Not to obfuscate the theory, but Hegel’s Theory of Dialectic is triadic.

Antithesis opposes Thesis; eventually Synthesis transcends them both, as a higher truth emerges.

"Hegel is an important philosopher; his penetrating analysis of the human predicament in modern society is perhaps unsurpassed among social observers of the past two centuries. At the same time, his thought is subtle and complex; his writings are difficult, even infuriating - laden with impenetrable and pretentious jargon from which his meaning can be separated only with skilled and careful surgery, even then usually not without risk of mortal injury.

The inevitable result is that Hegel is citted much more frequently than he is read, and discussed far oftener than he is understood. Some of those who discourse on Hegel with theh greatest sophistication know him only through warped, inaccurate or bowdlerized second-hand accounts (for instance, accounts of the Hegelian dialectic as 'thesis-antithesis-synthesis)."17


"17This particular triadic piece of jargon was actually used by both Fichte and Schelling (each for his own puposes), but to my knowledge it was never used, not even once, by Hegel. We owe this way of presenting the Hegelian dialectic to Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus, a bowdlerizer of German idealist philosophy (see G.E. Mueller, 'the Hegel Legend of 'Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis', Journal of the History of Ideas 19 (1958), pp. 411-414. To use this jargon in expounding Hegel is almost always an unwitting confession that the expositor has little or no first-hand knowledge of Hegel."




The above passage and its footnote are taken from Allen W. Wood's introduction to G.W.F Hegel's Elements of the Philosophy of Right ed. Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) xxvii.


The problem with considering Hegel's dialectic in terms of the well known 'thesis-antithesis-synthesis' formulation is that it ignores the essentially organic nature of dialectic. It is reductionist to state that there are merely a thesis and its antithesis colliding and producing a new term which is synthesized of the first two. When considering the philosophy of world history (as Hegel is well known for), one must realize that the world is made up of a multiplicity of facets which each play their own part. The dialectic of world history is the interaction of all these facets, overlapping, conquering, subsiding, appearing and fading away. This is infinitely more complex than the 'thesis-antithesis-synthesis' concept can convey.

Thought, in Hegel’s philosophy, is dialectical. Its essence is motion.

In comprehending Hegel’s dialectic, we comprehend the necessary motionality of Thought itself: Thought as movement. This motion is none other than Hegel’s fantastic historicization of the Truth.

In his The Philosophy of History Hegel refers to “the Ideal necessity of transition. This is the soul—the essential consideration—of the philosophical compherension of History” (78, emphasis mine). Transition signifies movement. Thought is itself a movement of itself through its concepts. In describing Geist (Mind or Spirit), “Geist is essentially the result of its own activity: its activity is the transcending of immediate, simple, unreflected existence —- the negation of that existence, and the returning into itself” (PH, 78). Geist is a movement (is itself an activity) that moves itself (it is the result of its own activity) through its concepts (it transcends and returns to its concept of itself).

This description of the activity of Geist can serve as an introduction to the dialectic. The dialectic is that mode of thought which, in thinking a concept, finds its own opposition (the opposition of its thought), and then transcends these two to return to itself -— though remade. The philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer explicates the dialectic in this way:

It is an immanent progression from one logical determination to another which, it is claimed, does not begin with any hypothetical assumption but rather which, in following the self-movement of the concepts, presents the immanent consequences of thought in its progressive unfolding of itself (Hegel's Dialectic, 5).

The dialectic is an immanent progression. As progression it is movement, as immanent it is coherent. It has no beginnning, which means there is no granting of an epistemic privelege. For Immanuel Kant and Johann Fichte, the Transcendental Ego was the beginning of Thought. Hegel does not trace Thought down to an original Ego (the I), but merely traces it as it moves through itself, beginning only somewhere. Finally, it presents its own consequences, it presents itself. The conceptual consequence of Thought is itself. Thought finds itself as the ultimate expression of its own activity. Movement, then, underscores not only its method, but also its result and telos. It is in the nature of Dialectical Thought to continue, to keep thinking. Where dialectic stops, that is where it is no longer itself, where there is no longer Thought.

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