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+6 votes
I still dont really understand what this is, but i feel like a lot of academic communists and sometimes anarchists always throw around this word.  Is it actually important to understand this concept?
by (2.3k points)

3 Answers

+5 votes
it may or may not be important. it depends on what kind of conversations you want to have.
it's a concept pretty basic to marxist understanding, and of course there is a lot of controversy (at least here?) about the value of understanding things that marx said, or agreeing with them...

on the most simple level, dialectics describes the process by which things progress - ie there is a thing and it has certain contradictions that are inherent to it. at some point those contradictions become strong enough to change the thing, and then there is a new thing. that is the dialectical process. it makes some assumptions, like progress, that are irritating to some of us.

this would be clearer if i could think of some concrete examples, but i can't. so maybe someone else will follow up. this isn't my schtick anyway. but i'll leave it here until someone does a better one.

edited to change "which" to "that". because that's the way i am. :)
by (53.1k points)
edited by
–2 votes
A beginners orientation from fuckyeahdialectics. The spirit of the dialectic, in its modern form, is the attempt to do justice to complexity.
by (430 points)
–7 votes
Dialectics is the name of an advanced kind of thinking.

It is a kind of thinking that goes beyond the EITHER/OR absolute rigidity [never BOTH/AND] of formal-logic thinking.

Dialectics is a kind of thinking that the plurality of humanity will need to master before becoming capable of advancing from the state-capitalist, totalitarian, humanocidal dictatorship into which capitalisms converge, to equitarian political-economic democracy -- i.e., if humanity is to, first, survive, and then to thrive.

Call dialectic the kind of thinking that emerges in "the dialectical operations stage of adult human cognitive development", after the "formal operations stage of adult cognitive development" is surpassed.

The best way to briefly express the core principle of dialectic is via the Seldonian -- purely qualitative -- category notation.

The reality represented by a kind-of-thing category, call it "a", interacts with itself, or 'intra-acts' -- in the internal mind-world, or in the external world, or in both, e.g., concurrently -- because of the "internal strife" within that reality.

[using "a^2" to stand for " acts on a", "a interacts with a", "a squared", "a in the 2nd degree", "a times itself", or "a OF a"] --

a^2  =  a x a  =  a + b

-- where "b" names the contra-category to category "a".  

The self-negation of "a", modeled by its self-multiplication, produces "a" again, but also produces its opposite ["a", "plus" its opposite, "b", like apples "plus" oranges].

For example, "a" might stand for the "primitive communal" kind of society, with which humanity began.

Then, "b" might stand for its historical successor and opposite kind of society, class self-divided society.

The "formal operations stage of adult cognitive development" stops its kind of thinking with the irreconcilable, "eternal" opposition of a and b as idea[l]s, and, as realities, demands the complete dominance of one, and the complete obliteration of the other by the one.

But the "dialectical operations stage" thought-process expects to see the "karmic" negation again of that first negation --

a^3  =  a x ( a x a)  =  a x (a + b)  =  a + b + C(a,b)

-- where C(a,b) stands for the combination, "complex unity", or "dialectical synthesis" of the erstwhile opposites a and b.

Note:  This "category combinatorics" can continue beyond the third term, C(a,b).

But the simplest "image" of dialectics I know of is:

a  --->  a(a(a))  =  ~(~(a))  =  a + b + C(a,b).
Downvoted for "Everyone must learn to think in this specialized way if they are to become free!" attitude.
Dear anok,

Dialectics is not specialized:  it is universal.

The Seldonian way of expressing it IS specialized.

For more about the Seldonian category-notation, see --
dear miguel, i think you missed the point of the feedback?

on the other hand, i was *just* thinking that this site needed more math. :)
This seems really masturbatory. Miguel, can you explain the a^3 equation again? I'm blue-balled. ....and what do you mean by self-negation?
Dear Dot,

Had chosen to ignore the other "point" of the feedback, but since you allude to it -- that makes two -- I will address it:

Sub-dialectical nincompoops, who can't think their way out of a paper bag, are unlikely to be able to construct a trans-capitalist, political-economic democracy, or even to preserve existing society against the gathering descendant-phase capitalist forces toward a New/Final Dark Age.

Nor are formalists -- whether or not, like Monsieur Jordan with his "prose", they don't know that they have been speaking formal logic all along -- who can't get past radical dualisms into synthesis, are unlikely to be capable of constructing political-economic democracy.

I'm not saying that everyone must learn Seldon's formula -- that IS specialized, requiring some degree of arithmetical and algebraic literacy.  

But dialectics itself is something universal, which many must appropriate, or come to in their own ways, if humanity is to become capable of reaching "escape velocity" from the enormous undertow of descendant-phase capitalism.

Nonetheless, Seldon's formula is deeply helpful, for those who do not let themselves be intimidated by formulas.

For those here who are interested, that formula is developed, AND  APPLIED, at the following websites --


Dear ForMyInformation,

ForYourInformation:  Hmm... Someone who connects advanced human cognition with masturbation -- I'm not sure whether this bespeaks some deep Tantric insight, or just crude, gutter reductionism.

The full Seldon formula for dialectic, that can go as far beyond just the first three terms of the triadic dialectic as needed for a given dialectical model, is --

a^(3^S)  where the S is a whole number that counts the step of the dialectical categories-progression.  

This formula means that the exponent of category a, 3, is itself raised to the further exponent, S.

So, starting from S = 0, for the 0th Step of the argument/progression --

a^3^0  =  a^1  =  a

-- and you just get back category a, the starting point of the whole progression of categories.

When you move on to S =1, for the 1st Step of the argument/progression, you get the formula that you asked about --

a^3^1  =  a^3  =  a x a x a   =   a of (a of a)  =  a(a(a))   =   ~(~(a))   =

 aaa   =   a x ( a + b)   =   aa + ab   =   a  +  b  +  ab   =   a + b + C(a, b)

-- you can see that the "negation operator" -- the "negator", '~' -- for the category a, in the negation of the negation of category a --


-- is the category a ITSELF:   ~ = category a itself, FOR / RELATIVE TO category a.

When you move on to S = 2, the 2nd Step of the argument/progression, your get --

a^(3^2)  =  a^9

-- which generates a "sum" of 9 qualitatively distinct categories:  a triad OF TRIADS.   And so on, to higher Steps in the argument/progression, if needed to model the reality at hand.

Thus --  

~a   =   a x a   =   aa   =   a + b

-- stands for the dialectical "SELF-Negation" of category a.

Dialectical self-negation is NOT the same as formal logical, propositional negation.  

Dialectical self-negation is NOT just a "Not".

Dialectical self-negation is a SELF-<<Aufheben>> operation -- to use the German word, <<aufheben>>, the word that, for example, Hegel, Marx, and Engels used when writing about dialectic -- such that category a concurrently (1) transforms, (2) conserves, and (3) elevates category a itself, IN CATEGORY a's OWN WAY [also called "determinate negation", or "concrete negation", which transforms a "something" into a "something else", as opposed to formal, "abstract negation", which turns a "something" into a "nothing"].

For example, in the dialectic of pre-human Nature, when atoms expandedly reproduce their populations at various loci within the self-evolving cosmos -- within the galactic interstellar medium of each typical galaxy -- and also "self-concentrate" in terms of physical-space proximity, e.g., in the early "atomic clouds" from which new stars are self-born, atoms begin to form molecules, initially a new, unprecedented, never-before existing kind/category of physical being.

A molecule is a 'meta-atom', in that each molecule is made up out of a [typically] heterogeneous multiplicity of atoms -- H2O, CO2, CN, CH4, NH4, etc., etc.

Atoms themselves, growing quantitatively, i.e. growing in numbers, e.g., from ongoing stellar nucleosynthesis/novae/other stellar mass ejection, and concentrating, self-densifying, in local physical space volumes, themselves cause the qualitative change of the irruption of the first molecules.

Thus, this natural-historical process constitutes a dialectical SELF-negation of atoms, which produces more atoms but also the qualitatively different, new, more advanced kinds of things that are molecules --

atoms --->  atoms + molecules.

This is a "self-<<aufheben>> self-negation" of atoms, because molecules are (1) a [self-]TRANSFORMATION of atoms, that are qualitatively different from atoms; (2) a [self-]CONSERVATION of atoms, because the atoms are still there, INSIDE each molecule, and; (3) a [self-]ELEVATION of atoms, because molecules represent a new, higher [more inclusive] PLANE OF EXISTENCE, relative to the [lower, less-inclusive] PLANE OF EXISTENCE occupied / constituted by atoms / primordial interstellar atomic clouds:

atoms^3   =   atoms x atoms x atoms    =    ~(~(atoms))    =

atoms + molecules + Combinations/Hybrids of atoms with molecules

-- e.g., C(atoms, molecules)   =   "galactic, interstellar MOLECULAR[/atomic] CLOUDS".  


For some reason of idiocy (or indeed sub-dialectical nincompoopery), I feel compelled to respond.

If it is true, as you say, that dialectical thinking is the needed ingredient "to construct a trans-capitalist, political-economic democracy," then I assure you my sole relation to this kind of thinking would be to fuck it up, attack it, or to otherwise escape and hinder its development.

For that matter, if it is true that dialectics are needed "even to preserve existing society," then they are even more assuredly something I would wish to destroy as quickly as possible.
Dear Anok,

Yes . . . there are some so-called "anarchists" who don't realize that there can be states of civilization -- especially states of NON-civilization -- that are EVEN WORSE than capitalism.

However, if too many of us -- like you -- choose to remain sub-dialecticals, then those "anarchists" will have ample time to learn -- by traumatic experience -- just how hellishly, horrifically worse the New/Final Dark Age to which present, descendence-phase capitalism -- in the absence of world-wide, popular revolution -- is leading, just before they die hellish, horrifying deaths, along with most of the rest of us!

new punk band!
The Sub-Dialectical Nincompooperists!
@miguel: can you be both condescending and dialectical at the same time? i know you are being the former. but i still can't tell if you are being the latter, since your "explanation" of dialectics increased my understanding of it by exactly zero percent. it did, however, make it clear that i need to think differently if i am to be an anarchist. glad i caught that before i signed my final membership forms.

@dot: i'm on bass! (but i'll be playing funk, not punk)