Dialectics Part 001

Thinking is so fundamental. If you take into account evolution then our mind is much older than we usually assume. Yet, something in the process of thinking has been evolving. A kind of complexity of thought manifested. The established narrative is that such complexity in thought was influenced by a move; a congregation, a mass gathering of peoples in the very first cities made humans think on a much bigger scale. This story is a little simplistic. One possible perspective is that the leisure afforded to the ancient Athenians resulted in Socrates’ μέθοδος methodos his methodical new way of using human thought. A way of arriving at truth. Before we go into a little bit more detail about this Greek <birth> of philosophy. We should pay our respects to those that came before Socrates and Plato.

The Pre-socratics are famous for a reason. You can see direct inferences, allusions, and reference to these thinkers. These individuals asked the kind of questions that serve as the fuel for the sets of complex reflections, truths, and ideas that came to construct the very soil of the Western philosophical field. Simultaneously establishing a practical value for doing philosophy: it allows for a truth process that offers a way to situate oneself, a kind of grounding and immersion in our existence. Questions like, ‘Is human existence meaningful or unmeaningful? What is a good way to live one’s life? How trustworthy is our use of language?’ Such questions mutated within a unique and philosophically esoteric method called dialectic διαλεκτική.

We can see the birth of dialectics in Plato’s dialogues. Where Socrates’s dialogue, also known as the ‘Elentic Method’ ἔλεγχος. A form of cooperative argument where one person’s assertion/preposition is challenged leading to a contradiction in the initial idea. This Elenchos is first introduced by Plato in the ‘Theatetus’ as Maieutics (midwifery) an analogy of helping draw out the truth. [1] A kind of birth. [2] Other dialogues that feature the Socratic method of reasoning are the ‘Euthyphro’ and the ‘Ion’; in later dialogues Plato transforms the Socratic method into dialectics. What follows is an example of this original Greek Dialectic at work. You can see my natural language paraphrasing of the argument and my translation of it into logic.

Plato. ‘Euthyphrōn’ ‘Εὐθύφρων’, c. 399-395BC 

Plato’s Dialectic performs much more of a procedural role. We are told it is both intuitive and discursive. It has both an ontological and metaphysical presence: a process whereby the intellect passes from ‘sensibles’ to ‘intelligibles’ (idea > idea > idea > supreme idea). This involves doing a way with hypothesis up to the first principle. Slowly embracing the multiplicity in unity.

[533ξ] περὶ τὸ ὄν, ὕπαρ δὲ ἀδύνατον αὐταῖς ἰδεῖν, ἕως ἂν ὑποθέσεσι χρώμεναι ταύτας ἀκινήτους ἐῶσι, μὴ δυνάμεναι λόγον διδόναι αὐτῶν. ᾧ γὰρ ἀρχὴ μὲν ὃ μὴ οἶδε, τελευτὴ δὲ καὶ τὰ μεταξὺ ἐξ οὗ μὴ οἶδεν συμπέπλεκται, τίς μηχανὴ τὴν τοιαύτην ὁμολογίαν ποτὲ ἐπιστήμην γενέσθαι;

οὐδεμία, ἦ δ᾽ ὅς.

οὐκοῦν, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, ἡ διαλεκτικὴ μέθοδος μόνη ταύτῃ πορεύεται, τὰς ὑποθέσεις ἀναιροῦσα, ἐπ᾽ αὐτὴν τὴν ἀρχὴν’

‘[533δ] ἵνα βεβαιώσηται, καὶ τῷ ὄντι ἐν βορβόρῳ βαρβαρικῷ τινι τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς ὄμμα κατορωρυγμένον ἠρέμα ἕλκει καὶ ἀνάγει ἄνω, συνερίθοις καὶ συμπεριαγωγοῖς χρωμένη αἷς διήλθομεν τέχναις: ἃς ἐπιστήμας μὲν πολλάκις προσείπομεν διὰ τὸ ἔθος, δέονται δὲ ὀνόματος ἄλλου, ἐναργεστέρου μὲν ἢ δόξης, ἀμυδροτέρου δὲ ἢ ἐπιστήμης—διάνοιαν δὲ αὐτὴν ἔν γε τῷ πρόσθεν που ὡρισάμεθα—ἔστι δ᾽, ὡς ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ, οὐ περὶ’

‘[533c] are, as we see, dreaming1 about being, but the clear waking vision2 of it is impossible for them as long as they leave the assumptions which they employ undisturbed and cannot give any account of them. For where the starting-point is something that the reasoner does not know, and the conclusion and all that intervenes is a tissue of things not really known, what possibility is there that assent5 in such cases can ever be converted into true knowledge or science?” “None,” said he.

“Then,” said I, “is not dialectics the only process of inquiry that advances in this manner, doing away with hypotheses, up to the first principle itself in order to find confirmation there? And it is literally true that when the eye of the soul is sunk’

‘[533d] in the barbaric slough1 of the Orphic myth, dialectic gently draws it forth and leads it up, employing as helpers and co-operators in this conversion the studies and sciences which we enumerated, which we called sciences often from habit,2 though they really need some other designation, connoting more clearness than opinion and more obscurity than science. ‘Understanding,’3 I believe, was the term we employed. But I presume we shall not dispute about the name.’ [3]


 [1] Heidegger would draw great influence from this with his notion of truth Aletheia

[2]  I am persuaded by W.K.C Guthrie’s anti-epistemology his interpretation of Socrates’ famous method, “the method is used to demonstrate one’s ignorance”… because all forms of knowledge are inherently limited. Perhaps completely fallacious?  

[3] An excellent resource for students of the classics and a free internet resource for texts is this: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/… It is where I sourced the ancient Greek quotations from Plato.

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