Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.
Terms of Art #15:
Pronunciation: DAHY-uh-LEK-tik(s) (“DAHY” pronounced like the word “die”; strongest accent on “LEK”)
Definition: Dialectic has many related meanings and uses. Here are three of the most notable.
(1) Hegelian dialectic – noun; the very specific form of argument (and process of development) theorized by philosopher G.W.F. Hegel
The basic idea is there are three things:
(i) a “thesis” – one claim or view or situation or whatever
(ii) an “antithesis” – the opposite of the thesis
(iii) a “synthesis” – when the thesis + antithesis combine into a third thing
Okay but I don’t think Hegel really talks about brunch. (Your loss Hegel!)
Here’s something more along the lines of what people actually talk about:
thesis: Facebook says WE WANT ALL OF YOUR INFORMATION GIVE IT TO US
antithesis: people are like, umm we’d like to give you none of it but please still keep fb free
synthesis: Terms of Agreement and some voluntary privacy restrictions
And a classic Hegelian one:
Human history proceeds dialectically. It’s the struggle between authoritarian powers (thesis) and freedom-craving subjects (antithesis), which gives way to various government systems like monarchies and oligarchies and democracies and stuff like that (synthesis).
Remember teleology, yesterday’s word? How the arc of history bending toward justice is a teleological view of history? Hegel VERY INFAMOUSLY thought that the arc of history was toward … constitutional monarchy! Yep, he thought that the best and final synthesis of competing powers (authority and subjects) and the culmination of history was the Prussian state. Sooo yknow. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
(2) dialectic – noun; logical argumentation, especially the structure of the back-and-forth of a debate (whose position is what, which point responds to which, etc.)
Suppose you and I are talking about the origins of the universe.
me: God created it 6000 years ago!
you: Uh what? No, it’s way way way older than that.
me: Prove it!
you: Well, you know, science and stuff. Carbon dating, etc.
me: You just believe scientists, and I just choose to believe the preacher.
our friend Timmy: But my dog is almost 15 years old!
us: WHO CARES TIMMY UGH
Timmy says something totally irrelevant because he doesn’t understand the dialectic of our discussion.
(3) dialectic – adjective; the oppositional-relational forces between two things, emerging out of the push-and-pull/interplay of the opposing elements
The dialectic of author and audience or creator and spectator or, I don’t know, meaning and nonsense, order and chaos… whatever.
dialectics – (a) the plural of dialectic, or (b) a way to talk about the study of this kind of stuff (think: mathematics, physics, etc.)
Not to be confused with:
didactic – adjective; something that’s meant to teach, so like this series! But also especially to be excessively and/or morally instructive… which is not like this series.
Just for funsies:
Hegelian thesis + antithesis without any synthesis:
There’s no resolution! They end by just saying hello over and over again in cute ways – hel-lo, he-e-e-loo-ah, and so on. The synthesis should be like, good-lo or, um, hell-bye. Not really, but, you know, sort of.