the American Revolution
King George I was German and spoke only broken English. From the coronation of King George I in 1714 to the coronation of George III in 1760, England was in a weird situation where the King could not speak the common language.
During this period, the English Parliament grew strong.
The primary factions of the day were the Whigs and the Tories. The Whigs favored a strong Parliament while the Tories favored a strong monarch.
Both factions had a liberal arts education.
England made tremendous strides in law and discussions about the proper role of government.
The US Founders also had a liberal arts education. Each colony had its own legislature and the people of the colonies came to like their new found liberties.
King George III believed in the Divine Rights of Kings and sought to rein in the willful parliament and colonies. He also wanted the colonies to pay for the part of the Seven Years War that colonists called The French and Indian Wars.
The US Founders balked. The founders led a revolution to liberate the colonies from the crown. They then applied classical logic and created a constitutionally limited republic with a relatively free people.
The US legislatures did a fairly good job of encouraging political discourse and a fair job of engaging in political deliberation.
The Founders lived before the age of ideology. People would associate the term "liberal" with the framework of the Constitution.
The Royalist Reaction
King George III hated the liberals. Just as Liberal thought drives Sean Hannity to distraction, the arguments of the liberals who liberated the US colonies from the crown drove King George III to distraction.
The Hanoverian Kings funded the German University System!!!!
In reaction to the American Revolution, royalists charged the universities with creating a revolution that would restore the monarchy.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution went as follows:
Several of the US Founders including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams traveled to France to build support for the American Revolution.
They found favor in the salons of French Aristocrats who also had a liberals arts education and who dreamed of a liberalization of France.
French liberals including Lafayette, de Grasse, de Stutt de Tracy, compte de Rochambeau and Condorcet supported the Revolution.
King Louis agreed to support the American Revolution as it would hurt his enemy King George III.
At a pivotal moment the French Navy led by de Grasse blocked the English Navy. The Troops led by Lafayette blocked English re-inforcements. George Washington along with compte de Rochambeau marched into Yorktown forcing the British General Charles Cornwallis to surrender.
After the Revolution, King Louis called a meeting of a political body called The Estates General to handle the debt crisis caused by his funding the US Revolution.
The Estates General was a bizarre institution. It had three chambers. The First chamber was the Clergy which was loyal to the king. The second chamber was the Nobility. This had a mix of royalists and liberals. The third estate was called The People.
A group that was in love with the writings of Voltaire, Rousseau and Machiavelli took control of the Third Estate.
King Louis tried to disband The Third Estate. The Third Estate marched out onto a Tennis Court and declared themselves to be the National Assembly.
The National Assembly saw itself surrounded by enemies. Being Machiavellian, they decided to commit atrocities to cement their power. They launched a "Reign of Terror." In the Reign of Terror they killed and imprisoned royalists, priests, and liberals.
To defeat the First Estate, the Jacobins created a new religion called "The Cult of Reason" and forced priests to convert to the new religion on pain of death.
How reasonable is that?
The first wave of Jacobins eventually turned on each other.
A Corsican Militarist named Napoleon was a member of the Jacobin Society.
Napoleon was a master of Machiavelli's Art of War.
Napoleon ended up leading French Troops in Wars against every one of France's neighbors including a side excursions to conquer Egypt.
Napoleon conquered the Italian Peninsula and the Vatican States. The Pope died mysteriously as Napoleon occupied Rome. The new Pope made a Concordat saying that Rome would support Napoleon if Napoleon restored the Church.
Napoleon was a Jacobin replacing other Jacobins.
In a stroke of pure genius. Napoleon labeled the first wave of Jacobins "liberal."
Wasn't that clever? By projecting the atrocities of the Jacobins onto the victims of the Jacobins, the Jacobins were able to retain control.
The French Revolution saw the rise and fall of several legislatures.
A group called Le Senat Conservateur laid the groundwork so that Napoleon could crown himself Emperor.
The Jacobins realized the dream of King George III. They had a revolution that restored the monarchy!
The wonderful ideology of Napoleon is called "Conservatism"
If you are a Conservative, you should raise a banner to Napoleon Bonaparte as Napoleon rightfully should be considered the First Conservative.
Returning to Germany
After the American Revolution, royalists sought to create a revolution that would restore the monarchy.
Lets see how they fared.
The German Philosopher Hegel is indicative of the thinking that dominated German Universities after the American and French Revolution.
Hegel adored Kant. He also adored Napoleon. He saw Napoleon as history on a horse.
Hegel was intrigued with the paradoxes of Zeno. Hegel thought that he could launch his own Copernican Revolution by reviving the paradoxes of Zeno.
Hegel created a system of thought that holds paradox at the foundation of reason and conflict at the surface. Some people call Hegel's system of thought Modern Logic, others call it Dialectics.
Some people use the term Hegelian Dialectics for a theory that claims that history advances through a conflict between thesis and anti-thesis which resolves in a catharsis.
Hegel noticed that there was a tendency for terms to turn into their opposites. The English word for this concept is "sublate"
Hegel developed numerous arguments claiming the freedom was slavery and slavery freedom.
In Hegel's philosophy, words change meaning with their use. Notice how the definition of "dialectics" keeps changing.
I mentioned that the writings of the Sophists were lost to history.
IMHO, Kant and Hegel appear to have done a great job of reviving Sophistry with the creation of The Dialectics.
Other modern Philosophers created compelling theories. Schopenhauer adored Kant. He argued that an ubermann could change the world through his will and representation.
A narcissist named Neitsche pretended to be just such an ubermann. He wrote a work in which he appropriated the name of the Zoroastrian founder Zarathustra. He then mocked the cultural traditions of Ancient Persia with absurd statements.
I am sorry, but the great modern philosophers of Germany were really not that good. They simply rehashed the paradoxes of the ancient world.
The reason this chain of philosophers became famous was that they played to royalists who wanted to find a way to restore the glory of the monarchy.
In the 1860s a German Philosoper named Marx built on the works of Hegel to create a methodology called "material dialectics."
The title of this posts asks what is dialectics.
The term has different meanings in different connotations. It has a positive meaning in the Liberal Arts referring to the process of logical discourse. The term took on a negative meaning with the German philosophers.
I would like to argue against the dialectics of Hegel and Marx. I find that I can't because the dialectical argument plays an important role in classical logic.
I've been considering coining my own term which would be "Paralytics." I would define "paralystics" as the use of paradoxes at the foundations of reason.
The Rise of Partisan Dialectics
My work "The Two Sides of the Coin" looks at partisan dialectics.
In the 1830s the monarchy was in a state of crisis. The boundaries that determined the boroughs used to select members of the house of commons were centuries out of date. Some boroughs included large metropolitan cities, while a few "rotten boroughs" had as dozen or so voters.
The Tories depended on the rotten boroughs for their constituency.
King William IV, the youngest son of King George III, appointed Sir Robert Peel as prime minister and tasked Peel with rebranding the Tory Party.
The Tories as you may recall were the people who leveled their muskets at the US Founders during the Revolutionary War.
Royalists were in awe of Napoleon. Napoleon was a populist who had flipped the French Revolution on its head. Napoleon turned a Revolution of The People into a Revolution that Restored the Monarchy.
The Tory Party Rebranded itself as the Conservative Party.
To this day members of the Conservative Party proudly call themselves Tories.
There was a short lived Liberal Party led by Sir William Ewart Gladstone. It supported Freedom of Religion and advocated legalization of Catholicism. It fell apart when people realized that if Irish Catholics could vote, they would vote the English out of Ireland.
In the 1900s, socialists formed the Labour Party. The Labour Party formed an opposition government with the Liberals.
This is when Conservatives started calling Socialists "Liberals."
The sublation of the term "liberal" created a new partisan ideology based on Hegelian logic called "Modern liberalism."
The Left/Right split came to dominate Europe in the 1900s. The split led to two world wars.
The left/right split entered American politics after the Civil Rights Movement.
Both sides of the left/right split came from the Hegelian tradition. If we want to improve politics in the United States, we need to explore the origins of the negative thought systems that are tearing the nation apart.
Understanding the origins fo the left right split and understanding the sublation liberalism and dialectics could help make things better.
Once again it is 3:30 AM. I've been writing for hours. Sorry about the length of the post. I just want to press publish.
The picture by rafael is called "The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament" which provides an idolized image of logical discourse.