Dialectical progress…

Looking back at this past week and trying to understand the lessons the Universe has for me is ‘progress’ and in particular I’m thinking about the dialectical nature of progress. Dialectical? I’ll have more on that later. First, here are the two posts that got me thinking. The first, an excellent lesson from Christine Hassler on why change or progress is not linear called ‘Ever Feel Like You’re backtracking?. I read another good one one from Jason Wachob earlier this week called Forget Perfection: Strive Toward Progress. There are other good ones I’ve curated as well — just search for ‘progress’ or ‘perfection’ in the search bar…

These posts made me think about my incomplete doctoral thesis on the relationship between Hermann Hesse’s writings and Hegel’s Dialectic. What is Hegel’s Dialectic? Here’s the wikipedia definition:

“Hegelian dialectic, usually presented in a threefold manner, was stated by Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus as comprising three dialectical stages of development: a thesis, giving rise to its reaction, an antithesis, which contradicts or negates the thesis, and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis. Although this model is often named after Hegel, he himself never used that specific formulation. Hegel ascribed that terminology to Kant.[28] Carrying on Kant’s work, Fichte greatly elaborated on the synthesis model, and popularized it.

On the other hand, Hegel did use a three-valued logical model that is very similar to the antithesis model, but Hegel’s most usual terms were: Abstract-Negative-Concrete. Hegel used this writing model as a backbone to accompany his points in many of his works.

The formula, thesis-antithesis-synthesis, does not explain why the thesis requires an Antithesis. However, the formula, abstract-negative-concrete, suggests a flaw, or perhaps an incomplete-ness, in any initial thesis—it is too abstract and lacks the negative of trial, error and experience. For Hegel, the concrete, the synthesis, the absolute, must always pass through the phase of the negative, in the journey to completion, that is, mediation. This is the actual essence of what is popularly called Hegelian Dialectics.

To describe the activity of overcoming the negative, Hegel also often used the term Aufhebung, variously translated into English as “sublation” or “overcoming,” to conceive of the working of the dialectic. Roughly, the term indicates preserving the useful portion of an idea, thing, society, etc., while moving beyond its limitations. (Jacques Derrida’s preferred French translation of the term was relever).[29]

In the Logic, for instance, Hegel describes a dialectic of existence: first, existence must be posited as pure Being (Sein); but pure Being, upon examination, is found to be indistinguishable from Nothing (Nichts). When it is realized that what is coming into being is, at the same time, also returning to nothing (in life, for example, one’s living is also a dying), both Being and Nothing are united as Becoming.[30]

As in the Socratic dialectic, Hegel claimed to proceed by making implicit contradictions explicit: each stage of the process is the product of contradictions inherent or implicit in the preceding stage. For Hegel, the whole of history is one tremendous dialectic, major stages of which chart a progression from self-alienation as slavery to self-unification and realization as the rational, constitutional state of free and equal citizens. The Hegelian dialectic cannot be mechanically applied for any chosen thesis. Critics argue that the selection of any antithesis, other than the logical negation of the thesis, is subjective. Then, if the logical negation is used as the antithesis, there is no rigorous way to derive a synthesis. In practice, when an antithesis is selected to suit the user’s subjective purpose, the resulting “contradictions” are rhetorical, not logical, and the resulting synthesis is not rigorously defensible against a multitude of other possible syntheses. The problem with the Fichtean “Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis” model is that it implies that contradictions or negations come from outside of things. Hegel’s point is that they are inherent in and internal to things. This conception of dialectics derives ultimately from Heraclitus.” Full story at: Dialectic – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.”

Pretty heady stuff, eh? Basically, it’s just another way of describing that ‘two steps forward one step back’ process we call progress. Wherever you’re at as you read this, stop, look yourself in the mirror and say “I’m enough and I’ve come as far as I can”. Remember, your best days are still ahead…

4 thoughts on “Dialectical progress…

  1. Dear Todd,

    There is a website dedicated to the further development of dialectics that may interest you: http://www.dialectics.org.

    They have developed an ‘arithmetic of dialectics’, with the algebra of which they have developed many ‘dialectical-mathematical models’ that reconstruct past history, and that generate predictions of the future.

    They apply two different generic dialectical interpretations of their dialectical algebra, which coincide only for the first three terms — thesis + antithesis + synthesis.

    Here are their versions of the first 8 or 9 terms for each of these two generic dialectical interpretations of their algebra.

    1. ‘Dyadic Seldon Function’ — thesis^(2^3) = thesis^8 =

    first thesis + first antithesis + first full synthesis + second antithesis + first partial synthesis + second partial synthesis + second full synthesis + third antithesis.

    2. ‘Triadic Seldon Function’ — thesis^(3^3) = thesis^9 =

    first thesis + first full antithesis + first full synthesis + first partial antithesis + second partial antithesis + second full antithesis + first partial synthesis + second partial synthesis + second full synthesis.

    Related material can be found at http://www.adventures-in-dialectics.org




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