Friday, July 26, 2019

Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis

The triad “thesis, antithesis, and synthesis” is generally attributed to Hegel, but Hegel does not mention the triad in his works. Some commentators have attributed the Hegelian triad to Fichte, but they don’t point out the work where Fichte has deployed it.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels have used the triad in their materialistic conception of history--for instance, in Marx's 1847 work The Poverty of Philosophy--but their version of the Hegelian triad must be seen as an outcome of their own understanding of the philosophy of Hegel and Fichte. The origin of the triad, however, can be traced to Ancient Greece—to the Classical Philosophy of Socrates and Plato, and Aristotle. The Platonic dialogues follow a dialectical form: An argument (thesis) is followed by a counterargument (antithesis); either the counterargument cancels out the argument or it leads to the development of a final position which consists of a “synthesis” of the opposing arguments and represents an improvement in the position taken by the argument and the counterargument. Aristotle has said that rhetoric is a counterpart of dialectics.

Plato and Aristotle agree with each other on several points—but they also have several major differences. Platonism can be seen as the thesis, and Aristotelianism as the antithesis. The process of developing a synthesis between Platonism and Aristotelianism began with the Hellenistic Neo-Platonists and the philosophers in Ancient Rome, and was finally accomplished by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The philosophy of Aquinas is not pure Aristotelian—it's a synthesis between Plato and Aristotle. Aquinas was inspired by the Platonic thought of St. Augustine, and through the works of Boethius, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Proclus, Aquinas picked up a lot of neo-Platonism. In his works, the tension between the works of Plato and Aristotle is resolved.

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