The Dialectic

When he was (then) my age (now) my dad used to say that, over his working life of fifty years for the same firm, there was one constant. The company was in the process of either centralising or decentralising, and it swung between one and the other. I suspect he was observing a dialectical process.

The dialectic method dates back to ancient Greece and Socrates. Its modern formulation is attributed to Hegel, via the philosophical historian Chalybäus, although the concept has suffered to some degree by its relationship with the thinking of Marx and Engels.

The philosophical dialectic is summarised in the formula ‘thesis-antithesis-synthesis’, the synthesis representing some accomodation and transcending of the polarity between the thesis and antithesis. You might take as an example the Northern Ireland agreement where there is an accomodation between the concepts of United Ireland and Union of the north with Britain.

Evolutionary philosophers such as Ken Wilber and Steve McIntosh see the dialectic as a model of the evolutionary process itself – how life evolves. In the evolution of thesis to antithesis to synthesis, life moves on to higher forms that accomodate and incorporate earlier forms. Each synthesis is the start of a new turn of this spiral, and gradually more complex forms emerge.

Read some of their work if you want to know more about this, eg Evolution’s Purpose by Steve McIntosh.

Featured image is part of a tapestry ‘Dialectic’ by Brussels Manufactory
(Workshop of Jan Leyniers) 1660,

via Google Art Project and Wikimedia Commons

 

 

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