AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

AFB’S TERMS OF ART #15: DIALECTIC

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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:
dialectic(s)

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

dialectic1.jpg

Hegelian synthesis, so tasty [source]

Here’s one example.
thesis: breakfast
antithesis: lunch
synthesis: BRUNCH!

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).

~Interlude~
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)_/¯
~End Interlude~

(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.

dialectic.jpg

just for the record, i did not make this meme (this is Hegel btw)

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.

Related terms:
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 wayshel-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.

Author: Alex King

AFB Editor-in-Chief. Assistant Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Buffalo, working in ethics, metaethics, and aesthetics.

5 thoughts on “AFB’S TERMS OF ART #15: DIALECTIC

  1. Well written post, loved the Hegel meme!

    Like

  2. The synthesis of Hello and Goodbye is, in fact, Aloha. The latter can serve as either a greeting and farewell. And, at the end of the song, they’re singing “Hey ya, hey aloha.” (I sublate your alleged counterexample thusly.)

    Like

  3. Pingback: AFB’S TERMS OF ART: INTERMISSION | AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

  4. Pingback: AFB’S TOP 50 TERMS OF ART | AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

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