Single, Double, and Triple Loop Organizational Learning

Single, Double, and Triple Loop Organizational Learning

Key Terms

  • Learning
  • Organizational Learning
  • Chris Argyris
  • David Schon
  • Peter Senge
  • Single Loop Learning
  • Double Loop Learning
  • Triple Loop Learning
  • Quadruple Loop Learning
  • Error Correction
  • Feedback Loop
  • Gregory Bateson
  • Action Learning
  • Cybernetic Loop
  • Reflexivity
  • Reflection and Learning
  • Systems Thinking
  • Cause and Effects
  • Organizational Adaptability
  • Organizational Culture
  • Theory In Use Models I and II
  • Action Science
  • Ed Schein
  • Levels of Learning
  • Planning as Learning
  • Cybernetics
  • Second Order Cybernetics
  • Third Order Cybernetics
  • Perceptual Flaws
  • Cognitive Learning
  • Hierarchical Planning
  • Management Control Systems
  • Management Planning and Control Systems
  • Planning and Control Systems
  • Manufacturing Planning and Control Systems
  • Advanced Planning Systems (APS)
  • Balanced Scorecards
  • Strategic Management
  • Social Learning
  • Learning to Plan, Planning to learn
  • Deutero Learning
  • Meta Learning
  • Explicit Knowledge
  • Tacit Knowledge

Single and Double Loop Learning

Source: Deradicalization through Double-Loop Learning? How the Egyptian Gamaa Islamiya Renounced Violence

Argyris and Schon thereby start with the assumption that “all deliberate action ha[s] a cognitive basis, that it reflect[s] norms, strategies, and assumptions or models of the world.”21 These mental models work as a “frame of reference” which determine expectations regarding cause and effect relationships between actions and outcomes.22 According to Argyris and Schon, organizational learning becomes necessary when there is an “error,” a mismatch between intended outcomes of strategies of action and actual results; consequently, they define learning as the “detection and correction of error.”23 This correction of errors happens through a continuous process of organizational inquiry of varying depth. Argyris and Schon distinguish two types of learning:24 In single-loop learning systems, the detection and correction of error connects the outcome in a single loop only to strategies of action whereas the governing variables remain unchanged. In double-loop learning systems, a double feedback loop “connects the detection of error not only to strategies and assumptions for effective performance, but to the very norms which define effective performance.”25 Hence, double-loop learning modifies the governing variables underlying objectives.

Single-loop learning to increase the effectiveness of actions is the dominant response to error and ingrained in routine procedures in any organization. Unfortunately, due to organizational inertia and a tendency to become defensive when confronted with failure, organizations have a tendency to produce learning systems that inhibit double-loop learning that would question their objectives and governing variables.26 Single-loop learning systems are characterized by attempts to increase effectiveness without questioning norms underlying objectives. When organizations initiate change to curb activities under existing norms, a conflict in the norms themselves can emerge. For example, requirements for change can come into conflict with the requirement of predictability.27 Argyris and Schon suggest that in order to double-loop learn, leaders must first recognize the conflict between conflicting requirements itself. They must become aware that they cannot correct the error by doing better what they already know how to do. They must engage in deep organizational inquiry: in this process the focus has to shift from learning concerned with improvement in the performance of organizational tasks to inquiry through which an organization explores and restructures the values and criteria through which it defines what it means by improved performance.28 This is often inherently conflictual. Double-loop learning can namely be inhibited when norms are undiscussable within organizations. That leaders may be unaware of the conflict between conflicting requirements may be one reason why norms become undiscussable within organizations, leading to a double-bind situation for individuals. If they expose an error, they question covert or unquestionable norms. If they do not expose an error, they perpetuate a process that inhibits organizational learning.29 Individuals thus face lose/losepage6image1381222848

STUDIES IN CONFLICT & TERRORISM 5 situations in which the rules of the game are not open to discussion.30 Commonly,

organizational norms also make the double binds themselves undiscussable:

Such procedure means that the very information needed to detect and correct errors becomes undiscussable. If one wanted to design a strategy to inhibit double-loop learning and to encourage error, a better one could not be found.31

Argyris and Schon conclude that organizations have a tendency to produce learning systems that inhibit double-loop learning as it would question their objective and norms.32 Double binds indicate such single-loop learning systems. Does the lack of cognitive abilities, as well as perceptual flaws, explain why individuals become locked in double binds, and why learning in organizations becomes inhibited? According to Argyris and Schon, the problem lies with organizational defenses that lead to a lack of error perception, rendering errors uncorrectable. Defensive organizational routines come into play when threatening or embarrassing issues arise, preventing lessons from being learned.33 Defensive routines – such as sending mixed messages or being overly diplomatic – are frequently activated when they are most counterproductive. Defensive routines can create binds:

On the one hand, […] [p]articipants are not supposed to bypass errors. Moreover, the bypass is undiscussable […] On the other hand, if the errors, their undiscussability, and the cover-ups surface, the participants are subject to criticism … 34

Defensive routines therefore prevent members of organizations from discovering the root causes of the problem and lead to paradoxes because individuals design inconsistencies of meaning and camouflage them by producing mixed messages: “to be consistent, act inconsistently, and act as if that is not the case.”35 A second consequence is that people start creating attributions to make sense of other peoples’ actions – attributions which are frequently wrong but remain unquestioned. As a result, reactions lead to unintended consequences. So why do people create consequences that contradict their intentions?36 Argyris and Schon consider that people are responsible for their actions, and that individuals who deny responsibility usually put the blame on others.37

In contrast, in double-loop learning systems productive reasoning takes place, following a logic that is not self-referential, where people take responsibility, acknowledge when there is a mismatch between intention and outcome, share awareness of organizational dilemmas, engage such conflicts through inquiry, and decrease double binds.38 In this second learning loop, the focus shifts from learning how to better accomplish tasks within a given frame of reference to learning what to do by questioning the frame of reference itself.39 In other words, while single-loop learning focuses on improving what an organization already does, or “doing the things right,” double-loop learning is concerned with what organizations ought to do, or “doing the right things.”40 However, Argyris and Schon find only limited empirical evidence for double-loop learning systems and remark that it depicts an ideal type that can be approached, making it possible to speak of organizations learning in a more or less double-loop way.41 The dynamics described above explain how double-loop systems become inhibited and how people hide their responsibility by blaming the environment for their inability to double-loop learn. Argyris and Schon also address intervention strategies that help organizations approach double-loop learning. One tool is the drawing of a diagnostic map describing how the organization learns. Such a map, they suggest, can help with predictions if certain changes were to be implemented,42 and can be used to depict alternative scenarios and their consequences.

Single Loop Learning

Source: Wikipedia

Double Loop Learning

Source: Wikipedia

Single and Double Loop Learning

Triple Loops of Learning

Source: The origins and conceptualizations of ‘triple-loop’ learning: A critical review

Many scholars have considered the concept of organizational learning as a dichotomy. In its basic, primary form they have described it as action oriented, routine and incremental, occurring within existing (mental) frameworks, norms, policies and rules. In the face of profound change in organizational environments, these scholars argue that a qualitatively distinct, secondary form of learning is necessary. This aims to change the (mental) frameworks, norms, policies and routines underlying day-to-day actions and routines (Cope, 2003).

This dichotomy has been expressed in a variety of terms: single-loop and double-loop (e.g. Argyris and Schön, 1974); lower-level and higher-level (Fiol and Lyles, 1985); first-order and second-order (Arthur and Aiman-Smith, 2001); exploitation and exploration (Levinthal and March, 1993; March, 1991); incremental and radical (Miner and Mezias, 1996); and adaptive and generative learning (Senge, 1990). Although these dichotomous terms stem from different perspectives on organizational learning, a reasonable consensus seems to have been established that they refer to comparable learning processes and outcomes (Argyris, 1996; Arthur and Aiman-Smith, 2001; Miner and Mezias, 1996). Thus, as defined by Argyris (1999: 68), single-loop learning occurs ‘whenever an error is detected and corrected without questioning or altering the underlying values of the system’, and double-loop learning occurs ‘when mismatches are corrected by first examining and altering the governing variables and then the actions’.

A number of authors have conceived of a further type of organizational learning, for which the most prominent term is ‘triple-loop’ learning (Flood and Romm, 1996; Isaacs, 1993; Romme and Van Witteloostuijn, 1999; Snell and Chak, 1998; Swieringa and Wierdsma, 1992; Yuthas et al., 2004). Typically, this is described as additional to, and metaphorically at a ‘higher’ or ‘deeper’ level than, primary and secondary forms of learning, the metaphor implying that this level has greater significance and profundity. Yet, in spite of its perceived importance, conceptualizations of this form of learning do not always make clear how it differs from, or relates to, primary or secondary forms. Scholars of organizational learning might look first to Argyris and Schön; significantly, though, we have established that whilst triple-loop learning has been inspired by Argyris and Schön, the term does not appear explicitly in their published work.

Within this we explore the original work of Argyris and Schön, and of the anthropologist and cybernetician Gregory Bateson, the major influences cited by authors who propose these conceptualizations. This enables us to make a theoretical contribution through identifying three distinct conceptualizations of triple-loop learning. These are:

A. a level beyond, and considered by proponents to be superior to, Argyris and Schön’s single-loop and double-loop learning;

B. an equivalent to Argyris and Schön’s (1978, 1996) concept of ‘deutero-learning’;

C. a proposed third level inspired by Bateson’s (1973)1 framework of levels of learning (specifically ‘Learning III’).

We discuss why these conceptualizations should be regarded as distinct from each other, and highlight some implications for practice.

Source: The origins and conceptualizations of ‘triple-loop’ learning: A critical review

Source: Levels of learning: hither and whither

Source: Coping with Uncertainty in River Management: Challenges and Ways Forward

Source: TOOL | Single, Double and Triple Loop Learning

Quadruple Loops of Learning

Source: Policy learning and crisis policy-making: quadruple-loop learning and COVID-19 responses in South Korea

Levels of Learning

Source: The origins and conceptualizations of ‘triple-loop’ learning: A critical review

Org. Culture, Learning, Performance

Source:A Configuration Model of Organizational Culture

Source:A Configuration Model of Organizational Culture

Source:A Configuration Model of Organizational Culture

Source:A Configuration Model of Organizational Culture

Source:A Configuration Model of Organizational Culture

Source:A Configuration Model of Organizational Culture

Source:A Configuration Model of Organizational Culture

Source:A Configuration Model of Organizational Culture



Source: Approaches for Organizational Learning: A Literature Review

Management Planning and Control Systems

Source: Performance management: a framework for management control systems research

Hierarchical Production Planning and Control

Source: A bibliography of Hierarchical Production Planning

Production Planning and Control Systems

Source: Google Images

Strategic, Tactical, and Operational Decisions

Source: Hierarchical Production Planning / Bitran/Tirupati/1989

My Related Posts

Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Recursive Vision of Gregory Bateson

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Feedback Thought in Economics and Finance

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Hierarchical Planning: Integration of Strategy, Planning, Scheduling, and Execution

Hierarchy Theory in Biology, Ecology and Evolution

Jay W. Forrester and System Dynamics

Production and Distribution Planning : Strategic, Global, and Integrated

Key Sources of Research

Triple-loop learning : theoretical framework, methodology & illustration

(An example from the railway sector)

Guillaume BarbatPhilippe BoigeyIsabelle Jehan

Dans Projectics / Proyéctica / Projectique 2011/2-3 (n°8-9), pages 129 à 141

What is Social Learning?

Author(s): Mark S. Reed, Anna C. Evely, Georgina Cundill, Ioan Fazey, Jayne Glass, Adele Laing, Jens Newig, Brad Parrish, Christina Prell, Chris Raymond and Lindsay C. Stringer

Source: Ecology and Society , Dec 2010, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Dec 2010) Published by: Resilience Alliance Inc.

Stable URL:

The learning organization and the level of consciousness 

Ricardo Chiva

Policy learning and crisis policy-making: quadruple-loop learning and COVID-19 responses in South Korea

Sabinne Leea, Changho Hwangb and M. Jae Moonc

aAssociate Research Fellow, Korea Institute of Public Administration, Seoul, South Korea; 

bAssistant Professor, Dong-A University, Busan, South Korea; 

cCollege of Social Science, Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea

2020, VOL. 39, NO. 3, 363–381

“A systemic approach to processes of power in learning organizations: Part I – literature, theory, and methodology of triple loop learning”,

Robert L. Flood, Norma R.A. Romm, (2018)

The Learning Organization, Vol. 25 Issue: 4, pp.260-272,
Permanent link to this document:

“A systemic approach to processes of power in learning organizations: Part II – triple loop learning and a facilitative intervention in the “500 schools project””,

Robert L. Flood, Norma R.A. Romm, (2018)

The Learning Organization,
Permanent link to this document:

A Mighty Step: Critical Systemic Interpretation of the Learning Organization

Robert Louis Flood and Hanne Finnestrand

The Oxford Handbook of the Learning Organization Edited by Anders Ragnar Örtenblad

Print Publication Date: Dec 2019
Subject: Business and Management, Organizational Theory and Behaviour
Online Publication Date: Jan 2020 DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198832355.013.11

Click to access A-Mighty-Step-Critical-Systemic-Interpretation-of-the-Learning-Organization.pdf


“Guest editorial”,

Max Visser, Ricardo Chiva, Paul Tosey, (2018)

The Learning Organization, Vol. 25 Issue: 4, pp.218-223,
Permanent link to this document:

Learning from the future meets Bateson’s levels of learning

Alexander Kaiser

Institute for Information Business, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria

The Learning Organization Vol. 25 No. 4, 2018 pp. 237-247

The origins and conceptualizations of ‘triple-loop’ learning: A critical review

Paul Tosey, Max Visser and Mark NK Saunders

Management Learning 2012 43: 291

originally published online 2 December 2011 DOI: 10.1177/1350507611426239

The online version of this article can be found at:

Click to access The-origins-and-conceptualizations-of-triple-loop-learning-A-critical-review.pdf

Why aren‟t we all working for Learning Organisations?

Professor John Seddon and Brendan O‟Donovan


Click to access why-arent-we-all-working-for-learning-organisations.pdf

The Culture of Learning Organizations: Understanding Argyris’s Theory through a Socio- Cognitive Systems Learning Model

Laura Friesenborg

University of St. Thomas, Minnesota

Thesis PhD 2013


Michael Mitchell, School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania

Rural Society · June 2013

Shifting from Unilateral Control to Mutual Learning

By Fred Kofman

The executive mind and double-loop learning


Available online 6 February 2004.

Organizational Dynamics
Volume 11, Issue 2, Autumn 1982, Pages 5-22

Problem-Solving as a Double-Loop Learning System 

by Jeff Dooley
© 1999 Adaptive Learning Design

chris argyris: theories of action, double‐loop learning and organizational learning

Double Loop Learning in Organizations

Chris Argyris
Harvard Business Review
No. 77502

Harvard Business Review (September 1977)

Click to access Chris-Argyris-Double-Loop-Learning-in-Organisations.pdf

Single-Loop and Double-Loop Models in Research on Decision Making

Author(s): Chris Argyris

Source: Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Sep., 1976), pp. 363-375 Published by: Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University Stable URL:

A Primer on Organizational Learning

By Olivier Serrat


Modes of Organizational Learning

by Soren Eilertsen, Ph.D., with Kellan London, M.A.

Click to access single_and_double_loop_learning.pdf

The origins and conceptualizations of ‘triple-loop’ learning: A critical review

July 2012

Management Learning 43(3):291-307

Paul Tosey
Max Visser
Mark NK Saunders‘triple-loop’-Tosey-Visser/ea24da54380dc3cabdac74deb6cc57132a470c8a

TOOL | Single, Double and Triple Loop Learning

Good Communication That Blocks Learning

by Chris Argyris

Harvard Business Review 1994
Reprint 94401

Click to access Chris-Argyris-Good-Communication-that-Blocks-Learning.pdf

Double loop learning in organizations

By uncovering their own hidden theories of action, managers can detect and correct errors

Chris Argyris

Harvard Business Review September-October 1977;response-content-disposition=inline%3B+filename%3DDouble_loop_learning_in_organizations.pdfu0026amp;Expires=1627165288u0026amp;Signature=GOY4COga2LJKGnc3XAB5ge8ybpWvBBmeO779XhTzktEKTrIQREbkh9V8apE6z2QMCT2vufBoTq1NSSHNDJj0GGXu66VeCS8D37cTi-onZECbPUF5wXZ7Oa2U5Ih54fN-muWcED9BKEmV4G0e7kF3kDeAWrCs0jX5zC63JnOOvAyRL0ZjCcDGeF2~7T7WeNSnNZBKFJZW49tXy~LjhoRil2s7HBZxYI-Fjjp~fylKpDgDRZnfouPkCSnLU1rpeQBQOgrPnb8qmF0Bl6APCc-edECHKgsDYYBiqViUQ4epMm1yZbCSeUlYV6ODDm1dzWbfarwnOtRBnGWozuUbTYwIYg__u0026amp;Key-Pair-Id=APKAJLOHF5GGSLRBV4ZA

Analyzing the loops and taking the steps on the journey toward a learning organization

Simon Reese

University of Maryland University College, Seoul, Korea

The Learning Organization Vol. 24 No. 3, 2017 pp. 194-197

DOI 10.1108/TLO-01-2017-0004

N-loop learning: part II – an empirical investigation

Bernard L. Simonin 

The Learning Organization

ISSN: 0969-6474

May 2017

N-loop learning: part I – of hedgehog, fox, dodo bird and sphinx

Bernard L. Simonin 

The Learning Organization

ISSN: 0969-6474

Article publication date: 10 April 2017

Challenges of the levels of learning

Nataša Rupčić 

The Learning Organization

ISSN: 0969-6474

Article publication date: 14 May 2018

Deradicalization through Double-Loop Learning? How the Egyptian Gamaa Islamiya Renounced Violence

Carolin Goerzig

To cite this article: Carolin Goerzig (2019): Deradicalization through Double-Loop Learning? How the Egyptian Gamaa Islamiya Renounced Violence, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2019.1680193

To link to this article:

Systems Thinkers

  • Magnus Ramage
  • Karen Shipp


Reframing Conflict: Intercultural Conflict as Potential Transformation

Beth Fisher-Yoshida

Journal of Intercultural Communication No.8, 2005

Developing the Leader’s Strategic Mindset: Establishing the Measures

John Pisapia, Daniel Reyes-Guerra, and Eleni Coukos-Semmel,

Kravis Leadership Institute, Leadership Review, Spring 2005, Vol. 5, pp. 41-68

What is Social Learning?



Mark S. Reed

Anna Clair Evely

Georgina Cundill

Ioan Fazey

The social learning discourse: Trends, themes and interdisciplinary influences in current research.

Environmental Science and Policy, 25, 157-166.

Strategic Learning


University of Oxford
Saïd Business School, Room 30.015 Park End Street
Oxford, OX1 1HP
United Kingdom +44(0)1865 288844

The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Strategic Management

David Teece and Mie Augier (eds.)

The Overview on Evolution of Learning Organization Theories

Sara. Ghaffari,1 Dr. Ishak. Mad Shah,2, and Jeveria Fazal3

Universiti Tecknologi Malaysia,

Modes of Knowing and Modes of Coming to Know Knowledge Creation and Co-Construction as Socio-Epistemological Engineering in Educational Processes

Markus F. Peschl

Constructivist Foundations

Volume 1 · Number 3 · Pages 111–123

Constructivist Foundations 1(3): 111–123.

Triple-loop learning as foundation for profound change, individual cultivation, and radical innovation: Construction processes beyond scientific and rational knowledge.

Peschl M. F. (2007)

Constructivist Foundations 2(2-3): 136–145.

A Configuration Model of Organizational Culture **

Daniel Dauber1, Gerhard Fink2, and Maurice Yolles

SAGE Open 1–16
DOI: 10.1177/2158244012441482

Exploring adaptability through learning layers and learning loops

Löf, Annette 

Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.


Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning: A framework for Collaboration

Dr. Michael Manning

CAAHE Academics Conference October, 2011
Austin, TX

Click to access KolbsModelofExperientialLearning.pdf


Daniel Dauber, WU -Vienna University of Economics and Business (

Gerhard Fink, WU -Vienna University of Economics and Business (

Maurice Yolles, Centre for the Creation of Coherent Change & Knowledge (C4K) (

Cross-disciplinary collaboration and learning. 

Pennington, D. D. 2008.

Ecology and Society 13(2): 8. [online] URL:

Barriers to organizational learning: An integration of theory and research

Jan Schilling1 and Annette Kluge

International Journal of Management Reviews (2009)

doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2370.2008.00242.x

Organizational learning in complex world

Agnieszka Dziubińska

Faculty of Management, University of Economics in Katowice, POLAND, Katowice, 1 Maja street 50,
E-mail: agnieszka.dziubiń

Click to access 87-246-249.pdf

Coming to a New Awareness of Organizational Culture ,

Schein, Edgar H., 

Sloan Management Review, 25:2 (1984:Winter) p.3

The Real Relationship Between Organizational Culture and Organizational Learning

Fumie ANDO

School of Business Administration, Nanzan University

Annals of Business Administrative Science Vol.1, No.2 (July 2002)

A Review of the Concept of Organisational Learning

By Catherine L Wang & Pervaiz K Ahmed

Working Paper Series 2002 Number WP004/02

ISSN Number ISSN 1363-6839

Catherine L Wang

Research Assistant
University of Wolverhampton, UK Tel: +44 (0) 1902 321651

Professor Pervaiz K Ahmed

Chair in Management
University of Wolverhampton, UK Tel: +44 (0) 1902 323921

Double-Loop Learning, Teaching, and Research


Chris Argyris

Performance management: a framework for management control systems research

David Otley􏰆

Management Accounting Research, 1999, 10, 363􏰀382

Article No. mare.1999.0115

Management Control Systems: A Historical Perspective

  • January 2010

Jordi Carenys


Peter Lorange

Michael S. Scott Morton

1974 MIT

Double-loop learning

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Approaches for Organizational Learning: A Literature Review **

Dirk BastenThilo Haamann

First Published August 12, 2018

A bibliography of Hierarchical Production Planning

Click to access A_BIBLIOGRAPHY.PDF



Camille M. Libosvar

Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems 

January 7. 1988


Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge. Massachusetts



August 1977

Technical Report No. 135
Work Performed Under
Contract N00014—75—C—0556, Office of Naval Research
Multilevel Logistics Organization Models
NR 347—027
M.I.T. OSP 82491
Operations Research Center
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
cambridge , Massachusetts 02139

“Hierarchical Production Planning”

Gabriel R. Bitran*t Devanath Tirupati**

MIT Sloan School Working Paper #3017-89-MS

May 1989

*Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA 02139

**Department of Management, The University of Texas at Austin

tThis research has been partially supported by the Leaders for Manufacturing Program.


Arnoldo C. Hax and Harlan C. Meal

May 1973


Hierarchical Production Planning: A Single Stage System

Gabriel R. Bitran, Elizabeth A. Haas and Arnoldo C. Hax

Operations Research
Vol. 29, No. 4, Operations Management (Jul. – Aug., 1981), pp. 717-743 (27 pages)
Published By: INFORMS
Operations Research

Hierarchical planning systems — a production application

Hax A.C., Bitran G.R. (1979)

In: Ritzman L.P., Krajewski L.J., Berry W.L., Goodman S.H., Hardy S.T., Vitt L.D. (eds) Disaggregation. Springer, Dordrecht.

  • Publisher Name Springer, Dordrecht
  • Print ISBN 978-94-015-7638-3
  • Online ISBN 978-94-015-7636-9

Hierarchical Production Planning: A Two Stage System


Gabriel R. Bitran

Elizabeth A. Haas

Arnoldo C. Hax

Analytical Evaluation of Hierarchical Planning Systems


Balliol College, Oxford, England


University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

L. JANSEN, 8. J. LAGEWEG, J. K. LENSTRA Mathematisch Centrum, AmsterdamThe Netherlands


Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

(Received December 1979; accepted March 1981)

Click to access RR-84-04.pdf

Deutero-Learning in Organizations: A Review and a Reformulation


Max Visser

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Scenarios: Frames of Possibilities and Plausibilities

Scenarios: Frames of Possibilities and Plausibilities

Key Terms

  • Scenarios
  • Scenario Planning
  • Futures
  • Intuitive Logics method
  • Shell
  • GBN
  • Oxford Scenarios Program
  • Predetermined Elements
  • Critical Uncertainty
  • Weak Signals
  • SRI International (Stanford Research Institute)
  • RAND Corporation
  • Hudson Institute
  • DNI US MoD
  • UK MoD
  • Scenario Quadrant
  • Multiple Scenarios
  • Bounded Rationality
  • Cognitive Biases
  • Frames
  • Availability Bias
  • Overconfidence
  • Anchoring
  • Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA)

Key Concepts


Black swans

Rare and discontinuous events that are unprecedented, unexpected and have major effects. They are often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight, but this tendency to see coherence can obscure future threats.

Cognitive bias

A pattern of deviation in judgment that influences the way information is received, processed, retained or called. Cognitive biases influence how inferences, judgements and predictions are drawn.

Cognitive dissonance

The mental stress or discomfort one experiences when confronted with new information or views that contradicts existing values or beliefs. Because humans strive for internal consistency, individuals tend to reduce cognitive dissonance by denying or devaluing new information and views, or rationalising their own values and beliefs.


Complex systems are non-linear and diverse networks made up of multiple interconnected elements. Cause and effect relationships within the system are not easily discernable or predictable. Historical extrapolation is futile for predicting emergence (new patterns and behaviours) in complex systems.

Cross-‐cutting issues

Issues or challenges that affect more than a single interest area, institution or stakeholder, and that need to be addressed from all points of view. A Whole-of-Government or Networked approach is useful for addressing cross-cutting issues.

Design thinking

An end-user centred approach to problem-solving that places the final experience at the heart of developing solutions. Following an iterative approach, the rapid prototyping component of design thinking allows for quick adaptation in uncertain environments and continual improvement.

Experimentation and prototyping

Experimentation is a process that seeks to test and validate competing hypotheses. Prototyping refers to creating models or sketches to test ideas and spot problems. Experimentation and prototyping are effective ways to navigate and test hypotheses and ideas in complex or rapidly changing environments.


A relationship of mutual reliance between two or more factors within a system such that changes in one area affect the other(s). 

Path dependency

Describes the inclination to stick to past practice despite the availability of newer, more efficient practices as a result of cognitive biases such as risk aversion, or concerns over sunk costs. Designing contingency plans with ample space for flexibility can reduce the constraints of path dependency.


A system’s ability to cope with and recover from shocks or disruptions, either by returning to the status quo or by transforming itself to adapt to the new reality. Resilient systems view change as inevitable and failure as opportunities to learn from. Social cohesion, trust in government and national pride can be indicators of resilience.

Retrospective coherence

The act of assigning coherence in hindsight in order to make sense of what is happening. Practicing retrospective coherence presents the danger of making decisions for the future based on the lessons of history that may not apply in similar situations.


Milestone markers between a given future and the present day that aid visualisation by breaking up the path to the future into manageable blocks of time. They can help to gauge the extent to which a particular scenario has materialised, and can be events, thresholds or trends and patterns.

Systems thinking

An analytical problem solving approach that looks at a system as a whole rather than in isolation, and that considers the interactions between various elements. The big-picture overview helps decision makers see linkages across different sections within the system and can foster collaboration and shared understanding within an organisation. Systems thinking also helps policymakers identify cause-effect relationships and how they might manifest in the larger system.

Unknown unknowns

Issues and situations in organisations that have yet to surface and which are blind spots for planners who are unaware that they do not know about them.

Whole-‐of-‐Government (WG)

A ‘joined-up’ or networked approach to governance that represents a shift from vertical to horizontal decision-making, and which is built on inter-agency collaboration and collective problem-solving. Whole-of-government involves a process of identifying, analysing and managing wide-ranging and cross-cutting issues.

Wicked problems

Large and intractable issues and challenges that have no immediate or obvious solutions and whose causes and influencing factors are not easily determined. Wicked problems are characterised by many agents interacting with each other in often mystifying ways, and involve multiple stakeholders operating with different perspectives and goals. 

Purpose of Scenarios

Source: Does the intuitive logics method – and its recent enhancements – produce “effective” scenarios?

Van der Heijden [15] argues that there is a confusing assortment of reasons as to why one should engage in scenarios. He advocates the importance of clearly identifying the purpose of undertaking scenario work — in order to make the appropriate selection of scenario methodology. Van der Heijden argues that “purpose” can be divided along two dimensions; the first dimension is to establish the extent of the scenario work i.e. whether the scenario work is to be a one-off project, or part of on an on-going scenario-based planning process. The second dimension is that of the primary aim of the scenario work, this being either to raise questions, or to answer them — and thus aid decision making.

The combination of these two dimensions results in four purposes of scenario work, namely:

• Sense-making: a one-off ‘exploratory question-raising scenario project’;
• Developing strategy: a one-off ‘decision-making scenario project’;
• Anticipation: an ‘on-going exploratory scenario activity’; and
• Action-based organizational learning: an ‘on-going decision-making activity’.

Van der Heijden continues by suggesting that these four purposes represent a hierarchy of interconnected aims serving the ultimate goal of “strategic success” in which organizational learning is the “overarching broad organisational skill” achieved when the scenario work is an on-going decision-making activity [15, page 162].

Benefits of Scenarios

Source: Does the intuitive logics method – and its recent enhancements – produce “effective” scenarios?

The (mainly practitioner-based) literature contains many testimonials as to the use and organizational benefits of scenarios, which we group under the following headings:

3.1. Enhanced perception

Scenario techniques reportedly enhance corporate and individual perception as they provide a framework for managers to understand and evaluate trends and events as they happen [16], and managers involved in scenario exercises supposedly become better observers of the business environment, more attuned to discerning changes [17]. Porter [18] suggests that scenarios help managers to make explicit their implicit assumptions about the future, and to think beyond the confines of conventional wisdom. This, combined with the fact that scenarios often challenge conventional wisdom and complacency by shifting the “perceptual anchors” from which people view the future, reduces the likelihood of managers and organizations making big mistakes in the future and/or of being caught unaware [19,20].

3.2. A structure for dealing with uncertainty

Scenarios provide a structure for thinking aimed at attacking complexity by allowing managers to deal more openly and explicitly with acknowledged uncertainty [21,16], to arrive at a deeper understanding of what is significant, and to identify what needs to be dealt with – and what is transient and can be ignored [11,22]. Bunn and Salo [23] suggest that, by emphasizing that there are a range of possible futures rather than a single-point future, scenarios reduce the bias for underestimating uncertainties. This is echoed by Docherty and McKiernan [24] who state that “the greatest contribution of scenario planning lies in its active engagement of actors in its process and its power to enable them to think about complexity and uncertainty in external contexts, and then how they might shape the external environment to their own strategic ends” (p. 10).

3.3. Integration of corporate planning functions

Scenario techniques provide a good middle ground between relying on informal and intuitive techniques, and being bound by the methodological constraints of more formal, quantitative techniques. As a result, a greater variety of information and wider company participation can be incorporated into the forecasting and planning process when scenario planning is used [16]. Other authors [25,26] add that scenarios are also able to combine topical intelligence and structure seemingly disparate environmental factors into a useful framework for decision making in a way that no other planning models can.

3.4. A communications tool

According to Allen [21], the communications qualities of scenarios are overwhelming as they provide a rational and non-threatening framework for discussion, even with those outside of the organization [27]. Durance and Godet [28] state that scenarios are also an effective means of rallying employees and communicating strategy across the organization. Bezhold [29] suggests that the scenarios can be used as a marketing and educational campaign throughout the organization. Ringland [25] adds that, by sharing its scenarios with the outside world, an organization can provide the context for dialog with its stakeholders — enabling it to influence its external environment. An added benefit [30] is that the collegiality which usually emerges in a scenario planning exercise does not evaporate once the scenario exercise is complete. Van der Heijden [15,31] reports that Royal Dutch Shell’s scenarios emerged as a powerful management tool by which senior management was able to influence decision-making at all levels throughout the organization, without becoming directly involved in the process or minutiae of the subsequent, scenario-based, evaluation of decisions. This was achieved by making the scenarios the context for key strategic decisions — thus uniting the geographically dispersed, disparate, and decentralized business units in developing a common strategy [28].

3.5. Organizational learning

Although scenario planning was initially understood as a tool for “thinking the unthinkable” [32], a body of literature has subsequently developed around the value of scenarios in terms of individual and organizational learning [11]. This is because scenario exercises ostensibly provide a politically-safe team learning environment and a rich learning process that stimulates creativity [11,15,33–37]. As models of future business environments, scenarios provide a vehicle for pseudo-experimentation in terms of formulating strategic options and then examining the consequences of these options in a range of future environments [15,30,31,38]. By having to articulate their assumptions in a scenario exercise, managers can identify inconsistencies in their own thinking and that of their colleagues in a non-threatening environment [25,37]. At the same time, the necessity in scenario work to undertake detailed analysis of environmental driving forces and their causal relationships, forces individuals to examine their perceptions, stretch their mental models and to develop a shared view of uncertainty [15,31]. All of the foregoing leads to an increased confidence in decision-making [16] and moves the organization towards becoming, what has been termed, a “learning organization” [15].

Based upon our consideration of the above purposes and benefits of the use of scenario methods, we distil from the literature three main objectives of the application of scenario approaches, as follows:

1) Enhancing understanding: of the causal processes, connections and logical sequences underlying events — thus uncovering how a future state of the world may unfold;

2) Challenging conventional thinking: to reframe perceptions and change the mindsets of those within organizations; and

3) Improving decision making: to inform strategy development.

Support for this conclusion also comes from the work of Varum and Melo who, after undertaking a comprehensive bibliometric analysis of the literature on scenario planning, argued that there is a consensus in the literature on three benefits of using scenarios, namely an “improvement of the learning process, improvement of the decision-making process, and identification of new issues and problems” [2, page.362].

Our three objectives are interlinked in that: firstly, understanding the connections, causal processes and logical sequences which determine how events may unfold to create different futures, will challenge conventional thinking and will also prove of benefit in improving organizational decision making and strategy; secondly, challenging conventional thinking, reframing perceptions and changing mind-sets should result in collective organizational learning; and, thirdly, collective organization learning should enhance organizational decision making and strategy — which in turn should enhance collective organizational learning.

Types of Scenarios

Source: An uncertain future, deep uncertainty, scenarios, robustness and adaptation: How do they fit together?

  • Predictive
    • Trend
    • Whatif
  • Explorative
    • Framed
    • Unframed
  • Normative
    • Preserving
    • Transformational

Types of Uncertainty

Source: Nine lives of uncertainty in decision-making: strategies for dealing with uncertainty in environmental governance

Source: A Scenario-based Approach to Strategic Planning – Integrating Planning and Process Perspective of Strategy

Multiple Frames of Changes in Contextual Environment on the Transcational Environment

Source: Using Scenario Planning to Reshape Strategy

Source: Multiple Scenario Development: Its Conceptual and Behavioral Foundation

Source: Multiple Scenario Development: Its Conceptual and Behavioral Foundation

Source: Multiple Scenario Development: Its Conceptual and Behavioral Foundation

Institutions and Methods of Scenario Planning

  • Shell/GBN Intuitive Logics Method
  • Oxford Scenario Planning Approach
  • La Prospective / M Godet
  • Rand Corporation
  • SRI International
  • GBN/Monitor/Deloitte/Center for Long View/Market Sensing and Scenario Planning

Source: Plausibility and probability in scenario planning

Source: The current state of scenario development: an overview of techniques

Research Journals and Authors on Scenario Planning





Scenarios Application

  • Business
  • Non Profit Org
  • Philanthropic
  • Public Sector
  • Arts and Culture
  • Governance
  • National Security
  • Transnational Issues

My Related Posts

Shell Oil’s Scenarios: Strategic Foresight and Scenario Planning for the Future

Water | Food | Energy | Nexus: Mega Trends and Scenarios for the Future

Global Trends, Scenarios, and Futures: For Foresight and Strategic Management

On Anticipation: Going Beyond Forecasts and Scenarios

Art of Long View: Future, Uncertainty and Scenario Planning

Narrative, Rhetoric and Possible Worlds

What are Problem Structuring Methods?

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Frames in Interaction

Frames, Communication, and Public Policymaking

Frames, Framing and Reframing

Dialogs and Dialectics

Strategy | Strategic Management | Strategic Planning | Strategic Thinking

Key Sources of Research:

Augmenting the intuitive logics scenario planning method for a more comprehensive analysis of causation

James Derbyshire a,∗, George Wright b

a Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research, Middlesex University, UK 

b Strathclyde Business School, University of Strathclyde, UK

International Journal of Forecasting 33 (2017) 254–266

Does the intuitive logics method – and its recent enhancements – produce “effective” scenarios?




Warwick Business School, Scarman Road, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK

bStrathclyde Business School, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

cSchool of Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia

Received 30 August 2012, Accepted 2 September 2012, Available online 29 September 2012.

Technological Forecasting and Social Change
Volume 80, Issue 4, May 2013, Pages 631-642

The origins and evolution of scenario techniques in long range business planning





KeesVan Der Heijdena4

aUniversity of Strathclyde, Graduate School of Business, 199 Cathedral Street, Glasgow G4 0QU, UK

bUniversity of Durham, Durham Business School, Mill Hill Lane, Durham DH1 3LB, UK

Available online 24 May 2005.

Volume 37, Issue 8, October 2005, Pages 795-812

How plausibility-based scenario practices are grappling with complexity to appreciate and address 21st century challenges




aFutures Programme, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, Hayes House, 75 George Street, Oxford OX1 2BQ, UK

bTHNK, Haarlemmerweg 8a, 1014 BE Amsterdam, The Netherlands

cSmith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, UK

dReims Management School, Reims, France

eSmith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, Hayes House, 75 George Street, Oxford OX1 2BQ, UK

Received 19 December 2011, Revised 28 September 2012, Accepted 1 October 2012, Available online 27 December 2012.

Technological Forecasting and Social Change
Volume 80, Issue 4, May 2013, Pages 699-710

Scenarios and early warnings as dynamic capabilities to frame managerial attention




aSaïd Business School, University of Oxford, Park End Street, Oxford, OX1 1HP, UK

bItäpaja Ltd., Urakkatie 10-12 A 2, 00680 Helsinki, Finland

cNormannPartners AB, Engelbrektsgatan 9-11, SE-114 32 Stockholm, Sweden

Received 4 November 2011, Revised 21 October 2012, Accepted 24 October 2012, Available online 19 November 2012.

Technological Forecasting and Social Change
Volume 80, Issue 4, May 2013, Pages 825-838

Rethinking the 2 × 2 scenario method: Grid or frames?



aSaid Business School, Oxford, UK

bSmith School of Enterprise and Environment, Oxford, UK

Received 19 March 2013, Revised 9 October 2013, Accepted 17 October 2013, Available online 22 November 2013.

Technological Forecasting and Social Change
Volume 86, July 2014, Pages 254-264

Integrating organizational networks, weak signals, strategic radars and scenario planning

Paul J.H.Schoemaker

George S.Day

Scott A.Snyder

Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Received 18 December 2011, Revised 7 October 2012, Accepted 9 October 2012, Available online 20 December 2012.

Technological Forecasting and Social Change
Volume 80, Issue 4, May 2013, Pages 815-824

Extensional versus intuitive reasoning: the conjunctive fallacy in probability judgment.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1983).

Psychological Review, 90, 293–315.

Scenarios and Forecasting: Two Perspectives

KeesVan Der Heijden

Received 1 December 1998, Accepted 1 January 1999, Available online 6 October 2000.

Technological Forecasting and Social Change
Volume 65, Issue 1, September 2000, Pages 31-36

Directions in scenario planning literature – A review of the past decades

Celeste Amorim


Department of Economics, Management and Industrial Engineering, University of Aveiro, Campus Universitário de Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal

Available online 18 November 2009.

Volume 42, Issue 4, May 2010, Pages 355-369

Decision making and planning under low levels of predictability: Enhancing the scenario method



aDurham Business School, University of Durham, Mill Hill lane, Durham City, DH1 3lB, United Kingdom

bSchool of Management, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, United Kingdom

Available online 5 June 2009.

International Journal of Forecasting
Volume 25, Issue 4, October–December 2009, Pages 813-825

Living in the Futures

Harvard Business Review May 2013

Strategic reframing : the Oxford scenario planning approach

Rafael RamírezAngela Wilkinson

Oxford, UK : Oxford University Press, 2016.

Strategic Foresight Primer

Angela Wilkinson

Evolving practices in environmental scenarios: a new scenario typology

Angela Wilkinson and Esther Eidinow

James Martin Institute, Said Business School, University of Oxford, Park End Street, Oxford OX1 1HP, UK

Received 10 March 2008
Accepted for publication 20 August 2008 Published 15 December 2008
Online at

2008 Environ. Res. Lett. 045017


Bretton Fosbrook

A Dissertation submitted to
The Faculty of Graduate Studies
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Graduate Program in Science and Technology Studies York University
Toronto, Ontario

December 2017

Uncertainty, Decision Science, and Policy Making: A Manifesto for a Research Agenda.

David Tucket, Antoine Mandel, Diana Mangalagiu, Allen Abramson, Jochen Hinkel, et al..

Critical Review: A Journal of Politics and Society, Taylor and Francis 2015, 27 (2), pp.213 – 242.

10.1080/08913811.2015.1037078 . hal-02057279

Scenarios Practices: In Search of Theory

Angela Wilkinson University of Oxford UK

Journal of Futures Studies, February 2009, 13(3): 107 – 114

Towards a relational concept of uncertainty: Incorporating the human dimension

Brugnach, M.1; A. Dewulf 2; C. Pahl-Wostl 1 and T. Taillieu 3

1. Universität Osnabrück, Germany
2. Wageningen University, The Netherlands
3. Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
Contact author: Marcela Brugnach,

Ambiguity: the challenge of knowing and deciding together

M. Brugnach a,*, H. Ingram b,c

a Faculty of Engineering Technology, University of Twente, The Netherlands 

b Southwest Center, University of Arizona, United States
c School of Social Ecology, University of California Irvine, United States

environmental science & policy 15 (2012) 60–71

Toward a relational concept of uncertainty: about knowing too little, knowing too differently, and accepting not to know. 

Brugnach, M., A. Dewulf, C. Pahl-Wostl, and T. Taillieu.


Ecology and Society13(2): 30. [online]


Policy Analysis: A Systematic Approach to Supporting Policymaking in the Public Sector

a RAND Europe, Leiden, Netherlands
b Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands


 JMultiCritDecisAnal9: 11–27 (2000)

Integrated management of natural resources: dealing with ambiguous issues, multiple actors and diverging frames

A. Dewulf*, M. Craps*, R. Bouwen*, T. Taillieu* and C. Pahl-Wostl**

*Center for Organizational and Personnel Psychology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, 3000 Leuven, Belgium (E-mail:,,,
**Institute of Environmental Systems Research, University of Osnabru ̈ck, Albrechtstrasse 28, Osnabru ̈ck, Germany (E-mail:

More is not always better: Coping with ambiguity in natural resources management

M. Brugnach a, b, *, A. Dewulf c, H.J. Henriksen d, P. van der Keur d

a Faculty of Engineering Technology, University of Twente, The Netherlands
b Institute for Environmental Systems Research, University of Osnabrück, Germany c Public Administration and Policy Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands d Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Denmark

Journal of Environmental Management xxx (2010) 1e7


LOTTE S. LU ̈ SCHER Clavis Consultancy

MARIANNE W. LEWIS University of Cincinnati

Academy of Management Journal 2008, Vol. 51, No. 2, 221–240.

Sustainable Development: Mapping Different Approaches

Bill Hopwood, Mary Mellor, Geoff O’Brien Sustainable Cities Research Institute
6 North Street East,
University of Northumbria,

Newcastle on Tyne, NE1 8ST
Tel: 0191 227-3500 Fax: 0191 227-3066

Bill Hopwood:

Sustainable Development, 13. pp. 38-52. ISSN 0968-0802

Published by: Wiley-Blackwell
URL: <;

Click to access Mapping_Sustainable_Development.pdf

The Environmental Goffman: Toward an Environmental Sociology of Everyday Life


Gaylord Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA


Department of Community & Environmental Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Society and Natural Resources, 23:45–57 Copyright # 2010 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 0894-1920 print=1521-0723 online
DOI: 10.1080/08941920802653505

An uncertain future, deep uncertainty, scenarios, robustness and adaptation: How do they fit together?

H.R. Maier a, *, J.H.A. Guillaume b, H. van Delden a, c, G.A. Riddell a, M. Haasnoot d, e, J.H. Kwakkel e

a School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide SA 5005, Australia b Water & Development Research Group (WDRG), Aalto University, Tietotie 1E, Espoo 02150, Finland
c Research Institute for Knowledge Systems, Hertogsingel 11B, 6211 NC Maastricht, The Netherlands
d Deltares, Fresh Water Department, Delft, The Netherlands

e Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Technology Policy and Management, Delft, The Netherlands

Environmental Modelling & Software

Towards a user’s guide to scenarios – a report on scenario types and scenario techniques

Lena Borjeson1, Mattias Hojer1, Karl-Henrik Dreborg1,3, Tomas Ekvall2, Goran Finnveden1,3

Environmental strategies research – fms, Department of Urban studies, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm

Department of Energy and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg.

Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), Stockholm

The current state of scenario development: an overview of techniques

Peter Bishop, Andy Hines and Terry Collins

foresight, Vol. 9 Iss: 1 pp. 5 – 25 2007

Identification and classification of uncertainties in the application of environmental models

J.J. Warmink a, *, J.A.E.B. Janssen a, b, M.J. Booij a, M.S. Krol a

a Department of Water Engineering and Management, Faculty of Engineering Technology, University of Twente, P.O. Box 217, 7500 AE Enschede, the Netherlands b Waterboard Rijn and IJssel, P.O. Box 148, 7000 AC Doetinchem, the Netherlands

Environmental Modelling & Software 25 (2010) 1518e1527

Wicked Problems: Implications for Public Policy and Management

Brian W. Head1 and John Alford2,3

Administration & Society 2015, Vol. 47(6) 711–739

DOI: 10.1177/0095399713481601


MATSALVESSON Universityof Gothenburg

Journal of Management Studies: 30:6 November 1993 0022-2380

Forty years of wicked problems literature: forging closer links to policy studies,

Brian W. Head (2019)

Policy and Society, 38:2, 180-197, DOI: 10.1080/14494035.2018.1488797

Uncovering the origin of ambiguity in nature-inclusive flood infrastructure projects

Ronald E. van den Hoek 1Marcela Brugnach 1Jan P. M. Mulder 1,2 and Arjen Y. Hoekstra 1

Ecology and Society 19(2): 51.

Coping with Complexity, Uncertainty and Ambiguity in Risk Governance: A Synthesis

Ortwin Renn, Andreas Klinke, Marjolein van Asselt

AMBIO (2011) 40:231–246
DOI 10.1007/s13280-010-0134-0

Risk frames and multiple ways of knowing: Coping with ambiguity in oil spill risk governance in the Norwegian Barents Sea

Tuuli Parviainena,⁎, Annukka Lehikoinenb, Sakari Kuikkaa, P.ivi Haapasaaria

a University of Helsinki, Finland, Ecosystems and Environment Research Programme, Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, P.O Box 65, Viikinkaari 1, FI-

00014 Helsinki Finland

b University of Helsinki, Finland, Ecosystems and Environment Research Programme, Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Kotka Maritime Research Center,

Keskuskatu 10, FI-48100 Kotka, Finland

Environmental Science & Policy

Volume 98, August 2019, Pages 95-111

Nine lives of uncertainty in decision-making: strategies for dealing with uncertainty in environmental governance

Art Dewulf and Robbert Biesbroek

Public Administration and Policy group, Wageningen University and Research, Netherlands

2018, VOL. 37, NO. 4, 441–458

Coping with Uncertainty in River Management: Challenges and Ways Forward

J. J. Warmink1 & M. Brugnach1 & J. Vinke-de Kruijf2 & R. M. J. Schielen1,3 & D. C. M. Augustijn1

Received: 1 March 2017 / Accepted: 21 June 2017 /

Water Resour Manage (2017) 31:4587–4600 DOI 10.1007/s11269-017-1767-6

The Implications of Complexity for Integrated Resources Management

C. Pahl-Wostl

Institute of Environmental Systems Research, University of Osnabrück, Germany

Click to access Keynote_Pahl.pdf

A relational approach to deal with ambiguity in multi-actor governance for sustainability

M. Craps1 & M. F. Brugnach2

1Centre for Economics and Corporate Sustainability,
KU Leuven, Belgium
2Faculty of Engineering Technology, University of Twente, The Netherlands

WIT Transactions on Ecology and The Environment, Vol 199, © 2015 WIT Press, ISSN 1743-3541 (on-line)

Futures Studies: Theories and Methods

Sohail Inayatullah

Scenario thinking and usage among development actors

William Robert Avis

University of Birmingham 18 October 2017

Methods of Future and Scenario Analysis

Overview, assessment, and selection criteria

Hannah Kosow Robert Gaßner

DIE Research Project “Development Policy: Questions for the Future”

Bonn 2008

German Development Institute


Christopher Zegras1, Joseph Sussman2, Christopher Conklin3 Forthcoming (March 2004) in

ASCE Journal of Urban Planning and Development

How Scenario Planning Influences Strategic Decisions

A recent study sheds light on how the use of scenario planning affects executives’ strategic choices.

Shardul Phadnis, Chris Caplice, and Yossi Sheffi

May 27, 2016 MIT Sloan Management Review

How to Make Sense of Weak Signals

There’s no sense in denying it: interpreting weak signals into useful decision making takes time and focus. These three stages can help you see the periphery—and act on it—much more clearly.

Paul J.H. Schoemaker and George S. Day

April 01, 2009

A Review of Scenario Planning Literature

T Chermack et al

Using Scenario Planning to Reshape Strategy

Rather than trying to predict the future, organizations need to strengthen their abilities to cope with uncertainty. A new approach to scenario planning can help companies reframe their long-term strategies by developing several plausible scenarios.

Rafael Ramírez, Steve Churchhouse, Alejandra Palermo, and Jonas Hoffmann

June 13, 2017

Sloan Management Review

Scenario Planning: A Tool for Strategic Thinking

Paul J.H. Schoemaker


Chapter 10
The Learning Dimension of Adaptive Capacity: Untangling the Multi-level Connections

Alan Diduck

Adaptive Capacity and Environmental Governance

Derek Armitage l Ryan Plummer Editors

Using Trends and Scenarios as Tools for Strategy Development

Shaping the Future of Your Enterprise

by Ulf Pillkahn

ISBN 978-3-89578-304-3

Risk frames and multiple ways of knowing: Coping with ambiguity in oil spill risk governance in the Norwegian Barents Sea

Tuuli Parviainena,⁎, Annukka Lehikoinenb, Sakari Kuikkaa, P.ivi Haapasaaria

a University of Helsinki, Finland, Ecosystems and Environment Research Programme, Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, P.O Box 65, Viikinkaari 1, FI-00014 Helsinki Finland

b University of Helsinki, Finland, Ecosystems and Environment Research Programme, Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Kotka Maritime Research Center, Keskuskatu 10, FI-48100 Kotka, Finland

Environmental Science and Policy 98 (2019) 95–111

How Issues Get Framed and Reframed When Different Communities Meet: A Multi-level Analysis of a Collaborative Soil Conservation Initiative in the Ecuadorian Andes


1Centre for Organizational and Personnel Psychology, Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, Belgium

2International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibidan, Nigeria

Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

J. Community Appl. Soc. Psychol., 14: 177–192 (2004)

Defining Uncertainty

A Conceptual Basis for Uncertainty Management in Model-Based Decision Support


1Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands,

2Environment & Resources DTU, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark,

3International Centre for Integrative Studies (ICIS), Maastricht University, The Netherlands,

4Faculty of Arts and Culture, Maastricht University, The Netherlands,

5Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development and Innovations, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, and

6Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), The Netherlands

Integrated Assessment

2003, Vol. 00, No. 0, pp. 000–000


A Structured Approach to Strategic Decisions

Reducing errors in judgment requires a disciplined process.

Daniel Kahneman, Dan Lovallo, and Olivier Sibony

MIT Sloan Management Review

March 04, 2019

A move toward scenario analysis

William R.Huss

Chronotopes of foresight: Models of time‐space in probabilistic, possibilistic and constructivist futures

Ilkka Tuomi

1Meaning Processing Ltd, Helsinki, Finland

2Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), Wallenberg Research Centre at Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Received:21November2018 |  Revised:15January2019 |  Accepted:15January2019

DOI: 10.1002/ffo2.11

A Scenario-based Approach to Strategic Planning
– Integrating Planning and Process Perspective of Strategy

Prof. Dr. Torsten Wulf, Philip Meißner and Dr. Stephan Stubner


Click to access ap-no-6-scenario-based-approach-to-strategic-planning.pdf

The 4 Whys of Scenario Thinking

M Brain

About the Kearney-Oxford Scenarios Programme

AT Kearney

Scenarios in the strategy process: a framework of affordances and constraints

Victor Tiberius

Tiberius European Journal of Futures Research (2019) 7:7

Objectivity and a comparison of methodological scenario approaches for climate change research

Elisabeth A. Lloyd · Vanessa J. Schweizer

Synthese (2014) 191:2049–2088 DOI 10.1007/s11229-013-0353-6

Cross-impact balances:
A system-theoretical approach to cross-impact analysis

Wolfgang Weimer-Jehle T,1
University of Stuttgart, Institute for Social Sciences V, Research Unit Risk and Sustainability, Seidenstr. 36,

70174 Stuttgart, Germany

Technological Forecasting & Social Change 73 (2006) 334–361

ScenarioWizard 4.3. Constructing Consistent Scenarios Using Cross-Impact Balance Analysis.


Wolfgang Weimer-Jehle

Improving environmental change research with systematic techniques for qualitative scenarios

Vanessa Jine Schweizer and Elmar Kriegler

2012 Environ. Res. Lett. 044011

Systematic construction of global socioeconomic pathways using internally consistent element combinations


Vanessa Jine Schweizer

Brian C. O’Neill

The current state of scenario development: An overview of techniques


Peter Bishop

Andy Hines

Terry Collins

Should Probabilities Be Used with Scenarios?

Stephen M. Millett Futuring Associates LLC USA

Plausibility and probability in scenario planning


Rafael Ramirez

Cynthia Selin

Click to access ACCEPTED_Plausibility_and_Probability_in_Scenario_Planning_March_24_2013.pdf

Scenario development without probabilities — focusing on the most important scenario

Volker Grienitz & Michael Hausicke & André-Marcel Schmidt

Eur J Futures Res (2014) 15:27

DOI 10.1007/s40309-013-0027-0

Foundations of Scenario Planning: The Story of Pierre Wack

By Thomas J Chermack



Helena GASPARS-WIELOCH page1image38230256*

Department of Operations Research, Faculty of Informatics and Electronic Economy, Poznan University of Economics and Business, Al. Niepodleglosci 10, 61-875, Poznań, Poland


Overcoming obstacles to effective scenario planning

McKinsey on Finance Number 55, Summer 2015

Increasing the effectiveness of participatory scenario development through codesign

Marissa F. McBride 1Kathleen F. Lambert 2Emily S. Huff 3Kathleen A. Theoharides 4Patrick Field 5 and Jonathan R. Thompson 1

1Harvard Forest, Harvard University, Petersham, Massachusetts, 2Harvard Forest, Harvard University and Science Policy Exchange, Petersham, Massachusetts, 3Michigan State University, Department of Forestry, East Lansing, Michigan, 4Climate and Global Warming Solutions, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Boston, Massachusetts, 5Consensus Building Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts

 E&S HOME > VOL. 22, NO. 3 > Art. 16

Scenarios in business and management: The current stock and research opportunities

Victor Tiberius a,⁎, Caroline Siglow a, Javier Sendra-García b

a University of Potsdam, Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, Potsdam, Germany

b Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain

Plotting Your Scenarios

Jay Ogilvy and Peter Schwartz



Click to access probabilistic.pdf

Navigating Uncertain Times
A Scenario Planning Toolkit for the Arts & Culture Sector

Literature Review

Multiple Scenario Development: Its Conceptual and Behavioral Foundation


Paul Schoemaker



UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence (GCPSE) 

Foresight as a Strategic Long-Term Planning Tool for Developing Countries


UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence (GCPSE)

Plausibility indications in future scenarios

Wiek, A., Withycombe Keeler, L., Schweizer, V. and Lang, D.J. (2013)

Int. J. Foresight and Innovation Policy, Vol. 9, Nos. 2/3/4, 2013

Plausibility and probability in scenario planning

Rafael Ramirez and Cynthia Selin

Foresight · March 2014

DOI: 10.1108/FS-08-2012-0061

Integrating organizational networks, weak signals, strategic radars and scenario planning

Paul J.H. Schoemaker ⁎, George S. Day, Scott A. Snyder Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Technological Forecasting & Social Change 80 (2013) 815–824

The current state of scenario development: an overview of techniques

Peter Bishop, Andy Hines and Terry Collins

Foresight · February 2007

DOI: 10.1108/14636680710727516

Chronotopes of foresight: Models of time‐space in probabilistic, possibilistic and constructivist futures

Ilkka Tuomi1,2

Futures Foresight Sci. 2019;1:e11.

Using Trends and Scenarios as Tools for Strategy Development

Shaping the Future of Your Enterprise

by Ulf Pillkahn


An Analysis and Categorization of Scenario Planning Scholarship from 1995-2016

Thomas J. Chermack Colorado State University USA


Journal of Futures Studies, June 2018, 22(4): 45–60

A review of scenario planning

Scenario analysis to support decision making in addressing wicked problems: pitfalls and potential

Innovation, Dynamic Capabilities and Leadership

Paul J.H. Schoemaker, Sohvi Leih, David J. Teece March 23, 2018

Scenario planning with a sociological eye: Augmenting the intuitive logics approach to understanding the Future of Scotland and the UK

Professor R. Bradley MacKay a,⁎, Dr. Veselina Stoyanova b

a The Gateway, North Haugh, School of Management, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland KY16 9RJ, UK

b Strathclyde Business School, University of Strathclyde, 199 Cathedral Street, Glasgow, Scotland G4 0QU, UK

Technological Forecasting & Social Change 124 (2017) 88–100

Scenarios in business and management: The current stock and research opportunities

Victor Tiberius a,⁎, Caroline Siglow a, Javier Sendra-García b 

University of Potsdam, Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, Potsdam, Germany

Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain

Journal of Business Research 121 (2020) 235–242

How plausibility-based scenario practices are grappling with complexity to appreciate and address 21st century challenges




aFutures Programme, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, Hayes House, 75 George Street, Oxford OX1 2BQ, UK

bTHNK, Haarlemmerweg 8a, 1014 BE Amsterdam, The Netherlands

cSmith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, UK

dReims Management School, Reims, France

eSmith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, Hayes House, 75 George Street, Oxford OX1 2BQ, UK

Technological Forecasting and Social Change

Volume 80, Issue 4, May 2013, Pages 699-710

Special Issue: Scenario Method: Current developments in theory and practice

Edited by George Wright, George Cairns, Ron Bradfield

Volume 80, Issue 4, 

Pages 561-838 (May 2013)

Scenario methodology: New developments in theory and practice Introduction to the Special Issue

George Wright a,⁎, George Cairns b, Ron Bradfield c

a Warwick Business School, Coventry, UK
b RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
c Strathclyde Business School, Glasgow, UK

Technological Forecasting & Social Change xxx (2013) xxx–xxx

Scanning the Periphery


HBR 2005

Scenario Planning Literature

Recent Articles

Bouhalleb, Arafet and Ali Smida, “Scenario Planning: An investigation of the construct and its measurements,” Wiley Online Library, February 9, 2018

Favato, Giampiero, “Embedding real options in scenario planning: A new methodological approach,” June 17, 2016

Gray, Jane, “Ofgem targets “flexible” scenario planning,” Network, October 12, 2016

Gray, Michael, “Scottish business scenario planning’ for independence over Brexit, minister confirms,” October 14, 2016

Hartung, Adam “The No. 1 Lesson from Hurricane Matthew and Brexit: Scenario Planning is Crucial,” October 7, 2016

Lang, Trudi, and Rafael Ramirez, “Building new social capital with scenario planning,” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Science Direct, July 8, 2017

Phadnis, Shardul, “How Scenario Planning Influences Strategic Decisions,” MIT Sloan Management Review, Summer 2016

Powch, Andrew, “Overcoming Uncertainty with the Aid of Scenario Planning,” Industry Week, October 17, 2017

Raford, Noah, “Online foresight platforms: Evidence for their impact on scenario planning and strategic foresight,” Elsevier, August 2015

Ramírez, R., & Selin, C., “Plausibility and probability in scenario planning,” Foresight, 16(1), 54-74, March 4, 2014

Ramirez, Rafael, Sheve Churchhouse, Alejandra Palermo, and Jonas Hoffman, Using Scenario Planning to Reshape StrategyMIT Sloan Management Review, June 13, 2017

Ramirez, Rafael, “How scenario planning makes strategy more robust,” Oxford Answers, January 28, 2020

Schoemaker, PJH, Scenario planning: A Tool for Strategic Thinking, MIT Sloan Management Review, 1995

Schwarze, Margaret and Lauren J. Taylor, “Managing Uncertainty—Harnessing the Power of Scenario Planning,” The New England Journal of Medicine, July 20, 2017  

Wilkinson, A. and Kupers, R. “Living in the Futures,” Harvard Business Review, May 2013

Wilkinson, A. and Ramirez, R. “2010 Canaries in the Mind,” Journal of Future Studies


Cairns, George and George Wright, Scenario Thinking: Preparing Your Organization for the Future in an Unpredictable World, Palgrave Macmillan, 2nd ed., 2018 

Harris, Jared D. and Michael J. Lenox, The Strategist’s Toolkit, Darden Business Publishing, 2013

Laudicina, Paul, World Out of Balance: Navigating Global Risks to Seize Competitive Advantage, McGraw Hill, 2005

Ramirez, Rafael and Angela Wilkinson, Strategic Reframing: The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach, Oxford University Press, May 24, 2016

Ramirez, Rafael, John W. Selsky and Kees van der Heijden, Business Planning for Turbulent Times: New Methods for Applying Scenarios, earthscan, 2010

Schwartz, Peter, The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World, Crown Business Publishing, 1996

Van Der Heijden, Kees, Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation, John Wiley and Sons Ltd., 2010

Wade, Woody, Scenario Planning: A Field Guide to the Future, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2012

Have question or additional suggestions? Please contact Terry Toland

Frames, Communication, and Public Policymaking

Frames, Communication, and Public Policymaking

My previous post was on introducing frames, framing and reframing. I focused on use of frames in areas of

  • Media
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Social Movements
  • Political Science
  • International Relations

Frames and Framing are used in two other areas

  • Frame Effects in Decision Making /Kahneman and Tversky
  • Frame Analysis in Public Policy Making / David Schon and Martin Rein

This post is focused on Frame Analysis as used in public policy making.

Frames and Frame Analysis

Source: From Policy “Frames” to “Framing”: Theorizing a More Dynamic, Political Approach.

The concept of frames or framing, especially cast as “frame analysis,” has an established history in public policy studies, building largely on the work of Donald Schön and Martin Rein. It is an important analytic “tool” for those seeking to understand, for instance, issues in the mismatch between administrators’ implementation of legislated policies and policy intent. Originally coined elsewhere (Bateson, 1955/1972a), the concept had, by the 1990s, been taken up in a wide range of academic disciplines. These included, in addition to public policy analysis (e.g., Rein, 1983a, 1983b; Rein & Schön, 1977; Schön, 1979/1993; Schön & Rein 1994, 1996), artificial intelligence and psychology (e.g., Minsky, 1975; Schank & Abelson, 1977; Tversky & Kahneman, 1981), linguistics (e.g., Fillmore, 1982; Lakoff, 1987; Tannen, 1979; see Cienki, 2007), social movement studies (e.g., Gamson, 1992; Morris & Mueller, 1992; Snow & Benford, 1988; Snow, Rochford, Worden, & Benford, 1986; for an overview, see Benford & Snow, 2000), communication studies (e.g., D’Angelo, 2002; de Vreese, 2012; Entman, 1993; for a critical overview, see Vliegenthart & van Zoonen, 2011), dispute resolution (e.g., Dewulf et al., 2009; Putnam & Holmer, 1992), and even music (Cone, 1968). Yet as the Rein–Schön policy analytic approach to framing is, today, less well known than its version in the social movement literature, public policy and administration scholars might be more likely to turn to the latter than the former in seeking to explain frame-related issues. Given what we see as the greater suitability of their approach for analyzing policy processes, we think the ideas they developed worth revisiting and extending in ways that enhance their applicability to dynamic, power-sensitive policy and administrative issues.

Although Schön also explored the subject in his own scholarship on metaphors (1979/1993) and reflective practice (e.g., 1983, 1987)—each of which might be understood, at least in part, as engaging aspects of framing—its policy applications are most fully elaborated in his collaborative work with Rein. Where Rein used “frame-reflective analysis” interchangeably with “value- critical analysis” (on this point, see Schmidt, 2006/2013), together they began focusing on frame analysis as “a methodology for problem setting” (Rein & Schön, 1977, p. 237). Later, they added its utility for investigating the possible resolution of policy controversies (Rein & Schön, 1986, 1993), and in particular those they saw as “stubborn” (Rein & Schön, 1991) or “intractable” (Rein & Schön, 1996; see also Rein, 1983a, 1983b; Schön, 1963/2001): prolonged debates on issues marked by uncertainties and ambiguities that were “highly resistant to resolution by appeal to evidence, research, or reasoned argument” (Schön & Rein, 1994, p. xi).1 Their collaboration ultimately led to the co-authored Frame Reflection (Schön & Rein, 1994).

Schön and Rein’s approach to frame analysis has been generative for many policy scholars across a range of topics, from waste management to immigrant integration, civil aviation to bovine TB (see, for example, Dudley, 1999; Grant, 2009; Hajer & Laws 2006; Hisschemöller & Hoppe, 1996; Kaufman & Smith, 1999; Laws & Rein, 2003; Rasmussen, 2011; Schmidt, 2006/2013; Scholten & Van Nispen, 2008; Sørensen, 2006; van Eeten, 2001; Yanow, 2009). Still, for all its utility, their approach warrants further development to realize its policy analytic potential in the context of intractable policy controversies, in particular with respect to the promise it holds out of a dynamic, process-oriented engagement that is politically nuanced and power-sensitive. In this context, it would be particularly suitable for understanding interactions not only in formal political arenas but also in governance networks (Koppenjan & Klijn, 2004) and in the more mundane encounters between street-level bureaucrats and their clients (Lipsky, 1980; Maynard-Moody & Musheno, 2003; Vinzant & Crothers, 1996). In extending their approach, we draw on various ideas we find in Schön’s earlier solo work (1963/2001, 1971), and we join Schön and Rein’s treatment of policy frame analysis with ideas deriving from category and narrative analyses, two related analytic modes.

To make the potential contributions of this policy analytic focus on framing clearer, we differentiate it from approaches that focus on frames. In our reading of these approaches, social movement theorizing chief among them, “frames” are often treated as objects people possess in their heads and develop for explicitly strategic purposes. By contrast, the policy analytic approach we engage here shifts the focus to “framing,” the interactive, intersubjective processes through which frames are constructed (cf. Weick, 1979).2 This distinction is more significant than mere differences between parts of speech: “frame” signifies a more definitional, static, and potentially taxonomizing approach to the subject; “framing” offers a more dynamic and, in our view, potentially politically aware engagement. Although the two treatments are not necessarily mutually exclusive,3 each brings different features of the processes conceptualized as frames/framing to light. To be sure, Schön and Rein’s work has aspects of both: Their case studies (e.g., of home- lessness; 1994) trace policy developments over time, listing policy programs adopted in specific cases whose names are the equivalent of different frames on the policy problem, and the policy settings of those cases introduce some elements of political processes. Our argument develops the political character of policy processes more fully, thereby enabling a policy-focused frame theorizing and analysis that flesh out the more dynamic and politically sensitive aspects of their work. This also enables us to address some of the issues raised by social movement and dispute resolution studies’ treatments of frames (e.g., Benford, 1997; Dewulf et al., 2009).

Knowing something of the conceptual history out of which frame analysis emerged clarifies what is at stake in these different approaches. We begin there and with Schön’s and Rein’s basic ideas before turning to the further development of a policy analytic approach.

Key Terms

  • Frame Analysis
  • Frame Reflection
  • Frames
  • Framing
  • Reframing
  • Media Frames
  • Communication
  • Policy making
  • Action Learning
  • Learning in Action
  • Reflection in Action
  • Organizational Learning
  • Double Loop Learning
  • Gregory Bateson
  • Erving Goffman
  • Chris Argyris
  • Martin Rein
  • Donald Schon
  • Reflective Practitioner
  • Interpretative Frames
  • Cognitive Frames
  • Interactional Frames
  • Contextual Frames
  • Sensemaking
  • Sensegiving
  • Priming
  • Agenda-setting
  • Persuasion
  • Schemas
  • Scripts. 
  • Levels of Analysis
  • Micro, Meso, Macro
  • Deep Frames
  • Issue Defining Frames
  • Surface Messages
  • Frame Alignment
  • Frame Consonance
  • Frame Discordance
  • Contested Frames

Categories of Frames: Policy Frames Codebook

Source: Identifying Media Frames and Frame Dynamics Within and Across Policy Issues

Our Policy Frames Codebook is intended to provide the best of both worlds: a general system for categorizing frames across policy issues designed so that it can also be specialized in issue-specific ways. The codebook contains 14 categories of frame “dimensions” (plus an “other” category) that are intended to be applicable to any policy issue (abortion, immigration, foreign aid, etc.) and in any communication context (news stories, Twitter, party manifestos, legislative debates, etc.). The dimensions are listed below.

  1. Economic frames: The costs, benefits, or monetary/financial implications of the issue (to an individual, family, community or to the economy as a whole).
  2. Capacity and resources frames: The lack of or availability of physical, geographical, spatial, human, and financial resources, or the capacity of existing systems and resources to implement or carry out policy goals.
  3. Morality frames: Any perspective—or policy objective or action (including proposed action)— that is compelled by religious doctrine or interpretation, duty, honor, righteousness or any other sense of ethics or social responsibility.
  4. Fairness and equality frames: Equality or inequality with which laws, punishment, rewards, and resources are applied or distributed among individuals or groups. Also the balance between the rights or interests of one individual or group compared to another individual or group.
  5. Constitutionality and jurisprudence frames: The constraints imposed on or freedoms granted to individuals, government, and corporations via the Constitution, Bill of Rights and other amendments, or judicial interpretation. This deals specifically with the authority of government to regulate, and the authority of individuals/corporations to act independently of government.
  6. Policy prescription and evaluation: Particular policies proposed for addressing an identified problem, and figuring out if certain policies will work, or if existing policies are effective.
  7. Law and order, crime and justice frames: Specific policies in practice and their enforcement, incentives, and implications. Includes stories about enforcement and interpretation of laws by individuals and law enforcement, breaking laws, loopholes, fines, sentencing and punishment. Increases or reductions in crime.
  8. Security and defense frames: Security, threats to security, and protection of one’s person, family, in-group, nation, etc. Generally an action or a call to action that can be taken to protect the welfare of a person, group, nation sometimes from a not yet manifested threat.
  1. Health and safety frames: Healthcare access and effectiveness, illness, disease, sanitation, obesity, mental health effects, prevention of or perpetuation of gun violence, infrastructure and building safety.
  2. Quality of life frames: The effects of a policy on individuals’ wealth, mobility, access to resources, happiness, social structures, ease of day-to-day routines, quality of community life, etc.
  3. Cultural identity frames: The social norms, trends, values and customs constituting culture(s), as they relate to a specific policy issue
  4. Public opinion frames: References to general social attitudes, polling and demographic information, as well as implied or actual consequences of diverging from or getting ahead of public opinion or polls.
  5. Political frames: Any political considerations surrounding an issue. Issue actions or efforts or stances that are political, such as partisan filibusters, lobbyist involvement, bipartisan efforts, deal-making and vote trading, appealing to one’s base, mentions of political maneuvering. Explicit statements that a policy issue is good or bad for a particular political party.
  6. External regulation and reputation frames: The United States’ external relations with another nation; the external relations of one state with another; or relations between groups. This includes trade agreements and outcomes, comparisons of policy outcomes or desired policy outcomes.
  7. Other frames: Any frames that do not fit into the above categories.

Researchers may choose to employ only these categories as listed here, or they could also nest issue-specific frames (or arguments) within each category. For example, in the case of capital punishment, the “innocence” frame would be a frame specific to that issue but categorized under the dimension of “fairness and equality.” In this way, scholars can apply the Policy Frames Codebook to new content analysis projects or take existing datasets that employed issue-specific frames and categorize those frames into the dimensions provided here.

We developed these categories through a mix of inductive and deductive methods. We began by brainstorming—amongst our team and several colleagues—categories that we imagined would cross- cut most, if not all, policy issues while also examining a random sampling of newspaper stories and blog posts to see which frames appeared and how we might categorize them. Then we tried applying our preliminary list of frame categories to a random sample of front-page newspaper stories covering a wide range of issues, and revised our categorization scheme accordingly. Next, we shopped our list around, sending it to additional colleagues and presenting it at an international conference (the 20th International Conference of Europeanists), again revising our schema based on this feedback. Finally, we did another round of test coding. Throughout this testing process, we developed and revised not only our list of categories but also a codebook that defines and gives examples for each category.

Framing: a Fractured Paradigm

Source: Putting Framing in Perspective: A Review of Framing and Frame Analysis across the Management and Organizational Literature

Framing and frames form an important cornerstone of many areas of management and organizational research – even if, at times, the interest in related constructs (such as schemas or categories) has seemingly had the upper hand. In one sense, our paper has been an attempt to take stock of the current literature while further advancing and invigorating research into the role of framing across the micro, meso and macro levels of analysis in management and organization studies. In part, this motivation has been driven by a recognition of the analytical strength and versatility of the construct, as evidenced by the various research streams that it has spawned within management, and indeed across the social sciences. At the same time, this vast influence across areas of research has perhaps also come at a price. It has led to a “fractured paradigm” (Entman, 1993), with researchers typically adopting a singular and more narrow focus on the construct at a particular level of analysis.

A general consequence of bracketing the broader construct in this way is that it has deflected attention away from processes of framing as meaning construction to a focus on frames as stable symbols or thoughts, with many studies setting out to “name” frames and explore how they prime certain thoughts and behaviours (e.g., Benford, 1997; Schneiberg & Clemens, 2006). The focus, in other words, is on the effects of cognitive frames, once these are established, in structuring expectations and cueing behavioural responses. This is useful for explaining how default frames may impinge on actors, and may script their behaviour, but does not account for how such frames of reference emerge in the first place. The bracketing of the construct may thus have blinded researchers to the active struggles and negotiations over meaning that take place before a frame might emerge, and before the meaning of an organized group or indeed an entire institutional field might contract around a frame.

We point in the paper to specific research opportunities and methods that enable further research to progress beyond “naming frames”, and explore framing as dynamic processes of meaning construction within and across groups and organizations. To a large extent, these opportunities will also involve research designs and methods that make stronger connections across levels of analysis, and consider the reciprocal influence between language, cognition, and culture. The methods that we have highlighted, ranging from interaction analysis to semantic-network analysis, are adept at this and allow for richer and more processual analyses of framing. Indeed, we hope that these methods will benefit researchers in realizing the highlighted opportunities and in advancing research on framing across a variety of organizational and institutional contexts.

Framing – Cognitive and Interactional

Source: Framing mechanisms: the interpretive policy entrepreneur’s toolbox

The framing literature is divided into two streams – a cognitive and an interactional type. Cognitive framing entails the individual understanding of a (policy) situation by assigning meaning to elements and binding them together in a coherent story (Scholten and Van Nispen 2008; Stone 2002; Van Hulst and Yanow 2014; Hawkins and Holden 2013). The interactional framing literature engages with the interactive effects of frames. Part of that literature focuses on the instrumental use of framing for ‘the rhetorical functions of persuasion, justification and symbolic display’ (Schön and Rein 1994, 32, cf.; Entman 1993; Gallo-Cruz 2012). However, the interactional framing literature, we use here, revolves around the function of actors making meaning together in interaction with each other (Dewulf and Bouwen 2012; Dodge 2015). Specifically, we follow Dewulf and Bouwen (2012, 169), who define framing as ‘the dynamic enactment and alignment of meaning in ongoing interactions’. In this understanding, framing is finding a consensus among actors over the meaning of a (policy) situation instead of doing so individually. We understand the interactional framing mechanisms Dewulf and Bouwen (2012) propose as processes initiated by an actor for meaning-making, and may also be used consciously in an instrumental way.

Figure 2. Flow chart of Interpretive Policy Entrepreneur characteristics.

Figure 3. Framing interaction mechanisms (adapted from Dewulf and Bouwen 2012).

Frame Constructs by Level of Analysis



Source: Integrated Framing: A Micro to Macro Case for The Landscape

Narratives, Frames, and Settings

Source: Narrative Frames and Settings in Policy Narratives

A unique aspect of the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) is that it holds in the balance a social construction ontology with an objective epistemology. According to the NPF, policy realities are socially constructed through a particular perspective in a narrative, and our understanding of how these narratives operate in the policy space can be measured empirically through narrative elements and strategies (Shanahan, Jones, McBeth, and Radaelli, 2017). The NPF contends that empirically understanding the social construction of policy realities sheds light on enduring policy process questions such as why policy arenas remain intractable, how coalition learning and coordination occurs, and, ultimately, how and under what conditions policies change.

To address these broad research inquiries, much of the previous NPF research has focused on singular narrative elements such as characters (e.g., Weible, Olofsson, Costie, Katz, and Heikkila, 2016) and plot (e.g., Shanahan, Jones, McBeth, and Lane, 2013) as well as the narrative strategies of causal mechanism (e.g., Shanahan, Adams, Jones, and McBeth, 2014), distribution of costs and benefits (e.g., McBeth, Shanahan, Arnell, and Hathaway, 2007) and policy beliefs (Shanahan, Jones, and McBeth, 2011). Importantly, these elements and strategies have been generally studied as isolates; the next generation of NPF scholarship is beginning to explore how these narrative components array within the story, to proffer a particular policy perspective. What has not been studied or specified is the role of the narrative element settings in shaping the realities constructed in policy narratives, particularly with how characters array in different settings and how settings are situated within frames. By focusing on the nested nature of characters, settings, and frames, this study aims to reveal the dynamic workings of narratives in the policy terrain.

Why settings? Settings literally are the perspective given to an audience, whether a broad legalistic backdrop (e.g., a statute or Constitution), an aerial regional view (e.g., a map), or a ground-level geographic place (e.g., a landmark or house). Policy scholars (e.g., Weible 2014) often herald the import of context in understanding policy processes; we argue that a setting is the narrative interpretation of policy context. The policy context may include a particular geographic and/or political realm, but a narrative setting provides a particular viewpoint of this context. Such a backdrop delimits what the audience experiences of the narrative, whether the setting is micro (in a room) or macro (aerial view). In turn, settings come alive through the action of the characters. Thus, not only understanding and operationalizing settings, but also linking two narrative elements—characters and settings—are new steps in NPF research.

Why frames? How frames operate in or around narratives has been an issue over which NPF architects have puzzled. Functionally, frames and narratives have similar meaning-making cognitive processes (Jones and Song, 2014) and both shape people’s opinions about policy issues. Crow and Lawlor (2016) add that frames form the central organizing idea and turn facts into a story by selecting and emphasizing some attributes over others, as other framing and policy scholars note (e.g., Stone 2012; McCombs and Ghanem, 2001; Gamson and Madigliani, 1989; Druckman, 2001a). Thus, frames are important and shape the parameters in which narratives unfold. However, are there multiple narratives within one frame? Are divergent narratives housed within the same frame? Does one narrator use multiple frames? Answering these questions will help to shed light on the import of narratives in the context of frames.

My Related Posts

Frames, Framing and Reframing

Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy of Social Life

Key sources of Research

Perspectives on Framing

edited by Gideon Keren


Identifying Media Frames and Frame Dynamics Within and Across Policy Issues

Amber E. Boydstun, University of California, Davis Justin H. Gross, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Philip Resnik, University of Maryland, College Park Noah A. Smith, Carnegie Mellon University

September 16, 2013

Tracking the Development of Media Frames within and across Policy Issues

Amber E. Boydstun, University of California, Davis∗

Dallas Card, Carnegie Mellon University

Justin H. Gross, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Philip Resnik, University of Maryland, College Park

Noah A. Smith, Carnegie Mellon University

August 19, 2014

Levels of Information: A Framing Hierarchy

Shlomi Sher Department of Psychology University of California, San Diego

Craig R. M. McKenzie
Rady School of Management and Department of Psychology University of California, San Diego

From Policy “Frames” to “Framing”: Theorizing a More Dynamic, Political Approach.

van Hulst, M. J., & Yanow, D. (2016).

The American Review of Public Administration, 46(1), 92–112.

The Framing Theory



John L. Campbell
Department of Sociology, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755,


Annu.Rev. Sociol. 2002. 28:21-38

doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.28.110601.14111

Click to access Ideas,%20behavior%20and%20politics%20review.pdf

Framing Shale Gas for Policy-Making in Poland,

Aleksandra Lis & Piotr Stankiewicz (2016):

Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning,

DOI: 10.1080/1523908X.2016.1143355

Donald Schonön

Frame Reflection: Toward the Resolution of Intractable Policy Controversies

By Donald A. Schon and Martin Rein

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Contesting media frames and policy change

The influence of media frames of immigration policy-related incidents contesting dominant policy frames on changes in Dutch immigration policies

Rianne Dekker & Peter Scholten Department of Public Administration Erasmus University Rotterdam P.O. Box 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam

Framing Resilience. From a Model-based Approach to a Management Process

Hanneke Duijnhoven

Martijn Neef

Procedia Economics and Finance
Volume 18, 2014, Pages 425-430

Neighborhood, City, or Region: Deconstructing Scale in Planning Frames

By Kate Lowe

Reframing Problematic Policies

Martin Rein

The Oxford Handbook of Political Science Edited by Robert E. Goodin

Print Publication Date: Jul 2011

Online Publication Date: Sep 2013

DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199604456.013.0046

From Policy “Frames” to “Framing”

van Hulst, M.J.; Yanow, Dvora

The American Review of Public Administration, 46(1), 92–112


Frame Analysis in Environmental Conflicts: The case of ethanol production in Brazil

Ester Galli

PhD Dissertation 2011

KTH – Royal Institute of Technology
School of Industrial Engineering and Management Division of Industrial Ecology
100 44 Stockholm

Donald Schon (Schön): learning, reflection and change

Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning

Reframing Policy Discourse

Martin Rein and Donald Schön

In book The Argumentative Turn in Policy Analysis and Planning

Edited by Frank Fischer and John Forester 1993


Sarah Kaplan
University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School 3620 Locust Walk, Suite 2019 Philadelphia, PA 19104-6370 215-898-6377

Frame Reflection: A Critical Review of US Military Approaches to Complex Situations

Ben Zweibelson, Major, US Army
Grant Martin, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army
Dr. Christopher Paparone, Colonel (retired), US Army

Identifying policy frames through semantic network analysis : an examination of nuclear energy policy across six countries

Shim, J, Park, C and Wilding, M­015­9211­3

Click to access Semantic%20network%20for%20nuclear%20energy%20policy%20_%20Accepted%20version.pdf

Critical Frame Analysis:
A Comparative Methodology for the ‘Quality in Gender+ Equality Policies’ (QUING) project

Tamas Dombos

Click to access cps-working-paper-critical-frame-analysis-quing-2012.pdf

Integrated Framing: A Micro to Macro Case for The Landscape

*Filip Aggestam

Department of Environmental Engineering, University of Natural Resources and Life sciences, Austria

Submission: February 22, 2017; Published: March 21, 2017
*Corresponding author: Filip Aggestam, Department of Environmental Engineering, University of Natural Resources and Life sciences, Vienna,


Volume 2 Issue 1 – March 2017
DOI: 10.19080/IJESNR.2017.02.555578

Int J Environ Sci Nat Res

Where is urban food policy in Switzerland? A frame analysis

Heidrun Moschitz

Department of Socio-economics, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, Frick, Switzerland

VOL. 23, NO. 2, 180–194

Framing Environmental Health Decision-Making: The Struggle over Cumulative Impacts Policy

by Devon C. Payne-Sturges 1,*,†, Thurka Sangaramoorthy 2,†OrcID and Helen Mittmann 2,3
Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, 2234 L SPH, 255 Valley Drive, College Park, MD 20742, USA
Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland, 1111 Woods Hall, 4302 Chapel Lane, College Park, MD 20742, USA
Department of Health Policy and Management, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, 950 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20052, USA

Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18(8), 3947;
Received: 14 March 2021 / Revised: 5 April 2021 / Accepted: 7 April 2021 / Published: 9 April 2021

Narrative and Frame Analysis: Disentangling and Refining Two Close Relatives by Means of a Large Infrastructural Technology Case

Ewert J. Aukes, Lotte E. Bontje & Jill H. Slinger


Volume 21, No. 2, Art. 28 – May 2020

Framing in policy processes: A case study from hospital planning in the National Health Service in England, 

Jones, L., Exworthy, M.,

Social Science & Medicine (2014),

doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.11.046

Click to access Jones_Exworthy_Framing_policy_processes_Social_Science_Medicine_2014.pdf

The Constructionist Approach to Framing: Bringing Culture Back In

Baldwin Van Gorp

Department of Communication Science, Radboud University Nijmegen, 6500 HC Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916

Framing Public Issues

Framework Institute

Framing mechanisms: the interpretive policy entrepreneur’s toolbox,

Ewert Aukes, Kris Lulofs & Hans Bressers (2017):

Critical Policy Studies,

DOI: 10.1080/19460171.2017.1314219

Chapter 23: Between representation and narration: analysing policy frames

Kathrin Braun

Handbook of Critical Policy Studies

Edited by Frank Fischer, Douglas Torgerson, Anna Durnová and Michael Orsini

Published in print: 18 Dec 2015

ISBN: 9781783472345e

ISBN: 9781783472352


Putting Framing in Perspective: A Review of Framing and Frame Analysis across the Management and Organizational Literature

Joep P. Cornelissen and Mirjam D. Werner

Published Online: 1 Jan 2014

Academy of Management Annals VOL. 8, NO. 1

The sense of it all: Framing and narratives in sensegiving about a strategic change. 

Logemann, M., Piekkari, R., & Cornelissen, J. (2019).

Long Range Planning, 52(5), [101852].

The Aesthetics of Story-telling as a Technology of the Plausible

Esther Eidinow (Nottingham) and Rafael Ramirez (Oxford)

From Interactions to Institutions: Microprocesses of Framing and Mechanisms for the Structuring of Institutional Fields

Barbara Gray

Jill M. Purdy

University of Washington Tacoma, 

Shahzad (Shaz) Ansari


Placing Strategy Discourse in Context: Sociomateriality, Sensemaking, and Power.

Balogun, J., Jacobs, C., Jarzabkowski, P., Mantere, S. and Vaara, E. (2014).

Journal of Management Studies, 51(2), pp. 175-201. doi: 10.1111/joms.12059

Are Logics Enough? Framing as an Alternative Tool for Understanding Institutional Meaning Making

Jill Purdy

Milgard School of Business University of Washington Tacoma

Shaz Ansari

Cambridge Judge Business School University of Cambridge

Barbara Gray

Smeal College of Business The Pennsylvania State University

Do Scale Frames Matter? Scale Frame Mismatches in the Decision Making Process of a “Mega Farm” in a Small Dutch Village

Maartje van Lieshout 1Art Dewulf 2Noelle Aarts 3,4 and Catrien Termeer 5

1PhD candidate Public Administration and Policy Group, Wageningen University, 2Assistant professor Public Administration and Policy Group Wageningen University, 3Associate professor Communication Science Group Wageningen University, 4Professor Strategic Communication University of Amsterdam, 5Professor of Public Administration and Policy Wageningen University

The End of Framing as we Know it . . . and the Future of Media Effects

Michael A. Cacciatore

Department of Advertising and Public Relations University of Georgia

Dietram A. Scheufele

Department of Life Sciences Communication University of Wisconsin and Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania

Shanto Iyengar

Department of Communication and Department of Political Science Stanford University

Mass Communication and Society, 19:7–23, 2016

Reframing as a Best Practice: The Priority of Process in Highly Adaptive Decision Making.

Dr. Gary Peters

March 24, 2008

Strategic Frame Analysis & Policy Making – Frameworks Institute

The Art and Science of Framing an Issue

Chapter 16: Frames and framing in policymaking

Handbook on Policy, Process and Governing
Edited by H. K. Colebatch and Robert Hoppe

Published in print: 28 Dec 2018

ISBN: 9781784714864e

ISBN: 9781784714871


Pages: c 528

Frame Reflection: Toward the Resolution of Intractrable Policy Controversies 

Paperback – June 29, 1995

by Donald A. Schon (Author)

Narrative Frames and Settings in Policy Narratives

Kate French ( Elizabeth A. Shanahan (* Eric D. Raile ( Jamie McEvoy (

Montana State University

Heuristics for practitioners of policy design: Rules-of-thumb for structuring unstructured problems

Robert Hoppe

University of Twente, The Netherlands

Public Policy and Administration

0(0) 1–25 / 2017

Competitive Framing in Political Decision Making (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Chong, Dennis

Analysis of Framing on the Public Policies from the View of Rein & Schoen Approach

Challoumis, Constantinos,

(November 17, 2018).

Available at SSRN: or

Policy framing in the European Union


Falk Daviter

Media in the Policy Process: Using Framing and Narratives to Understand Policy Influences

Deserai A. CrowAndrea Lawlor

First published: 07 September 2016

In the frame: how policy choices are shaped by the way ideas are presented 

11th May 2018

Policy Framing Analysis.

Daviter F. (2011)

In: Policy Framing in the European Union.

Palgrave Studies in European Union Politics. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Framing and the health policy process: a scoping review

Adam D Koon,*Benjamin Hawkins, and  Susannah H Mayhew

Health Policy Plan. 2016 Jul; 31(6): 801–816. 

Published online 2016 Feb 11. 

doi: 10.1093/heapol/czv128

Framing Shale Gas for Policy-Making in Poland


∗Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poznan ́, Poland
∗∗Institute for Sociology, Nicholas Copernicus University in Torun, Torun ́, Poland

Frame-critical policy analysis and frame-reflective policy practice. 

Rein, M., Schön, D.

Knowledge and Policy 9, 85–104 (1996).

The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, Volume 3

edited by Michael Moran, Martin Rein, Robert Edward Goodin, Robert E. Goodin, Professor of Urban Studies Martin Rein

Reframing Problematic Policies  

Martin Rein

The Oxford Handbook of Political Science

Edited by Robert E. Goodin

Print Publication Date: Jul 2011

Online Publication Date: Sep 2013

DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199604456.013.0046

Framing and Feedback

Constantinos Challoumis Κωνσταντίνος Χαλλουμής

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

Date Written: November 24, 2018

Power to the Frame: Bringing Sociology Back to Frame Analysis



Rens Vliegenthart

Liesbet van Zoonen

Dialogs and Dialectics

Dialogs and Dialectics

Hegel once described dialectics as “the grasping of opposites in their unity”.[1] Oppositions, it can be argued, provide the comparisons that make our experiences intelligible. Our understanding of the world is predicated on differentiation and comparison. We must compare this to that to know the identity of either or to assign relative value to both. This or that, and the excluded middle between… but what of the unbounded space beyond as well; beyond the binary oppositions, beyond the laws of non-contradiction, beyond the affordances and constraints of this or that?

“Scenarios are not seen as quasi-forecasts but as perception devices.” “Scenarios are used as a means of thinking through strategy against a number of structurally quite different, but plausible future models of the world”.
Kees van der Heijden

Definition of Dialectics

Source: Introduction/Dialectics for the New Century

Is a brief definition of ‘dialectics’ possible? In the history of Western thought the term has meant quite different things in different contexts. Dialectics in the Western tradition is customarily said to begin with Heraclitus. He insisted that the cosmos was in endless flux, in contrast to those for whom ‘true’ reality was immutable. For Socrates, dialectic had less to do with the dynamism of the cosmos than with the dynamism of intellectual discussion when pushed forward by challenges to the underlying assumptions of interlocutors. Aristotle then systematized Socratic dialectic, treating it as a form of argument that fell some- where between rhetoric and logic. While dialectical speech, like rhetoric, aimed at persuasion, Aristotle believed its efforts to overcome disagreements through rational discussion made it more like logic. Unlike logical argumentation, however, dialectical speech does not derive necessary consequences from universally accepted premises. Instead, by revealing the contradictions in particular arguments, it forces their modification or even abandonment, and moves the contending parties closer to a rational consensus. This notion of dialectics continued to hold sway in Western philosophy throughout the medieval and early modern periods.

A major shift occurred with Kant. For him, ‘dialectics’ does not refer to a process by which discussions can advance toward rational agreement, but to the frustrating and inclusive results that arise whenever reason transgresses its proper limits by attempting to investigate the ultimate nature of things. In Kant’s philosophy, dialectics becomes an endless series of debates in which each side reveals the contradictions of the other without being able to resolve its own. Following Kant, Hegel concedes that as long as contending positions are taken as complete and independent in themselves, the opposition between them is irresolvable. But why, Hegel asks, must we take the opposed positions as complete and independent? Why choose, for example, between ‘freedom’ and ‘necessity’? Another, far better option is available: to recognize that the apparently opposed positions only offer one-sided accounts of a complex reality. ‘Truth is the whole,’ he famously claims, and to be adequately comprehended we must find a place in our thinking for all these partial and one-sided truths. The key to Hegel’s notion of dialectic is the movement to a positive result in which previously antagonistic positions are reconciled within a higher-order framework (Pinkard, 1987). His Science of Logic is an unprecedented and unrepeatable attempt to show that all the fundamental categories of Western philosophy can be fit together in one coherent whole – once, that is, the contradictions which arise when they are taken as independent standpoints are rigorously confronted and resolved. In The Philosophy of Right Hegel attempted to show that neither a one-sided emphasis on the autonomous subjectivity of individual agents, nor a one-sided emphasis on the priority of the community over the individual, can adequately comprehend the reconciliation of both ‘principles’ found in the social and political institutions of modern society.

Key Terms

  • Plato’s Dialogues
  • Dialectic
  • Relational Dialectic
  • Hegel’s Dialectics
  • Marx’s Dialectics
  • Vygotskian Dialectics
  • Bakhtinian Dialogics
  • Contradictions
  • Relational process philosophy
  • Strategy
  • Development
  • Transformation
  • Constitutive relationships
  • Interaction
  • Multiple systems
  • Open systems
  • Metasystematic
  • Epistemic adequacy
  • Dialectical thinking
  • Dialectical philosophical perspective
  • Dialectical analysis
  • Psychotherapy
  • Higher education
  • AQAL Model of Ken Wilber
  • Quadrants in Scenario Planning
  • Possibilities
  • Uncertainty
  • Weak Signals
  • Constitutive and Interactive relationships
  • Dialectic Behavior Therapy DBT
  • Contradictions
  • Point of Views
  • Multiple Perspectives
  • Worldviews
  • Paradoxes
  • Complexity
  • Parts and Whole
  • Piaget
  • Oppositions
  • Informal Logic
  • Dialogue and Dialectics
  • Relational Dialectic
  • L S Vygotsky
  • Mikhail Bakhtin
  • Monologue
  • Discourse
  • Drama
  • Ensemble Theory

What is dialogue?

Source: Relating dialogue and dialectics: a philosophical perspective

Dialogue in different forms (political, philosophical, and dramatic) historically emerged in Ancient Greece in the context of the polis as a community of actively participating citizens (Dafermos, 2013a). Plato’s dialogues, the first written dialogical accounts in human history were formed in the context of ancient polis.

After a long eclipse in the history of human thought dialogue was reborn in the twentieth century in the writings of Russian literary theorist and philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin. He developed a multifaceted theory of dialogism based on a set of concepts such as dialogue, monologue, polyphony, heteroglossia, utterance, voice, speech genres and chronotope. Bakhtin’s writings inspired many scholars and practitioners to elaborate and apply various dialogical approaches in pedagogy (Matusov, 2009; Matusov, & Miyazaki, 2014), psychology (Shotter, 1995; Hermans, & Kempen, 1993), psychotherapy (Seikkula, 2011; Hermans, & Dimaggio, 2004) and cultural studies (Wertsch, 1993; Thornton, 1994).

One of the reasons for the apparent confusion in the emerging interdisciplinary field of dialogical studies is connected with the polysemy of the notion of dialogue and the multiple meanings of its use in different contexts. I will attempt to define several meanings of the term ‘dialogue’. In accordance with a first definition, dialogue is a live conversation between two or more people. In other words, dialogue can be identified with oral communication between two or more interlocutors. Being with other people and responding to their voices is an essential feature of a conversation. However, a difficult question at once arises whether dialogue is every form of conversation or a specific type of deep communication between different subjectivities. Nikulin (2010) defined four components that turn a conversation into a dialogue: a. the existence of personal other, b. voice, c. unfinalizability, d. allosensus (constant disagreement with other).

The second meaning of the term ‘dialogue’ refers to dialogue as a genre or literary device. Plato’s dialogues are one of the most famous forms of using a dialogical form as a genre. Plato’s written dialogues historically appeared as an imitation of oral communication in times of heated debates about the transition from oral to written communication. Dialogue as a genre has been used by many thinkers to formulate their ideas in various ways. However, the dialogical genre might be used as an external form for monological content. For exampledialogue might be used as a teaching method of catechesisIt refers to an instrumental approach to dialogue that tends to be considered as an “an effective means for non- dialogic ends, which are understood outside of the notion of dialogue, within a monological framework” (Matusov, & Miyazaki, 2014, p.2). However, if there is a perfect, final and absolute truth as in catechesis, there is no place and need for genuine dialogue.

In accordance with a third meaning, “…dialogue is the universal condition of using language at all” (Womack, 2011, p.48). From this perspective both oral and written speech, moreover, language itself has a dialogical character. Language can be considered mainly as an intersubjective communicative engagement, rather than a simple, formal, symbolic system.

Bakhtin offered a classic formulation of the dialogic nature of consciousness that can be regarded as the fourth meaning of the dialogue which goes beyond purely linguistic or literary phenomena: “I am conscious of myself and become myself only while revealing myself for another, through another, and with the help of another. The most important acts constituting self-consciousness are determined by a relationship toward another consciousness (toward a thou) … The very being of man (both external and internal) is the deepest communion. To be means to communicate … To be means to be for another, and through the other for oneself” (Bakhtin, 1981, p.287).

Dialogue is an essential characteristic of consciousness. The word ‘consciousness’ originates from the Latin ‘conscius’ (con- ‘together’ + scientia- ‘to know’). ‘Conscious’ means sharing knowledge. Toulmin (1982) offers a brilliant interpretation of the etymology of the term ‘consciousness:

“Etymologically, of course, the term ‘consciousness’ is a knowledge word. This is evidenced by the Latin form, –sci-, in the middle of the word. But what are we to make of the prefix con– that precedes it? Look at the usage in Roman Law, and the answer will be easy enough. Two or more agents who act jointly—having formed a common intention, framed a shared plan, and concerted their actions—are as a result conscientes. They act as they do knowing one another’s plans: they are jointly knowing” (Toulmin, 1982, p. 64).

In Latin “to be conscious of something was to share knowledge of it, with someone else, or with oneself” (Zeman, 2001, p.1265). “When two or more men know of one and the same fact, they are said to be conscious of it one to another” (Hobbes, 1660, Leviathan, chapt. VII). However, the predominant use of the term ‘consciousness’ is connected with John Locke’s definition: “Consciousness is the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind” (Locke, 1690, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II, i, 19). It refers to ‘inner perceptions’ that are conceived by an individual. The understanding of consciousness as a private, internal awareness became dominant in contemporary scientific literature.

However, it is interesting to note that the term ‘consciousness’ has similar etymology in different languages: In Russian ‘Сознание’ (Со-знание), in Greek ‘συνείδηση’ (συν- ειδέναι), in English ‘Con- scientia,’ in French ‘Conscience’ (Con-science), in Italian ‘Coscienza’ (Co-scienza). The prefix ‘co’ refers to joint action, reciprocal interaction between people. The concept of ‘consciousness’ includes knowledge as its essential moment. However, consciousness is not reducible to simple knowledge but it refers to co- producing knowledge in the process of communication between different subjects. It refers to joining knowledge with another or shared knowledge. From this perspective, consciousness has dialogic structure and orientation.

The understanding of the dialogic nature of consciousness enables the demonstration of the mirrors of cognitivism and scientism. One of the most powerful objections to cognitivism has been formulated by Michael Bakhtin: “Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction” (Bakhtin, 1984, p. 110).

Dialogue has been defined by Bakhtin as opposed to monologism. Individual consciousness cannot grasp the complexity and variety of the human world. In contrast to the single, isolated, monological consciousness, a dialogical coexistence of different irreducible consciousnesses develops. Bakhtin argued that the idea is not developed in isolated individual consciousness but in dialogic communication between several consciousnesses. “…the idea is inter-individual and inter-subjective – the realm of its existence is not individual consciousness but dialogic communion between consciousnesses. The idea is a live event, played out at the point of dialogic meeting between two or several consciousnesses” (Bakhtin, 2003, p.98). The meeting spaces and dramatic processes of making meaning between different and not reducible consciousnesses constitute the ontological foundation of dialogue. The “ontological dialogue” (Sidorkin, 1999; Matusov, & Miyazaki, 2014) between consciousnesses penetrates the deeper and most important aspects of human existence.

Although dialogue has been defined as being contrary to monologue, the consideration of dialogue as a positive and monologue as a negative term leads inevitably to oversimplification of dialectic relationships between them. I totally agree with Matusov’s position that “Bakhtin’s notions of dialogue and monologue is complementary” (Matusov, 2009, p.112). Matusov argues that the concepts of dialogicity and monologicity mutually constitute each other. “Monologicity makes clear who is speaking (i.e., authorship and responsibility) and what is said (i.e., the message). In other words, monologicity objectivizes others and the themes of communication… Monologicity reflects centripetal forces of language, communication, and community oriented on centralization, unification, unity with action, seriousness, cohesiveness and integrity of voice (and position), articulateness, globalization, decontextualization, exactness and correctness of meaning (finalizing the meaning)” (Matusov, 2009, p. 131).

However, many Bakhtinian scholars tend to interpret the concepts ‘dialogue-monologue’ in terms of Western post-modernism such as ‘the death of author’ (more generally, the ‘death of subject’), ‘deconstruction,’ ‘decentration,’ ‘intertextuality’ (Bell, & Gardiner, 1998; Holquist, 2002). From the perspective of post-modernism, monologue is defined as a ‘grand narrative’ that should be ‘killed’ and ‘destroyed’. With the total ‘death of monologue’ any claims for ‘seriousness,’ ‘cohesiveness,’ ‘integrity of voice (and position),’ ‘articulateness’ and ‘correctness of meaning’ might disappear. The celebration of post-modern, deconstructionist discourse tends to lead to the deconstruction not only of ‘old’ metaphysics and ‘grand’ monologic narratives, but also of scientific thinking and knowledge itself. “…the deconstruction of metaphysics is the deconstruction of the scientificity of science. The deconstructive strategy aims at the very source of science itself, at the kind of question that gives rise to scientific investigation” (Evans, 1999, p.156).

It could be argued that the destruction of reason itself may give rise to a new form of irrationalism. Based on the analysis of post-Hegelian philosophical tradition, Lukács (1954) demonstrated that the destruction of reason and the advent of irrationalism prepared the ground for fascist ideas.

What is dialectics?

Source: Relating dialogue and dialectics: a philosophical perspective

The concept ‘dialectics’ has acquired different forms and meanings in various historical contexts. In ancient Greece dialectics emerged as an art of dialogue and a problem solving method through argumentation. The term ‘dialectics’ has a similar origin of the term ‘dialogue’. It refers to the art of conversation or debate that is connected with seeking truth through reasoning. “… someone tries, by means of dialectical discussion and without the aid of any sense-perceptions, to arrive through reason at the being of each thing itself” (Plato, 2004, Republic, 532a). By the power of discussions, dialectics provides genuine knowledge. Dialectics as a method originates from the Socratic elenchus, a method of hypothesis elimination that takes the form of a question-answer dialogue and brings out the contradictions in the interlocutor’s arguments.

Dialectics constitutes a way of thinking based on the understanding of the contradictory nature of both reason and being. Naive, spontaneous dialectics had been developed by ancient thinkers as an attempt to offer a living, sensory concrete perception of the world in the process of its change and becoming. “Tao-Te-Ching” in Ancient China as well as Heraclitus’ philosophy in Ancient Greece were forms of ancient spontaneous dialectics that were expressed in the idea that “everything is in a state of flux” (Skirbekk, & Gilje, 2001, p.13). Although Heraclitus didn’t use the term ‘dialectic,’ he developed a dialectical understanding that everything is becoming. However, a conceptual, categorical system for the representation of things as processes did not yet exist in the ancient world. Becoming is expressed through metaphors, images of an aesthetic equivalent such as the image of a river: “you cannot step into the same river twice” (Plato, 1997, Cratylus, 402a).

The meaning of the concept ‘dialectics’ was transformed by Aristotle. For Aristotle dialectic wasn’t a form of being but rather a method of logical argumentation. Moreover, dialectic broke down its interconnection with dialogue and became mainly a method of building knowledge. In the Middle Ages dialectic was constructed as a method of argumentation on the basis of a set of logical rules (Nikulin, 2010).

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries an analytic method of knowledge production dominated in concrete sciences and a metaphysical mode of thinking in the field of philosophy (Pavlidis, 2010). The metaphysical mode of thinking is based on the consideration of reality as a sum of separated, unconnected independent entities. A metaphysical outlook considers things as self-subsistent, isolated and abstracted from their context (Sayers, 1976). It denies fundamentally both the internal relatedness of all things and their development.

The concept of ‘dialectic’ was reborn and acquired new meanings and connotations in the context of German classical philosophy from Kant to Hegel and later in Marxism. Kant proposed “transcendental dialectic” as the logic of errors and illusions that arise when reason goes beyond its proper role in attempting to grasp the actual objects themselves (the thing-in-itself) (Williams, 2014). Kant demonstrated the structural necessity and inevitability of illusions. According to Kant, thinking confronts antinomies and falls into conflict with itself. Challenging Kant’s concept of dialectic as a logic of illusions, Hegel developed a “positive” dialectic based on the examination of a universal as a concrete unity of multiple determinations (Hegel, 2010). Dialectics was developed by Hegel as a method of thought that included the process of expounding contradictions and their resolution in the corpus of a rational understanding of an object (Ilyenkov, 1977). Materialistic dialectics developed by K. Marx as an attempt of the theoretical reconstruction of a concrete organic whole (the capitalist mode of production) through the creation of a system of interconnected concepts.

The conscious (or systematic) dialectics stood against the metaphysical method of thinking. Dialectics and metaphysics constitute two different ways of thinking about thinking. In contrast to the metaphysical method based on one-dimensional, abstract analysis of an object and its elements as unchanging and immutable, dialectical thinking examines an object in the process of its change. The dialectical method focuses on the examination of things in their mutual connections, movement and development. Dialectics as a way of thinking grasps and represents the developmental process of a concrete object in its interconnections with other objects (Pavlidis, 2010).

In the late 19th century and early 20th century the tendency of the rejection of dialectic and the acceptance of other trends such as Kantianism, philosophy of life and positivism became dominant in Western academy. The bulk of research for a long period in the Western academy was primarily associated with the assumptions of positivism and reductionism. In contrast to widespread reductionism in concrete disciplines which focuses on analysis of isolated elements of reality, the dialectic approach is oriented to grasp full complexity of interrelationships of reality and the contradictions that embody them (Bidell, 1988). The famous formula ‘thesis-antithesis-synthesis’ represents a very schematic and over simplistic description of the dialectical understanding of development. Such kind of caricatured representation of dialectics can give rise to the negative stance (or total rejection) of dialectical thinking. Laske (2009) argues that the dialectical mode of thinking “remains a closed book for the majority of adults in the Western world, while in Asian cultures nurtured by Buddhism it more easily assumes a common sense form” (Laske, 2009). Although the explanation of the negative stance toward a dialectical mode of thinking is out of scope of the present paper, I would like only to note that the increasing individualization, fragmentation and commercialization of social life in North America and Western Europe is not unconnected to a lack of understanding of dialectic at the level of everyday life.

The multiple crises (economic, political, ecological and scientific) as a result of the increasing social contradictions and asymmetries in a rapidly changing world may provoke interest in dialectics as a way of the conceptualization of contradictions. However, dialectics is not a given system of postulates that can be immediately applied as an external guiding system for investigating problems. The application of dialectics to the concrete fields presupposes its essential development. The question of how to further develop dialectics in a rapidly changing world remains open for future investigation.

Interconnection between consciousness and knowledge

Source: Relating dialogue and dialectics: a philosophical perspective

Dialectics and dialogue constitute two distinct traditions and each of them has its own logic of development in the history of human thought. Nevertheless, there was not an absolute gap between these traditions and it is possible to find complex relationships between them.

Traditionally, dialectics has been conceived as a mode of thinking connected with a concrete form of knowledge production. “…modern dialectic still tends to become the organon of thinking…” (Nikulin, 2010, p.71). Dialogue, on the other hand, has been traditionally conceptualized as a particular type of communication that creates shared meanings between different subjects. The concept of dialogue is more connected with the communication between consciousnesses rather than with knowledge production. However, there is not a gap between consciousness and knowledge. Dialectic connections develop in the interspace between consciousness and knowledge. On one side, consciousness includes knowledge as one of its moments. On the other side, reflective thinking has been involved in the dialogic communication between different subjects. Thus, thinking is not a solitary activity of a purely autonomous subject but a dialogical act, unfolding between different subjects. The knowledge representation of an object is socially mediated and the path to knowledge passes through relationships between subjects. Knowing with the other evidences the dialogical quality of consciousness (Shotter, 2006).

The investigation of developing interrelations between thinking and speech was examined by Vygotsky (1987) as the key to understanding the nature of human consciousness. The analysis of the internal relations between thinking and speaking as sides of human consciousness constitutes one of the most important foundations for linking dialectics and dialogue. Vygotsky (1987) addressed this crucial issue from a psychological perspective, but it remains under-investigatedHowever, it is worth emphasizing that dialectical thinking is a specific type of thinking that develops at a concrete stage of the process of historical development of human consciousness. Dialectical thinking offers the opportunity to overcome widespread positivism and reductionism in science (Ilyenkov, 1982a, 1982b; Dafermos, 2014).

In contrast to monologism, the dominant ‘paradigm’ in social and human sciences, Bakhtin revealed not only the dialogic nature of consciousness but also the perspective of conceptualization of thinking as a dialogue. “This mode of thinking makes available those sides of a human being, and above all the thinking human consciousness and the dialogic sphere of its existence, which are not subject to artistic assimilation from monologic positions” (Bakhtin, 1984, p.270). Dialogue was portrayed by Bakhtin as a unique meeting between several consciousnesses in a concrete moment of a historical and cultural chronotope.

Bringing together dialectics and dialogue, Feuerbach pointed out that “The true dialectic is not a monologue of the solitary thinker with himself. It is a dialogue between “I” and “You” (Feuerbach, 1843). Criticizing Hegelian philosophy, Feuerbach demonstrated the shortcomings of a pure speculation, which a single thinker carries on by or with himself, and subsequently, he focused on dialogue between “I” and “You” as sensuous and concrete human beings. It is worth mentioning that Feuerbach’s ideas on dialogue inspired Vygotsky to develop his theory of social education in the field of defectology: “Only social education can lead severely retarded children through the process of becoming human by eliminating the solitude of idiocy and severe retardation. L. Feuerbach’s wonderful phrase, might be taken as the motto to the study of development in abnormal children: ‘That which is impossible for one, is possible for two.’ Let us add: That which is impossible on the level of individual development becomes possible on the level of social development” (Vygotsky, 1993, pp. 218-219).


Source: Relating dialogue and dialectics: a philosophical perspective

Contrary to the view about an absolute gap between a dialogical approach and a dialectical concept of development, it is possible to find in Bakhtin’s writings some ideas that seem unpredictably closer to dialectical understanding than to postmodernist celebration of the fragmentation of culture. “The study of culture (or some area of it) at the level of system and at the higher level of organic unity: open, becoming, unresolved and unpredetermined, capable of death and renewal, transcending itself, that is, exceeding its own boundaries” (Bakhtin, 1986a, p.135). Bakhtin’s idea of an open, developing organic unity is a truly dialectical insight in the theorizing of human sciences. The contradictory coexistence of ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ constitutes a moment of a dialectical understanding of culture. I don’t claim that Bakhtin was a dialectical theorist, but only that it is possible to find influences of dialectics in his writings. In other words, there is no absolute gap or a rupture between dialogic and dialectic traditions but paradoxically, a dramatic relation between them might be detected.

From a developmental perspective, dialogue cannot be reduced to a simple communicative interaction or a conversation. Not every communicative interaction or conversation promotes human development. Dialogue is such a conversation that does promote human development. Dramatic tensions and collisions in a dialogue might become a source of personal growth for their participants. In other words, dialogue opens up the perspective of personal growth for subjects engaged in it (Apatow, 1998). “…the discursive dynamics has as its central question the ways to critically negotiate/collaborate meanings, highlighting the contradiction as a driving force for the development between participants with different social, historical, cultural and political constitutions” (Magalhães, Ninin, & Lessa, 2014, p.142).

Explaining the deep meaning of the general genetic law of cultural development as it was formulated by Vygotsky, Veresov notes: “Dramatic character development, development through contradictory events (acts of development), category (dramatic collision) — this was Vygotsky’s formulation and emphasis” (Veresov, 2010, p.88). The dramatic collision, conflicts and contradictory relations that emerge in a dialogue as they are experienced by its participants may promote their self reflection and personal growth.

The dialectic of change constitutes an essential dimension of a dialogue. “…neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to the dialogic context (it extends into the boundless past and the boundless future). Even past meanings, that is, those born in the dialogue of past centuries, can never be stable (finalized, ended once and for all) – they will always change (be renewed) in the process of subsequent development of the dialogue” (Bakhtin, 1986a, p.170).

Dialectics encountered: the origins of great strategies

Source: Strategy and dialectics: Rejuvenating a long-standing relationship

A group of strategy scholars recently joined to explore the origins of great strategies—a question infused with theoretical and practical significance (Gavetti and Porac, 2018). While not claiming to capture the field’s diversity in its entirety, the set of papers compiled represents a wide range of perspectives on strategy. As they traced the evolution of firms, capabilities, strategies, and industries in contemporary business environments, authors have built on diverse literatures such as complexity theory, evolutionary theory, attention-based view, Weberian sociology, practice theory, institutional logics, relational contracts, social movements, behavioral strategy, and social networks, to name but a few. Curiously, none of the papers explicitly used the word “dialectics” or referred to dialectics as a guiding perspective.

For the more initiated, however, dialectics is highly present in this collection of readings. Dialectics ideas underlie several of the featured theories, particularly complexity theory, practice theory, institutional logics, social movements, and behavioral strategy. The different papers also employ several time-honored dialectics concepts. For instance, the notion of “creative destruction” (Podolny, 2018) has been inspired by Marx; the dialectics of “presence” and “absence” (Powell, 2018) features in Hegel’s writings. Key means for generating creative strategies— combination, contrast, constraint, and intersecting contexts (Brandenburger, 2017)—resonate with dialectics’ notions of synthesis, negation, contradiction, and overlap. Dialectics stress on conflict and opposition is echoed too: it features in the emergence of powerful strategies such as Apple’s, reflecting broader clash between the oppositional movements and cultures of personal and corporate computing (Rao and Datta, 2018); it is illustrated in the concept of Judo strategies in which firms turn their opponents’ strengths against them (Brandenburger, 2017). Finally, in line with dialectics stress on asynchrony as a stimulus for movement and development, effective strategies, such as used in the drone industry, successively built on disequilibria and bottlenecks (Eisenhardt and Bingham, 2017).

Process, conflict, contradiction, disequilibria, disruption, oppositions, and synthesis are dialectics’ stock in trade. These, and other dialectics’ notions, also bear on several of strategy’s core research streams: they inform the literature on innovation and technological change (Bodrožić and Adler, 2017; Schumpeter, 1942; Tushman and Nelson, 1990), the resource-based view of firm’s growth (Penrose, 1959; Vidal and Mitchel, 2018), and strategy-as-practice research (Jarzabkowski, 2003; Nicolini, 2012); they have also been incorporated into managerial tools such as scenario analysis, system dynamics, and red teams.

I submit that dialectics is more present in strategy that many realize and holds a great potential to become even more central to the field. Dialectics’ distinctive view on social processes and relations is particularly relevant for comprehending and navigating a world in flux, a welcome counterpart to more simplistic, reductionist, and binary models, and an alternative to views on strategy stressing equilibrium, linearity, and coherence. Dialectics holistic stance can serve to counteract the field’s notorious fragmentation (e.g. Durand et al., 2017; Hambrick, 2004). Moreover, dialectics’ philosophical foundations and its stress on critique and reconstruction makes it particularly attractive means for challenging established models, questioning existing ideologies and reconsidering alternatives.

To reassert dialectics in new, promising areas such as competitive advantage and shaping strategies (the “where”), strategy researchers first need to become more familiar with dialectics ideas (the “what”) and with potential ways they can be used (the “how”).

Dialectical Thinking

Source: John Rowan: Dialectical Thinking

Dialectics is a form of thought which goes back a long way. In the West, Heraclitus in Ancient Greece was aware of it, and in the East, there are a number of thinkers who practised it. The Tao-Te-Ching is a good example of dialectical writing.


The first characteristic of dialectical thinking is that it places all the emphasis on change. Instead of talking about static structures, it talks about process and movement. Hence it is in line with all those philosophies which say – “Let’s not be deceived by what it is is now as we perceive it – let’s not pretend we can fix it and label it and turn it into something stiff and immutable – let’s look instead at how it changes.” Hence it denies much of the usefulness of formal logic, which starts from the proposition that “A is A,” and is nothing but A. For dialectics the corresponding proposition is “A is not simply A.” This is even true for things, but much more obviously true for people.

Conflict and Opposition

But the second characteristic, which sets it apart from any philosophy which emphasises smooth continuous change or progress, is that it states that the way change takes place is through conflict and opposition. Dialectics is always looking for the contradictions within people or situations as the main guide to what is going on and what is likely to happen. There are in fact three main propositions which are put forward about opposites and contradictions.

The interdependence of opposites

This is the easiest thing to see: opposites depend on one another. It wouldn’t make sense to talk about darkness if there were no such thing as light. I really start to understand my love at the moment when I permit myself up understand my hate. In practice, each member of a polar opposition seems to need the other to make it what it is.

The interpenetration of opposites

Here we see that opposites can be found within each other. Just because light is relative to darkness, there is some light in every darkness, and some darkness in every light. There is some hate in every love, and some love in every hate. If we look into one thing hard enough, we can always find its opposite right there. To see this frees us from the “either-or” which can be so oppressive and so stuck.

The unity of opposites

So far we have been talking about relative opposites. But dialectics goes on to say that if we take an opposite to its very ultimate extreme, and make it absolute, it actually turns into its opposite. Thus if we make darkness absolute, we are blind – we can’t see anything. And if we make light absolute, we are equally blind and unable to see. In psychology, the equivalent of this is to idealise something. So if we take love to its extreme, and idealise it, we get morbid dependence, where our whole existence depends completely on the other person. And if we take hate to its extreme, and idealise it, we get morbid counterdependence, where our whole existence again depends completely on the other person. This appreciation of paradox is one of the strengths of the dialectical approach, which makes it superior to linear logic.

A good symbol for these three processes is the Yin-Yang symbol of Taoism. The interdependence of opposites is shown in each half being defined by the contours of the other. The interpenetration of opposites is expressed by having a black spot in the innermost centre of the white area, and a white spot in the innermost centre of the black area. The unity of opposites is shown by the circle surrounding the symbol, which expresses total unity and unbroken serenity in and through all the seeming opposition. It is, after all, one symbol.

The lessons of the dialectic are hard ones. It tells us that any value we have, if held to in a one-sided way, will become an illusion. We shall try to take it as excluding its opposite, but really it will include it. And if we take it to its extreme, and idealise it, it will turn into its opposite. So peace and love, cosmic harmony, the pursuit of happiness and all the rest are doomed, if held to in this exclusive way.

The only values which will be truly stable and coherent are those which include opposition rather than excluding it. And all such values appear to be nonsense, because they must contain paradoxes. “Self-actualization” is one such value, because the concept of the self is self-contradictory, paradoxical and absurd. The self is intensely personal and completely impersonal at one and the same time. It is the lowest of the low and the highest of the high at the same time. And this is why, when we contact the self in a peak experience, our description of what happened is invariably a paradoxical one.

There is a logic of paradox, which enables the intellect to handle it without getting fazed, and its name is the dialectic. It is complex because it involves holding the spring doors of the mind open – hence it often tries to say everything at once. But it shows how we do not have to give up in the face of paradox and abandon the intellect as a hopeless case.

Hegel’s Dialectics


First published Fri Jun 3, 2016; substantive revision Fri Oct 2, 2020

“Dialectics” is a term used to describe a method of philosophical argument that involves some sort of contradictory process between opposing sides. In what is perhaps the most classic version of “dialectics”, the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato (see entry on Plato), for instance, presented his philosophical argument as a back-and-forth dialogue or debate, generally between the character of Socrates, on one side, and some person or group of people to whom Socrates was talking (his interlocutors), on the other. In the course of the dialogues, Socrates’ interlocutors propose definitions of philosophical concepts or express views that Socrates challenges or opposes. The back-and-forth debate between opposing sides produces a kind of linear progression or evolution in philosophical views or positions: as the dialogues go along, Socrates’ interlocutors change or refine their views in response to Socrates’ challenges and come to adopt more sophisticated views. The back-and-forth dialectic between Socrates and his interlocutors thus becomes Plato’s way of arguing against the earlier, less sophisticated views or positions and for the more sophisticated ones later.

“Hegel’s dialectics” refers to the particular dialectical method of argument employed by the 19th Century German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel (see entry on Hegel), which, like other “dialectical” methods, relies on a contradictory process between opposing sides. Whereas Plato’s “opposing sides” were people (Socrates and his interlocutors), however, what the “opposing sides” are in Hegel’s work depends on the subject matter he discusses. In his work on logic, for instance, the “opposing sides” are different definitions of logical concepts that are opposed to one another. In the Phenomenology of Spirit, which presents Hegel’s epistemology or philosophy of knowledge, the “opposing sides” are different definitions of consciousness and of the object that consciousness is aware of or claims to know. As in Plato’s dialogues, a contradictory process between “opposing sides” in Hegel’s dialectics leads to a linear evolution or development from less sophisticated definitions or views to more sophisticated ones later. The dialectical process thus constitutes Hegel’s method for arguing against the earlier, less sophisticated definitions or views and for the more sophisticated ones later. Hegel regarded this dialectical method or “speculative mode of cognition” (PR §10) as the hallmark of his philosophy and used the same method in the Phenomenology of Spirit [PhG], as well as in all of the mature works he published later—the entire Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences (including, as its first part, the “Lesser Logic” or the Encyclopaedia Logic [EL]), the Science of Logic [SL], and the Philosophy of Right[PR].

Note that, although Hegel acknowledged that his dialectical method was part of a philosophical tradition stretching back to Plato, he criticized Plato’s version of dialectics. He argued that Plato’s dialectics deals only with limited philosophical claims and is unable to get beyond skepticism or nothingness (SL-M 55–6; SL-dG 34–5; PR, Remark to §31). According to the logic of a traditional reductio ad absurdum argument, if the premises of an argument lead to a contradiction, we must conclude that the premises are false—which leaves us with no premises or with nothing. We must then wait around for new premises to spring up arbitrarily from somewhere else, and then see whether those new premises put us back into nothingness or emptiness once again, if they, too, lead to a contradiction. Because Hegel believed that reason necessarily generates contradictions, as we will see, he thought new premises will indeed produce further contradictions. As he puts the argument, then, 

the scepticism that ends up with the bare abstraction of nothingness or emptiness cannot get any further from there, but must wait to see whether something new comes along and what it is, in order to throw it too into the same empty abyss. (PhG-M §79) 

Hegel argues that, because Plato’s dialectics cannot get beyond arbitrariness and skepticism, it generates only approximate truths, and falls short of being a genuine science (SL-M 55–6; SL-dG 34–5; PR, Remark to §31; cf. EL Remark to §81). The following sections examine Hegel’s dialectics as well as these issues in more detail.

1. Hegel’s description of his dialectical method

Hegel provides the most extensive, general account of his dialectical method in Part I of his Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences, which is often called the Encyclopaedia Logic [EL]. The form or presentation of logic, he says, has three sides or moments (EL §79). These sides are not parts of logic, but, rather, moments of “every concept”, as well as “of everything true in general” (EL Remark to §79; we will see why Hegel thought dialectics is in everything in section 3). The first moment—the moment of the understanding—is the moment of fixity, in which concepts or forms have a seemingly stable definition or determination (EL §80).

The second moment—the “dialectical” (EL §§79, 81) or “negatively rational” (EL §79) moment—is the moment of instability. In this moment, a one-sidedness or restrictedness (EL Remark to §81) in the determination from the moment of understanding comes to the fore, and the determination that was fixed in the first moment passes into its opposite (EL §81). Hegel describes this process as a process of “self-sublation” (EL §81). The English verb “to sublate” translates Hegel’s technical use of the German verb aufheben, which is a crucial concept in his dialectical method. Hegel says that aufheben has a doubled meaning: it means both to cancel (or negate) and to preserve at the same time (PhG §113; SL-M 107; SL-dG 81–2; cf. EL the Addition to §95). The moment of understanding sublates itself because its own character or nature—its one-sidedness or restrictedness—destabilizes its definition and leads it to pass into its opposite. The dialectical moment thus involves a process of self-sublation, or a process in which the determination from the moment of understanding sublates itself, or both cancels and preserves itself, as it pushes on to or passes into its opposite.

The third moment—the “speculative” or “positively rational” (EL §§79, 82) moment—grasps the unity of the opposition between the first two determinations, or is the positive result of the dissolution or transition of those determinations (EL §82 and Remark to §82). Here, Hegel rejects the traditional, reductio ad absurdum argument, which says that when the premises of an argument lead to a contradiction, then the premises must be discarded altogether, leaving nothing. As Hegel suggests in the Phenomenology, such an argument 

is just the skepticism which only ever sees pure nothingness in its result and abstracts from the fact that this nothingness is specifically the nothingness of that from which it results. (PhG-M §79) 

Although the speculative moment negates the contradiction, it is a determinate or defined nothingness because it is the result of a specific process. There is something particular about the determination in the moment of understanding—a specific weakness, or some specific aspect that was ignored in its one-sidedness or restrictedness—that leads it to fall apart in the dialectical moment. The speculative moment has a definition, determination or content because it grows out of and unifies the particular character of those earlier determinations, or is “a unity of distinct determinations” (EL Remark to §82). The speculative moment is thus “truly not empty, abstract nothing, but the negation of certain determinations” (EL-GSH §82). When the result “is taken as the result of that from which it emerges”, Hegel says, then it is “in fact, the true result; in that case it is itself a determinate nothingness, one which has a content” (PhG-M §79). As he also puts it, “the result is conceived as it is in truth, namely, as a determinate negation [bestimmteNegation]; a new form has thereby immediately arisen” (PhG-M §79). Or, as he says, “[b]ecause the result, the negation, is a determinate negation [bestimmte Negation], it has a content” (SL-dG 33; cf. SL-M 54). Hegel’s claim in both the Phenomenology and the Science of Logic that his philosophy relies on a process of “determinate negation [bestimmte Negation]” has sometimes led scholars to describe his dialectics as a method or doctrine of “determinate negation” (see entry on Hegel, section on Science of Logic; cf. Rosen 1982: 30; Stewart 1996, 2000: 41–3; Winfield 1990: 56).

There are several features of this account that Hegel thinks raise his dialectical method above the arbitrariness of Plato’s dialectics to the level of a genuine science. First, because the determinations in the moment of understanding sublate themselves, Hegel’s dialectics does not require some new idea to show up arbitrarily. Instead, the movement to new determinations is driven by the nature of the earlier determinations and so “comes about on its own accord” (PhG-P §79). Indeed, for Hegel, the movement is driven by necessity (see, e.g., EL Remarks to §§12, 42, 81, 87, 88; PhG §79). The natures of the determinations themselves drive or force them to pass into their opposites. This sense of necessity—the idea that the method involves being forced from earlier moments to later ones—leads Hegel to regard his dialectics as a kind of logic. As he says in the Phenomenology, the method’s “proper exposition belongs to logic” (PhG-M §48). Necessity—the sense of being driven or forced to conclusions—is the hallmark of “logic” in Western philosophy.

Second, because the form or determination that arises is the result of the self-sublation of the determination from the moment of understanding, there is no need for some new idea to show up from the outside. Instead, the transition to the new determination or form is necessitated by earlier moments and hence grows out of the process itself. Unlike in Plato’s arbitrary dialectics, then—which must wait around until some other idea comes in from the outside—in Hegel’s dialectics “nothing extraneous is introduced”, as he says (SL-M 54; cf. SL-dG 33). His dialectics is driven by the nature, immanence or “inwardness” of its own content (SL-M 54; cf. SL-dG 33; cf. PR §31). As he puts it, dialectics is “the principle through which alone immanent coherence and necessity enter into the content of science” (EL-GSH Remark to §81).

Third, because later determinations “sublate” earlier determinations, the earlier determinations are not completely cancelled or negated. On the contrary, the earlier determinations are preservedin the sense that they remain in effect within the later determinations. When Being-for-itself, for instance, is introduced in the logic as the first concept of ideality or universality and is defined by embracing a set of “something-others”, Being-for-itself replaces the something-others as the new concept, but those something-others remain active within the definition of the concept of Being-for-itself. The something-others must continue to do the work of picking out individual somethings before the concept of Being-for-itself can have its own definition as the concept that gathers them up. Being-for-itself replaces the something-others, but it also preserves them, because its definition still requires them to do their work of picking out individual somethings (EL §§95–6).

The concept of “apple”, for example, as a Being-for-itself, would be defined by gathering up individual “somethings” that are the same as one another (as apples). Each individual apple can be what it is (as an apple) only in relation to an “other” that is the same “something” that it is (i.e., an apple). That is the one-sidedness or restrictedness that leads each “something” to pass into its “other” or opposite. The “somethings” are thus both “something-others”. Moreover, their defining processes lead to an endless process of passing back and forth into one another: one “something” can be what it is (as an apple) only in relation to another “something” that is the same as it is, which, in turn, can be what it is (an apple) only in relation to the other “something” that is the same as it is, and so on, back and forth, endlessly (cf. EL §95). The concept of “apple”, as a Being-for-itself, stops that endless, passing-over process by embracing or including the individual something-others (the apples) in its content. It grasps or captures their character or quality as apples. But the “something-others” must do their work of picking out and separating those individual items (the apples) before the concept of “apple”—as the Being-for-itself—can gather them up for its own definition. We can picture the concept of Being-for-itself like this:an oval enclosing two circles, left and right; an arrow goes from the interior of each circle to the interior of the other. The oval has the statement 'Being-for-itself embraces the something-others in its content'. The circles have the statement 'the something-others'. The arrows have the statement 'the process of passing back-and-forth between the something-others'.

Figure 1

Later concepts thus replace, but also preserve, earlier concepts.

Fourth, later concepts both determine and also surpass the limits or finitude of earlier concepts. Earlier determinations sublate themselves—they pass into their others because of some weakness, one-sidedness or restrictedness in their own definitions. There are thus limitations in each of the determinations that lead them to pass into their opposites. As Hegel says, “that is what everything finite is: its own sublation” (EL-GSH Remark to §81). Later determinations define the finiteness of the earlier determinations. From the point of view of the concept of Being-for-itself, for instance, the concept of a “something-other” is limited or finite: although the something-others are supposed to be the same as one another, the character of their sameness (e.g., as apples) is captured only from above, by the higher-level, more universal concept of Being-for-itself. Being-for-itself reveals the limitations of the concept of a “something-other”. It also rises above those limitations, since it can do something that the concept of a something-other cannot do. Dialectics thus allows us to get beyond the finite to the universal. As Hegel puts it, “all genuine, nonexternal elevation above the finite is to be found in this principle [of dialectics]” (EL-GSH Remark to §81).

Fifth, because the determination in the speculative moment grasps the unity of the first two moments, Hegel’s dialectical method leads to concepts or forms that are increasingly comprehensive and universal. As Hegel puts it, the result of the dialectical process

is a new concept but one higher and richer than the preceding—richer because it negates or opposes the preceding and therefore contains it, and it contains even more than that, for it is the unity of itself and its opposite. (SL-dG 33; cf. SL-M 54) 

Like Being-for-itself, later concepts are more universal because they unify or are built out ofearlier determinations, and include those earlier determinations as part of their definitions. Indeed, many other concepts or determinations can also be depicted as literally surrounding earlier ones (cf. Maybee 2009: 73, 100, 112, 156, 193, 214, 221, 235, 458).

Finally, because the dialectical process leads to increasing comprehensiveness and universality, it ultimately produces a complete series, or drives “to completion” (SL-dG 33; cf. SL-M 54; PhG §79). Dialectics drives to the “Absolute”, to use Hegel’s term, which is the last, final, and completely all-encompassing or unconditioned concept or form in the relevant subject matter under discussion (logic, phenomenology, ethics/politics and so on). The “Absolute” concept or form is unconditioned because its definition or determination contains all the other concepts or forms that were developed earlier in the dialectical process for that subject matter. Moreover, because the process develops necessarily and comprehensively through each concept, form or determination, there are no determinations that are left out of the process. There are therefore no left-over concepts or forms—concepts or forms outside of the “Absolute”—that might “condition” or define it. The “Absolute” is thus unconditioned because it contains all of the conditions in its content, and is not conditioned by anything else outside of it. This Absolute is the highest concept or form of universality for that subject matter. It is the thought or concept of the whole conceptual system for the relevant subject matter. We can picture the Absolute Idea (EL §236), for instance—which is the “Absolute” for logic—as an oval that is filled up with and surrounds numerous, embedded rings of smaller ovals and circles, which represent all of the earlier and less universal determinations from the logical development (cf. Maybee 2009: 30, 600):Five concentric ovals; the outermost one is labeled 'The Absolute Idea'.

Figure 2

Since the “Absolute” concepts for each subject matter lead into one another, when they are taken together, they constitute Hegel’s entire philosophical system, which, as Hegel says, “presents itself therefore as a circle of circles” (EL-GSH §15). We can picture the entire system like this (cf. Maybee 2009: 29):A circle enclosing enclosing 10 ovals. One oval is labeled 'Phenomenology', another 'Logic', and two others 'Other philosophical subject matters'. The enclosing circle is labeled: the whole philosophical system as a 'circle of circles'

Figure 3

Together, Hegel believes, these characteristics make his dialectical method genuinely scientific. As he says, “the dialectical constitutes the moving soul of scientific progression” (EL-GSH Remark to §81). He acknowledges that a description of the method can be more or less complete and detailed, but because the method or progression is driven only by the subject matter itself, this dialectical method is the “only true method” (SL-M 54; SL-dG 33).

2. Applying Hegel’s dialectical method to his arguments

So far, we have seen how Hegel describes his dialectical method, but we have yet to see how we might read this method into the arguments he offers in his works. Scholars often use the first three stages of the logic as the “textbook example” (Forster 1993: 133) to illustrate how Hegel’s dialectical method should be applied to his arguments. The logic begins with the simple and immediate concept of pure Being, which is said to illustrate the moment of the understanding. We can think of Being here as a concept of pure presence. It is not mediated by any other concept—or is not defined in relation to any other concept—and so is undetermined or has no further determination (EL §86; SL-M 82; SL-dG 59). It asserts bare presence, but what that presence is like has no further determination. Because the thought of pure Being is undetermined and so is a pure abstraction, however, it is really no different from the assertion of pure negation or the absolutely negative (EL §87). It is therefore equally a Nothing (SL-M 82; SL-dG 59). Being’s lack of determination thus leads it to sublate itself and pass into the concept of Nothing (EL §87; SL-M 82; SL-dG 59), which illustrates the dialectical moment.

But if we focus for a moment on the definitions of Being and Nothing themselves, their definitions have the same content. Indeed, both are undetermined, so they have the same kind of undefined content. The only difference between them is “something merely meant” (EL-GSH Remark to §87), namely, that Being is an undefined content, taken as or meant to be presence, while Nothing is an undefined content, taken as or meant to be absence. The third concept of the logic—which is used to illustrate the speculative moment—unifies the first two moments by capturing the positive result of—or the conclusion that we can draw from—the opposition between the first two moments. The concept of Becoming is the thought of an undefined content, taken as presence (Being) and then taken as absence (Nothing), or taken as absence (Nothing) and then taken as presence (Being). To Become is to go from Being to Nothing or from Nothing to Being, or is, as Hegel puts it, “the immediate vanishing of the one in the other” (SL-M 83; cf. SL-dG 60). The contradiction between Being and Nothing thus is not a reductio ad absurdum, or does not lead to the rejection of both concepts and hence to nothingness—as Hegel had said Plato’s dialectics does (SL-M 55–6; SL-dG 34–5)—but leads to a positive result, namely, to the introduction of a new concept—the synthesis—which unifies the two, earlier, opposed concepts.

We can also use the textbook Being-Nothing-Becoming example to illustrate Hegel’s concept of aufheben (to sublate), which, as we saw, means to cancel (or negate) and to preserve at the same time. Hegel says that the concept of Becoming sublates the concepts of Being and Nothing (SL-M 105; SL-dG 80). Becoming cancels or negates Being and Nothing because it is a new concept that replaces the earlier concepts; but it also preserves Being and Nothing because it relies on those earlier concepts for its own definition. Indeed, it is the first concrete concept in the logic. Unlike Being and Nothing, which had no definition or determination as concepts themselves and so were merely abstract (SL-M 82–3; SL-dG 59–60; cf. EL Addition to §88), Becoming is a “determinate unity in which there is both Being and Nothing” (SL-M 105; cf. SL-dG 80). Becoming succeeds in having a definition or determination because it is defined by, or piggy-backs on, the concepts of Being and Nothing.

This “textbook” Being-Nothing-Becoming example is closely connected to the traditional idea that Hegel’s dialectics follows a thesis-antithesis-synthesis pattern, which, when applied to the logic, means that one concept is introduced as a “thesis” or positive concept, which then develops into a second concept that negates or is opposed to the first or is its “antithesis”, which in turn leads to a third concept, the “synthesis”, that unifies the first two (see, e.g., McTaggert 1964 [1910]: 3–4; Mure 1950: 302; Stace, 1955 [1924]: 90–3, 125–6; Kosek 1972: 243; E. Harris 1983: 93–7; Singer 1983: 77–79). Versions of this interpretation of Hegel’s dialectics continue to have currency (e.g., Forster 1993: 131; Stewart 2000: 39, 55; Fritzman 2014: 3–5). On this reading, Being is the positive moment or thesis, Nothing is the negative moment or antithesis, and Becoming is the moment of aufheben or synthesis—the concept that cancels and preserves, or unifies and combines, Being and Nothing.

We must be careful, however, not to apply this textbook example too dogmatically to the rest of Hegel’s logic or to his dialectical method more generally (for a classic criticism of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis reading of Hegel’s dialectics, see Mueller 1958). There are other places where this general pattern might describe some of the transitions from stage to stage, but there are many more places where the development does not seem to fit this pattern very well. One place where the pattern seems to hold, for instance, is where the Measure (EL §107)—as the combination of Quality and Quantity—transitions into the Measureless (EL §107), which is opposed to it, which then in turn transitions into Essence, which is the unity or combination of the two earlier sides (EL §111). This series of transitions could be said to follow the general pattern captured by the “textbook example”: Measure would be the moment of the understanding or thesis, the Measureless would be the dialectical moment or antithesis, and Essence would be the speculative moment or synthesis that unifies the two earlier moments. However, before the transition to Essence takes place, the Measureless itself is redefined as a Measure (EL §109)—undercutting a precise parallel with the textbook Being-Nothing-Becoming example, since the transition from Measure to Essence would not follow a Measure-Measureless-Essence pattern, but rather a Measure-(Measureless?)-Measure-Essence pattern.

Other sections of Hegel’s philosophy do not fit the triadic, textbook example of Being-Nothing-Becoming at all, as even interpreters who have supported the traditional reading of Hegel’s dialectics have noted. After using the Being-Nothing-Becoming example to argue that Hegel’s dialectical method consists of “triads” whose members “are called the thesis, antithesis, synthesis” (Stace 1955 [1924]: 93), W.T. Stace, for instance, goes on to warn us that Hegel does not succeed in applying this pattern throughout the philosophical system. It is hard to see, Stace says, how the middle term of some of Hegel’s triads are the opposites or antitheses of the first term, “and there are even ‘triads’ which contain four terms!” (Stace 1955 [1924]: 97). As a matter of fact, one section of Hegel’s logic—the section on Cognition—violates the thesis-antithesis-synthesis pattern because it has only two sub-divisions, rather than three. “The triad is incomplete”, Stace complains. “There is no third. Hegel here abandons the triadic method. Nor is any explanation of his having done so forthcoming” (Stace 1955 [1924]: 286; cf. McTaggart 1964 [1910]: 292).

Interpreters have offered various solutions to the complaint that Hegel’s dialectics sometimes seems to violate the triadic form. Some scholars apply the triadic form fairly loosely across several stages (e.g. Burbidge 1981: 43–5; Taylor 1975: 229–30). Others have applied Hegel’s triadic method to whole sections of his philosophy, rather than to individual stages. For G.R.G. Mure, for instance, the section on Cognition fits neatly into a triadic, thesis-antithesis-synthesis account of dialectics because the whole section is itself the antithesis of the previous section of Hegel’s logic, the section on Life (Mure 1950: 270). Mure argues that Hegel’s triadic form is easier to discern the more broadly we apply it. “The triadic form appears on many scales”, he says, “and the larger the scale we consider the more obvious it is” (Mure 1950: 302).

Scholars who interpret Hegel’s description of dialectics on a smaller scale—as an account of how to get from stage to stage—have also tried to explain why some sections seem to violate the triadic form. J.N. Findlay, for instance—who, like Stace, associates dialectics “with the triad, or with triplicity”—argues that stages can fit into that form in “more than one sense” (Findlay 1962: 66). The first sense of triplicity echoes the textbook, Being-Nothing-Becoming example. In a second sense, however, Findlay says, the dialectical moment or “contradictory breakdown” is not itself a separate stage, or “does not count as one of the stages”, but is a transition between opposed, “but complementary”, abstract stages that “are developed more or less concurrently” (Findlay 1962: 66). This second sort of triplicity could involve any number of stages: it “could readily have been expanded into a quadruplicity, a quintuplicity and so forth” (Findlay 1962: 66). Still, like Stace, he goes on to complain that many of the transitions in Hegel’s philosophy do not seem to fit the triadic pattern very well. In some triads, the second term is “the direct and obvious contrary of the first”—as in the case of Being and Nothing. In other cases, however, the opposition is, as Findlay puts it, “of a much less extreme character” (Findlay 1962: 69). In some triads, the third term obviously mediates between the first two terms. In other cases, however, he says, the third term is just one possible mediator or unity among other possible ones; and, in yet other cases, “the reconciling functions of the third member are not at all obvious” (Findlay 1962: 70).

Let us look more closely at one place where the “textbook example” of Being-Nothing-Becoming does not seem to describe the dialectical development of Hegel’s logic very well. In a later stage of the logic, the concept of Purpose goes through several iterations, from Abstract Purpose (EL §204), to Finite or Immediate Purpose (EL §205), and then through several stages of a syllogism (EL §206) to Realized Purpose (EL §210). Abstract Purpose is the thought of any kind of purposiveness, where the purpose has not been further determined or defined. It includes not just the kinds of purposes that occur in consciousness, such as needs or drives, but also the “internal purposiveness” or teleological view proposed by the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle (see entry on Aristotle; EL Remark to §204), according to which things in the world have essences and aim to achieve (or have the purpose of living up to) their essences. Finite Purpose is the moment in which an Abstract Purpose begins to have a determination by fixing on some particular material or content through which it will be realized (EL §205). The Finite Purpose then goes through a process in which it, as the Universality, comes to realize itself as the Purpose over the particular material or content (and hence becomes Realized Purpose) by pushing out into Particularity, then into Singularity (the syllogism U-P-S), and ultimately into ‘out-thereness,’ or into individual objects out there in the world (EL §210; cf. Maybee 2009: 466–493).

Hegel’s description of the development of Purpose does not seem to fit the textbook Being-Nothing-Becoming example or the thesis-antithesis-synthesis model. According to the example and model, Abstract Purpose would be the moment of understanding or thesis, Finite Purpose would be the dialectical moment or antithesis, and Realized Purpose would be the speculative moment or synthesis. Although Finite Purpose has a different determination from Abstract Purpose (it refines the definition of Abstract Purpose), it is hard to see how it would qualify as strictly “opposed” to or as the “antithesis” of Abstract Purpose in the way that Nothing is opposed to or is the antithesis of Being.

There is an answer, however, to the criticism that many of the determinations are not “opposites” in a strict sense. The German term that is translated as “opposite” in Hegel’s description of the moments of dialectics (EL §§81, 82)—entgegensetzen—has three root words: setzen (“to posit or set”), gegen, (“against”), and the prefix ent-, which indicates that something has entered into a new state. The verb entgegensetzen can therefore literally be translated as “to set over against”. The “engegengesetzte” into which determinations pass, then, do not need to be the strict “opposites” of the first, but can be determinations that are merely “set against” or are different from the first ones. And the prefix ent-, which suggests that the first determinations are put into a new state, can be explained by Hegel’s claim that the finite determinations from the moment of understanding sublate (cancel but also preserve) themselves (EL §81): later determinations put earlier determinations into a new state by preserving them.

At the same time, there is a technical sense in which a later determination would still be the “opposite” of the earlier determination. Since the second determination is different from the first one, it is the logical negation of the first one, or is not-the-first-determination. If the first determination is “e”, for instance, because the new determination is different from that one, the new one is “not-e” (Kosek 1972: 240). Since Finite Purpose, for instance, has a definition or determination that is different from the definition that Abstract Purpose has, it is not-Abstract-Purpose, or is the negation or opposite of Abstract Purpose in that sense. There is therefore a technical, logical sense in which the second concept or form is the “opposite” or negation of—or is “not”—the first one—though, again, it need not be the “opposite” of the first one in a strict sense.

Other problems remain, however. Because the concept of Realized Purpose is defined through a syllogistic process, it is itself the product of several stages of development (at least four, by my count, if Realized Purpose counts as a separate determination), which would seem to violate a triadic model. Moreover, the concept of Realized Purpose does not, strictly speaking, seem to be the unity or combination of Abstract Purpose and Finite Purpose. Realized Purpose is the result of (and so unifies) the syllogistic process of Finite Purpose, through which Finite Purpose focuses on and is realized in a particular material or content. Realized Purpose thus seems to be a development of Finite Purpose, rather than a unity or combination of Abstract Purpose and Finite Purpose, in the way that Becoming can be said to be the unity or combination of Being and Nothing.

These sorts of considerations have led some scholars to interpret Hegel’s dialectics in a way that is implied by a more literal reading of his claim, in the Encyclopaedia Logic, that the three “sides” of the form of logic—namely, the moment of understanding, the dialectical moment, and the speculative moment—“are moments of each [or every; jedeslogically-real, that is each [or every; jedes] concept” (EL Remark to §79; this is an alternative translation). The quotation suggests that each concept goes through all three moments of the dialectical process—a suggestion reinforced by Hegel’s claim, in the Phenomenology, that the result of the process of determinate negation is that “a new form has thereby immediately arisen” (PhG-M §79). According to this interpretation, the three “sides” are not three different concepts or forms that are related to one another in a triad—as the textbook Being-Nothing-Becoming example suggests—but rather different momentary sides or “determinations” in the life, so to speak, of eachconcept or form as it transitions to the next one. The three moments thus involve only two concepts or forms: the one that comes first, and the one that comes next (examples of philosophers who interpret Hegel’s dialectics in this second way include Maybee 2009; Priest 1989: 402; Rosen 2014: 122, 132; and Winfield 1990: 56).

For the concept of Being, for example, its moment of understanding is its moment of stability, in which it is asserted to be pure presence. This determination is one-sided or restricted however, because, as we saw, it ignores another aspect of Being’s definition, namely, that Being has no content or determination, which is how Being is defined in its dialectical moment. Being thus sublates itself because the one-sidedness of its moment of understanding undermines that determination and leads to the definition it has in the dialectical moment. The speculative moment draws out the implications of these moments: it asserts that Being (as pure presence) implies nothing. It is also the “unity of the determinations in their comparison [Entgegensetzung]” (EL §82; alternative translation): since it captures a process from one to the other, it includes Being’s moment of understanding (as pure presence) and dialectical moment (as nothing or undetermined), but also compares those two determinations, or sets (-setzen) them up against (-gegen) each other. It even puts Being into a new state (as the prefix ent– suggests) because the next concept, Nothing, will sublate (cancel and preserve) Being.

The concept of Nothing also has all three moments. When it is asserted to be the speculative result of the concept of Being, it has its moment of understanding or stability: it is Nothing, defined as pure absence, as the absence of determination. But Nothing’s moment of understanding is also one-sided or restricted: like Being, Nothing is also an undefined content, which is its determination in its dialectical moment. Nothing thus sublates itself: since it is an undefined content, it is not pure absence after all, but has the same presence that Being did. It is present as an undefined content. Nothing thus sublates Being: it replaces (cancels) Being, but also preserves Being insofar as it has the same definition (as an undefined content) and presence that Being had. We can picture Being and Nothing like this (the circles have dashed outlines to indicate that, as concepts, they are each undefined; cf. Maybee 2009: 51):two circles with dashed outlines, one labeled 'Being' and one 'Nothing'.

Figure 4

In its speculative moment, then, Nothing implies presence or Being, which is the “unity of the determinations in their comparison [Entgegensetzung]” (EL §82; alternative translation), since it both includes but—as a process from one to the other—also compares the two earlier determinations of Nothing, first, as pure absence and, second, as just as much presence.

The dialectical process is driven to the next concept or form—Becoming—not by a triadic, thesis-antithesis-synthesis pattern, but by the one-sidedness of Nothing—which leads Nothing to sublate itself—and by the implications of the process so far. Since Being and Nothing have each been exhaustively analyzed as separate concepts, and since they are the only concepts in play, there is only one way for the dialectical process to move forward: whatever concept comes next will have to take account of both Being and Nothing at the same time. Moreover, the process revealed that an undefined content taken to be presence (i.e., Being) implies Nothing (or absence), and that an undefined content taken to be absence (i.e., Nothing) implies presence (i.e., Being). The next concept, then, takes Being and Nothing together and draws out those implications—namely, that Being implies Nothing, and that Nothing implies Being. It is therefore Becoming, defined as two separate processes: one in which Being becomes Nothing, and one in which Nothing becomes Being. We can picture Becoming this way (cf. Maybee 2009: 53):Same as the previous figure except arched arrows from the Nothing circle to the Being circle and vice versa. The arrows are labeled 'Becoming'.

Figure 5

In a similar way, a one-sidedness or restrictedness in the determination of Finite Purpose together with the implications of earlier stages leads to Realized Purpose. In its moment of understanding, Finite Purpose particularizes into (or presents) its content as “something-presupposed” or as a pre-given object (EL §205). I go to a restaurant for the purpose of having dinner, for instance, and order a salad. My purpose of having dinner particularizes as a pre-given object—the salad. But this object or particularity—e.g. the salad—is “inwardly reflected” (EL §205): it has its own content—developed in earlier stages—which the definition of Finite Purpose ignores. We can picture Finite Purpose this way:4 concentric ovals with the innermost one enclosing an oval and a circle; an arrow points inward from the outermost oval and is labeled 'Presents into or particularizes as'. The outermost oval is labeled 'Finite Purpose (the universality; e.g. 'dinner')'. The next most oval is labeled 'A pre-given object (e.g., 'salad')'. The next oval and the circle and oval in the center are labeled 'The content of the object, developed in earlier stages, that Finite Purpose is ignoring'.

Figure 6

In the dialectical moment, Finite Purpose is determined by the previously ignored content, or by that other content. The one-sidedness of Finite Purpose requires the dialectical process to continue through a series of syllogisms that determines Finite Purpose in relation to the ignored content. The first syllogism links the Finite Purpose to the first layer of content in the object: the Purpose or universality (e.g., dinner) goes through the particularity (e.g., the salad) to its content, the singularity (e.g., lettuce as a type of thing)—the syllogism U-P-S (EL §206). But the particularity (e.g., the salad) is itself a universality or purpose, “which at the same time is a syllogism within itself [in sich]” (EL Remark to §208; alternative translation), in relation to its own content. The salad is a universality/purpose that particularizes as lettuce (as a type of thing) and has its singularity in this lettuce here—a second syllogism, U-P-S. Thus, the first singularity (e.g., “lettuce” as a type of thing)—which, in this second syllogism, is the particularity or P—“judges” (EL §207) or asserts that “U is S”: it says that “lettuce” as a universality (U) or type of thing is a singularity (S), or is “this lettuce here”, for instance. This new singularity (e.g. “this lettuce here”) is itself a combination of subjectivity and objectivity (EL §207): it is an Inner or identifying concept (“lettuce”) that is in a mutually-defining relationship (the circular arrow) with an Outer or out-thereness (“this here”) as its content. In the speculative moment, Finite Purpose is determined by the whole process of development from the moment of understanding—when it is defined by particularizing into a pre-given object with a content that it ignores—to its dialectical moment—when it is also defined by the previously ignored content. We can picture the speculative moment of Finite Purpose this way:4 concentric ovals with the innermost one enclosing an oval and a circle; arrows point inward from the outermost 3 ovals to the next one in. The outermost oval is labeled 'Finite Purpose (the universality; e.g. 'dinner')'. The nextmost oval is labeled both 'The Particularity or object (e.g., 'salad')' and 'The object (e.g., 'salad') is also a Purpose or universality with its own syllogism'. The next oval is labeled both 'The Singularity (e.g., 'lettuce' as a type)' and 'The Particularity (e.g., 'lettuce' as type)'. And the 4th oval is labeled both 'Inner' and 'The Singularity (e.g., 'this lettuce is here')'. The circle in the middle is labeled 'Outer' and the oval in the middle 'Mutually-defining relationship'. The 3 interior ovals (not including the innermost) are also labeled 'The second syllogism U-P-S'. The 3 outer ovals are also labeled 'The first syllogism U-P-S'.

Figure 7

Finite Purpose’s speculative moment leads to Realized Purpose. As soon as Finite Purpose presents all the content, there is a return process (a series of return arrows) that establishes each layer and redefines Finite Purpose as Realized Purpose. The presence of “this lettuce here” establishes the actuality of “lettuce” as a type of thing (an Actuality is a concept that captures a mutually-defining relationship between an Inner and an Outer [EL §142]), which establishes the “salad”, which establishes “dinner” as the Realized Purpose over the whole process. We can picture Realized Purpose this way:4 concentric ovals with the innermost one enclosing an oval and a circle; arrows point inward from the outermost 3 ovals to the next one in and arrows also point in the reverse direction. The outermost oval is labeled 'Realized Purpose: the Purpose (e.g., 'dinner') is established as the Purpose or universality over the whole content'. The outward pointing arrows are labeled 'The return process established the Purpose (e.g., 'dinner') as the Purpose or universality over the whole content'. The nextmost oval is labeled 'The object and second Purpose (e.g., 'salad')'. The one next in is labeled 'The Singularity/Particularity (e.g., 'lettuce' as a type)'. The 3rd inward oval is labeled 'The second Singularity (e.g., 'this lettuce is here')'.

Figure 8

If Hegel’s account of dialectics is a general description of the life of each concept or form, then any section can include as many or as few stages as the development requires. Instead of trying to squeeze the stages into a triadic form (cf. Solomon 1983: 22)—a technique Hegel himself rejects (PhG §50; cf. section 3)—we can see the process as driven by each determination on its own account: what it succeeds in grasping (which allows it to be stable, for a moment of understanding), what it fails to grasp or capture (in its dialectical moment), and how it leads (in its speculative moment) to a new concept or form that tries to correct for the one-sidedness of the moment of understanding. This sort of process might reveal a kind of argument that, as Hegel had promised, might produce a comprehensive and exhaustive exploration of every concept, form or determination in each subject matter, as well as raise dialectics above a haphazard analysis of various philosophical views to the level of a genuine science.

3. Why does Hegel use dialectics?

We can begin to see why Hegel was motivated to use a dialectical method by examining the project he set for himself, particularly in relation to the work of David Hume and Immanuel Kant (see entries on Hume and Kant). Hume had argued against what we can think of as the naïve view of how we come to have scientific knowledge. According to the naïve view, we gain knowledge of the world by using our senses to pull the world into our heads, so to speak. Although we may have to use careful observations and do experiments, our knowledge of the world is basically a mirror or copy of what the world is like. Hume argued, however, that naïve science’s claim that our knowledge corresponds to or copies what the world is like does not work. Take the scientific concept of cause, for instance. According to that concept of cause, to say that one event causes another is to say that there is a necessary connection between the first event (the cause) and the second event (the effect), such that, when the first event happens, the second event must also happen. According to naïve science, when we claim (or know) that some event causes some other event, our claim mirrors or copies what the world is like. It follows that the necessary, causal connection between the two events must itself be out there in the world. However, Hume argued, we never observe any such necessary causal connection in our experience of the world, nor can we infer that one exists based on our reasoning (see Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part III, Section II; Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section VII, Part I). There is nothing in the world itself that our idea of cause mirrors or copies.

Kant thought Hume’s argument led to an unacceptable, skeptical conclusion, and he rejected Hume’s own solution to the skepticism (see Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, B5, B19–20). Hume suggested that our idea of causal necessity is grounded merely in custom or habit, since it is generated by our own imaginations after repeated observations of one sort of event following another sort of event (see Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Section VI; Hegel also rejected Hume’s solution, see EL §39). For Kant, science and knowledge should be grounded in reason, and he proposed a solution that aimed to reestablish the connection between reason and knowledge that was broken by Hume’s skeptical argument. Kant’s solution involved proposing a Copernican revolution in philosophy (Critique of Pure Reason, Bxvi). Nicholas Copernicus was the Polish astronomer who said that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around. Kant proposed a similar solution to Hume’s skepticism. Naïve science assumes that our knowledge revolves around what the world is like, but, Hume’s criticism argued, this view entails that we cannot then have knowledge of scientific causes through reason. We can reestablish a connection between reason and knowledge, however, Kant suggested, if we say—not that knowledge revolves around what the world is like—but that knowledge revolves around what we are like. For the purposes of our knowledge, Kant said, we do not revolve around the world—the world revolves around us. Because we are rational creatures, we share a cognitive structure with one another that regularizes our experiences of the world. This intersubjectively shared structure of rationality—and not the world itself—grounds our knowledge.

However, Kant’s solution to Hume’s skepticism led to a skeptical conclusion of its own that Hegel rejected. While the intersubjectively shared structure of our reason might allow us to have knowledge of the world from our perspective, so to speak, we cannot get outside of our mental, rational structures to see what the world might be like in itself. As Kant had to admit, according to his theory, there is still a world in itself or “Thing-in-itself” (Ding an sich) about which we can know nothing (see, e.g., Critique of Pure Reason, Bxxv–xxvi). Hegel rejected Kant’s skeptical conclusion that we can know nothing about the world- or Thing-in-itself, and he intended his own philosophy to be a response to this view (see, e.g., EL §44 and the Remark to §44).

How did Hegel respond to Kant’s skepticism—especially since Hegel accepted Kant’s Copernican revolution, or Kant’s claim that we have knowledge of the world because of what we are like, because of our reason? How, for Hegel, can we get out of our heads to see the world as it is in itself? Hegel’s answer is very close to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s response to Plato. Plato argued that we have knowledge of the world only through the Forms. The Forms are perfectly universal, rational concepts or ideas. Because the world is imperfect, however, Plato exiled the Forms to their own realm. Although things in the world get their definitions by participating in the Forms, those things are, at best, imperfect copies of the universal Forms (see, e.g., Parmenides 131–135a). The Forms are therefore not in this world, but in a separate realm of their own. Aristotle argued, however, that the world is knowable not because things in the world are imperfect copies of the Forms, but because the Forms are in things themselves as the defining essences of those things (see, e.g., De Anima [On the Soul], Book I, Chapter 1 [403a26–403b18]; Metaphysics, Book VII, Chapter 6 [1031b6–1032a5] and Chapter 8 [1033b20–1034a8]).

In a similar way, Hegel’s answer to Kant is that we can get out of our heads to see what the world is like in itself—and hence can have knowledge of the world in itself—because the very same rationality or reason that is in our heads is in the world itself. As Hegel apparently put it in a lecture, the opposition or antithesis between the subjective and objective disappears by saying, as the Ancients did, 

that nous governs the world, or by our own saying that there is reason in the world, by which we mean that reason is the soul of the world, inhabits it, and is immanent in it, as it own, innermost nature, its universal. (EL-GSH Addition 1 to §24) 

Hegel used an example familiar from Aristotle’s work to illustrate this view: 

“to be an animal”, the kind considered as the universal, pertains to the determinate animal and constitutes its determinate essentiality. If we were to deprive a dog of its animality we could not say what it is. (EL-GSH Addition 1 to §24; cf. SL-dG 16–17, SL-M 36-37)

Kant’s mistake, then, was that he regarded reason or rationality as only in our heads, Hegel suggests (EL §§43–44), rather than in both us and the world itself (see also below in this section and section 4). We can use our reason to have knowledge of the world because the very same reason that is in us, is in the world itself as it own defining principle. The rationality or reason in the world makes reality understandable, and that is why we can have knowledge of, or can understand, reality with our rationality. Dialectics—which is Hegel’s account of reason—characterizes not only logic, but also “everything true in general” (EL Remark to §79).

But why does Hegel come to define reason in terms of dialectics, and hence adopt a dialectical method? We can begin to see what drove Hegel to adopt a dialectical method by returning once again to Plato’s philosophy. Plato argued that we can have knowledge of the world only by grasping the Forms, which are perfectly universal, rational concepts or ideas. Because things in the world are so imperfect, however, Plato concluded that the Forms are not in this world, but in a realm of their own. After all, if a human being were perfectly beautiful, for instance, then he or she would never become not-beautiful. But human beings change, get old, and die, and so can be, at best, imperfect copies of the Form of beauty—though they get whatever beauty they have by participating in that Form. Moreover, for Plato, things in the world are such imperfect copies that we cannot gain knowledge of the Forms by studying things in the world, but only through reason, that is, only by using our rationality to access the separate realm of the Forms (as Plato argued in the well-known parable of the cave; Republic, Book 7, 514–516b).

Notice, however, that Plato’s conclusion that the Forms cannot be in this world and so must be exiled to a separate realm rests on two claims. First, it rests on the claim that the world is an imperfect and messy place—a claim that is hard to deny. But it also rests on the assumption that the Forms—the universal, rational concepts or ideas of reason itself—are static and fixed, and so cannot grasp the messiness within the imperfect world. Hegel is able to link reason back to our messy world by changing the definition of reason. Instead of saying that reason consists of static universals, concepts or ideas, Hegel says that the universal concepts or forms are themselves messy. Against Plato, Hegel’s dialectical method allows him to argue that universal concepts can “overgrasp” (from the German verb übergreifen) the messy, dialectical nature of the world because they, themselves, are dialectical. Moreover, because later concepts build on or sublate (cancel, but also preserve) earlier concepts, the later, more universal concepts grasp the dialectical processes of earlier concepts. As a result, higher-level concepts can grasp not only the dialectical nature of earlier concepts or forms, but also the dialectical processes that make the world itself a messy place. The highest definition of the concept of beauty, for instance, would not take beauty to be fixed and static, but would include within it the dialectical nature or finiteness of beauty, the idea that beauty becomes, on its own account, not-beauty. This dialectical understanding of the concept of beauty can then overgrasp the dialectical and finite nature of beauty in the world, and hence the truth that, in the world, beautiful things themselves become not-beautiful, or might be beautiful in one respect and not another. Similarly, the highest determination of the concept of “tree” will include within its definition the dialectical process of development and change from seed to sapling to tree. As Hegel says, dialectics is “the principle of all natural and spiritual life” (SL-M 56; SL-dG 35), or “the moving soul of scientific progression” (EL §81). Dialectics is what drives the development of both reason as well as of things in the world. A dialectical reason can overgrasp a dialectical world.

Two further journeys into the history of philosophy will help to show why Hegel chose dialectics as his method of argument. As we saw, Hegel argues against Kant’s skepticism by suggesting that reason is not only in our heads, but in the world itself. To show that reason is in the world itself, however, Hegel has to show that reason can be what it is without us human beings to help it. He has to show that reason can develop on its own, and does not need us to do the developing for it (at least for those things in the world that are not human-created). As we saw (cf. section 1), central to Hegel’s dialectics is the idea that concepts or forms develop on their own because they “self-sublate”, or sublate (cancel and preserve) themselves, and so pass into subsequent concepts or forms on their own accounts, because of their own, dialectical natures. Thus reason, as it were, drives itself, and hence does not need our heads to develop it. Hegel needs an account of self-driving reason to get beyond Kant’s skepticism.

Ironically, Hegel derives the basic outlines of his account of self-driving reason from Kant. Kant divided human rationality into two faculties: the faculty of the understanding and the faculty of reason. The understanding uses concepts to organize and regularize our experiences of the world. Reason’s job is to coordinate the concepts and categories of the understanding by developing a completely unified, conceptual system, and it does this work, Kant thought, on its own, independently of how those concepts might apply to the world. Reason coordinates the concepts of the understanding by following out necessary chains of syllogisms to produce concepts that achieve higher and higher levels of conceptual unity. Indeed, this process will lead reason to produce its own transcendental ideas, or concepts that go beyond the world of experience. Kant calls this necessary, concept-creating reason “speculative” reason (cf. Critique of Pure Reason, Bxx–xxi, A327/B384). Reason creates its own concepts or ideas—it “speculates”—by generating new and increasingly comprehensive concepts of its own, independently of the understanding. In the end, Kant thought, reason will follow out such chains of syllogisms until it develops completely comprehensive or unconditioned universals—universals that contain all of the conditions or all of the less-comprehensive concepts that help to define them. As we saw (cf.section 1), Hegel’s dialectics adopts Kant’s notion of a self-driving and concept-creating “speculative” reason, as well as Kant’s idea that reason aims toward unconditioned universality or absolute concepts.

Ultimately, Kant thought, reasons’ necessary, self-driving activity will lead it to produce contradictions—what he called the “antinomies”, which consist of a thesis and antithesis. Once reason has generated the unconditioned concept of the whole world, for instance, Kant argued, it can look at the world in two, contradictory ways. In the first antinomy, reason can see the world (1) as the whole totality or as the unconditioned, or (2) as the series of syllogisms that led up to that totality. If reason sees the world as the unconditioned or as a complete whole that is not conditioned by anything else, then it will see the world as having a beginning and end in terms of space and time, and so will conclude (the thesis) that the world has a beginning and end or limit. But if reason sees the world as the series, in which each member of the series is conditioned by the previous member, then the world will appear to be without a beginning and infinite, and reason will conclude (the antithesis) that the world does not have a limit in terms of space and time (cf. Critique of Pure Reason, A417–18/B445–6). Reason thus leads to a contradiction: it holds both that the world has a limit and that it does not have a limit at the same time. Because reason’s own process of self-development will lead it to develop contradictions or to be dialectical in this way, Kant thought that reason must be kept in check by the understanding. Any conclusions that reason draws that do not fall within the purview of the understanding cannot be applied to the world of experience, Kant said, and so cannot be considered genuine knowledge (Critique of Pure Reason, A506/B534).

Hegel adopts Kant’s dialectical conception of reason, but he liberates reason for knowledge from the tyranny of the understanding. Kant was right that reason speculatively generates concepts on its own, and that this speculative process is driven by necessity and leads to concepts of increasing universality or comprehensiveness. Kant was even right to suggest—as he had shown in the discussion of the antinomies—that reason is dialectical, or necessarily produces contradictions on its own. Again, Kant’s mistake was that he fell short of saying that these contradictions are in the world itself. He failed to apply the insights of his discussion of the antinomies to “things in themselves” (SL-M 56; SL-dG 35; see also section 4). Indeed, Kant’s own argument proves that the dialectical nature of reason can be applied to things themselves. The fact that reason develops those contradictions on its own, without our heads to help it, shows that those contradictions are not just in our heads, but are objective, or in the world itself. Kant, however, failed to draw this conclusion, and continued to regard reason’s conclusions as illusions. Still, Kant’s philosophy vindicated the general idea that the contradictions he took to be illusions are both objective—or out there in the world—and necessary. As Hegel puts it, Kant vindicates the general idea of “the objectivity of the illusion and the necessity of the contradictionwhich belongs to the nature of thought determinations” (SL-M 56; cf. SL-dG 35), or to the nature of concepts themselves.

The work of Johann Gottlieb Fichte (see entry on Fichte) showed Hegel how dialectics can get beyond Kant—beyond the contradictions that, as Kant had shown, reason (necessarily) develops on its own, beyond the reductio ad absurdum argument (which, as we saw above, holds that a contradiction leads to nothingness), and beyond Kant’s skepticism, or Kant’s claim that reason’s contradictions must be reined in by the understanding and cannot count as knowledge. Fichte argued that the task of discovering the foundation of all human knowledge leads to a contradiction or opposition between the self and the not-self (it is not important, for our purposes, why Fichte held this view). The kind of reasoning that leads to this contradiction, Fichte said, is the analytical or antithetical method of reasoning, which involves drawing out an opposition between elements (in this case, the self and not-self) that are being compared to, or equated with, one another. While the traditional reductio ad absurdum argument would lead us to reject both sides of the contradiction and start from scratch, Fichte argued that the contradiction or opposition between the self and not-self can be resolved. In particular, the contradiction is resolved by positing a third concept—the concept of divisibility—which unites the two sides (The Science of Knowledge, I: 110–11; Fichte 1982: 108–110). The concept of divisibility is produced by a synthetic procedure of reasoning, which involves “discovering in opposites the respect in which they are alike” (The Science of Knowledge, I: 112–13; Fichte 1982: 111). Indeed, Fichte argued, not only is the move to resolve contradictions with synthetic concepts or judgments possible, it is necessary. As he says of the move from the contradiction between self and not-self to the synthetic concept of divisibility, 

there can be no further question as to the possibility of this [synthesis], nor can any ground for it be given; it is absolutely possible, and we are entitled to it without further grounds of any kind. (The Science of Knowledge, I: 114; Fichte 1982: 112)

Since the analytical method leads to oppositions or contradictions, he argued, if we use only analytic judgments, “we not only do not get very far, as Kant says; we do not get anywhere at all” (The Science of Knowledge, I: 113; Fichte 1982: 112). Without the synthetic concepts or judgments, we are left, as the classic reductio ad absurdum argument suggests, with nothing at all. The synthetic concepts or judgments are thus necessary to get beyond contradiction without leaving us with nothing.

Fichte’s account of the synthetic method provides Hegel with the key to moving beyond Kant. Fichte suggested that a synthetic concept that unifies the results of a dialectically-generated contradiction does not completely cancel the contradictory sides, but only limits them. As he said, in general, “[t]o limit something is to abolish its reality, not wholly, but in part only” (The Science of Knowledge, I: 108; Fichte 1982: 108). Instead of concluding, as a reductio ad absurdum requires, that the two sides of a contradiction must be dismissed altogether, the synthetic concept or judgment retroactively justifies the opposing sides by demonstrating their limit, by showing which part of reality they attach to and which they do not (The Science of Knowledge, I: 108–10; Fichte 1982: 108–9), or by determining in what respect and to what degree they are each true. For Hegel, as we saw (cf. section 1), later concepts and forms sublate—both cancel and preserve—earlier concepts and forms in the sense that they include earlier concepts and forms in their own definitions. From the point of view of the later concepts or forms, the earlier ones still have some validity, that is, they have a limited validity or truth defined by the higher-level concept or form.

Dialectically generated contradictions are therefore not a defect to be reigned in by the understanding, as Kant had said, but invitations for reason to “speculate”, that is, for reason to generate precisely the sort of increasingly comprehensive and universal concepts and forms that Kant had said reason aims to develop. Ultimately, Hegel thought, as we saw (cf. section 1), the dialectical process leads to a completely unconditioned concept or form for each subject matter—the Absolute Idea (logic), Absolute Spirit (phenomenology), Absolute Idea of right and law (Philosophy of Right), and so on—which, taken together, form the “circle of circles” (EL §15) that constitutes the whole philosophical system or “Idea” (EL §15) that both overgrasps the world and makes it understandable (for us). 

Note that, while Hegel was clearly influenced by Fichte’s work, he never adopted Fichte’s triadic “thesis—antithesis—synthesis” language in his descriptions of his own philosophy (Mueller 1958: 411–2; Solomon 1983: 23), though he did apparently use it in his lectures to describe Kant’s philosophy (LHP III: 477). Indeed, Hegel criticized formalistic uses of the method of “triplicity [Triplizität]” (PhG-P §50) inspired by Kant—a criticism that could well have been aimed at Fichte. Hegel argued that Kantian-inspired uses of triadic form had been reduced to “a lifeless schema” and “an actual semblance [eigentlichen Scheinen]” (PhG §50; alternative translation) that, like a formula in mathematics, was simply imposed on top of subject matters. Instead, a properly scientific use of Kant’s “triplicity” should flow—as he said his own dialectical method did (see section 1)—out of “the inner life and self-movement” (PhG §51) of the content. 

4. Is Hegel’s dialectical method logical?

Scholars have often questioned whether Hegel’s dialectical method is logical. Some of their skepticism grows out of the role that contradiction plays in his thought and argument. While many of the oppositions embedded in the dialectical development and the definitions of concepts or forms are not contradictions in the strict sense, as we saw (section 2, above), scholars such as Graham Priest have suggested that some of them arguably are (Priest 1989: 391). Hegel even holds, against Kant (cf. section 3 above), that there are contradictions, not only in thought, but also in the world. Motion, for instance, Hegel says, is an “existent contradiction”. As he describes it:

Something moves, not because now it is here and there at another now, but because in one and the same now it is here and not here, because in this here, it is and is not at the same time. (SL-dG 382; cf. SL-M 440) 

Kant’s sorts of antinomies (cf. section 3 above) or contradictions more generally are therefore, as Hegel puts it in one place, “in all objects of all kinds, in all representations, concepts and ideas” (EL-GSH Remark to §48). Hegel thus seems to reject, as he himself explicitly claims (SL-M 439–40; SL-dG 381–82), the law of non-contradiction, which is a fundamental principle of formal logic—the classical, Aristotelian logic (see entries on Aristotle’s Logic andContradiction) that dominated during Hegel’s lifetime as well as the dominant systems of symbolic logic today (cf. Priest 1989: 391; Düsing 2010: 97–103). According to the law of non-contradiction, something cannot be both true and false at the same time or, put another way, “x” and “not-x” cannot both be true at the same time.

Hegel’s apparent rejection of the law of non-contradiction has led some interpreters to regard his dialectics as illogical, even “absurd” (Popper 1940: 420; 1962: 330; 2002: 443). Karl R. Popper, for instance, argued that accepting Hegel’s and other dialecticians’ rejection of the law of non-contradiction as part of both a logical theory and a general theory of the world “would mean a complete breakdown of science” (Popper 1940: 408; 1962: 317; 2002: 426). Since, according to today’s systems of symbolic logic, he suggested, the truth of a contradiction leads logically to any claim (any claim can logically be inferred from two contradictory claims), if we allow contradictory claims to be valid or true together, then we would have no reason to rule out any claim whatsoever (Popper 1940: 408–410; 1962: 317–319; 2002: 426–429).

Popper was notoriously hostile toward Hegel’s work (cf. Popper 2013: 242–289; for a scathing criticism of Popper’s analysis see Kaufmann 1976 [1972]), but, as Priest has noted (Priest 1989: 389–91), even some sympathetic interpreters have been inspired by today’s dominant systems of symbolic logic to hold that the kind of contradiction that is embedded in Hegel’s dialectics cannot be genuine contradiction in the strict sense. While Dieter Wandschneider, for instance, grants that his sympathetic theory of dialectic “is not presented as a faithful interpretation of the Hegelian text” (Wandschneider 2010: 32), he uses the same logical argument that Popper offered in defense of the claim that “dialectical contradiction is not a ‘normal’ contradiction, but one that is actually only an apparent contradiction” (Wandschneider 2010: 37). The suggestion (by the traditional, triadic account of Hegel’s dialectics, cf. section 2, above) that Being and Nothing (or non-being) is a contradiction, for instance, he says, rests on an ambiguity. Being is an undefined content, taken to mean being or presence, while Nothing is an undefined content, taken to mean nothing or absence (section 2, above; cf. Wandschneider 2010: 34–35). Being is Nothing (or non-being) with respect to the property they have as concepts, namely, that they both have an undefined content. But Being is not Nothing (or non-being) with respect to their meaning(Wandschneider 2010: 34–38). The supposed contradiction between them, then, Wandschneider suggests, takes place “in different respects”. It is therefore only an apparent contradiction. “Rightly understood”, he concludes, “there can be no talk of contradiction” (Wandschneider 2010: 38).

Inoue Kazumi also argues that dialectical contradiction in the Hegelian sense does not violate the law of non-contradiction (Inoue 2014: 121–123), and he rejects Popper’s claim that Hegel’s dialectical method is incompatible with good science. A dialectical contradiction, Inoue says, is a contradiction that arises when the same topic is considered from different vantage points, but each vantage point by itself does not violate the law of non-contradiction (Inoue 2014: 120). The understanding leads to contradictions, as Hegel said (cf. section 3 above), because it examines a topic from a fixed point of view; reason embraces contradictions because it examines a topic from multiple points of view (Inoue 2014: 121). The geocentric theory that the sun revolves around the Earth and the heliocentric theory that the Earth revolves around the sun, for instance, Inoue suggests, are both correct from certain points of view. We live our everyday lives from a vantage point in which the sun makes a periodic rotation around the Earth roughly every 24 hours. Astronomers make their observations from a geocentric point of view and then translate those observations into a heliocentric one. From these points of view, the geocentric account is not incorrect. But physics, particularly in its concepts of mass and force, requires the heliocentric account. For science—which takes all these points of view into consideration—both theories are valid: they are dialectically contradictory, though neither theory, by itself, violates the law of non-contradiction (Inoue 2014: 126–127). To insist that the Earth really revolves around the sun is merely an irrational, reductive prejudice, theoretically and practically (Inoue 2014: 126). Dialectical contradictions, Inoue says, are, as Hegel said, constructive: they lead to concepts or points of view that grasp the world from ever wider and more encompassing perspectives, culminating ultimately in the “Absolute” (Inoue 2014: 121; cf. section 1, above). Hegel’s claim that motion violates the law of non-contradiction, Inoue suggests, is an expression of the idea that contradictory claims can be true when motion is described from more than one point of view (Inoue 2014: 123). (For a similar reading of Hegel’s conception of dialectical contradiction, which influenced Inoue’s account [Inoue 2014: 121], see Düsing 2010: 102–103.)

Other interpreters, however, have been inspired by Hegel’s dialectics to develop alternative systems of logic that do not subscribe to the law of non-contradiction. Priest, for instance, has defended Hegel’s rejection of the law of non-contradiction (cf. Priest 1989; 1997 [2006: 4]). The acceptance of some contradictions, he has suggested, does not require the acceptance of allcontradictions (Priest 1989: 392). Popper’s logical argument is also unconvincing. Contradictions lead logically to any claim whatsoever, as Popper said, only if we presuppose that nothing can be both true and false at the same time (i.e. only if we presuppose that the law of non-contradiction is correct), which is just what Hegel denies. Popper’s logical argument thus assumes what it is supposed to prove or begs the question (Priest 1989: 392; 1997 [2006: 5–6]), and so is not convincing. Moreover, consistency (not allowing contradictions), Priest suggests, is actually “a very weak constraint” (Priest 1997 [2006: 104]) on what counts as a rational inference. Other principles or criteria—such as being strongly disproved (or supported) by the data—are more important for determining whether a claim or inference is rational (Priest 1997 [2006: 105]). And, as Hegel pointed out, Priest says, the data—namely, “the world as it appears” (as Hegel puts it in EL) or “ordinary experience itself” (as Hegel puts it in SL)—suggest that there are indeed contradictions (EL Remark to §48; SL-dG 382; cf. SL-M 440; Priest 1989: 389, 399–400). Hegel is right, for instance, Priest argues, that change, and motion in particular, are examples of real or existing contradictions (Priest 1985; 1989: 396–97; 1997 [2006: 172–181, 213–15]). What distinguishes motion, as a process, from a situation in which something is simply here at one time and then some other place at some other time is the embodiment of contradiction: that, in a process of motion, there is one (span of) time in which something is both here and not here at the same time (in that span of time) (Priest 1985: 340–341; 1997 [2006: 172–175, 213–214]). A system of logic, Priest suggests, is always just a theory about what good reasoning should be like (Priest 1989: 392). A dialectical logic that admits that there are “dialetheia” or true contradictions (Priest 1989: 388), he says, is a broader theory or version of logic than traditional, formal logics that subscribe to the law of non-contradiction. Those traditional logics apply only to topics or domains that are consistent, primarily domains that are “static and changeless” (Priest 1989: 391; cf. 395); dialectical/dialetheic logic handles consistent domains, but also applies to domains in which there are dialetheia. Thus Priest, extending Hegel’s own concept of aufheben (“to sublate”; cf. section 1, above), suggests that traditional “formal logic is perfectly valid in its domain, but dialectical (dialetheic) logic is more general” (Priest 1989: 395). (For an earlier example of a logical system that allows contradiction and was inspired in part by Hegel [and Marx], see Jaśkowski 1999: 36 [1969: 143] [cf. Inoue 2014: 128–129]. For more on dialetheic logic generally, see the entry on Dialetheism.)

Worries that Hegel’s arguments fail to fit his account of dialectics (see section 2, above) have led some interpreters to conclude that his method is arbitrary or that his works have no single dialectical method at all (Findlay 1962: 93; Solomon 1983: 21). These interpreters reject the idea that there is any logical necessity to the moves from stage to stage. “[T]he important point to make here, and again and again”, Robert C. Solomon writes, for instance, 

is that the transition from the first form to the second, or the transition from the first form of the Phenomenology all the way to the last, is not in any way a deductive necessity. The connections are anything but entailments, and the Phenomenology could always take another route and other starting points. (Solomon 1983: 230) 

In a footnote to this passage, Solomon adds “that a formalization of Hegel’s logic, however ingenious, is impossible” (Solomon 1983: 230).

Some scholars have argued that Hegel’s necessity is not intended to be logical necessity. Walter Kaufmann suggested, for instance, that the necessity at work in Hegel’s dialectic is a kind of organic necessity. The moves in the Phenomenology, he said, follow one another “in the way in which, to use a Hegelian image from the preface, bud, blossom and fruit succeed each other” (Kaufmann 1965: 148; 1966: 132). Findlay argued that later stages provide what he called a “higher-order comment” on earlier stages, even if later stages do not follow from earlier ones in a trivial way (Findlay 1966: 367). Solomon suggested that the necessity that Hegel wants is not “‘necessity’ in the modern sense of ‘logical necessity,’” (Solomon 1983: 209), but a kind of progression (Solomon 1983: 207), or a “necessity within a context for some purpose” (Solomon 1983: 209). John Burbidge defines Hegel’s necessity in terms of three senses of the relationship between actuality and possibility, only the last of which is logical necessity (Burbidge 1981: 195–6).

Other scholars have defined the necessity of Hegel’s dialectics in terms of a transcendental argument. A transcendental argument begins with uncontroversial facts of experience and tries to show that other conditions must be present—or are necessary—for those facts to be possible. Jon Stewart argues, for instance, that “Hegel’s dialectic in the Phenomenology is a transcendental account” in this sense, and thus has the necessity of that form of argument (Stewart 2000: 23; cf. Taylor 1975: 97, 226–7; for a critique of this view, see Pinkard 1988: 7, 15).

Some scholars have avoided these debates by interpreting Hegel’s dialectics in a literary way. In his examination of the epistemological theory of the Phenomenology, for instance, Kenneth R. Westphal offers “a literary model” of Hegel’s dialectics based on the story of Sophocles’ playAntigone (Westphal 2003: 14, 16). Ermanno Bencivenga offers an interpretation that combines a narrative approach with a concept of necessity. For him, the necessity of Hegel’s dialectical logic can be captured by the notion of telling a good story—where “good” implies that the story is both creative and correct at the same time (Bencivenga 2000: 43–65).

Debate over whether Hegel’s dialectical logic is logical may also be fueled in part by discomfort with his particular brand of logic. Unlike today’s symbolic logics, Hegel’s logic is not only syntactic, but also semantic (cf. Berto 2007; Maybee 2009: xx–xxv; Margolis 2010: 193–94). Hegel’s interest in semantics appears, for instance, in the very first stages of his logic, where the difference between Being and Nothing is “something merely meant” (EL-GSH Remark to §87; cf. section 2 above). While some of the moves from stage to stage are driven by syntactic necessity, other moves are driven by the meanings of the concepts in play. Indeed, Hegel rejected what he regarded as the overly formalistic logics that dominated the field during his day (EL Remark to §162; SL-M 43–44; SL-dG 24). A logic that deals only with the forms of logical arguments and not the meanings of the concepts used in those argument forms will do no better in terms of preserving truth than the old joke about computer programs suggests: garbage in, garbage out. In those logics, if we (using today’s versions of formal, symbolic logic) plug in something for the P or Q (in the proposition “if P then Q” or “P → Q”, for instance) or for the “F”, “G”, or “x” (in the proposition “if F is x, then G is x” or “Fx → Gx”, for instance) that means something true, then the syntax of formal logics will preserve that truth. But if we plug in something for those terms that is untrue or meaningless (garbage in), then the syntax of formal logic will lead to an untrue or meaningless conclusion (garbage out). Today’s versions of prepositional logic also assume that we know what the meaning of “is” is. Against these sorts of logics, Hegel wanted to develop a logic that not only preserved truth, but also determined how to construct truthful claims in the first place. A logic that defines concepts (semantics) as well as their relationships with one another (syntax) will show, Hegel thought, how concepts can be combined into meaningful forms. Because interpreters are familiar with modern logics focused on syntax, however, they may regard Hegel’s syntactic and semantic logic as not really logical (cf. Maybee 2009: xvii–xxv).

In Hegel’s other works, the moves from stage to stage are often driven, not only by syntax and semantics—that is, by logic (given his account of logic)—but also by considerations that grow out of the relevant subject matter. In the Phenomenology, for instance, the moves are driven by syntax, semantics, and by phenomenological factors. Sometimes a move from one stage to the next is driven by a syntactic need—the need to stop an endless, back-and-forth process, for instance, or to take a new path after all the current options have been exhausted (cf. section 5). Sometimes, a move is driven by the meaning of a concept, such as the concept of a “This” or “Thing”. And sometimes a move is driven by a phenomenological need or necessity—by requirements of consciousness, or by the fact that the Phenomenology is about a consciousnessthat claims to be aware of (or to know) something. The logic of the Phenomenology is thus a phenomeno-logic, or a logic driven by logic—syntax and semantics—and by phenomenological considerations. Still, interpreters such as Quentin Lauer have suggested that, for Hegel, 

phenomeno-logy is a logic of appearing, a logic of implication, like any other logic, even though not of the formal entailment with which logicians and mathematicians are familiar. (Lauer 1976: 3) 

Lauer warns us against dismissing the idea that there is any implication or necessity in Hegel’s method at all (Lauer 1976: 3). (Other scholars who also believe there is a logical necessity to the dialectics of the Phenomenology include Hyppolite 1974: 78–9 and H.S. Harris 1997: xii.)

We should also be careful not to exaggerate the “necessity” of formal, symbolic logics. Even in these logics, there can often be more than one path from some premises to the same conclusion, logical operators can be dealt with in different orders, and different sets of operations can be used to reach the same conclusions. There is therefore often no strict, necessary “entailment” from one step to the next, even though the conclusion might be entailed by the whole series of steps, taken together. As in today’s logics, then, whether Hegel’s dialectics counts as logical depends on the degree to which he shows that we are forced—necessarily—from earlier stages or series of stages to later stages (see also section 5).

5. Syntactic patterns and special terminology in Hegel’s dialectics

Although Hegel’s dialectics is driven by syntax, semantics and considerations specific to the different subject matters (section 4 above), several important syntactic patterns appear repeatedly throughout his works. In many places, the dialectical process is driven by a syntactic necessity that is really a kind of exhaustion: when the current strategy has been exhausted, the process is forced, necessarily, to employ a new strategy. As we saw (section 2), once the strategy of treating Being and Nothing as separate concepts is exhausted, the dialectical process must, necessarily, adopt a different strategy, namely, one that takes the two concepts together. The concept of Becoming captures the first way in which Being and Nothing are taken together. In the stages of Quantum through Number, the concepts of One and Many take turns defining the whole quantity as well as the quantitative bits inside that make it up: first, the One is the whole, while the Many are the bits; then the whole and the bits are all Ones; then the Many is the whole, while the bits are each a One; and finally the whole and the bits are all a Many. We can picture the development like this (cf. Maybee 2009, xviii–xix):4 figures each contains a rounded corner rectangle bisected by a vertical rod. In #1 the rectangle boundary is labeled 'One' and each half is labeled 'Many'; the caption reads:'Quantum: 'one' refers to the outer boundary, 'many' within. #2 has the boundary also labeled 'One' but the halves labeled 'ones'; the caption reads: Number: 'one' on all sides. #3 has the boundary labeled 'Many' and the halves labeled 'Each a one'; the caption reads: Extensive and Intensive Magnitude: 'many' on the outer boundary, 'one' within'. #4 the rounded rectangle is enclosed by a box; the two halves are labeled 'Many (within)' and the space between the rectangle and the box is labeled 'Many (without)'; the caption reads: Degree: 'many' on all sides.

Figure 9

Since One and Many have been exhausted, the next stage, Ratio, must, necessarily, employ a different strategy to grasp the elements in play. Just as Being-for-itself is a concept of universality for Quality and captures the character of a set of something-others in its content (seesection 1), so Ratio (the whole rectangle with rounded corners) is a concept of universality for Quantity and captures the character of a set of quantities in its content (EL §105–6; cf. Maybee 2009, xviii–xix, 95–7). In another version of syntactic necessity driven by exhaustion, the dialectical development will take account of every aspect or layer, so to speak, of a concept or form—as we saw in the stages of Purpose outlined above, for instance (section 2). Once all the aspects or layers of a concept or form have been taken account of and so exhausted, the dialectical development must also, necessarily, employ a different strategy in the next stage to grasp the elements in play.

In a second, common syntactic pattern, the dialectical development leads to an endless, back-and-forth process—a “bad” (EL-BD §94) or “spurious” (EL-GSH §94) infinity—between two concepts or forms. Hegel’s dialectics cannot rest with spurious infinities. So long as the dialectical process is passing endlessly back and forth between two elements, it is never finished, and the concept or form in play cannot be determined. Spurious infinities must therefore be resolved or stopped, and they are always resolved by a higher-level, more universal concept. In some cases, a new, higher-level concept is introduced that stops the spurious infinity by grasping the whole, back-and-forth process. Being-for-itself (cf. section 1), for instance, is introduced as a new, more universal concept that embraces—and hence stops—the whole, back-and-forth process between “something-others”. However, if the back-and-forth process takes place between a concept and its own content—in which case the concept already embraces the content—then that embracing concept is redefined in a new way that grasps the whole, back-and-forth process. The new definition raises the embracing concept to a higher level of universality—as a totality (an “all”) or as a complete and completed concept. Examples from logic include the redefinition of Appearance as the whole World of Appearance (EL §132; cf. SL-M 505–7, SL-dG 443–4), the move in which the endless, back-and-forth process of Real Possibility redefines the Condition as a totality (EL §147; cf. SL-M 547, SL-dG 483), and the move in which a back-and-forth process created by finite Cognition and finite Willing redefines the Subjective Idea as Absolute Idea (EL §§234–5; cf. SL-M 822–3, SL-dG 733–4).

Some of the most famous terms in Hegel’s works—“in itself [an sich]”, “for itself [für sich]” and “in and for itself [an und für sich]”—capture other, common, syntactic patterns. A concept or form is “in itself” when it has a determination that it gets by being defined against its “other” (cf. Being-in-itself, EL §91). A concept or form is “for itself” when it is defined only in relation to its own content, so that, while it is technically defined in relation to an “other”, the “other” is not really an “other” for it. As a result, it is really defined only in relation to itself. Unlike an “in itself” concept or form, then, a “for itself” concept or form seems to have its definition on its own, or does not need a genuine “other” to be defined (like other concepts or forms, however, “for itself” concepts or forms turn out to be dialectical too, and hence push on to new concepts or forms). In the logic, Being-for-itself (cf. section 1), which is defined by embracing the “something others” in its content, is the first, “for itself” concept or form.

A concept or form is “in and for itself” when it is doubly “for itself”, or “for itself” not only in terms of content—insofar as it embraces its content—but also in terms of form or presentation, insofar as it also has the activity of presenting its content. It is “for itself” (embraces its content) for itself (through its own activity), or not only embraces its content (the “for itself” of content) but also presents its content through its own activity (the “for itself” of form). The second “for itself” of form provides the concept with a logical activity (i.e., presenting its content) and hence a definition that goes beyond—and so is separate from—the definition that its content has. Since it has a definition of its own that is separate from the definition of its content, it comes to be defined—in the “in itself” sense—against its content, which has become its “other”. Because this “other” is still its own content, however, the concept or form is both “in itself” but also still “for itself” at the same time, or is “in and for itself” (EL §§148–9; cf. Maybee 2009: 244–6). The “in and for itself” relationship is the hallmark of a genuine Concept (EL §160), and captures the idea that a genuine concept is defined not only from the bottom up by its content, but also from the top down through its own activity of presenting its content. The genuine concept of animal, for instance, is not only defined by embracing its content (namely, all animals) from the bottom up, but also has a definition of its own, separate from that content, that leads it to determine (and so present), from the top down, what counts as an animal.

Other technical, syntactic terms include aufheben (“to sublate”), which we already saw (section 1), and “abstract”. To say that a concept or form is “abstract” is to say that it is only a partial definition. Hegel describes the moment of understanding, for instance, as abstract (EL §§79, 80) because it is a one-sided or restricted definition or determination (section 1). Conversely, a concept or form is “concrete” in the most basic sense when it has a content or definition that it gets from being built out of other concepts or forms. As we saw (section 2), Hegel regarded Becoming as the first concrete concept in the logic.

Although Hegel’s writing and his use of technical terms can make his philosophy notoriously difficult, his work can also be very rewarding. In spite of—or perhaps because of—the difficulty, there are a surprising number of fresh ideas in his work that have not yet been fully explored in philosophy. 

English Translations of Key Texts by Hegel
  • [EL], The Encyclopedia Logic [Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften I]. Because the translations of EL listed below use the same section numbers as well as sub-paragraphs (“Remarks”) and sub-sub-paragraphs (“Additions”), citations simply to “EL” refer to either translation. If the phrasing in English is unique to a specific translation, the translators’ initials are added.
  • [EL-BD], Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Basic Outline Part I: Science of Logic [Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften I], translated by Klaus Brinkmann and Daniel O. Dahlstrom, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • [EL-GSH], The Encyclopedia Logic: Part 1 of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences [Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften I], translated by T.F. Geraets, W.A. Suchting, and H.S. Harris, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991.
  • [LHP], Lectures on the History of Philosophy [Geschichte der Philosophie], in three volumes, translated by E.S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1974.
  • [PhG], Phenomenology of Spirit [Phänomenologie des Geistes]. Because the translations of PhG listed below use the same section numbers, citations simply to “PhG” refer to either translation. If the phrasing in English is unique to a specific translation, the translator’s initial is added.
  • [PhG-M], Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit [Phänomenologie des Geistes], translated by A.V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
  • [PhG-P], Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The Phenomenology of Spirit [Phänomenologie des Geistes], translated and edited by Terry Pinkard, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.
  • [PR], Elements of the Philosophy of Right [Philosophie des Rechts], edited by Allen W. Wood and translated by H.B. Nisbet, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • [SL-dG], Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The Science of Logic [Wissenschaft der Logik], translated by George di Giovanni, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • [SL-M], Hegel’s Science of Logic [Wissenschaft der Logik], translated by A.V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
English Translations of Other Primary Sources
  • Aristotle, 1954, The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation (in two volumes), edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Citations to Aristotle’s text use the Bekker numbers, which appear in the margins of many translations of Aristotle’s works.)
  • Fichte, J.G., 1982 [1794/95], The Science of Knowledge, translated by Peter Heath and John Lachs, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Citations to Fichte’s work include references to the volume and page number in the German edition of Fichte’s collected works edited by I.H Fichte, which are used in the margins of many translations of Fichte’s works.)
  • Kant, Immanuel, 1999 [1781], Critique of Pure Reason, translated and edited by Paul Guyer and Allen Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Citations to Kant’s text use the “Ak.” numbers, which appear in the margins of many translations of Kant’s works.)
  • Plato, 1961, The Collected Dialogues of Plato: Including the Letters, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Citations to Plato’s text use the Stephanus numbers, which appear in the margins of many translations of Plato’s works.)
Secondary Literature
  • Bencivenga, Ermanno, 2000, Hegel’s Dialectical Logic, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Berto, Francesco, 2007, “Hegel’s Dialectics as a Semantic Theory: An Analytic Reading”, European Journal of Philosophy, 15(1): 19–39.
  • Burbidge, John, 1981, On Hegel’s Logic: Fragments of a Commentary, Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.
  • Düsing, Klaus, 2010, “Ontology and Dialectic in Hegel’s Thought”, translated by Andrés Colapinto, in The Dimensions of Hegel’s Dialectic, Nectarios G. Limmnatis (ed.), London: Continuum, pp. 97–122.
  • Findlay, J.N., 1962, Hegel: A Re-Examination, New York: Collier Books.
  • –––, 1966, Review of Hegel: Reinterpretation, Texts, and Commentary, by Walter Kaufmann.The Philosophical Quarterly, 16(65): 366–68.
  • Forster, Michael, 1993, “Hegel’s Dialectical Method”, in The Cambridge Companion to Hegel, Frederick C. Beiser (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 130–170.
  • Fritzman, J.M., 2014, Hegel, Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Harris, Errol E., 1983, An Interpretation of the Logic of Hegel, Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
  • Harris, H.S. (Henry Silton), 1997, Hegel’s Ladder (in two volumes: vol. I, The Pilgrimage of Reason, and vol. II, The Odyssey of Spirit), Indianapolis, IN: Hackett).
  • Hyppolite, Jean, 1974, Genesis and Structure of Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
  • Inoue, Kazumi, 2014, “Dialectical Contradictions and Classical Formal Logic”, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 28(2), 113–132.
  • Jaśkowski, Stanislaw, 1999 [1969], “A Propositional Calculus for Inconsistent Deductive Systems”, translated by Olgierd Wojtasiewicz and A. Pietruszczak, Logic and Logical Philosophy (7)7: 35–56. (This article is a republication, with some changes, of a 1969 translation by Wojtasiewicz entitled “Propositional Calculus for Contradictory Deductive Systems (Communicated at the Meeting of March 19, 1948)”, published in Studia Logica, 24, 143–160.)
  • Kaufmann, Walter Arnold, 1965, Hegel: Reinterpretation, Texts, and Commentary, Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company Inc.
  • –––, 1966, A Reinterpretation, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books. (This is a republication of the first part of Hegel: Reinterpretation, Texts, and Commentary.)
  • –––, 1976 [1972], “The Hegel Myth and its Method”, in Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays, Alasdair MacIntyre (ed.), Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press: 21–60. (This is a republication of the 1972 Anchor Books/Doubleday edition.)
  • Kosok, Michael, 1972, “The Formalization of Hegel’s Dialectical Logic: Its Formal Structure, Logical Interpretation and Intuitive Foundation”, in Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays, Alisdair MacIntyre (ed.), Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press: 237–87.
  • Lauer, Quentin, 1976, A Reading of Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”, New York: Fordham University Press.
  • Margolis, Joseph, 2010, “The Greening of Hegel’s Dialectical Logic”, in The Dimensions of Hegel’s Dialectic, Nectarios G. Limmnatis (ed.), London: Continuum, pp. 193–215.
  • Maybee, Julie E., 2009, Picturing Hegel: An Illustrated Guide to Hegel’s “Encyclopaedia Logic”, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
  • McTaggart, John McTaggart Ellis, 1964 [1910], A Commentary of Hegel’s Logic, New York: Russell and Russell Inc. (This edition is a reissue of McTaggart’s book, which was first published in 1910.)
  • Mueller, Gustav, 1958, “The Hegel Legend of ‘Synthesis-Antithesis-Thesis’”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 19(3): 411–14.
  • Mure, G.R.G., 1950, A Study of Hegel’s Logic, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Pinkard, Terry, 1988, Hegel’s Dialectic: The Explanation of a Possibility, Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Priest, Graham, 1985, “Inconsistencies in Motion”, American Philosophical Quarterly, 22(4): 339–346.
  • –––, 1989, “Dialectic and Dialetheic”, Science and Society, 53(4): 388–415.
  • –––, 1997 [2006], In Contradiction: A Study of the Transconsistent, expanded edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press; first edition, Martinus Nijhoff, 1997.
  • Popper, Karl R., 1940, “What is Dialectic?”, Mind, 49(196): 403–426. (This article was reprinted, with some changes, in two different editions of Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, listed below.)
  • –––, 1962, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, New York: Basic Books.
  • –––, 2002, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, second edition, London: Routledge Classics.
  • –––, 2013, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton: Princeton University Press. (This is a one-volume republication of the original, two-volume edition first published by Princeton University Press in 1945.)
  • Rosen, Michael, 1982, Hegel’s Dialectic and its Criticism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Rosen, Stanley, 2014, The Idea of Hegel’s “Science of Logic”, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Singer, Peter, 1983, Hegel, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Solomon, Robert C., 1983, In the Spirit of Hegel: A Study of G.W.F. Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Stace, W.T., 1955 [1924], The Philosophy of Hegel: A Systematic Exposition, New York: Dover Publications. (This edition is a reprint of the first edition, published in 1924.)
  • Stewart, Jon, 1996, “Hegel’s Doctrine of Determinate Negation: An Example from ‘Sense-certainty’ and ‘Perception’”, Idealistic Studies, 26(1): 57–78.
  • –––, 2000, The Unity of Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”: A Systematic Interpretation, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
  • Taylor, Charles, 1975, Hegel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wandschneider, Dieter, 2010, “Dialectic as the ‘Self-Fulfillment’ of Logic”, translated by Anthony Jensen, in The Dimensions of Hegel’s Dialectic, Nectarios G. Limmnatis (ed.), London: Continuum, pp. 31–54.
  • Westphal, Kenneth R., 2003, Hegel’s Epistemology: A Philosophical Introduction to the “Phenomenology of Spirit”, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.
  • Winfield, Richard Dien, 1990, “The Method of Hegel’s Science of Logic”, in Essays on Hegel’s Logic, George di Giovanni (ed.), Albany, NY: State University of New York, pp. 45–57.

My Related Posts

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Phenomenology and Symbolic Interactionism

Narrative, Rhetoric and Possible Worlds

Kenneth Burke and Dramatism

Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy of Social Life

Phenomenological Sociology

Drama Therapy: Self in Performance

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Global Trends, Scenarios, and Futures: For Foresight and Strategic Management

Shell Oil’s Scenarios: Strategic Foresight and Scenario Planning for the Future

Strategy | Strategic Management | Strategic Planning | Strategic Thinking

Third and Higher Order Cybernetics

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Key Sources of Research


Hegel’s Dialectic

A Study of Hegelian Dialectical Embodiment in “Nostromo” written by Joseph Conrad

Asieh Beiranvand , Shahram Afrougheh , Elham Ahmadi

“Organizational Research Methods: Storytelling In Action”

Boje, David M. (2018)

URL = <;

Using Dialectical Thinking to Manage Emotions



Ian Gonsher

Dialectics for the New Century

Edited by
Bertell Ollman and Tony Smith

Strategies in Dialectic and Rhetoric

Erik C W Krabbe Groningen University

on ‘The Dialectics of Outside and Inside’ and ‘Intimate Immensity’

The Dialectic of the Nature-Society-System

  • Christian Fuchs
  • ICT&S Center – Advanced Studies and Research in Information and Communication Technologies & Society, University of Salzburg


Dialectics and Systems Theory 

Richard Levins

Chapter 3 in Book Dialectics for the New Century

Edited by Bertell Ollman and Tony Smith

Contradictions, Dialectics and Paradoxes

  • January 2016
  • Publisher: Sage
  • Editors: Ann Langley, Haridimos Tsoukas

Moshe Farjoun

Strategy and dialectics: Rejuvenating a long-standing relationship

Moshe Farjoun

York University, Canada

Strategic Organization 2019, Vol. 17(1) 133–144

Contradictions, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizations: A Constitutive Approach

Linda L. Putnam, Gail T. Fairhurst and Scott Banghart

Published Online:1 Jan 2016

The Development of Dialectical Thinking As An Approach to Integration

  • June 2005

Michael Basseches

  • Suffolk University


Kaiping Peng
University of California at Berkeley

Richard E. Nisbett University of Michigan

Relating dialogue and dialectics: a philosophical perspective

Manolis Dafermos

University of Crete, Greece

Dialogic Pedagogy: An International Online Journal |

DOI: 10.5195/dpj.2018.189 | Vol. 6 (2018)

Towards a Social-Relational Dialectic for World Politics

Brincat, Shannon


European Journal of International Relations;jsessionid=F573AC5F1A7F3EBB5E6A5F325C8886C5?sequence=1

How to Actualize the Whole Possibility: The Necessity-Contingency Dialectic in Hegel’s Science of Logic

by Nahum Brown

Guelph, Ontario, Canada © Nahum Brown, 2014

John Rowan: Dialectical Thinking

The current state of scenario development: an overview of techniques

Peter Bishop, Andy Hines and Terry Collins

foresight. VOL. 9 NO. 1 2007

Ensemble Theory: Arguing Across and Within Scenarios

Peter McBurney

Department of Computer Science University of Liverpool Liverpool L69 7ZF UK Tel: + 44 151 794 6760

Simon Parsons
Sloan School of Management Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge MA USA

In Conference Probing the Future: Developing Organizational Foresight in the Knowledge Economy

11-13th July 2002

The art of disputation: dialogue, dialectic and debate around 800

Irene van Renswoude

First published: 06 January 2017

Dialogic and Dialectic: clarifying an important distinction


Rupert Wegerif

Shaping the Next One Hundred Years

New Methods for Quantitative, Long-Term Policy Analysis

Robert J. Lempert Steven W. Popper Steven C. Bankes

Published 2003 by RAND
1700 Main Street, P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138

1200 South Hayes Street, Arlington, VA 22202-5050
201 North Craig Street, Suite 202, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-1516



Revised version of an article published as “Dialectic: East and West,” Indian Philosophical Quarterly 10 (January, 1983), pp. 207-218.


Yu Wu1, Patrick C. Shih1, John M. Carroll1

College of Information Sciences and Technology, Penn State University

Political Event and Scenario Analysis Using GDSS: An Application to the Business Future of Hong Kong

Robert Blanning

Vanderbilt University

Bruce Reinig

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Rhetoric and dialectic in the twenty-first century 

Michael Leff

(1999). OSSA Conference Archive. 3.

Dialogical and Dialectical Thinking

Culture, Dialectics, and Reasoning About Contradiction

Kaiping Peng

Richard E. Nisbett

September 1999 • American Psychologist

structural dialectical approach in psychology: problems and research results

Nikolay E. Veraksa*, Anastasiya K. Belolutskaya**,
Irina I. Vorobyeva*, Eugene E. Krasheninnikov*,
Elena V. Rachkova***, Igor B. Shiyan**, Olga A. Shiyan

Psychology in Russia: State of the Art
Russian Psychological Volume 6, Issue 2, 2013

Click to access veraksa_pr_2013_2_65-77.Pdf

Integrating Dialectical and Paradox Perspectives on Managing Contradictions in Organizations

Timothy J Hargrave

Central Washington University, USA

Andrew H Van de Ven

University of Minnesota, USA

Organization Studies 2017, Vol. 38(3-4) 319–339


Stewart Clegg

Grasping the dynamics within paradox
– comparing exogenous and endogenous approaches to paradox using social systems theory

Harald Tuckermann, Simone Gutzan, Camille Leutenegger, Johannes Rüegg-Stürm, Institute of Systemic Management and Public Governance, University of St. Gallen, Dufourstrasse 40a, 9008 St. Gallen, Switzerland, Email:

Portfolio Planning Models for Corporate Strategic Planning

Portfolio Planning Models for Corporate Strategic Planning

Key Terms and Ideas

  • Business And Its Policy
  • Concept of Strategy
  • Strategic Management
  • Vision, Mission, Objectives And Goals
  • Environment Analysis And Diagnosis
  • Strategic Advantage Analysis
  • Corporate Strategy
  • Michael Porter’s Generic Strategies
  • Formulation Of Functional Strategy
  • Types Of Strategies
  • Diversification Strategies For Companies
  • Turnaround, Retrenchment Divestment, And Liquidation Strategies For Companies
  • TOWS Matrix Analysis
  • BCG Matrix
  • Ansoff’s Matrix
  • ADL Matrix
  • The General Electric Model
  • Porter’s Five Forces Model
  • Mckinsey’s 7’s Framework
  • Value Chain Concept Analysis
  • Business And Investment Level Strategy
  • Vertical Integration And Strategic Alliances
  • Acquisitions And Joint Ventures
  • Tailoring Strategy Analysis
  • Industrial Environment Analysis
  • Strategic Change Management
  • Strategies For Competing In Globlizing Markets
  • Corporate Culture and Leadership
  • Strategic Control System
  • Matching Structure And Control Analysis
  • Strategy implementation And Control
  • Business Process Reengineering And Benchmarking
  • TQM, Six Sigma
  • Management And Contemporary Strategic Issues

Analytical Methods for Startegic Planning and Analysis

Image Source: The Strategic Development Process

Strategic Choices and Decisions

  • Product Portfolio (SBU Level) – What products should we sell/make?
  • Business Portfolio (Corporate Level)- What Businesses should we be in?

Analytical methods for Corporate Portfolio Planning

  • GE/Mckinsey Nine Cell Matrix
  • BCG Growth Share Matrix
  • Shell/Directional Policy Matrix DPM
  • ADL Strategic Conditions Matrix
  • Ansoff Matrix
  • Hofer/Schendel Matrix
  • and many other variants

BCG Growth Share Matrix

Image Source: BCG Matrix: Portfolio Analysis in Corporate Strategy


Image Source: Group Map

GE/McKinsey Nine Cell Matrix



Shell/Directional Policy Matrix


ADL Matrix

Image Source: ADL Matrix (Portfolio Management)

Ansoff Matrix


Hofer/Schendel Matrix


My Related Posts

Strategy | Strategic Management | Strategic Planning | Strategic Thinking

The Origins and History of Management Consulting

Hierarchical Planning: Integration of Strategy, Planning, Scheduling, and Execution

Profiles in Operations Research

History of Operations Research

Shell Oil’s Scenarios: Strategic Foresight and Scenario Planning for the Future

Art of Long View: Future, Uncertainty and Scenario Planning

George Dantzig and History of Linear Programming

Key Sources of Research

Strategic planning : models and analytical techniques :

Dyson, Robert G.

Chichester, West Sussex, England ; New York : Wiley, c1990.

Strategic Portfolio Planning Systems.

In: Multinational Strategic Planning. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Channon D.F., Jalland M. (1978)

The Strategic Development Process

Robert G. Dyson, Jim Bryant, John Morecroft and Frances O’Brien

Why you’ve got to put your portfolio on the move

July 22, 2020 |


The Corporate Portfolio

JANUARY 01, 1977 By Bruce Henderson

The Product Portfolio

JANUARY 01, 1970 By Bruce Henderson

BCG Classics Revisited: The Growth Share Matrix

JUNE 04, 2014 

By Martin Reeves, Sandy Moose, and Thijs Venema

What Is the Growth Share Matrix?


Enduring Ideas: The GE–McKinsey nine-box matrix

September 1, 2008 | Article

Enduring Ideas: Classic McKinsey frameworks that continue to inform management thinking

July 1, 2008 | Article

Corporate Portfolio Management:

Appraising Four Decades of Academic Research

by Michael Nippa, Ulrich Pidun, and Harald Rubner

Academy of Management Perspectives

Not dead yet: the rise, fall and persistence of the BCG Matrix

Problems and Perspectives in Management, Vol. 15, Iss. 1, pp. 19-34,

Dag Øivind Madsen

Date Written: March 27, 2017

Product and portfolio analysis

An Empirical Comparison of Standardized Portfolio Models

Jerry Wind

Vijay Mahajan

Designing Product and Business Portfolio

Jerry Wind

Vijay Mahajan

Effects of portfolio planning methods on decision making: experimental results

J. Scott Armstrong
University of Pennsylvania,

Roderick J. Brodie
University of Auckland,

Manage Beyond Portfolio Analysis

HBR 1984

Comparison and Usage of the Boston Consulting- portfolio and the McKinsey-portfolio

Portfolio Analysis Models: A Review

Udo-Imeh, Philip T Edet, William E. Anani, Rajunor B.

Strategic Product Portfolio Management:

A Focus on the Bio-Pharmaceutical Sector and Roche

Strategic Analysis through the General Electric/McKinsey Matrix: An Application to the Italian Fashion Industry

BCG Matrix


The directional policy matrix—tool for strategic planning


Long Range Planning


Corporate Strategy: Portfolio Models

Eli Segev

International Thomson Pub., 1995 – Business & Economics – 188 pages

Ansoff Matrix

Product Strategy Tools – GE/McKinsey Portfolio Matrix

Methods of strategic analysis and proposal method of measuring productivity of a company

Wasilij Rudnicki



Cranfield School of Management

Application of ADL Matrix in Developed Industrial Companies

  • October 2009

Samir Ži

Tonči Mikac


Arnoldo C. Hax and Nicolas S. Majluf

WP #1493-83 October 1983

BCG Matrix: Portfolio Analysis in Corporate Strategy

ADL Matrix (Portfolio Management)


Malcolm B. Coate


August 1982


Samir Žic, Hari Hadžić, Milan Ikonić

The directional policy matrix — a new aid to corporate planning

Available online 19 June 2002.

Prepared by a Member of the Editorial Board from Material published by Shell International Petroleum Company Limited

Strategic Management and Business Policy: For Managers and Consultant

by B Hiriyappa

GE McKinsey Matrix

Expert Program Management

Global Trends, Scenarios, and Futures: For Foresight and Strategic Management

Global Trends, Scenarios, and Futures: For Foresight and Strategic Management

There are a few Institutions which do general long term trends and scenario analysis.

  • Atlantic Council
  • UK MOD
  • Shell International
  • HP
  • EY
  • WEF

There are many institutions both public and private which do issue or industry specific scenarios, trends, and futures analysis.

  • Water
  • Food
  • Energy
  • Climate Change
  • Globalization
  • Urbanization
  • Governance
  • Security
  • Technology
  • Demographic
  • Industry specific
  • Nationalism
  • Protectionism
  • Healthcare
  • Human Development

Why do Scenarios?

Its a way to internalize an organization’s external environment. By doing so, managers and leaders can future-proof their strategy.

Image Source: If only we knew. With scenario planning, we do. Here’s how to prepare better for the next crisis

Image Source: Global Business Network


Image Source: Megatrends 2020 and beyond /EY Mega Trends

The article below was published in MIT Sloan Review.

The World in 2030: Nine Megatrends to Watch

Where will we be in 2030? 

I don’t usually play the futurist game — I’m more of a “presentist,” looking at the data we have right now on fast-moving megatrends that shape the world today. But a client asked me to paint a picture of what the big trends tell us about 2030. And I’d say we do have some strong indications of where we could be in 11 years. 

The directions we go and choices we make will have enormous impacts on our lives, careers, businesses, and the world. Here are my predictions of how nine important trends will evolve by 2030 — listed in order roughly from nearly certain to very likely to hard to say

Nine Global Trends on the Horizon

Demographics: There will be about 1 billion more of us, and we will live longer. The world should reach 8.5 billion people by 2030, up from 7.3 billion in 2015. The fastest growing demographic will be the elderly, with the population of people over 65 years old at 1 billion by 2030. Most of those new billion will be in the middle class economically, as the percentage of citizens in dire poverty continues to drop (a rare sustainability win). Even as the middle swells, however, the percentage of all new wealth accruing to the very top of the pyramid will continue to be a major, and destabilizing, issue. That said, the other megatrends, especially climate change, could slow or change the outcomes here.

Urbanization: Two-thirds of us will live in cities. The urbanization of our populations will increase, creating more megacities as well as small- and medium-size metropolises. Countervailing forces will include a rising cost of living in the most desirable cities. The effects will include the need for more big buildings with better management technologies (big data and AI that makes buildings much more efficient), and we will need more food moved in from where we grow it to where we eat it — or rapidly expand urban agriculture.

Transparency: Our world will become even more open — and less private.It’s hard to imagine that the trend to track everything will be going anywhere but in one direction: a radically more open world. The amount of information collected on every person, product, and organization will grow exponentially, and the pressure to share that information — with customers and consumers in particular — will expand. The tools to analyze information will be well-developed and will make some decision-making easier; for instance, it will be easier to choose products with the lowest carbon footprints, highest wages for employees, and fewest toxic ingredients. But all these tools will shatter privacy in the process.

Privacy Policy

Climate Crisis: The climate will continue to change quickly and feature regular, extreme weather everywhere. Yes, there’s still uncertainty about how everything will play out exactly, but not about whether the climate is changing dramatically and dangerously. Significant inertia in both atmospheric and economic/human systems allows for a more confident prediction of what will happen in just 11 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made clear how critical it is to radically alter the path of carbon emissions to hold the world to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. But that’s not likely to happen with current levels of commitment in global governments: The important Paris climate accord of 2015, in theory, agrees to hold warming to 2 degrees Celsius. But in practice, what countries have committed to so far will only hold us to no more than 3 degrees of warming. By 2030, we are very likely to already be at or approaching the 1.5 mark. 

The results of climate change will be unrelenting. Many highly populated coastal areas will be in consistent trouble, as sea levels rise. The natural world will be much less rich, with drastic to catastrophic declines in populations of many species and major to total losses of ecosystems like coral. Droughts and floods will stress global breadbasket regions and shift where we grow major crops. The Arctic will be ice-free in the summer (this will allow ships to move freely in this region, which is technically good for shorter supply chains but a Pyrrhic victory at best). Between seas, heat, and shifts in water availability, mass migrations will likely have begun. By 2030, we will have much better clarity on how bad the coming decades after that point will be. We will know whether the melting of the major ice sheets will be literally inundating most coastal cities, and if we’re truly approaching an “Uninhabitable Earth” in our lifetimes. 

Resource Pressures: We will be forced to more aggressively confront resource constraints. To keep volumes of major commodities (such as metals) in line with economic growth, we will need to more quickly embrace circular models: sourcing much less from virgin materials, using recycled content and remanufactured products, and generally rethinking the material economy. Water will be a stressed resource, and it seems likely that many cities will be constantly in a state of water shortage. We will need more investment in water tech and desalination to help. 

Clean Tech: The transformation of our grid, our roadways, and our buildings to zero-carbon technology will be surprisingly far along. Here’s some good news: Due to continuing drops in the cost of clean technologies, renewable energy is dramatically on the rise, making up more than half the global new power capacity every year since 2015. By 2030, effectively no new additions of generating capacity will come from fossil-fuel-based technologies.Electric vehicles will be a large part of the transportation equation: While estimates about the share of EVs on the road by 2030 range from the teens to nearly 100% (assuming early retirement of internal combustion engines), nearly all sales of new vehicles will be EVs. This will be driven by dramatic reductions in the cost of batteries and strict legislation banning fossil-fuel engines. We will also see an explosion of data-driven technologies that make buildings, the grid, roadways, and water systems substantially more efficient.

Technology Shifts: The internet of things will have won the day, and every new device will be connected. Proponents of the “singularity” have long projected that by around 2030, affordable AI will achieve human levels of intelligence. AI and machine learning will plan much of our lives and make us more efficient, well beyond choosing driving routes to optimize traffic. Technology will manipulate us even more than it does today — Russian interference in U.S. elections may look quaint. AI will create some new kinds of jobs but will also nearly eliminate entire segments of work, from truck and taxi drivers to some high-skill jobs such as paralegals and engineers.

Global Policy: There’s an open question about how we’ll get important things done. I’m thinking specifically about whether global governments and institutions will be working in sync to aggressively fight climate change and resource pressures, and tackle vast inequality and poverty — or whether it will be every region and ethnic group for itself. Predicting politics is nearly impossible, and it’s hard to imagine how global policy action on climate and other megatrends will play out. The Paris Agreement was a monumental start, but countries, most notably the U.S., have lately retreated from global cooperation in general. Trade wars and tariffs are all the rage in 2019. It seems likely that, even more than today, it will be up to business to play a major role in driving sustainability.

Populism: The rise of nationalism and radicalism may increase … or it won’t. Even less certain than policy is the support, or lack thereof, of the mass of people for different philosophies of governing. In recent years, populists have been elected or consolidated power in countries as varied as the U.S., Brazil, and Hungary. And yet, in recent weeks, citizens in countries like Turkey, Algeria, and Sudan have pushed back on autocracy. Will that trend continue?

How Should Business Prepare?

Laying out strategies for companies to navigate this likely future world is a book-length conversation. But let me suggest a few themes of action to consider:

  • Engage everyone in the sphere of the business world on climate. A dangerously changing climate is the biggest threat humanity has ever faced. But it’s not all set in stone … yet. Companies have an economic incentive and moral responsibility to work hard to reduce the damage as much as possible. Engage employees (stamp out climate denial), talk to consumers and customers about climate issues through your products, and change internal rules on corporate finance to make investment decisions with flexible hurdle rates that favor pro-climate spending. Most importantly, use influence and lobbying power to demand, at all levels of government, an escalating public price on carbon — and publicly admonish industry lobbying groups that don’t.
  • Consider the human aspect of business more. As new technologies sweep through society and business, the change will be jarring. Those changes and pressures are part of why people are turning to populist leaders who promise solutions. Business leaders should think through what these big shifts mean for the people that make up our companies, value chains, and communities.
  • Embrace transparency. To be blunt, you don’t have a choice. Each successive generation will expect more openness from the companies they buy from and work for. 
  • Listen to the next generation. By 2030, the leading edge of millennials will be nearing 50, and they and Gen Z will make up the vast majority of the workforce. Listen to them now about their priorities and values. 

Predicting the future means projecting forward from what’s already happening, while throwing in expected inertia in human and natural systems. It can give us an impressionistic picture of the world of the future. Our choices matter a great deal, as individuals and through our organizations and institutions. Business, in particular, will play a large role in where the world goes. Employees, customers, and even investors increasingly demand that the role of business be a positive one. 

Look, we could all just wait and see where these historic waves take us. But I prefer that we all work proactively to ensure that a better, thriving future is the one we choose.

About the Author

Andrew Winston is founder of Winston Eco-Strategies and an adviser to multinationals on how they can navigate humanity’s biggest challenges and profit from solving them. He is the coauthor of the international best seller Green to Gold and the author of the popular book The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World. He tweets @andrewwinston.

a database of reports globally published by many institutions.

Global Trends and Future Scenarios

IDB InterAmerican Development Bank

Key Institutions doing Global Scenarios, Trends, and Futures analysis

Shell Scenarios

HP Mega Trends

World Economic Forum

Global Risks Report

US DNI NIC Global Trends

Paradox of Progress

Atlantic Council

Global Risks 2035 Update

Decline or New Renaissance?

Mathew J. Burrows 2019

UK MOD Global Strategic Trends
EY Mega Trends

Megatrends 2020 and beyond


The Long View: Scenarios for the world economy to 2060

EU Parliament
World Bank

The Future is Now: Scenarios to 2025 and Beyond

J. Warren Evans

International Monetary Fund

World Economic Outlook

World Resources Institute

United Nations

McKinsey Global Institute

MGI in 2019

Highlights of our research this year

McKinsey and Company

The Use and Abuse of Scenarios

McKinsey Special Collections
Trends and global forces

Shifting tides: Global economic scenarios for 2015–25

Boston Consulting Group BCG

Have you future Proofed your strategy?

APRIL 17, 2020 By Alan InyHans KuipersEnrique Rueda-Sabater, and Christian Haakonsen

International Food Policy Research Institute IFPRI

Global food projections to 2020 

emerging trends and alternative futures

World Energy Council


EPRI Electric Power Research Institute

A Perspective on the Future of Energy: Scenarios, Trends, and Global Points of View

Millienium Project


The Institute for the Future

My Related Posts

Shell Oil’s Scenarios: Strategic Foresight and Scenario Planning for the Future

Strategy | Strategic Management | Strategic Planning | Strategic Thinking

Art of Long View: Future, Uncertainty and Scenario Planning

On Anticipation: Going Beyond Forecasts and Scenarios

HP’s Megatrends

Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility

History of Operations Research

Profiles in Operations Research

Jay W. Forrester and System Dynamics

Water | Food | Energy | Nexus: Mega Trends and Scenarios for the Future

Short term Thinking in Investment Decisions of Businesses and Financial Markets

The Origins and History of Management Consulting

Multilevel Approach to Research in Organizations

Hierarchical Planning: Integration of Strategy, Planning, Scheduling, and Execution

Networks and Hierarchies

Hierarchy Theory in Biology, Ecology and Evolution

Systems Biology: Biological Networks, Network Motifs, Switches and Oscillators

Growth and Form in Nature: Power Laws and Fractals

Shapes and Patterns in Nature

Systems View of Life: A Synthesis by Fritjof Capra

Multiplex Financial Networks

Boundaries and Networks

Key Sources of Research

Future Population Growth

by Max Roser

Our World in Data

This article was first published in 2014. It was last revised in November 2019.

Future Studies


Global Foresight 2050 – Six global scenarios and implications for the forest sector 

AUTHORS: Sten Nilsson, Fredrik Ingemarson
PUBLISHED: 2017, Uppsala
PUBLISHER: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)

An overview of global energy scenarios by 2040: identifying the driving forces using cross‑impact analysis method

S. Ghasemian1 · A. Faridzad1 · P. Abbaszadeh2 · A. Taklif1 · A. Ghasemi1 · R. Hafezi3

Received: 27 November 2019 / Revised: 11 March 2020 / Accepted: 6 April 2020

Learning from the Future

How to make robust strategy in times of deep uncertainty 

From the Magazine (July–August 2020)

Why the Social Sector Needs Scenario Planning Now


OCTOBER 01, 2020

Future Worlds

PA Consulting

Directions in Scenario Planning Literature – A Review of the Past Decades

Celeste Amorim Varuma, Carla Meloa
aDepartment of Economics, Management and Industrial Engineering, University of Aveiro,

Campus Universitário de Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal

The Century Ahead:
Four Global Scenarios

Christi Electris, Paul Raskin, Rich Rosen, and John Stutz


Four Scenarios for Geopolitical Order in 2025-2030: What Will Great Power Competition Look Like?

September 16, 2020


Futurology Why it’s worth reading crazy-sounding scenarios about the future

Speculating about the future can make it easier to respond to unexpected events

Jul 6th 2019



Scenarios for the United States in 2030

Johanna Zmud, Liisa Ecola, Peter Phleps, Irene Feige


Future energy: In search of a scenario reflecting current and future pressures and trends

Jennifer Morris, David Hone, Martin Haigh, Andrei Sokolov and Sergey Paltsev

November 2020

MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

2018 Food, Water, Energy and Climate Outlook 

MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

Consensus Forecasts

Global Outlook 2020 – 2030

The Conference Board

Global Economic Outlook

The Water-Energy-Food Nexus

A new approach in support of food security and sustainable agriculture


The Food Water Energy Nexus


Water, Food and Energy Nexus in Asia and the Pacific


Developing the Pardee RAND Food-Energy-Water Security Index

Toward a Global Standardized, Quantitative, and Transparent Resource Assessment

by Henry H. WillisDavid G. GrovesJeanne S. RingelZhimin MaoShira EfronMichele Abbott


Introduction to the water-energy nexus

Article — 23 March 2020


Mining & Metals Scenarios to 2030



The Long View: Scenarios for the world economy to 2060


Risk, Resilience, and Alternative Futures: Scenario-building at the World Economic Forum

Christina Garsten, Adrienne Sörbom


If only we knew. With scenario planning, we do. Here’s how to prepare better for the next crisis


Energy and Climate Scenarios

IHS Markit

The World in 2030: Nine Megatrends to Watch

Andrew S. Winston 

May 07, 2019

MIT Sloan Review

The future of capitalism: Trends, scenarios and prospects for the future

Gerard Delanty

First Published January 30, 2019 

Journal of Classical Sociology

EYQ Mega Trends

Year 2020 Mega Trends

Year 2016 Megatrends

Year 2018 Megatrends

Shaping the Future of Global Food Systems: A Scenarios Analysis

Highlights from the report February 2017

Deloitte and WEF

Global Risks 2035: The Search for a New Normal

Atlantic Council


Vision 2040: Global Scenarios for the Oil and Gas Industry


The future of Asia

Asian flows and networks are defining the next phase of globalization

MGI 2020

Trends in Assets and Liabilities of Commercial Banks in the USA

Trends in Assets and Liabilities of Commercial Banks in the USA

To big to fail means too interconnected to fail.
As the balance sheets of banks have expanded so has their number of counterparties on both sides of balance sheets.

The US commercial banks have have expanded their balance sheets.

On assets side, the loans portfolio has expanded.

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability – Update October 2020

On liabilities side, the deposits and borrowings have increased.

US Federal Reserve publishes H8 report on Assets and Liabilities of the US commercial banks. Detailed information on aggregate data presented in this post can be obtained from it.

On liabilities side, the borrowings from wholesale money markets and shadow banking contributed to systemic risk during 2008 financial crisis. Please see my posts on this subject.

Funding Strategies of Banks

Shadow Banking

There were also capital flows in US markets from foreign banks and other markets.

Low Interest Rates and International Capital Flows

On liabilities side, because of increased borrowings from short term markets, the financial interconnections have also increased resulting in systemic risk and financial contagion.

On assets side, because of increased volumes of loan portfolios, the systemic risk and chances for financial contagion have increased.

Balance Sheets, Financial Interconnectedness, and Financial Stability – G20 Data Gaps Initiative

Contagion in Financial (Balance sheets) Networks

For analytical framework, accounting approach (Post Keynesian Economics) is one of the option.

Balance Sheet Economics – Financial Input-Output Analysis (using Asset Liability Matrices) – Update March 2018

Foundations of Balance Sheet Economics

Economics of Money, Credit and Debt

Morris Copeland and Flow of Funds accounts

Stock-Flow Consistent Modeling

Key Terms

  • Money View
  • Money Flows
  • Stocks and Flows
  • System Dynamics
  • Business Dynamics
  • Business Strategy
  • Asset Liability Management ALM
  • Balance Sheet Economics
  • Monetary Policy
  • Interest Rates
  • Credit
  • Debt
  • Money
  • Balance Sheet Expansion
  • Systemic Risk
  • Interconnectivity
  • Loan Portfolio
  • To big to fail
  • Networks
  • Funding Strategy
  • Market Liquidity
  • Funding Liquidity
  • Deposits
  • Interest Income
  • Non Interest Income
  • Borrowings
  • Wholesale Money Markets
  • Shadow Banking
  • International Capital Flows
  • Round Tripping
  • Global Liquidity
  • Eurodollar Market
  • Money Market Mutual Funds
  • Quadruple Accounting
  • Morris Copeland
  • Hyman Minsky
  • Wynn Godley
  • Perry Mehrling

Image Source: Liberty Street Economics 2017

Image Source: Statista

Image Source: FRED

Total Assets, All Commercial Banks (TLAACBW027SBOG)
Image Source: FRED

Total Liabilities, All Commercial Banks (TLBACBW027NBOG)
Image Source: FRED

Image Source: FRED

My Related Posts

Balance Sheet Economics – Financial Input-Output Analysis (using Asset Liability Matrices) – Update March 2018

Foundations of Balance Sheet Economics

Balance Sheets, Financial Interconnectedness, and Financial Stability – G20 Data Gaps Initiative

Funding Strategies of Banks

Economics of Money, Credit and Debt

Low Interest Rates and International Capital Flows

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability – Update October 2020

Morris Copeland and Flow of Funds accounts

Key Sources of Research

Deposits, All Commercial Banks (DPSACBW027SBOG)

Total Liabilities, All Commercial Banks (TLBACBW027NBOG)


Between deluge and drought:
The future of US bank liquidity and funding

Rebalancing the balance sheet during turbulent times



Assets and Liabilities of Commercial Banks in the United States – H.8

The geography of dollar funding of non-US banks1

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability – Update October 2020

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability – Update October 2020

My last post on this topic was in May 2019.

Research continues on this important topic. What are the effects of Monetary policy on Financial Institution?

Please see my previous posts to find the issues. In this post I have compiled papers and articles published since my last post in 2019.

Rational Decision making by the firms
  • Lend More – When margins decline, the volumes must go up to maintain or increase profits. This increases risk taking.
  • Diversify – Look for other sources of earnings
  • Consolidate – Merge with other banks as a business strategy to grow loan volumes.

How do banks make money? What is source of their income? How much is Net interest income? How much is Non Interest Income?

As you can see from the graphs below, Net interest income of banks is going up. Although the net interest margins are down, Banks are earning their income mostly from net interest income.

Volumes of Outstanding loans must be going up to make up for decrease in margins.

Sources of interest income can be

  • Commercial loans
  • Real Estate loans
  • Auto Loans
  • Credit cards
  • Student Loans

Additionally consolidation among the banks can be partially explained by the decling number of banks. See graph below.

Diversification to find other sources of earnings.

Image Source: FRED

Image Source: FRED

Image Source: Statista

Image Source: Liberty Street Economics 2017

Image Source: FRED

Image Source: FRED
Net Interest Income for Commercial Banks in United States

Image Source: FRED
Bank Credit, All Commercial Banks (TOTBKCR)

Image Source: FRED
Loans and Leases in Bank Credit, All Commercial Banks (TOTLL)

Image Source: FRED
Commercial and Industrial Loans, All Commercial Banks (BUSLOANS)

Image Source: FRED

Image Source: FRED
Consumer Loans, All Commercial Banks (CONSUMER)

Image Source: FRED

Key Terms

  • Net Interest Margin
  • Profitability
  • Interest Income
  • Non Interest Income
  • Monetary Policy
  • Fed Funds Rate
  • 10 Year T Bond’s Rate
  • Shadow Banking
  • Search for Yield
  • Risk Taking
  • Housing Loans
  • Auto Loan
  • Deposits
  • Credit Cards
  • Money Markets Mutual Funds
  • Money Markets
  • Capital Markets
  • International Capital Flows
  • Diversification
  • Mergers
  • To Big to Fail
  • Non Core Business

My Related Posts

Low Interest Rates and Bank’s Profitability – Update May 2019

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability : Update July 2017

Low Interest Rates and Banks Profitability: Update – December 2016

Impact of Low Interest Rates on Bank’s Profitability

Non Interest Income of Banks: Diversification and Consolidation

Evolution of Banks Complexity

Shadow Banking

Funding Strategies of Banks

Low Interest Rates and Risk taking channel of Monetary Policy

Low Interest Rates and International Investment Position of USA

Low Interest Rates and International Capital Flows

Key Sources of Research

Bank profitability and risk‐taking under low interest rates

Jacob A. Bikker1,2 | Tobias M. Vervliet3

How banks can ease the pain of negative interest rates

March 3, 2020 | Article

Bank intermediation when interest rates are very low for long 

Michael Brei, Claudio Borio, Leonardo Gambacorta  

07 February 2020

Implications of negative interest rates for the net interest margin and lending of euro area banks

by Melanie Klein

Monetary and Economic Department 

March 2020

Are Banks Exposed to Interest Rate Risk?

Pascal Paul and Simon W. Zhu

2020-16 | June 22, 2020 | Research from Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Negative rates and the transmission of monetary policy

Prepared by Miguel Boucinha and Lorenzo Burlon[1]

Published as part of the ECB Economic Bulletin, Issue 3/2020.

Is there a zero lower bound?
The effects of negative policy rates on banks and firms

Revised June 2020

The impact of very low interest rates on bank profitability

Bank intermediation activity in a low interest rate environment

by Michael Brei, Claudio Borio and Leonardo Gambacorta

Monetary and Economic Department August 2019

Do Negative Interest Rates Explain Low Profitability of European Banks?1

Nicholas Coleman* and Viktors Stebunovs*

Monetary Policy and Bank Equity Values in a Time of Low and Negative Interest Rates1

Miguel Ampudia2 and Skander J. Van den Heuvel3 May 2019

Negative Interest Rates, Bank Profitability and Risk-taking

Whelsy Boungou

Monetary Policy and Bank Profitability in a Low Interest Rate Environment: A Follow-up and a Rejoinder

By Charles Goodhart and Ali Kabiri

Monetary Policy and Bank Profitability in a Low Interest Rate Environment

Carlo Altavilla, Miguel Boucinha and José-Luis Peydró

Barcelona GSE Working Paper: 1101 | May 2019

Going Negative at the Zero Lower Bound: The Effects of Negative Nominal Interest Rates

Mauricio Ulate Campos Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

September 2019


Gauti B. Eggertsson Ragnar E. Juelsrud Lawrence H. Summers Ella Getz Wold

Working Paper 25416

Implications of negative interest rates for the net interest margin and lending of euro area banks

Melanie Klein

Negative Nominal Interest Rates: A Primer

Trends in the Noninterest Income of Banks

Joseph G. Haubrich and Tristan Young

Negative interest rates in the euro area: does it hurt banks?

Interest rate pass-through in the low interest rate environment

Average net interest margin of banks in the United States from 1995 to 2019

Effective Federal Funds Rate (FEDFUNDS)

How low interest rates can hurt competition, and the economy

They help big companies more than small ones, depressing investment and productivity

Monetary Policy Report

June 12, 2020

Federal Reserve

The Long Decline of Global Interest Rates

Posted On :  Published By : BER staff


Markets in the Time of COVID-19

Chapter 4

April 2020


Low Interest Rates and Bank Profits

Katherine Di Lucido, Anna Kovner, and Samantha Zeller

Liberty Street Economics


Bank’s Non-Interest Income to Total Income for United States (DDEI03USA156NWDB)

Net Interest Income for Commercial Banks in United States

Net Interest Margin for all U.S. Banks (USNIM)

Commercial Banks in the U.S. (USNUM)

Loans and Leases in Bank Credit, All Commercial Banks (TOTLL)

Bank Credit, All Commercial Banks (TOTBKCR)

Commercial and Industrial Loans, All Commercial Banks (BUSLOANS)

Consumer Credit

Real Estate Loans, All Commercial Banks (REALLN)

Consumer Loans, All Commercial Banks (CONSUMER)

Low Interest Rates and Business Investments – Update October 2020

Low Interest Rates and Business Investments – Update October 2020

There has been several new research on the topic of Low Interest Rates and Business Investments since my last post.

Decision Making by Firms in Low Interest rates environment

  • Invest and Grow
  • Merge / Consolidate
  • Pay Dividends
  • Buyback Shares
  • Divestures
  • Acquisitions
  • Horizontal Mergers (Market Share)
  • Vertical Mergers (Costs)
  • Innovation M&A (New Tech, New Product)

Key Terms

  • Business Investments
  • Monetary Polcy
  • Zero Lower Bound
  • Interest Rates
  • Fed Funds Rate
  • Corporate Finance
  • Hurdle Rates
  • Capital Budgeting
  • Internal Rate of Return IRR
  • CAGR Compond Annual Growth Rate
  • Cost of Capital
  • Discounted Cash Flow
  • Net Present Value
  • Mergers vs Investments
  • Organic Growth
  • Inorganic Growth
  • State of the Industry
  • State of the Economy
  • Liquidity Financial
  • Bank Lending
  • Capital Markets
  • Economic Growth
  • Corporate Planning
  • Strategic Planning
  • Strategic Management

My Related Posts

Increasing Market Concentration in USA: Update April 2019

Rising Market Concentration and Declining Business Investments in the USA – Update June 2018

Low Interest Rates and Business Investments : Update August 2017

Business Investments and Low Interest Rates

Cash and Investments: Corporate Savings Glut in USA

Low Interest Rates and Monetary Policy Effectiveness

Low Interest Rates and Risk taking channel of Monetary Policy

Low Interest Rates and International Investment Position of USA

Low Interest Rates and Bank’s Profitability – Update May 2019

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability : Update July 2017

Low Interest Rates and Banks Profitability: Update – December 2016

Impact of Low Interest Rates on Bank’s Profitability

The Decline in Long Term Real Interest Rates

Cash and Investments: Corporate Savings Glut in USA

Why do Firms buyback their Shares? Causes and Consequences.

Short term Thinking in Investment Decisions of Businesses and Financial Markets

Key Sources of Reserach

Lengthy era of rock-bottom interest rates leaving its mark on U.S. economy

Weak demand in U.S. and other rich nations explains historic shift

Washington Post

Do Interest Rates Affect Business Investment? Evidence from Australian Company-level Data

Jonathan Hambur and Gianni La Cava

Low Interest Rates Have Benefits … and Costs

Kevin L. Kliesen

October 1, 2010–and-costs

Low for Long?
Causes and Consequences of Persistently Low Interest Rates

Geneva Reports on the World Economy 17 Charles Bean

London School of Economics and CEPR

Christian Broda

Duquesne Capital Management

Takatoshi Ito

SIPA Columbia University and CEPR

Randall Kroszner

Booth School of Business, University of Chicago


Low Interest Rates, Market Power, and Productivity Growth∗

Ernest Liu

Princeton University

Atif Mian
Princeton University and NBER

Amir Sufi
University of Chicago Booth School of Business and NBER

August 18, 2020

The Economic Effects of Low Interest Rates and Unconventional Monetary Policy

17 September 2020

Rochelle Guttmann, Dana Lawson and Peter Rickards


Firms’ Investment Decisions and Interest Rates

Kevin Lane and Tom Rosewall


Has Business Fixed Investment Really Been Unusually Low?

By François Gourio

Chicago Fed Letter, No. 418, 2019

Fiscal Policy with High Debt and Low Interest Rates

William Gale

July 1, 2019

The impact of negative interest rates on banks and firms 

Carlo Altavilla, Lorenzo Burlon, Mariassunta Giannetti, Sarah Holton  

08 November 2019

Global Trends in Interest Rates

Marco Del Negro Domenico Giannone Marc P. Giannoni Andrea Tambalotti

Staff Report No. 866 September 2018

Financial stability implications of a prolonged period of low interest rates

Report submitted by a Working Group established by the Committee on the Global Financial System

The Group was co-chaired by Ulrich Bindseil (European Central Bank) and Steven B Kamin (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System)

July 2018


Eight centuries of global real interest rates, R-G, and the ‘suprasecular’ decline, 1311-2018.

Paul Schmelzing

Low Interest Rates and Risk Taking: Evidence from Individual Investment Decisions

Review of Financial Studies

49 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2016 Last revised: 29 Aug 2018

Chen Lian

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Yueran Ma

University of Chicago – Booth School of Business

Carmen Wang

Harvard University – Department of Economics; HBS Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit

Date Written: August 22, 2018


James Cloyne Clodomiro Ferreira Maren Froemel Paolo Surico

Determinants of the real interest rate

Remarks by Philip R. Lane, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB, at the National Treasury Management Agency

Dublin, 28 November 2019

Understanding Weak Capital Investment: the Role of Market Concentration and Intangibles∗

Nicolas Crouzet and Janice Eberly

Prepared for the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

August 23 – 25, 2018 This version: May 14, 2019

Monetary policy in advanced economies

Low policy rates are here to stay

Have low interest rates led to excessive risk taking?

The Policy Perils of Low Interest Rates

The consequences of prolonged low interest rates in Europe,economy,2465.html

Increasing Market Concentration – Update October 2020

Increasung Market Concentration – Update October 2020

In this post I have compiled several newly published papers books and articles on the subject of Increasing market concentration. Mainly in 2019 and 2020.

  • The Curse of Bigness
  • The Myth of Capitalism
Several new reserach papers were published by
  • Cato Institute
  • Brookings Institution
  • Federal Reserve


Rational decision making by the firms

  • Organic Growth – Use business investments to grow business – During growth phase of the firm and the industry
  • Inorganic Growth – Use Mergers and Acquisitions to grow – During mature phase and Declining Markets due to Technological Changes
  • Casacading effects
    • Leaders merge
    • Laggards merge
    • Suppliers merge
  • Micro Motives and Macro Behavior
  • What is good for a firm, May not be good for economy

Key Terms

  • Shareholder Capitalism
  • Market Concentration
  • Industry Concentration
  • Horizontal Merger
  • Verical Merger
  • Mergers and Acquisition
  • Competition Policy
  • Profits and Profitability
  • Corporate Finance
  • Anti Trust Laws
  • Industry Consolidation
  • Capitalism
  • Market Share
  • Competitive Dynamics
  • Organic Growth
  • Inorganic Growth
  • Business Investments
  • Macro Growth
  • Market Maturity
  • Product Life Cycles
  • Technological Changes
  • Wealth and Income Inequality
  • Monopoly
  • Oligopoly
  • Cross Border Mergers
  • Innovation based Mergers in Technology
  • HHI

My Related Posts

Shareholder Capitalism: Rising Market Concentration, Slower Productivity Growth, Rising Inequality, Rising Profits, and Rising Equities Markets

Rising Market Concentration and Declining Business Investments in the USA – Update June 2018

Rising Profits, Rising Inequality, and Rising Industry Concentration in the USA

Competition, Concentration, and Anti-Trust Laws in the USA

Concentration, Investment, and Growth

Increasing Market Concentration in USA: Update April 2019

Mergers and Acquisitions – Long Term Trends and Waves

The Decline in Long Term Real Interest Rates

Low Interest Rates and Business Investments : Update August 2017

Business Investments and Low Interest Rates

Why do Firms buyback their Shares? Causes and Consequences.

Cash and Investments: Corporate Savings Glut in USA

Key sources of Research

What if Rising Concentration were an Indication of More Cimpetition, not Less?

Causes, Consequences, and Policy Responses to Market Concentration

The Rise of Corporate Market Power

Market Concentration Is Threatening the U.S. Economy

The United States’s low-growth/high-inequality problem is due to too few firms holding too much power.CHAZEN GLOBAL INSIGHTSJoseph E. Stiglitz March 12, 2019

Increasing market concentration in Europe is more likely to be a sign of strength than a cause for concern 

Tommaso Bighelli, Filippo di Mauro, Marc Melitz, Matthias Mertens  13 October 2020

The Economics and Politics of Market Concentration

Thomas Philippon

The Great Consolidation:
Industry and Equity Market Concentration after the Crisis

Top 5 Highly Concentrated Manufacturing Industries

by Marisa Lifschutz, Senior Analyst – Team Lead 
May 02 2019

How Market Power has Increased US Inequality

Are Markets Becoming Less Competitive?

Federal Reserve of Richmond


Trends in Financial Market Concentration and Their Implications for Market Stability

Is Rising Concentration Hampering Productivity Growth?

Peter J. Klenow, Huiyu Li, and Theodore Naff

Rising Bank Concentration

Dean CorbaeUniversity of Wisconsin – Madison and NBER

Pablo D’Erasmo

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

Are Markets Too Concentrated?

Industries are increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer firms. But is that a bad thing?Article by: Tim Sablik

Richmond Federal Reserve

Have Acquisitions of Failed Banks Increased the Concentration of U.S. Banking Markets? 

By Wheelock, David C.

Large Banks Improve Competition and Consumer Choice in Local Markets

Sean Campbell•20 May 2019•

Low Interest Rates Don’t Drive Market Concentration

A critical assessment of Atif Mian, Amir Sufi and Ernest Liu’s paper

Market Power and Monetary Policy

Speech given by

Andrew G Haldane Chief Economist Bank of England

Competition and Productivity: A Review of Evidence

Thomas J. Holmes

University of Minnesota,
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis,
and National Bureau of Economic Research

James A. Schmitz, Jr.
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis


Understanding market concentration: internet-based applications from the banking industry


Fred H. Hays
University of Missouri-Kansas City

Sidne Gail Ward University of Missouri-Kansas City

Concentration, market power and dynamism in the euro area

Monopoly Myths: Are Markets Becoming More Concentrated?

Joe Kennedy 

June 29, 2020



Council of Economic Advisors

Obama whitehouse

Why Is the Stock Market So Strong When the Economy Is Weak?

The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition

Jonathan TepperDenise Hearn (With)

ISBN: 978-1-119-54819-5 November 2018 320 Pages

Number of Banks in USA

Number of Listed Companies in USA

Long-Term Government Bond Yields: 10-year: Main (Including Benchmark) for the United States

Mergers and Acquisitions Data for USA and Worldwide

Market Power, Inequality, and Financial Instability

Isabel Cair ́o and Jae Sim 


What Happened to U.S. Business Dynamism?1

Ufuk Akcigit and Sina T. Ates

Untangling the Complex Causes of Inequality

December 4, 2018

Capitalism is not the source of our economic struggles

The real culprit is less obvious but can be remedied

Increased corporate concentration and the influence of market power

The New Economic Concentration

The competition that justifies capitalism is being destroyed—by capitalists.


JANUARY 16, 2019


Dennis L. Weisman

The Curse of Bigness
Antitrust in the New Gilded Age

The Curse of Bigness by Tim Wu