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 Founding dialectic between the popular children of light and the elite children of darkness was built into the rhetoric of Jeffersonian democracy from the start. Cameron Hilditch, National Review, "Christianity as Ideology: The Cautionary Tale of the Jericho March," 18 Dec. 2020 The deep dialectic involves two realms of combustion. Stephen Pyne, WSJ, "The Year Wildfires in the West Spread Like the Plague," 12 Dec. 2020 Messing with that dialectic is the peak of technological hubris. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "Who Gets a Say in Our Dystopian Tech Future?," 10 Dec. 2020 Elements of the culture drove him toward those actions, yet as is always the case in the dialectic of character and circumstance, Lincoln transformed the times. Washington Post, "The 19th-century culture that shaped Abraham Lincoln," 13 Nov. 2020 This was always the dialectic of boxing—even the most ardent racists were trying, in their way, to deal with the fact that, under the fair-fight Queensberry Rules, a Black man could beat the living hell out of a white man. Jay Caspian Kang, The New York Review of Books, "Ball Don’t Lie," 27 Aug. 2020 That purpose, a dialectic of shock and thought, fundamental to the orthodox art world, seems less interesting to Bouie than the power of the raw, enigmatic and perhaps magical object, without any labels or warnings attached. Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, "Can a noose be art? There’s one hanging from a porch in Washington that’s here to challenge your assumptions.," 1 July 2020 One world is defined by frustrating legality; the other is somehow more primal and more logical, dominated by the easy-to-grasp dialectic of money and violence. Darren Franich, EW.com, "The death and life of the lawyer show," 18 June 2020 This contrast, or dialectic, is the focus of one section of the show. Benjamin Lima, Dallas News, "Enjoy the Dallas Museum of Art’s exploration of home from the comfort of yours," 29 Apr. 2020

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

7 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Dialectic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dialectic. Accessed 26 Jan. 2021.

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on dialectic

Britannica English: Translation of dialectic for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about dialectic

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