Dialectics: from a method of argumentation to a method of manipulation – part I

Summer fellowship in Alabama is a busy time. The southern climate – which means air in July is somehow substituted with hot soup – and being carless make exploring quite difficult, and so, during these weeks, I was mostly buried somewhere in the libraries or at my desk, expanding two research projects, consulting all the ways of making them more in-depth and publishable for a wider audience… My plans clarified and got even wider. A quick to-do list: the ethics of information war should be divided into two papers. That’s just for starters, because then identifying manipulation techniques in philosophies that get abusive is a lifetime project… Maybe it won’t be my entire lifetime, but I sure want to start, so it’s important to make it easy for someone to take over… And I did identify some manipulation techniques quite clearly: one-mindedness, gaslighting, creation of conflict… It involved reading a lot of history of philosophy, then Hegel, then Marx – and these two can make all the blood rush out of your brain. But I’m hopeful. It seems this idea is maturing.

Oh, and then there was Mises University, and while it was three times smaller than usual, it was still as intensive as I remember! I was uplifted to get to know so many amazing students from the US, greet Judge Napolitano again, mingle with faculty and the kids during all out catered dinners, throw some economic calculation jokes at professors from Oklahoma, and generally thrive in a great community. The not so uplifting part was realizing I’m at this stage of life when college kids start looking YOUNG. Really young.

But what did I do at my desk? I tend to be too optimistic about how fast I can do things! I got lost in the side projects of my research proposal, and I devoted myself to two pieces: the one-mindedness in Hegel and in Marx, and the evolution of dialectics from a method of argumentation into a method of manipulation.

And so, here is a piece about the history of dialectics from antiquity to Hegel. The next step is Marx, dialectical materialism and how it results in manipulation and abuse… And it’s hard. Because I’m in the magnificent Mises Institute, and I have to rewire my brain to write about very gloomy matters. So I’m a bit blocked.

And that’s why the next post will be a bit more light and uplifting, and I will wait for some time before I publish the second part of the piece:

The history of dialectics: from antiquity to Hegel

„Dialectics” is a big word. It has to be big – after all, it has been used to incorporate all kinds of contradictions into one entity for at least a century too long. Nowadays, anyone hearing „dialectics” will probably link it with the confusing zombie of dialectical materialism, the logically inconceivable mix of Hegelian idealism and materialism construed by Marx and Engels to gain publicity in the XIX century Prussia, where Hegel reigned as the Great Philosopher, and anyone aspiring to pitch their ideas had to amend the Hegelian system to do so.

The Soviet empire trying to take Marx seriously used dialectical materialism to dissolve the notion of truth, pass any kinds of contradictions, and, ultimately, psychologically control its subjects. To anyone more personally linked with Moscow, the word „dialectics” will automatically have this connotation.

It hasn’t always been the case – what Aristotle called „dialectics” differs largely from the exposition of Hegel, and Hegelian dialectics is still fundamentally different from that of Marx. In the history of philosophy, there has been at least two transitions of the meaning of „dialectics”, and only the latter can be used for serious, transgressive manipulation of facts.

(here is a very professional graphic of what I’m intending to do in my article):


We should note that any notion of dialectics comes hand in hand with some idea of unity, and it was the desire to incorporate various concepts into unity that fueled all flavors of the dialectic method. In the pre-Socratic times, it was Parmenides who first tried to logically argue for his novel, paradoxical doctrine of the unity of Being and its consequences, receiving harsh critique from his peers, who claimed that such unity is inconsistent with the notions of motion and plurality.

It is where his pupil, Zeno of Elea – and yes, he also is the author of the acclaimed paradoxes that sharpened the minds of logicians and mathematicians up to this day – steps in. Defending Parmenides, he argues in a bold, provocative way that those who claim motion and plurality is inconceivable with unity, must also see that they’re even more inconceivable with lack of unity. Zeno aimed at exposing the contradictions in the arguments of his master’s critics. He would open his hypothesis with a conditional sentence, and then show that given this hypothesis, we must arrive at impossible and contradictory conclusions. In the dawn of philosophy and science, Zeno’s exposition, as quoted by Socrates, would be as follows:

„If existing things as many, they must be like and unlike”

Things being „like and unlike” was the contradiction that would defend the unity of Being claimed by Parmenides, or at least provoke his critics to revisit their logic.

This is why in his dialogue „The Sophist”, Aristotle called Zeno the inventor of the dialectic method, to which he later devotes a whole treatise in „The Topics”. By „dialectic”, Aristotle strictly understands a specific art of arguing (not any way to discover existent reality – this comes later, with modern twists of the meaning of the word).

The art of dialectic is different that the art of rhetoric – it is arguing not from self-evident, previously demonstrated premises, but from commonly accepted beliefs – with the intention of exposing any falsehoods. In Rhetoric, Aristotle states that only rhetoric and dialectic can draw contrary conclusions from premises that are identical, but it is not to make people believe both, but to expose the nature of argumentation – to find out if someone is arguing in an unfair way.

Historically, it is known Zeno and Parmenides came to Athens when Socrates was alive. Plato later writes Zeno was indeed talking to Socrates about his argument, claiming it was conceived merely as a controversial defense of Parmenides – however, we cannot be certain this exchange took place.

Up to this day, there exist many other interpretations of Zeno’s intentions and thinking, and the Eleatic notions of unity, plurality and motion, which themselves deserve a few pages of discussion.

However, it seems that the dialectic of Zeno – the art of argumentation Aristotle gave name to – served as a way of exposing contradictions in thinking. While Parmenides indeed argued for a unity of Being, both his critics and his defenders could not conceive that such unity (or lack thereof) could consist of contradictions.

Therefore, if a premise lead to contradictions, this was an argument against the premise.

We will not see such prudent definition of „dialectic” and such careful handling of the notion of truth in the Hegelian, let alone Marxian system.

Hegel and the modern transition

There exist a vast gap of time between the Eleatics and Hegel – the transition of meaning of „unity”, „dialectic” or „contradiction” between the pre-Socratic and modern period is heterogeneous, consistent of many steps and influences. In the medieval times, the use of dialectical method was mostly limited to the art of logic and argumentation, being a part of the trivium. At the same time, contributions in other areas of philosophy and theology flourished, preparing the ground for new philosophers that could be lured by the idea of unity – now understood far differently than in the days of Parmenides.

When XVIII and XIX century came, Hegel was certainly one of the thinkers strangely attracted to the notion of unity (I discuss the disturbing one-mindedness of the Hegelian World-spirit in the previous post). The Hegelian unity, however, was more influenced by a certain Christian heresy which claimed „Man” has to be reunited with the imperfect „God”: Hegel pantheised the notion of unification into the existence of one World-Spirit.

His definition and usage of the word „dialectic” also differs from the previous standard where it’s a method of exposing contradictions. This slight twist of meaning comes from Fichte’s critique (or, some would say, peculiar development) of Kant’s dyads in „The Critique of Pure Reason”.

For the acclaimed thesis-antithesis-synthesis method of exposition, so overused in the last century up until today, including some questionable writing classes, does not come from Hegel, but from Fichte, who added synthesis to Kant’s thesis-antithesis dyad, claiming to resolve Kant’s contradictions and deliver a framework for description of change.

It seems, however, that Fichte’s understanding of Kant was erroneous, as Kant has already called the thesis-antithesis dyads he proposed „dialectical illusions”, attempting to show that they are indeed not contradictory (thus, „illusion”), but relate to different areas of knowledge or experience. In other words, they are not strict contradictions like „A” and „not A”. To give an example, one of Kant’s dyads were „The world has a beginning” and „The world has no beginning”. He claimed both are false, since the world is an object of experience, and neither of these statements relate to experience. Similarly, Kant would either argue both of the thesis-antithesis pairs to be false, or for both to be true, but under different conditions. He never argued for a thesis and antithesis to be both true under the same conditions. This exercise was meant to show the limits of human reason, and the limits of empiricism in describing the Kantian „things as they are”. It was indeed dialectic used in the esteemed ancient sense – exposing contradictions and faulty argumentation.

That’s where Fichte steps in with his synthesis, hoping to be noticed in the tight world of German philosophy, trying to resolve conflicts that Kant already showed do not really exist. This is where „dialectic” first changes meaning, and it is Fichte’s reasoning that influences Hegel the most, for he sees in his way of arguing a method of incorporating contradictions into the one mind of the World-spirit.

Yet, the most important change in meaning between Kant and German idealists relates to the notion of truth. In all of the previous arguments, truth was an attribute of logic. To idealists, truth, or Truth, is an attribute of reality, representing the realization of a given essence. If anything is conceivable, it must be part of such Truth – so if contradictions are conceivable, they must somehow unite in the essence of what IS. This is what underlies Fichte’s synthesis and Hegel’s unification. In the world of idealists, it does not matter that unifying two opposite premises defies truth in the logical sense, for they are dealing with abstract essences.

Hegel indeed takes the concept of unification to a cosmic extreme, claiming „every conflict is between two rights”, and if any notion has an opposite, it is not absolute. He never uses the word „thesis”, his triad consists of concrete, abstract and absolute. In the Hegelian system, reality is construed by contradictory forces, and all being IS their unification.

Note how we went from „What if it is a contradiction? What is true?” to „It IS a contradiction, and it IS true in the abstract, all-unifying sense”

Idealist abstractions lead to quite confusing statements – to Hegel, facts have no authority, being the negation of truth. The driving force of his dialectical method is that truth can be established by the negation of facts – what matters is verification of all possibilities and capacities before Reason (weirdly capital R). Such verification consists of unifying contradictions that determine the content and development of all reality, and when all reality realizes this way before Reason, philosophy ends.

As much as all this can give anyone a headache, Hegel had a reason (actual reason) to distance himself from facts. He was dealing merely with philosophical concepts. He claimed propositions can be negated – but not empirical phenomena, such as „it is raining”. His philosophy lived in the abstract realm – thus „idealism”. Contradicting facts and unifying such contradictions into some kind of empirical unity would seem absurd even for Hegel. In his system, BEING is abstract and absolute, unfolding in contradictions and impossible to penetrate empirically. Only in this impossibility is German idealism remotely possible.

The next transition of the meaning of „dialectic” and „unity”, that made by Marx and Engels, attempts to achieve the impossible, which effectively erases any notion of truth and results in clear absurdities. In the era of Hegel, absurdities, if seemingly existent, could have been at least defendable on the grounds of idealism, a system consistently derived from apriori reasoning.

The transition from antiquity to Hegel showed how truth in the dialectical method changed its meaning and got somehow lost in what is called idealism. But Marx and Engels, mixing idealism with real life, killed all truth. The next part of this piece will deal with this murder, and discuss how it lead to all-scale manipulation.

But before I publish on Marx and Engels, I will show you a shooting range in Montgomery. And a beautiful lake in Georgia – now it’s time to relax.

Opublikowane przez agnieszkakonstancja

Freedom, not manipulation.


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