The Phenomenology of Spirit - Hegelian Dialectic

Hegelian Dialectic

See also: Thesis, antithesis, synthesis

The famous dialectical process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis has been controversially attributed to Hegel.

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.

Walter Kaufmann, Hegel: A Reinterpretation, § 37, Anchor Books, 1966

However, that does not mean that Hegel rejected a triadic process. Despite the popular misrepresentation of Hegel's triadic method which denies that Hegel used triads in his writings, Professor Howard Kainz (1996) affirms that there are "thousands of triads" in Hegel's writings.

However, instead of using the famous terminology that originated with Kant and was elaborated by J. G. Fichte, Hegel used an entirely different and more accurate terminology for dialectical (or as Hegel called them, 'speculative') triads.

Hegel used two different sets of terms for his triads, namely, abstract-negative-concrete (especially in his Phenomenology of 1807), as well as, immediate-mediate-concrete (especially in his Science of Logic of 1812), depending on the scope of his argumentation.

When one looks for these terms in his writings, one finds so many occurrences that it may become clear that Hegel employed the Kantian using a different terminology.

Hegel explained his change of terminology. The triad terms, 'abstract-negative-concrete' contain an implicit explanation for the flaws in Kant's terms. The first term, 'thesis,' deserves its anti-thesis simply because it is too abstract. The third term, 'synthesis,' has completed the triad, making it concrete and no longer abstract, by absorbing the negative.

Sometimes Hegel used the terms, immediate-mediate-concrete, to describe his triads. The most abstract concepts are those that present themselves to our consciousness immediately. For example, the notion of Pure Being for Hegel was the most abstract concept of all. The negative of this infinite abstraction would require an entire Encyclopedia, building category by category, dialectically, until it culminated in the category of Absolute Mind or Spirit (since the German word, 'Geist', can mean either 'Mind' or 'Spirit').

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    Whilst Marx turned the Hegelian dialectic outwards, making it an instrument with which he could interpret the facts of history and so arrive at an objective science which insists on the translation of theory into action, Kierkegaard, on the other hand, turned the same instruments inwards, for the examination of his own soul or psychology, arriving at a subjective philosophy which involved him in the deepest pessimism and despair of action.
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