Dialectic philosophy was made popular by Plato’ “Socratic dialogues.” The dialectical method is simply a set of rules applied together to understand more clearly our real interdependent world.
“Dialectics is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought.” (Engels)
Hegel assembled inside his idealistic philosophy the three laws of dialectics:
- The law of the unity and conflict of opposites (Heraclitus);
- The law of the passage of quantitative changes into qualitative changes (Aristotle);
- The law of the negation of the negation (Hegel).
The point here is the humanity used the dialectic method to investigate the surrounding world since 3000 years ago.
The unity and conflict of opposites
The law of contradiction in things is the basic law of materialist dialectics.
The world in which we live is a unity of contradictions or a unity of opposites: cold-heat, light-darkness, Capital-Labor, birth-death, riches-poverty, positive-negative, boom-slump, thinking-being, finite-infinite, repulsion-attraction, left-right, above-below, evolution-revolution, chance-necessity, sale-purchase, and so on.
To understand something, its essence, it is necessary to seek out the internal contradictions. Under certain circumstances, the universal is the individual, and the individual is the universal. That things turn into their opposites, – cause can become effect and effect can become cause – is because they are merely links in the never-ending chain in the development of matter.
More example to illustrate the universality of contradiction:
- In mathematics: + and–. Differential and integral.
- In mechanics: action and reaction.
- In physics: positive and negative electricity.
- In chemistry: the combination and dissociation of atoms.
- In social science: the class struggle.
- In war: offense and defense, advance and retreat, victory and defeat.(Mao Zedong)
- In humans; divine spark inside and material body (visit Gnosticism on my site)
- In eastern philosophy: Yin and Yang aspects.
The quantitative changes into qualitative changes
This is the cornerstone of understanding change. Change or evolution does not take place gradually in a straight smooth line. There are long periods of evolution where no apparent changes are taking place, then suddenly, a new life form or forms emerged. The development is characterized by breaks in continuity, leaps, catastrophes and revolutions.
The negation of the negation
The whole process can be best pictured as a spiral, where the movement comes back to the position it started, but at a higher level. In other words, historical progress is achieved through a series of contradictions. Where the previous stage is negated, this does not represent its total elimination. It does not wipe out completely the stage that it supplants.
Engels explains a whole series of examples to illustrate the negation of the negation: “Let us take a grain of barley. Millions of such grains of barley are milled, boiled and brewed and then consumed. But if such a grain of barley meets with conditions which for it are normal, if it falls on suitable soil, then under the influence of heat and moisture a specific change takes place, it germinates; the grain as such ceases to exist, it is negated, and in its place appears the plant which has arisen from it, the negation of the grain.
But what is the normal life-process of this plant? It grows, flowers, is fertilized and finally once more produces grains of barley, and, as soon as these have ripened, the stalk dies, is in its turn negated. As a result of this negation of the negation we have once again the original grain of barley, but not as a single unit, but ten, twenty or thirty fold.
A grasp of dialectical philosophy is an essential prerequisite in understanding the doctrine of contradictions. See my next article about social contradictions.