di·​a·​lec·​tic ˌdī-ə-ˈlek-tik How to pronounce dialectic (audio)
philosophy : logic sense 1a(1)
: discussion and reasoning by dialogue as a method of intellectual investigation
specifically : the Socratic techniques of exposing false beliefs and eliciting truth
: the Platonic (see platonic sense 1) investigation of the eternal ideas
philosophy : the logic of appearances and of illusions : the logic of fallacy
the dialectic of Kant
: 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
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
: the investigation of this process
: the theoretical application of this process especially in the social sciences
usually dialectics plural in form but singular or plural in construction philosophy
: 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
: an intellectual exchange of ideas
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 Ruscha’s photographs—deliberately graceless taxonomies of parking lots, swimming pools, palm trees, and the like—seem thin by comparison, lacking the paintings’ dialectic of innocence and wit. Jackson Arn, The New Yorker, 2 Oct. 2023 Schools exist to stifle freedom, and also to inculcate it, a dialectic that is the essence of true education. A.o. Scott, New York Times, 21 June 2023 Steven Spielberg extends Griffith’s and Ford’s historical insight through an astonishing mix of visual and ideational dialectics. Armond White, National Review, 28 June 2023 Joe is beginning to discover not just the relationship between the world and his aesthetic impulses, but also the bloody, vital interplay between writing, politics, and the world, with the ensuing dialectic of failure and hope that forms the subject of Tobar’s own novel. Siddhartha Deb, The New Republic, 25 Aug. 2020 Marx seems to have appreciated that Luther pulled away from the authority of the Church, which, for Marx, was a crucial step in the ongoing march of the dialectic of history — that is, of advancing and progressing to the next crucial stage in history, according to Marxist theory. Paul Kengor, National Review, 9 Sep. 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, 27 Feb. 2020 Sarah Polley’s transformation of the mostly indirect discourse of Miriam Toews’s eponymous novel into rigorous and passionate dialectic is a noteworthy literary achievement, and a dramatic one. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 24 Jan. 2023 We are taught to view disagreement as an element of a dialectic in which the informed perspectives of different individuals, distinct disciplines, and diverse communities provide insights into complex problems. Fred D. Ledley, STAT, 20 Dec. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'dialectic.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near dialectic

Cite this Entry

“Dialectic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dialectic. Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

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