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Hegel stresses the paradoxical nature of consciousness; he knows that the mind wants to know the whole truth, but that it cannot think without drawing a distinction. Unfortunately, every distinction has two terms, every argument has a counter-argument, and consciousness can only focus on one of these at a time. So it fixes first on the one, then under pressure fixes second on the other, until it finally comes to rest on the distinction itself. Hegel refers to this process of alternation and rest as dialectic. Dialectical motion has three stages: THESIS, ANTITHESIS, and SYNTHESIS.
THESIS: Start here: "I am born; I am a child."
ANTITHESIS: Negation of the thesis. "I have grown; I am an adult; so, I am NOT the child I used to be."
SYNTHESIS: Negation of the opposition between thesis and antithesis. "I am NEITHER child NOR adult, but a whole person."
THESIS: Looking at a glass with some water in it, consciousness would not see anything at all if it did not distinguish between what is water and what is not water. If we suppose that consciousness begins as an optimist, then its thesis is an argument that the glass is half-full.
ANTITHESIS: Faced with the objection that this is not the whole truth, consciousness becomes a pessimist who argues for the antithesis that the glass is half-empty. The antithesis is the opposite of the thesis.
SYNTHESIS: Faced with the objection that this is not the whole truth either, and having already taken both sides, consciousness realizes that the whole truth is a synthesis: the volume that is empty equals the volume that is full.
Dialectical motion can be far more complicated than this simple example reveals. But the mind generally moves from one side of an opposition to another, finally discovering a deeper unity from which the two sides are derived. This motion is dialectic.
Dialectical motion does not just end when the synthesis is reached. The synthesis becomes a new thesis, and the mind then goes through another dialectical process at a HIGHER LEVEL. So dialectical motion is like climbing stairs; it's the ascent out of the Platonic Cave.
William Paterson University Philosophy Department