Liberty Commentary

The Hegelian Dialectic: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

Mili Note: For those who might be late comers, here’s a quick overview of how the Hegelian Dialectic works so you can spot it in use, every day, everywhere around us.  It’s part of the grand lie that is American politics.

New from the Perimeter

The triad thesis, antithesis, synthesis is often used to describe the thought of German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel stresses the paradoxical nature of consciousness; he knows that the mind wants to know the whole truth, but that it cannot think without drawing a distinction. Unfortunately, every distinction has two terms, every argument has a counter-argument, and consciousness can only focus on one of these at a time. So it fixes first on the one, then under pressure fixes second on the other, until it finally comes to rest on the distinction itself. Hegel refers to this process of alternation and rest as dialectic.
In other words, the dialectical method involves the notion that the form of historical movement, process or progress, is theresult of conflicting opposites. Thus this area of Hegel’s thought has been broken down in terms of the categories of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Hegel’s philosophy of history embraces the concept that a conflict of opposites is a struggle between actual and potential worlds.
A thesis can be seen as a single idea. The idea contains a form of incompleteness that gives rise to the antithesis, a conflicting idea. A third point of view, a synthesis, arises from this conflict. It overcomes the conflict by reconciling the truths contained in the thesis and antithesis at a higher level. The synthesis is a new thesis. It generates a new antithesis, and the process continues until truth is arrived at.
Dialectic of Personhood:
THESIS: Start here: “I am born; I am a child.”
ANTITHESIS: Negation of the thesis. “I have grown; I am an adult; so, I am NOT the child I used to be.”
SYNTHESIS: Negation of the opposition between thesis and antithesis. “I am NEITHER child NOR adult, but a whole person.”
Dialectic of the Drinking Glass:
THESIS: Looking at a glass with some water in it, consciousness would not see anything at all if it did not distinguish between what is water and what is not water. If we suppose that consciousness begins as an optimist, then its thesis is an argument that the glass is half-full.
ANTITHESIS: Faced with the objection that this is not the whole truth, consciousness becomes a pessimist who argues for the antithesis that the glass is half-empty. The antithesis is the opposite of the thesis.
SYNTHESIS: Faced with the objection that this is not the whole truth either, and having already taken both sides, consciousness realizes that the whole truth is a synthesis: the volume that is empty equals the volume that is full.
Although the triad is often thought to form part of an analysis of historical and philosophical progress called the Hegelian dialectic, the assumption is erroneous. Hegel used this classification only once, and he attributed the terminology to Immanuel Kant. The terminology was largely developed earlier by the neo-Kantian Johann Gottlieb Fichte, also an advocate of the philosophy identified as German idealism.