Dialectical Thinking: Zeno, Socrates, Kant, and Marx

Dialectical Thinking: Zeno, Socrates, Kant, and Marx

Dialectical Thinking: Zeno, Socrates, Kant, and Marx

Dialectical Thinking: Zeno, Socrates, Kant, and Marx

Synopsis

Dialectical thought is understandable and relevant to many kinds of persons. One does need to have a degree in philosophy to be moved by the great dialecticians. One may even be a dialectician without academic training.Dialectical reasoning is found in sources from ancient East Asia and Greece to modern Europe and the contemporary world; a similar formal pattern recurs and the thinking is essentially the same. Two things typify dialecticians. First, they think in contradictions, exposing paradoxes and problems in places where their hearers are not accustomed to seeing these. Second, they are self-conscious in their operations, making of creative or critical thought not only a means to something external but also an end of it own. the sources focused on in Dialectical Thinking are four: Zeno, Socrates, Kant, and Marx. There are also appendices on Karl Popper and the Frankfurt School. Dialectics have many different uses. This territory has not been exhausted by the great names. Despite this, dialectical reasoning is not something ambiguous or mystical. Dialectical thought is always oppositional and self-relational. It does not simply keep changing its shape; rather, it has a formal core which is stable through the fluctuations of history. In a nutshell, dialectics are always about the dynamics of the self. This is the central topic that draws together so many minds from different backgrounds.

Excerpt

This book grew out of my experiences as a philosophy teacher in the past few years, most recently at the University of Helsinki. My students often asked me for explanations that were missing from the books that I was able to find. I felt I had to invent the answers myself. But then, curiously, the answers I invented seemed to work. How? First, the students normally understood them easily. Second, many students found them useful in formulating their own arguments. Third, the original texts of philosophy that we read, from Hinduism, Plato, and Aristotle, to Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, and so on, seemed often to accord with the patterns I articulated. It appeared, therefore, that the gap had been filled. But in this way the materials for a new book had simultaneously been created. Much of the material of this book is material from the classes I have taught. I am now telling a wider audience of readers quite nearly what I have already told a smaller group of students in person.

I should point out, however, that my students’ questions did not concern only the word or concept of “dialectic.” They had no reason to focus so much on that. Rather the issue was often what type of reasoning philosophers tend to use. How was one to read a passage in Plato, or in Descartes? What kind of a thing was aspired to in philosophy in the first place? Why should one philosophize? What was this thing called “philosophy” about on a general level anyway? It is not science, obviously, but nor is it only myth. I felt that there was a need to identify a generalized kind or typmy . . .

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