What is Dialectics?
Dialectical thinking is sometimes unfashionable. But in a world shot through with contradiction and ambiguity—progress or disaster, equality or stratification, technology or nature, market freedom or political freedom, minority identity or class or national community—it’s also irrepressible. What comes out of thinking with and through contradiction? Can dialectics as a method furnish the tools for not only understanding the world, but also, potentially, for changing it?
In this course, we will explore the meaning and modern arc of dialectics, the meta-logical methodology based on reflection and paradox. After briefly surveying the origins of dialectics in classical philosophy, we’ll move to a study of its modern applications, after its “baptism” by Hegel and transformation by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. We’ll consider the key dialectical traditions of the twentieth century—most importantly, Frankfurt School critical theory, Soviet dialectical materialism, Lacanianism, and the Kojèvian school (inaugurated by Alexandre Kojève)—before turning to its twenty-first century instantiations. We will ask: How does dialectical logic differ from formal logic? What are its main operations (problematizing, parallaxing, recursion, sublation) and principle categories (identity, contrariness, contradiction, negativity, synthesis)? Why, as dialecticians have it, is contradiction inherent in the formation and evolution of the social world? How can we understand the interconnection of things and the dynamic nature of identity and reality? Readings will be drawn from works by Aristotle, Proclus, Friedrich Schelling, Hegel, Engels, Kojève, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Slavoj Žižek, and Robert Pippin.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
July 16 — August 06, 2023