Dearest Historical Forms of Consciousness,
I am beyond excited to be introducing the concept of dialectical thinking. Dialectical thinking is a form of thinking that has unconsciously served my development since I started to become interested in the deepest questions of being and reality. I, without being aware, implicitly started to use the dialectical method in a crude form to learn about the evolutionary sciences and evolutionary philosophy of the world, in active antagonism with theological studies and the religious philosophy of the world. Later in my academic development I started to become consciously aware of the method of dialectics as a logical tool that has been articulated, taught, and used by some of the greatest thinkers who have ever lived in order to approach a deeper understanding of truth. My active and productive experience with dialectical thinking, coupled with my knowledge of its remarkable history and conceptual power, is the main reason why I am so excited to be sharing with you what I have learned about dialectics, and how I think it can be an aid to you in your process of reflective becoming.
What is dialectics? Dialectics in its simplest essence is a method of investigating the truth of opinions through studying logical contradictions of subjective position in the historical process. For example, when I was starting to develop as an academic I attempted to investigate the truth of my knowledge of evolutionary science and the evolutionary philosophy of the world (a logical opinion) through identifying logical contradictions of alternative knowledge claims to truth (i.e. theological studies and the religious philosophy of the world). Through this development my mind started to approach questions in an evolutionary perspective that possessed direct relevance to theological mysteries. In this context, the dialectical method is neither the evolutionary nor the religious truth claims. The dialectical method is the way in which truth-claims possess a meta-level (“second-order”) structure in historical subjective positions that are inherently contradictory, but nonetheless productive/generative of new thinking. In understanding the productive/generative nature of logical contradiction (or “antinomies of reason”) there is the possibility to more consciously create new knowledge and resolve unproductive and degenerative conflicts.
In this class we will be trying to cover all of the essentials of dialectics that will be of use for a grasp “why” dialectics is important for theorists and practitioners, “who” has introduced dialectics and how its maturation across time has affected the development of civilization, “what” claims it makes about the contemporary horizon of thought and institutional approaches to knowledge forms, and “how” it can be applied to the contemporary horizon of thought in order to think the terrifying otherness-to-come. In learning dialectical fundamentals I hope to make this often unconsciously practiced form of knowledge a more consciously practiced form of knowledge. In my experience, once one becomes consciously aware of the basic nature of dialectical logic, it is apparent that its structural role in intellectual debates, social tensions, political-economic wars, and even basic experiences and categories of reality, becomes intriguing and curious.
Most importantly, I hope that this conscious awareness does not make you feel like you have entered a “prison house of antinomies” (even though you may be in one!), but rather feel like you have found a technical key helping you to unlock truth in the dissolution of tired old repetitive antinomies which are no longer serving your “spiritual essence”. Thus, when you are finished with the class I hope that you not only have a deeper understanding of the form of dialectical thinking, but also a deeper understanding of how this form of thinking is active in the suprasensible structure of our psychic and social world. From my perspective a conscious understanding of dialectics can play a role in approaching a psychical and social horizon that oftentimes feels and appears impossible to understand, let alone reconcile. In order to get started on this pathway, please consider the reading and video suggestions below, as well as the exercise I have prepared in order to help ensure that we get the most out of our time together on February 21st 2020.
- Parmenides by Plato [link]
- This reading gives you a foundational dialogue demonstrating the active force of dialectics in the reflection on the fundamental nature of being. The content of the dialogue is still of metaphysical significance. This content involves a meditation on the hypothesis of the “one” and “multiplicity” as it relates to our basic and elementary presuppositions about the nature of reality. What is discussed in this metaphysical dialogue is often the hidden technicalities that underlie every other thought structure that we construct. The interlocutors derive from this discussion their basic understanding of “parts/wholes”, “something/nothing”, “rest/motion”, “circularity/linearity”, “time/eternity”, “one/other”, “identity/difference”, and so forth. However, the main treasure of the work is in understanding its intention and formal structure. The intention is to demonstrate that there is no consistent or coherent position. What there “really is” is rather a series of inconsistent and incoherent positions wherein one finds the truth of a position in its cracks/gaps (incompletion, uncertainty, and so forth). The formal structure is that of a logical exercise (like going to a mental gym). The best possible logical formulas for a metaphysical position are presented for contemplation/reflection, and these logical propositions are in turn critically assessed, reconciled with opposite propositions, and so forth.
- Compliment: [video / transcript]
- Foreword to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit [link]
- This reading gives you the best key to the basic structure of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit written in the 20th century (by J.N. Findlay). The Phenomenology of Spirit is one of the most important texts in Hegel’s bibliography, and is often considered to be one of the most important texts in the history of all philosophy. In Findlay’s Foreword one is introduced to the meaning of the text as a tool to help future philosophers reach a properly philosophical point of view as the observers and interpreters of the logical becoming of world spirit. From this perspective one can see Hegel as historically mobilizing as an active concept what is logically discussed by Plato in Parmenides. For Hegel, logical becoming of world spirit possessed a meta-level structure that could be understood as a process from immediate sensory immersion (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch) to absolute knowing of the eternal concept on the level of understanding. This process involved the pure coincidence of historical contingency and logical necessity mediating the in-itself for consciousness. In this Foreword one should pay close attention to the concepts of “universal particularity”, “notional movement”, “species of reflection”, “function of negation”, “formation of polarity”, and the triad of “universality, specificity, singularity”.
- Compliment: [video / transcript]
- Last, C. 2018. A Reflective Note for Dialectical Thinkers. International Journal of Žižek Studies, 12(4): 1-48. ISSN: 1751-8229. [link]
- Last, C. 2019. Žižek and Peterson: Demonstrating the Importance of Higher Order Dialogue. International Journal of Žižek Studies, 13(2): 1-37. ISSN: 1751-8229. [link]
- Psychic Exercise (1.1; 1.2):
- Conceptual backgrounds are extremely powerful structures/forms. When one strongly identifies as “religious” or a specific denomination (e.g. “Christian” or “Buddhist”), the conceptual background can become all-encompassing, with all events and actions becoming interpreted through its implicit structure/form. The same is true in a scientific, political, economic or other contexts, when one strongly identifies as a “scientist” or a specific form of scientist (e.g. “physicist” or “evolutionist”); a “Marxist” or a “Neoliberal” or a “Anarchist” or a “Feminist”, the conceptual background can likewise become all-encompassing, with all events and actions becoming interpreted through its implicit structure/form. The same can also be true in philosophical context even if the philosophy claims to be “against” or “anti” such conceptual tendencies. This exercise does not seek to critique or deconstruct such conceptual tendencies, but rather seeks to understand the process of the formation and dissolution of such tendencies as they occur in-themselves.
- (1.1) In this exercise I want you to reflect on a time in your life when you were passionately “gripped” or “all-consumed” by a certain constellation of ideas. What events were involved in the formation of the ideational hold? What role do you think your emotions or motives played in the formation of the ideational hold? How did the ideational hold change your actions or the way you interpreted your world? How did the ideational hold affect your relationships or the way you viewed opposite or other forms of ideas? What events were involved in the collapse or dissolution of this ideational hold? Finally, in retrospect, how do you relate to this ideology now that it is no longer related to in a strong emotional mode? Do you view this ideology with a skeptical distance? Do you view this ideology with positive, negative or neutral feelings? How do you see the people who are still within or all-consumed by this ideology (or your own self with a new set of ideas)?
- (1.2) In an optional but complimentary exercise, I want you to reflect on a time in your life when this same basic “ideational force” was experienced in relationship to another human person. In other words, I want you to reflect on a time in your life when you were passionately “gripped” or “all-consumed” by a certain other human person. The same basic questions apply: what events were involved in the formation of the ideational hold? What role do you think your emotions or motives played in the formation of the ideational hold? How did the ideational hold change your actions or the way you interpreted your world? How did the ideational hold affect your (other) relationships or the way you viewed opposite or other human forms? What events were involved in the collapse or dissolution of this ideational hold? Finally, in retrospect, how do you relate to this human person now that s/he is no longer related to in a strong emotional mode? Do you view this other human person with a skeptical distance? Do you view this other human person with positive or negative or neutral feelings? How do you see the people who are still within or all-consumed by an other human person (or even yourself with a new other)?
- Social Exercise (2.1; 2.2):
- Social antagonism or tension is a basic feature of human life. There was never a time or a space, whether it be in our hunter-gatherer past, or in the most modern 21st century family, company, or community, where human social life was free of social antagonism or tension. What are we supposed to do with such a basic feature of human social life? There seem to be three basic options: (1) live a life of withdrawal or isolation from human others for the (so-called) “peace and serenity” of the inner mind; (2) develop an ideology of future social “peace and serenity” (“utopia”) where all antagonisms and tensions will magically disappear due to the “revolutionary cause”; or (3) develop an emotionally mature and wise relationship to the antagonisms and tensions, to see in these problems a source of opportunity for “spiritual growth”. Towards this final option there is the possibility for a perspectival shift on the nature of our social life: what was once seen as an absolute negativity that could only be resolved with withdrawal or imaginary protections, is now seen as a positive force for becoming and the emergence of something new.
- (2.1) In this exercise I want you to identify a person in your past or your present who you have had a pure antagonism or tension with and analyze the nature of the difference which created and maintained the conflict. If possible, I want you to ask the person who was or is involved in the conflict to analyze the nature of the difference which created and maintained the conflict, from their perspective. When you have both perspectives on the difference I want you to do a structural analysis of the ideas that are involved in the difference. Are there elements of the difference that are “beyond reconciliation” (or “fundamental incompatibilities”)? Are there elements that are only differences due to poor understanding of the other or some structural flaw in communication? Are there elements that are reconcilable on the level of conscious logic but which persist for unconscious emotional reasons? If so, what do these unconscious emotional reasons teach you about your own self? Finally, is it possible to see a “beyond” of the antagonism or tension that involves deeper perspective, and which simultaneously destroys the past identity and opens up the space for new identity?
- (2.2) In an optional but complimentary exercise, I want you to identify a particular world historic conflict that may represent a pure antagonism or tension that appears beyond reconciliation. This could include a political, ethnic, racial, cultural, economic, sexual, gender or other difference. In order to maximize the use value of this exercise, it would be ideal if this was a conflict that you have a particularly strong identification with on one side or another, either in the past or in the present. On this level, I want you to attempt to analyze the nature of the difference which creates and maintains the conflict. If possible, I want you to ask a person who has a particularly strong identification on the opposite side of your own. In an analogous form to the previous exercise, when you have both perspectives on the difference, I want you to do a structural analysis of the ideas that are involved in the difference. Are there elements of the difference that are “beyond reconciliation” (or “fundamental incompatibilities”)? Are there elements that are only differences due to poor understanding of the other or some structural flaw in communication? Are there elements that are reconcilable on the level of conscious logic but which persist for unconscious emotional reasons? If so, what do these unconscious emotional reasons teach you about your own self? Finally, is it possible to see a “beyond” of the antagonism or tension that involves deeper perspective, and which simultaneously destroys the past identities and opens up the space for new identity?
- I expect to receive a minimum of one thoughtful paragraph response to at least one section from each exercise (psychic + social). If you feel so motivated by the exercise, the maximum I expect is a 2 page response to both sections from each exercise (psychic + social).
- 1 thoughtful paragraph to exercise 1.1 and 1 thoughtful paragraph to exercise 2.1 (or 1.2 and 2.2) (or some other variation),
- 2 page response to exercise 1.1, 1.2; 2 page response to exercise 2.1, 2.2.
- You can send your replies to email@example.com
- Deadline: February 17th 2020.