di·​a·​lec·​tic | \ ˌdī-ə-ˈlek-tik How to pronounce dialectic (audio) \

Definition of dialectic

1 philosophy : logic sense 1a(1)
2 philosophy
a : discussion and reasoning by dialogue as a method of intellectual investigation specifically : the Socratic techniques of exposing false beliefs and eliciting truth
b : the Platonic (see platonic sense 1) investigation of the eternal ideas
3 philosophy : the logic of appearances and of illusions : the logic of fallacy the dialectic of Kant
4 philosophy
a : the Hegelian process of change in which a concept or its realization passes over into and is preserved and fulfilled by its opposite also : the critical investigation of this process
b Marxism
(1) usually dialectics plural in form but singular or plural in construction : development through the stages of thesis (see thesis sense 4), antithesis, and synthesis (see synthesis sense 2b) in accordance with the laws of dialectical materialism
(2) : the investigation of this process
(3) : the theoretical application of this process especially in the social sciences
5 usually dialectics plural in form but singular or plural in construction philosophy
a : any systematic reasoning, exposition (see exposition sense 2a), or argument that juxtaposes opposed or contradictory ideas and usually seeks to resolve their conflict : a method of examining and discussing opposing ideas in order to find the truth
b : an intellectual exchange of ideas
6 philosophy : the dialectical tension or opposition between two interacting forces or elements

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Dialectic: Logic Through Conversation

Dialectic is a term used in philosophy, and the fact that it is closely connected to the ideas of Socrates and Plato is completely logical—even from an etymological point of view. Plato’s famous dialogues frequently presented Socrates playing a leading role, and dialogue comes from the Greek roots dia- (“through” or “across”) and -logue (“discourse” or “talk”). Dialect and dialectic come from dialecktos (“conversation” or “dialect”) and ultimately back to the Greek word dialegesthai, meaning “to converse.”

Conversation or dialogue was indeed at the heart of the “Socratic method,” through which Socrates would ask probing questions which cumulatively revealed his students’ unsupported assumptions and misconceptions. The goal, according to the definition in our Unabridged Dictionary, was to “elicit a clear and consistent expression of something supposed to be implicitly known by all rational beings.”

Other philosophers had specific uses of the term dialectic, including Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Kantianism, Hegelianism, and Marxism. Asking a series of questions was considered by Socrates a method of “giving birth” to the truth, and a related word, maieutic, defined as “relating to or resembling the Socratic method of eliciting new ideas from another,” comes from the Greek word meaning “of midwifery.”

Examples of dialectic in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web This exchange typifies the good/bad dialectic that informs screenwriter Mateusz Pacewicz’s ambivalent view of religious tradition in the digital age. Armond White, National Review, "Polish Oscar Nominee Corpus Christi Preaches Forgiveness," 20 Feb. 2020 And in this drama of opposing forces, through this brutal dialectic, aspects of each woman’s anatomy are grotesquely eroticized by her adversary: buttocks for the black woman, breasts for her white counterpart. Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books, "What Do We Want History to Do to Us?," 11 Feb. 2020 This leads to a rural dialectic, where rural professionals hold the seemingly opposing views that rural work is, and is not, of high quality. Timothy Baker, Quartz at Work, "The special kind of narcissism that makes city people feel superior," 27 Nov. 2019 Obviously, the Civil War was perhaps the sharpest expression of that conflict between union and disintegration, but American history as a whole has been pervaded by that dialectic. Fred Bauer, National Review, "What the Nationalism vs. Liberalism Debate Misses," 28 Aug. 2019 Are there any criticks after Pound who KNOW anything, but are simply skilled rather in one dialectic or another? Michael Dirda, National Review, "The Exhilarating Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner," 25 July 2019 Compass remains, in spite of Enard’s intentions, a story of the West, rather than a genuine dialectic, a limitation that also bedevils much of the recent European cinema on its internal Others. Adam Shatz, The New York Review of Books, "‘Orientalism,’ Then and Now," 20 May 2019 For artists, fans' online gift cultures raise dialectic tensions between participatory desires for communication and connection and personal, economic, and artistic desires to control their work and image. Nancy Baym, WIRED, "Book Excerpt: How Music Fans Built the Internet," 10 July 2018 And in a way, the entire dialectic unfairly reduces the tournament, their teams and both men. Brian Straus, SI.com, "The World Cup Will Be Just Fine Without the Exhausting Messi vs. Ronaldo Debate," 30 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'dialectic.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of dialectic

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for dialectic

Middle English dialetik, from Anglo-French dialetiqe, from Latin dialectica, from Greek dialektikē, from feminine of dialektikos of conversation, from dialektos — see dialect

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Time Traveler for dialectic

Time Traveler

The first known use of dialectic was in the 14th century

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Statistics for dialectic

Last Updated

26 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Dialectic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dialectic. Accessed 6 Apr. 2020.

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More Definitions for dialectic


How to pronounce dialectic (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of dialectic

philosophy : a method of examining and discussing opposing ideas in order to find the truth

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More from Merriam-Webster on dialectic

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with dialectic

Britannica English: Translation of dialectic for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about dialectic

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