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 These ideas would culminate with Hegel’s dialectic of history, through which humans progressively realize the Geist of their age, driving toward an ever more perfect human freedom. Jeffrey Collins, WSJ, 18 Mar. 2022 Godwin also discussed Hegel’s dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, with which a case can be made that the United States is currently grappling. Michelle L. Quinn, chicagotribune.com, 21 Feb. 2022 This tension is often observed in the dialectic between a founder’s organization and a successor’s organization. Prudy Gourguechon, Forbes, 25 Jan. 2022 To collapse the Marxian dialectic of premature revolution: this was history simultaneously as tragedy and farce. Will Self, Harper's Magazine, 23 Nov. 2021 This public-private dialectic ultimately bore fruit in the form of an offbeat yet luxurious 12-piece furniture and glassware ensemble. New York Times, 28 Oct. 2021 The students would soon be caught up in the thrust and parry of dialectic. New York Times, 22 Sep. 2021 Messing with that dialectic is the peak of technological hubris. Jason Linkins, The New Republic, 7 Aug. 2021 The dialectic of Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump drove the nation into its current obsession with race, culminating in the protests, riots, vandalism, cancellations, and iconoclasm that followed the murder of George Floyd one year ago. Matthew Continetti, National Review, 22 May 2021 See More

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

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

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Last Updated

13 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Dialectic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dialectic. Accessed 27 May. 2022.

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