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

Source: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel-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 = <https://davidboje.com/ORM_Storytelling_in_Action_Book/index&gt;


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

DOI: https://doi.org/10.31269/triplec.v4i1.24


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 | http://dpj.pitt.edu

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

Towards a Social-Relational Dialectic for World Politics

Brincat, Shannon


European Journal of International Relations


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 p.j.mcburney@csc.liv.ac.uk Tel: + 44 151 794 6760

Simon Parsons
Sloan School of Management Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge MA USA sparsons@mit.edu

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

RAND URL: http://www.rand.org/


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: harald.tuckermann@unisg.ch

Kenneth Burke and Dramatism

Kenneth Burke and Dramatism

A rhetorician, I take it, is like one voice in a dialogue. Put several such voices together, with each voicing its own special assertion, let them act upon one another in cooperative competition, and you get a dialectic that, propely developed, can lead to the views transcending the limitations of each.

“Rhetoric-Old and New” (1950)

Key Terms

  • Frames
  • Life as Drama
  • Kenneth Burke
  • World as a Play
  • Universal Drama
  • Natyashastra of Bharata Muni
  • Poetics of Aristotle
  • Rhetoric of Aristotle
  • Dialectics of Aristotle
  • Language as Symbolic Action
  • Persuasion
  • Dialectic vs Rhetoric
  • Logos, Pathos, Ethos
  • Logic, Emotions, Intersubjectivity
  • Arguments
  • Speech
  • Emotions
  • Dialectic – Art of Disputing
  • Rhetoric – Art of Speaking
  • Speaking, Arguments, Persuasion
  • Civic Discourse
  • Political Theory
  • Legal Theory
  • Theory of Communicative Action
  • Communication
  • Enactive Systems
  • Enactivism
  • Embodied-Enactive Systems
  • Socially Extended Mind
  • Action Learning
  • Second Person Neuroscience
  • Acts and Dialogs
  • Four Dimensional Man
  • Narratives
  • Dramatic Pentad
  • Act, Scene, Agent, Agency, Purpose
  • Attitude
  • Identification


Source: http://www.unm.edu/~sromano/english540/Blakesley%20Elements%20all.pdf

All the Words, a Stage

Dramatism is a philosophy of language, with stress upon the original meaning of philosophy [philo =life + sophos =knowledge], the study of language as a way of living and knowing. In the broadest sense, dramatism is life, life lived in a world populated by people acting through language to build societies, establish and maintain social relations, adjust to their social situation, and come to terms with their existence in time and space. Dramatism analyzes language and thought as modes of action rather than as means of conveying information. Thus, for dramatism, language is a form of symbolic action. The dramatistic view of the world holds that language is not simply a tool to be used by people (actors), but the basis for human beings acting together and thus, of all human relations. Words act, in other words, to define, persuade, appease, divide, identify, entertain, victimize, move, inspire, and so on. It might help to understand language as symbolic action when you consider whether it makes a big difference to say “I am not crazy” rather than “I am happy” when you are indeed happy. The use of the negative in the first performs an act of denial, even if it doesn’t make any positive assertion about what you actually are. “I am not crazy” could mean that you are happy. You may be far worse or better than crazy. As a resource of language, the negative can be seen as a purely verbal act because on the one hand it doesn’t convey any information, yet on the other it may induce some change in the attitude of others. Imagine, for instance, what will happen if you walk around town mumbling “I am not crazy.”

Kenneth Burke (1897-1993) was the philosopher, critical theorist, and rhetorician who made dramatism the central tenet of his work and who has influenced the thinking of countless others interested in the study of speech, writing, and society. Dramatism originated in his work in the mid-1930s and marked his attempt to develop a systematic method for analyzing human communication in all its complexity. By the mid-1940s, Burke’s desire to develop such a method took on added urgency in a world torn apart by war. His A Grammar of Motives (1945) was the first of a planned trilogy on human relations and formally introduced the pentad-act, scene, agent, agency, purpose-which is the heart of what is now known as dramatism. (Burke would later add a sixth term, attitude.) By 1968 and three books further into his project, Burke summed up as follows:

Dramatism is a method of analysis and a correspondirig critique of terminology designed to show that the most direct route to the study of human relations and human motives is via a methodical inquiry into cycles or clusters of terms and their functions. (“Dramatism:’ 445)

Burke saw the pentad as the set of relational and functional principles that could help us understand what he calls the “cycles or clusters of terms” people used to attribute motives in a particular work of philosophy, literature, speech, or in more general philosophies of human motivation, such as capitalism, communism, or psychoanalysis. Other critics have put dramatism to work in analyses of social movements, political rhetoric, film, economics, interpersonal psychology, art, and popular culture. A quick perusal of the Suggested Readings at the end of this book will give you a good sense of the scope of dramatism as an analytical method.

Burke often called himself a “word-man,” and some discussion of that moniker will help clarify precisely what the concept of dramatism entails. For eons, human beings have sought to define themselves, to name that essential quality that both distinguishes us from animals and other forms of life and even that distinguishes people from one another. Some say we are what we do, that our actions define us (the pragmatic view). Some say that we are what we think we are (the subjective view). Still others say that we are the sum total of our social identities or roles (the sociological view). Others say that we are by virtue of a complex system of biological and neurological processes (the objective view). We may be the sum of internal and instinctual drives (the psychological view). Or we may be whatever we desire to be (the idealist view). Burke, and thus dramatism, holds that our words define us, that our identities are but composites of our symbol systems. Human beings are in the simplest sense, says Burke, the symbol-using animal. So if you ask, “Who is Burke?” the answer is, simply, a “word-man.” He, like the rest of us, is an actor in a world of words.

It was Jaques in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It who spoke suggestively that

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts. His acts being seven ages. (II.vii.149-53)

Rhetoric and Dialectic

Source: Rhetoric and Poetic in the Philosophy of Aristotle


Dramatic Pentad

Kenneth Burke in his book A Grammar of Motives introduced concepts of Dramatism and Dramatic Pentad. He also introduced ratios between elements of dramatic pentad.

  • Scene
  • Act
  • Agent
  • Agency
  • Purpose

Dramatic Pentad

Dramatic Ratios

  • Scene – Act
  • Scene – Agent
  • Scene – Agency
  • Scene – Purpose
  • Act – Agent
  • Act – Agency
  • Act – Purpose
  • Agent – Purpose
  • Agent – Agency
  • Agency – Purpose

He elaborated each of these and their relationships with each other.

Relationship between ‘Scene and Act’ and ‘Scene and Agent’ and between ‘Act and Agent’ are the primary relationships.

Three Appeals of Dialogs, Discourse, Speech, and Arguments

Logos, Ethos, and Pathos

Types of Speech

Other books by Kenneth Burke

Source: https://kbjournal.org/content/works-kenneth-burke

The White Oxen and Other Stories, New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1924. {Books}

Counter-Statement. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1931; 2nd ed. Los Altos, CA: Hermes Publications, 1953; Phoenix paperback, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957; paperback, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. {Books}

Towards a Better Life: Being a Series of Epistles, or Declamations, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1932; 2nd ed., Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966. {Books}

Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. New York: New Republic, 1935; 2nd rev. ed., Los Altos, Calif.: Hermes Publications, 1954; paperback, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965; 3rd rev. ed., Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. The 1954, 1965, and 1984 editions contain an appendix, “On Human Behavior, Considered ‘Dramatistically'”; the 1965 and 1984 editions, an introduction by Hugh Dalziel Duncan; the 1984 edition, a new afterword, “Permanence and Change: In Retrospective Prospect.” {Books}

Attitudes Toward History. 2 vols. New York: New Republic, 1937; 2nd rev, ed., Los Altos, Calif.: Hermes Publications, 1959; Beacon paperback, Boston: Beacon Press, 1961; 3rd rev. ed., Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. The 1984 edition contains a new afterword, “Attitudes toward History: In Retrospective Prospect.” {Books}

The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1941; 2nd ed., 1967; rev. abr. ed., Vintage paperback, New York: Vintage Books, 1957; 3rd ed., Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973. {Books}

Dichtung als symbolische Handlung: Eine Theorie der Literatur, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp-Verlag, 1966; [Includes “The Philsophy of Literary Form”]. {Books}

Die Rhetorik in Hitlers “Mein Kampf” und andere Essays zur Strategie der Überredung, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp-Verlag, 1967; [Includes “War, Response, and Contradiction”; “The Virtues and Limitations of Debunking”; “Semantic and Poetic Meaning”; “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle'”; “Freud–and the Analysis of Poetry”]. {Books}

A Grammar of Motives, New York: Prentice-Hall, 1945; London: Dennis Dobson, 1947; 2nd ed., New York: George Braziller, 1955; Meridian paperback, Cleveland and New York: World Publishing Company, 1962 (together with A Rhetoric of Motives); Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. {Books}

A Rhetoric of Motives, New York: Prentice-Hall, 1950; 2nd ed., New York: George Braziller, 1955; Meridian paperback, Cleveland and New York: World Publishing Company, 1962 (together with A Grammar of Motives); Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. {Books}

Book of Moments: Poems 1915-1954. Los Altos, CA: Hermes Publications, 1955.{Books}

The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology, Boston: Beacon Press, 1961; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. {Books}

Perspectives by Incongruity, ed. Stanley Edgar Hyman, with the assistance of Barbara Karmiller, Midland paperback, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964; a combined clothbound edition of Perspectives by Incongruity and Terms for Order, Indiana UP, 1964. Perspectives by Incongruity contains selections of Mr. Burke’s essays, fiction, and poetry, and excerpts from previously published books. {Books}

Terms for Order, ed. Stanley Edgar Hyman, with the assistance of Barbara Karmiller, Midland paperback, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964; a combined clothbound edition of Perspectives by Incongruity and Terms for Order, Indiana UP, 1964. Terms for Order contains selections of Mr. Burke’s essays, fiction, and poetry, and excerpts from previously published books. {Books}

Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966. {Books}

Collected Poems, 1915-1967. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968; includes Book of Moments: Poems 1915-1954. {Books}

The Complete White Oxen: Collected Short Fiction of Kenneth Burke, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968; includes The White Oxen and Other Stories. {Books}

Dramatism and Development. Heinz Werner Series, Vol. 6. Worcester, Mass.: Clark University Press, 1972. {Books}

On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows. Ed. William H. Rueckert and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. {Books}

Letters from Kenneth Burke to William H. Rueckert, 1959-1987. Ed. William H. Rueckert. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2003. {Books}

Here & Elsewhere: The Collected Fiction of Kenneth Burke. Intro. Denis Donoghue. Boston: Black Sparrow, 2005 {Books}

Late Poems 1968–1993. Ed. Julie Whitaker and David Blakesley. Columbia, SC: U South Carolina P, 2006. {Books}

Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare. Ed. Scott L. Newstok. Anderson, SC: Parlor Press, 2007. {Books; Preview here}

Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950–1955. Ed. William H. Rueckert. Anderson, SC: Parlor Press, 2007. {Books; Preview here}

Equipment for Living: The Literary Reviews of Kenneth Burke. Edited by Nathaniel A. Rivers and Ryan P. Weber. Anderson, SC: Parlor Press, 2010. {Books; Preview here}

My Related Posts

The Social Significance of Drama and Narrative Arts

Drama Therapy: Self in Performance

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Phenomenological Sociology

Phenomenology and Symbolic Interactionism

A Unifying Model of Arts

Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy of Social Life

Sounds True: Speech, Language, and Communication

Narrative Psychology: Language, Meaning, and Self

Understanding Rasa: Yoga of Nine Emotions

Political Emotions: Why Love matters for Justice

Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Integral Philosophy of the Rg Veda: Four Dimensional Man

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Myth of Invariance: Sound, Music, and Recurrent Events and Structures

Cybernetics, Autopoiesis, and Social Systems Theory

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

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

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

Art of Long View: Future, Uncertainty and Scenario Planning

The Great Chain of Being

Networks and Hierarchies

Boundaries and Distinctions

Boundaries and Networks

Boundaries and Relational Sociology

Aesthetics and Ethics

Aesthetics and Ethics: At the Intersection

Levels of Human Psychological Development in Integral Spiral Dynamics

Key Sources of Research



Click to access pdfshRdTYchQw.pdf

Dramatism as ontology or epistemology: A symposium

Bernard L. Brock Kenneth Burke Parke G. Burgess  & Herbert W. Simons 

Pages 17-33 | Published online: 21 May 2009

Communication Quarterly Volume 33, 1985 – Issue 1



Fry, Virginia Henry






Click to access LDA-2020-9_195-207_Rountree.pdf



Dramatism and logology

Kenneth Burke Pages 89-93 | Published online: 21 May 2009

Communication Quarterly 
Volume 33, 1985 – Issue 2


The Elements of Dramatism

David Blakesley

Longman, 2002

Click to access Blakesley%20Elements%20all.pdf

Kenneth Burke’s Rhetorical Theory within the Construction of the Ethnography of Speaking

Gregory Hansen Indiana University

Re‐visiting Kenneth Burke: Dramatism/logology and the problem of agency


Charles Conrad

Elizabeth A. Macom





Implications on the Practice and Study of Kenneth Burke’s Idea of a “Public Relations Counsel with a Heart”

Peter M. Smudde

Communication Quarterly, Vol. 52 No 4 Fall 2004, Pages 420-432

Kenneth Burke



Kenneth Burke’s Dramatist Pentad as an Alternative Approach to Art Criticism in the Classroom

Gayle Weitz

Volume 8 Combined issue 8 & 9 (1989-1990)

Marilyn Zurmuehlen Working Papers in Art Education

pps. 130-144 DOI: 10.17077/2326-7070.1196


Kenneth Burke


Rhetoric of Motives

Kenneth Burke



A Grammar of Motives

Kenneth Burke

Click to access kenneth_burke_-_a_grammar_of_motives_1945.pdf

A Rhetoric of Motives

Kenneth Burke

Click to access CaricatureofCourtshipKafkaCastleKennethBurke.pdf

Questions and Answers about the Pentad

Author(s): Kenneth Burke
Source: College Composition and Communication, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Dec., 1978), pp. 330-335 Published by: National Council of Teachers of English
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/357013&nbsp;.


A Grammar of Motives

Kenneth Burke

Dramatistic Pentad



Kenneth Burke

Click to access kenneth_burke_-_rhetoricold_and_new__1951.pdf

Kenneth Burke


Narrative and Rhetorical Approaches to Problems of Education. Jerome Bruner and Kenneth Burke Revisited

Studies in Philosophy and Education volume 32, pages327–343(2013)


Reflections on the First European Kenneth Burke Conference

Rhetoric as Equipment for Living: Kenneth Burke, Culture and Education

Kris Rutten, Ghent University Dries Vrijders, Ghent University Ronald Soetaert, Ghent University

Issues of KB Journal » Volume 10, Issue 1 Summer 2014


Placing the Poetic Corrective: William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Burke, and the Poetic Imaginary

Stephen Llano St. John’s University

The Space Between, Volume V:1 2009 ISSN 1551-9309


Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950–1955

Kenneth Burke

On Distinctions Betwen-Clasical and Modern Rhetoric, 

Lisa Ede and Andrea Ltinsford,

Using Kenneth Burke’s Pentad



Applying Burke’s Dramatic Pentad to scenarios

Allan W Shearer

Department of Landscape Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA


Volume 36, Issue 8, October 2004, Pages 823-835


Five Fingers or Six? Pentad or Hexad?

Floyd D. Anderson, The College at Brockport: State University of New York and Matthew T. Althouse. The College at Brockport: State University of New York.

 Issues of KB Journal » Volume 6, Issue 2, Spring 2010


The brain as part of an enactive system.

Gallagher, S., Hutto, D., Slaby, J. and Cole, J. (2013).

Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 36 (4), 421-422.




Click to access gallET13bbs.pdf

Making Sense of Sense-Making: Reflections on Enactive and Extended Mind Theories

Evan Thompson and  Mog Stapleton

Topoi · March 2009 

DOI: 10.1007/s11245-008-9043-2

The socially extended mind

Shaun Gallagher

Lillian and Morrie Moss Chair of Excellence Department of Philosophy University of Memphis (USA) School of Humanities
University of Hertfordshire (UK) s.gallagher@memphis.edu

The Shared Mind

Perspectives on intersubjectivity

EditorsJordan Zlatev | Lund UniversityTimothy P. Racine | Simon Fraser UniversityChris Sinha | Lund UniversityEsa Itkonen | University of Turku


Action and Interaction

Shaun Gallagher

Oxford University Press, Apr 9, 2020 

Getting interaction theory (IT) together

Integrating developmental, phenomenological, enactive, and dynamical approaches to social interaction

Tom Froese & Shaun Gallagher
University of Tokyo, Japan / University of Memphis, USA

Evolutionary Musicology Meets Embodied Cognition: Biocultural Coevolution and the Enactive Origins of Human Musicality

Front. Neurosci., 29 September 2017 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2017.00519

Dylan van der Schyff and Andrea Schiavio


Embodied Dyadic Interaction Increases Complexity of Neural Dynamics: A Minimal Agent-Based Simulation Model

Madhavun Candadai1,2*Matt Setzler1,2Eduardo J. Izquierdo1,2 and Tom Froese3,4

  • 1Program in Cognitive Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, United States
  • 2School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, United States
  • 3Institute for Applied Mathematics and Systems Research (IIMAS), National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico City, Mexico
  • 4Center for the Sciences of Complexity (C3), UNAM, Mexico City, Mexico

Front. Psychol., 21 March 2019 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00540



Max Velmans, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW; email m.velmans@gold.ac.uk
web address http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/departments/psychology/staff/velmans.html

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences (in press)

Click to access Enactive_vs_Reflexive_with_accepted_corrections.pdf

An Enactive-Ecological Approach to Information and Uncertainty

Eros Moreira de Carvalho1 and Giovanni Rolla2*

Front. Psychol., 21 April 2020 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00588


An Inter-Enactive Approach to Agency: Participatory Sense-Making, Dynamics, and Sociality*

Steve Torrance** stevet@sussex.ac.uk

Tom Froese*** t.froese@gmail.com



Humana.Mente – Issue 15 – January 2011

Chapter 8
The Enactive Philosophy of Embodiment: From Biological Foundations of Agency to the Phenomenology of Subjectivity

Mog Stapleton and Tom Froese

M. García-Valdecasas et al. (eds.), Biology and Subjectivity,
Historical-Analytical Studies on Nature, Mind and Action 2,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-30502-8_8




Click to access L193.pdf

Click to access Aristotle_Rhetoric.pdf

Click to access Aristotle-rhetoric.pdf

Aristotle’s Rhetoric: A Manual for the Politics of Emotion

  • January 2010
  • Osterreichische Zeitschrift fur Politikwissenschaft 39(2):157-169

Dirk Jörke

  • Technische Universität Darmstadt


Aristotle’s Rhetoric for Everybody

Scott F. Crider

Leo Strauss, Seminar on Political Philosophy: Aristotle’s Rhetoric 

Ronna Burger



Michelle W. Gellrich

Louisiana State University

Ethos, pathos and logos in Aristotle’s Rhetoric: A re-examination

Argumentation volume 6, pages307–320(1992)


Aristotle’s Rhetoric

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


What Is Rhetoric?



Aristotle on Persuassion

The Rhetorical Triangle: Understanding and Using Logos, Ethos, and Pathos

chapter three


David C. Mirhady

Click to access enthymeme.pdf

Aristotle’s Poetics and Rhetoric

protevi@lsu.edu / 


Essential Guide to Rhetoric

Click to access essential_guide_to_rhetoric.pdf

The Five Canons of Rhetoric

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos: The Benefits of Aristotelian Rhetoric in the Courtroom

Krista C. McCormack

Wash. U. Jur. Rev. 131 (2014).
Available at: https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/law_jurisprudence/vol7/iss1/9

Overview of Classical Rhetoric & Aristotle’s Rhetorical System

Class 3

Les Perelman

Click to access MIT21W_747_01F09_lec03.pdf

Classical Rhetoric



Understanding Rhetoric

Click to access 7347054b.pdf

Rhetoric for philosophers:
An examination of the place of rhetoric
in philosophy

Ligia Alexandra Gongalves Teixeira



Rhetoric and Poetic in the Philosophy of Aristotle


Author(s): Kenneth Burke
Source: The Journal of General Education, Vol. 5, No. 3 (April 1951), pp. 202-209

Click to access kenneth_burke_-_rhetoricold_and_new__1951.pdf

Kenneth Burke and new Rhetoric

Click to access 1930%20nichols%20article.pdf

Life as Narrative

Jerome Bruner

The Rhetoric of Science Meets the Science of Rhetoric

Randy Harris
University of Waterloo, raha@watarts.uwaterloo.ca

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Rhetorical Analysis and Invention ISSN 2151-2957

DOI: 10.13008/2151-2957.1158 Article 8

Rhetoric as Equipment for Living: Kenneth Burke, Culture and Education

Kris Rutten, Ghent University

Dries Vrijders, Ghent University

Ronald Soetaert, Ghent University

Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the New Rhetoric

Lisa Ede

Issues over the Nature, Purpose, and Epistemology of Rhetorical Invention in the Twentieth Century

Janice M. Lauer


Linda L. Berger*



An enactive and dynamical systems theory account of dyadic relationships

Miriam Kyselo and Wolfgang Tschacher

published: 30 May 2014

doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00452

The Enactive Approach

Ezequiel Di Paolo and Evan Thompson

Forthcoming in Lawrence Shapiro, ed., The Routledge Handbook of Embodied Cognition (Routledge Press).

Chapter 8
The Enactive Philosophy of Embodiment: From Biological Foundations of Agency to the Phenomenology of Subjectivity

Mog Stapleton and Tom Froese

M. García-Valdecasas et al. (eds.), Biology and Subjectivity,
Historical-Analytical Studies on Nature, Mind and Action 2,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-30502-8_8

Origins and evolution of enactive cognitive science: Toward an enactive cognitive architecture

Leonardo Lana de Carvalho *,1, Denis James Pereira 2, Sophia Andrade Coelho


Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures (2016) 16, 169– 178

Click to access LeonardoLanaDeCarvalho.pdf

Conscious Enactive Computation

Daniel Estrada

New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark NJ 07102


Click to access paper18.pdf

Understanding others through Primary Interaction and Narrative Practice

Shaun Gallagher (Universities of Central Florida and Hertfordshire) and Daniel D. Hutto (University of Hertfordshire)

In: J. Zlatev, T. Racine, C. Sinha and E. Itkonen (eds). The Shared Mind: Perspectives on Intersubjectivity. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Click to access gall&Hutto07.pdf

Works by Kenneth Burke


Works about Burke: Books by Title


Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy of Social Life

Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy of Social Life

Source: An Interview With Erving Goffman, 1980

I don’t know what your feelings are an this, but mine have been, coming from Chicago, that there was the tradition. of George Herbert Mead to provide the social psychological underpinnings or background for any study. From there one could go in all kinds of directions, one of which is the one [Everett] Hughes developed: a sort of occupational Sociology and basically Urban Ethnography. And what I did up to a few years ago before I got somewhat more interested in Sociolinguistics was a version of Urban Ethnography with Meadian Social Psychology. But that Meadian Social Psychology was a social psychological underpinning for a large amount of work in American Sociology and could, sort of, be taken for granted as just part of basic Sociology.

So, I’ve never felt that a label was necessary. If I had to be labeled at all, it would have been as a Hughesian urban ethnographer. And what happened about, I suppose, six or seven years ago, was some movement in Sociology for persons to classify themselves. On the social psychologicaI side, it was probably stimulated as a response to ethnomethodologists, who labeled themselves. They were on the social psychological side, I suppose the first group that oriented to a label that excluded and included. I always felt that the introduction of the term, symbolic interactionism, as a label for some sort of group was a response of people to tendencies in sociology to fracture and fragment and, for some of the persons in the fragments, to make a “club” of their profession. So I’ve never treated the label very seriously. I don’t think it applies very much.

Source: An Interview With Erving Goffman, 1980

The dramaturgy was partly just a name people applied. Burke, Kenneth Burke, was an influence in somewhat the same way. Louis Wirth, at the time we were all students in Chicago, felt that Permanence and Change [Burke, 1935/1954] was the most important book in Social Psychology. So we all read that, and that was a real influence on all of us I think. Burke’s later work somewhat less so. But then there was interactive process-one looks around in writing one’s stuff for references for authentication, authority, and the like and so one dips into things that one might affiliate oneself with. My main influences were [Lloyd] Warner and [A. R.] Radcliffe-Brown, [Emile] Durkheim, and Hughes. Maybe [Max] Weber also.

Source: An Interview With Erving Goffman, 1980

JV: I have two other questions, to conclude. The first one-you mention at a certain moment [Alfred] Schutz. What is the meaning of Schutz for your work?

EG: again it was a late sort of thing, but the last book on Frame Analysis [I974} was influenced by him. [Gregory] Bateson quite a bit, but Schutz’s [1967] paper on multiple realities was an influence. Schutz is continuing to be something of an influence. His stuff on the corpus of experience and that sort of thing. There are some ways in which he impinges upon sociolinguistic concerns, but I can’t profess to be a close student.

Key Terms

  • Roles
  • Drama
  • Face to Face Interaction
  • Frames
  • Scenes
  • Scenarios
  • Social Simulation
  • Life as Drama
  • Social Psychology
  • Symbolic Interactionism
  • Erving Goffman
  • Kenneth Burke
  • Front Stage
  • Backstage
  • Entry and Exit
  • Performance
  • Interaction Order
  • Interaction Rituals
  • Impression Management
  • Faces and Masks
  • World as a Play
  • Universal Drama
  • Natyashastra of Bharata Muni
  • Poetics of Aristotle
  • Public and Private
  • Online and Offline
  • Faces of Men
  • Ritual Masks
  • Integral Theory
  • Integrated Self
  • Integral Psychology

Erving Goffman


Erving Goffman (1922–1982) developed a dramaturgical theory of the self and society inspired by Mead’s basic conception of social interaction. In the selection below, excerpted from the book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman presents a theory that likens social interaction to the theater. Individuals can be seen as performers, audience members, and outsiders that operate within particular “stages” or social spaces. Goffman suggests that how we present our selves to others is aimed toward “impression management,” which is a conscious decision on the part of the individual to reveal certain aspects of the self and to conceal others, as actors do when performing on stage.

List of Publications

  • 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
  • 1961a. Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction. New York: The Bobbs- Merrill Co.
  • 1961b. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
  • 1963a. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.
  • 1963b. Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Macmillan.
  • 1967. Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Harper and Row.
  • 1969. Strategic Interactions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • 1974. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. New York: Harper and Row.
  • 1976/1979. Gender Advertisements. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press

Source: https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756384/obo-9780199756384-0228.xml

Erving Goffman


The son of Ukrainian immigrant parents, Erving Manual Goffman was born on 11 June 1922 in Mannville, Alberta, Canada. He attended high school in Winnipeg and entered the University of Manitoba in 1939, majoring in natural sciences. However, his interests shifted toward the social sciences before he left in 1942, still some credits short of his degree. He returned to study at Toronto in 1944, obtaining a BA degree in 1945. That fall he began studies toward the MA degree in sociology at the University of Chicago. Initially influenced by W. Lloyd Warner, his 1949 master’s thesis gave an ethnographic analysis of the responses of cosmopolitan middle-class women as they refused to take entirely seriously the demands of the Thematic Apperception Test that Goffman administered. His doctoral dissertation, “Communication Conduct in an Island Community” (1953), was based on fieldwork in the Shetland Islands sponsored by the University of Edinburgh’s Social Anthropology department. In it Goffman first introduced the term “interaction order” to describe the domain of social life established by co-present persons. This was the sociological terrain he made his own. The investigation of the properties of the interaction order provided the thread that ran through the disparate topic-matters of his eleven books and more than a dozen significant journal articles. Goffman stayed another year in Chicago following the successful defense of his dissertation, drafting an original monograph (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, first published in 1956 in Edinburgh) and papers on face-work, embarrassment, involvement, and deference and demeanor. Between the end of 1954 and 1957 he worked as a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, conducting the fieldwork and writing that led to Asylums (1961). Appointed to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1958, he rose quickly to full professor in 1962. A sabbatical year at Harvard prefigured a move to the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, where he remained until his untimely death in 1982.

Major Works

It was the publication of the enlarged Anchor Books edition of Goffman 1959 at signaled Goffman’s arrival as a distinctive voice within English-speaking sociology. He quickly consolidated his reputation with another four books appearing before the end of 1963. Goffman 1961a analyzes the mental patient’s situation. Goffman 1961b is a technical analysis of the role of fun and the mobilization of identity in interaction. Aspects of co-present behavior in public are covered in Goffman 1963a and Goffman 1971Goffman 1963b is a classic contribution to deviance studies. Calculation and risk in face-to-face dealings are explored in Goffman 1967 and Goffman 1969Goffman 1974 regrounds his sociology around the “frame” notion. Goffman 1979 is a classic contribution to visual sociology. Goffman 1981a provides unique insights into conversational interaction.

Goffman, Erving. 1956. The presentation of self in everyday life. Edinburgh: Univ. of Edinburgh, Social Sciences Research Centre.The long-established life as drama metaphor was adapted and developed to shed specific light on the details of face-to-face conduct. Goffman introduced the notion of impression management and developed his dramaturgical perspective in ingenious ways. Outlines six dramaturgical “principles”: performances, teams, regions and region behavior, discrepant roles, communication out of character, and the arts of impression management. It offered not a static classification of forms of conduct but an analysis examining dynamic issues about projecting and sustaining definitions of the situation.

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books.A version of Goffman 1956 that retained the same chapter structure but expanded its content. New illustrations of dramaturgical concepts have been added to those already included in the earlier edition and illustrations previously mentioned in footnotes often relocated to the main text.

Goffman, Erving. 1961a. Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. New York: Anchor Books.Based on a year’s fieldwork at St. Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, DC, the book presents four essays. The first examines the mental hospital as a closed environment, a “total institution”; the second, the changes in the mental patient’s framework for judging themselves and others (their “moral career”); the third analyzes the rich “underlife” of the hospital through which the patient can express distance from the model of social being held out by the hospital; the fourth is a critique of institutional psychiatry.

Goffman, Erving. 1961b. Encounters: Two studies in the sociology of interaction. Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill.Encounters are those interactions where the participants sustain a single focus of cognitive and visual attention. Examination of the “fun in games” shows the importance of involvement and the “membrane” that selects the wider social attributes allowed to figure within the enclosed interaction. An alternative to functionalist role theory, “role distance” captures the actualities of interactional conduct expressed in the various forms of joking, irony, and self-deprecation that imply the self is other than the implied by current role demands.

Goffman, Erving. 1963a. Behavior in public places: Notes on the social organization of gatherings. New York: The Free Press.A study not of public places as such but of the kinds of interaction typically found therein. Introduces the key notions of unfocused interaction, where persons pursue their own concerns in the presence of others, and focused interaction where persons cooperate in sustaining a single focus of attention. Includes important discussions of situational proprieties, civil inattention, body idiom, involvement, and participation.

Goffman, Erving. 1963b. Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.An examination of the situation and relationships of persons disqualified from full acceptance within a situation. Drawing on studies of disability, ethnicity, crime, deviance and social problems it shows how the “discredited” and the “discreditable” manage their dealings with “normals.” Presents useful distinctions between social, personal, and ego or felt identity and introduces the now popular notion of the “politics of identity.”

Goffman, Erving. 1967. Interaction ritual: Essays on face-to-face behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Draws together journal articles mainly from the 1950s on face-work, deference and demeanor, embarrassment, alienation from interaction, and mental symptoms, each demonstrating how a sociology of interaction focuses on “not men and their moments” but “moments and their men” (p. 3). Included also is a new study based on his observations of gambling in Nevada casinos, “Where the Action Is.” Goffman’s focus on “fateful” activities and situations (i.e., those both problematic and consequential) has catalyzed further studies of gambling and other risky activities.

Goffman, Erving. 1969. Strategic interaction. Philadelphia: Univ. of Philadelphia Press.The book’s two chapters examine the role of deception and calculation in “mutual dealings.” “Expression games” explore “one general human capacity . . . to acquire, reveal and conceal information” (p. 4) concentrating on the inferences that can be made about the intentions of others. “Strategic interaction” considers the bases of decision-making in circumstances that are mutually fateful. Both chapters complicate Mead’s notion of taking the attitude of the otherand the simple notions of intersubjectivity it sometimes implied.

Goffman, Erving. 1971. Relations in public: Microstudies of the public order. New York: Basic Books.Continues the interests in unfocused and focused interaction announced in Behavior in Public Places. Its six free-standing chapters explore “singles” and “withs,” types of personal territories that help preserve the self, “supportive interchanges,” and “remedial interchanges” that keep everyday dealings in good order “tie-signs” and “normal appearances” that enable relationships, places, and situations to make sense. The 1969 article “The Insanity of Place” is appended. Deeply biographical, it outlines the havoc wrought by a mentally ill person in the home.

Goffman, Erving. 1974. Frame analysis: An essay in the organization of experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.Ten years in the making, and apparently intended as his magnum opus, Goffman explores experiential dimensions of social life. Offers a conceptual terminology addressing the fundamental practical problem, What is going on here? While experience is made sense via primary frameworks, these can be transformed into keyings and fabrications. How frames are grounded and their vulnerabilities is a major analytic concern. The conceptual framework is put to work in studies of the theatrical frame (chap. 5) and talk (chap. 13).

Goffman, Erving. 1979. Gender advertisements. London and Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.Analyzes how gender is displayed in advertising imagery using over five hundred advertisements and other public pictures. The leading themes of Goffman’s “pictorial pattern analysis” of the pictures—relative size, the feminine touch, function ranking, the family, the ritualization of subordination, and licensed withdrawal—manifest stark gender differences. Goffman’s book anticipates Judith Butler’s famed performativity thesis by over a decade.

Goffman, Erving. 1981a. Forms of talk. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Three of the book’s five chapters were previously published. “Replies and Responses” provides a critique of conversation analysis, presenting an ostensibly more open model of reference-response. “Response Cries” makes a case for a sociology of non-lexical utterances. “Footing” is a general statement about alignment: how co-conversationalists’ identities are evident in how we produce or receive talk. “The Lecture” applies much of the preceding approaches to the ceremonial lecture. “Radio Talk” concentrates on DJs’ speech errors in order to understand the features of imperfections in ordinary talk.

Emotionally Naked

  • No Defenses
  • No Guards
  • No Masks
  • No Boundaries
  • No Frontstage
  • No Backstage
  • Completely Exposed
  • Emotionally Naked.

My Related Posts

The Social Significance of Drama and Narrative Arts

Drama Therapy: Self in Performance

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Phenomenological Sociology

Phenomenology and Symbolic Interactionism

A Unifying Model of Arts

Boundaries and Distinctions

Boundaries and Networks

Boundaries and Relational Sociology

Networks and Hierarchies

Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

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

Key Sources of Research

An Interview With Erving Goffman, 1980

Verhoeven, Jef C.(1993)

Research on Language & Social Interaction,26:3,317 — 348

DOI: 10.1207/s15327973rlsi2603_5 http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15327973rlsi2603_5

The Presentation of Self (Goffman’s Dramaturgical model)

Erving Goffman, Dramaturgy, and On-Line Relationships

Nikki Sannicolas


The Dramaturgical Model

Wood, J. T. (2004). Communication theories in action: An introduction (3rd ed., pp. 118– 122). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Goffman and Dramaturgical Sociology

  • January 2017

Philip Manning


Presentation of Self in everyday life

Erving Goffman

Click to access Goffman_PresentationOfSelf.pdf


Erving Goffman

By Dr Phil Henry, University of Derby

in Sener, O., Sleap, F., & Weller, P. Dialogue Theories II. London: Dialogue Society, pp. 157-172

The private and the public in online presentations of the self

A critical development of Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective

Fredrik Aspling

Department of Sociology 2011

Master’s Thesis, 30 ECTS Sociology
Spring 2011
Supervisor: Árni Sverrisson

Click to access FULLTEXT01.pdf

Frant and Back Regions of Everyday Life

Erving Goffman

Click to access Goffman.Front.pdf


Erving Goffman

Metaphorical analogies in approaches of Victor Turner and Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy in social interaction and dramas of social life

Ester Võsu

Department of Ethnology, University of Tartu Ülikooli 18, 50410 Tartu, Estonia e-mail: ester.vosu@ut.ee

SME contractors on the stage for energy renovations?

A dramaturgical perspective on SME contractors’ roles and interactions with house owners

Meaningful Performances: Considering the Contributions of the Dramaturgical Approach to Studying Family

Jessica L. Collett* and Ellen Childs

University of Notre Dame

Sociology Compass 3/4 (2009): 689–706,


Click to access 2009-3.pdf

Goffman’s Dramaturgy: A case study analysis for potential inclusion in communication theory studies

Jennifer Dell August 2014


The con man as model organism: the methodological roots of Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical self

Michael Pettit

York University, Canada

History of the Human Sciences 000(00) 1–17


Lecture 27: The Dramaturgical Approach

Sociology 3308: Sociology of Emotions

Prof. J.S. Kenney

Click to access EmClss27.pdf

All The Web’s a Stage: The Dramaturgy of Young Adult Social Media Use

Jaime R. Riccio 2013

Theses – ALL. 16.


Chapter 4: Social Structure and Social Interaction

Click to access chapter%204%20outline.pdf

Public and private faces in web spaces – How Goffman’s work can be used to think about purchasing medicine online. 

Lisa Sugiura

Working Papers in Health Sciences 1: 4 Summer ISSN 2051-6266 / 20130019

When Erving Goffman was a Boy

Sherri Cavan July, 2011




Click to access index.pdf

12 – Erving Goffman and Dramaturgical Sociology

The Cambridge Handbook of Social Theory

Print publication year: 2020 Online publication date: December 2020


Framing Social Interaction

Continuities and Cracks in Goffman’s Frame Analysis

Persson, Anders

Published: 2018-01-01

(1 ed.) London & New York: Routledge.

Click to access 9781317133544_preview.pdf

Self-Presentation on Social Networking Sites

Houda Sassi and Jamel-Eddine Gharbi

7 October 2015

Journal of Internet Social Networking and Virtual Communities http://www.ibimapublishing.com/journals/JISNVC/jisnvc.html Vol. 2015 (2015), Article ID 406328, 9 pages
DOI: 10.5171/2015.406328


Leslie A. Houts 2004

PhD Thesis

Click to access houts_l.pdf

Say, display, replay: Erving Goffman meets Oscar Wilde

Jean-Rémi Lapaire

Miranda: Revue pluridisciplinaire sur le monde anglophone. Multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journal on the English- speaking world , Laboratoire CAS (Cultures anglo-saxonnes), 2016. halshs-01628909


Dramaturgy and Social Movements: The Social Construction and Communication of Power *

Robert D. Benford, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Scott A. Hunt, University of Kentucky

Sociological Inqiry Vol. 62, No. 1, February 1992

Social Dramaturgy: How We Develop Masks to Interact


We Are All Considered Actors



Extending Goffman’s Dramaturgy to Critical Discourse Analysis: Ed Burkhardt’s Performance after the Lac-Mégantic Disaster

Jennifer Dell

Mount Saint Vincent University


Sociology 319 – Contemporary Social Theories

February 15, 2006

Symbolic Interactionism

Readings:  CST, chapter 8 and two readings from Goffman in class handout.


Organizational Analysis: Goffman and Dramaturgy  

Peter K. Manning

The Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory, and Organization Studies: Contemporary Currents

Edited by Paul Adler, Paul du Gay, Glenn Morgan, and Mike Reed

Print Publication Date: Oct 2014 Publication Date: Jan 2015

DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199671083.013.0012


Frame Analysis: An essay on organization of experience

Erving Goffman

Recursion, Incursion, and Hyper-incursion

Recursion, Incursion, and Hyper-incursion


How do Past and Future inform the present?

What happens in the Present is not only determined by the Past but also by the Future.  Karma and Destiny both play a role as to what is going on in your life Now.

Key Terms

  • Recursion
  • Incursion
  • Hyper Incursion
  • Discrete Processes
  • Cellular Automata
  • Fractal Machine
  • Hypersets
  • Interpenetration
  • Turing Machine
  • Symmetry
  • Non Well Founded Set Theory
  • Sets as Graphs
  • Leela
  • Predetermined Future
  • Bhagya
  • Fate
  • Destiny
  • Karma
  • Anticipation
  • Four Causes of Aristotle
  • Material Cause
  • Formal Cause
  • Efficient Cause
  • Final Cause
  • Left Computer
  • Right Computer
  • Parallel Computing
  • Fifth and the Fourth in Music Theory
  • Bicameral Brain
  • Hemispheric Division of Brain
  • One, Two, Three.  Where is the Fourth?


The recursion consists of the computation of the future value of the variable vector X(t+l) at time t+l from the values of these variables at present and/or past times, t, t-l, t-2 ….by a recursive function :

X (t+ 1) =f(X(t), X(t-1) …p..)

where p is a command parameter vector. So, the past always determines the future, the present being the separation line between the past and the future.

Starting from cellular automata, the concept of Fractal Machines was proposed in which composition rules were propagated along paths in the machine frame. The computation is based on what I called “INclusive reCURSION”, i.e. INCURSION (Dubois, 1992a- b). An incursive relation is defined by:

X(t+l) =f(…, X (t+l), X(t), X(t-1) ..p..).

which consists in the computation of the values of the vector X(t+l) at time t+l from the values X(t-i) at time t-i, i=1, 2 …. , the value X(t) at time t and the value X(t+j) at time t+j, j=l, 2, …. in function of a command vector p. This incursive relation is not trivial because future values of the variable vector at time steps t+l, t+2 …. must be known to compute them at the time step t+ 1.

In a similar way to that in which we define hyper recursion when each recursive step generates multiple solutions, I define HYPERINCURSION. Recursive computational transformations of such incursive relations are given in Dubois and Resconi (1992, 1993a-b).

I have decided to do this for three reasons. First, in relativity theory space and time are considered as a four-vector where time plays a role similar to space. If time t is replaced by space s in the above definition of incursion, we obtain

X(s+ l) =f( …, X(s+ 1), X(s), X (s-l) …p.).

and nobody is astonished: a Laplacean operator looks like this. Second, in control theory, the engineers control engineering systems by defining goals in the future to compute their present state, similarly to our haman anticipative behaviour (Dubois, 1996a-b). Third, I wanted to try to do a generalisation of the recursive and sequential Turing Machine in looking at space-time cellular automata where the order in which the computations are made is taken into account with an inclusive recursion.

We have already proposed some methods to realise the design of any discrete systems with an extension of the recursion by the concept of incursion and hyperincursion based on the Fractal Machine, a new type of Cellular Automata, where time plays a central role. In this framework, the design of the model of any discrete system is based on incursion relations where past, present and future states variables are mixed in such a way that they define an indivisible wholeness invariant. Most incursive relations can be transformed in different sets of recursive algorithms for computation. In the same way, the hyperincursion is an extension of the hyper recursion in which several different solutions can be generated at each time step. By the hyperincursion, the Fractal Machine could compute beyond the theoretical limits of the Turing Machine (Dubois and Resconi, 1993a-b). Holistic properties of the hyperincursion are related to the Golden Ratio with the Fibonacci Series and the Fractal Golden Matrix (Dubois and Resconi, 1992). An incursive method was developed for the inverse problem, the Newton- Raphson method and an application in robotics (Dubois and Resconi, 1995). Control by incursion was applied to feedback systems (Dubois and Resconi, 1994). Chaotic recursions can be synchronised by incursion (1993b). An incursive control of linear, non- linear and chaotic systems was proposed (Dubois, 1995a, Dubois and Resconi, 1994, 1995). The hyperincursive discrete Lotka-Voiterra equations have orbital stability and show the emergence of chaos (Dubois, 1992). By linearisation of this non-linear system, hyperincursive discrete harmonic oscillator equations give stable oscillations and discrete solutions (Dubois, 1995). A general theory of stability by incursion of discrete equations systems was developed with applications to the control of the numerical instabilities of the difference equations of the Lotka-Volterra differential equations as well as the control of the fractal chaos in the Pearl-Verhulst equation (Dubois and Resconi, 1995). The incursion harmonic oscillator shows eigenvalues and wave packet like in quantum mechanics. Backward and forward velocities are defined in this incursion harmonic oscillator. A connection is made between incursion and relativity as well as the electromagnetic field. The foundation of a hyperincursive discrete mechanics was proposed in relation to the quantum mechanics (Dubois and Resconi, 1993b, 1995).

This paper will present new developments and will show that the incursion and hyper-incursion could be a new tool of research and development for describing systems where the present state of such systems is also a function of their future states. The anticipatory property of incursion is an incremental final cause which could be related to the Aristotelian Final Cause.

Aristotle identified four explicit categories of causation: 1. Material cause; 2. Formal cause; 3. Efficient cause; 4. Final cause. Classically, it is considered that modem physics and mechanics only deal with efficient cause and biology with material cause. Robert Rosen (1986) gives another interpretation and asks why a certain Newtonian mechanical system is in the state (phase) Ix(t) (position), v(t) (velocity)]:

1. Aristotle’s “material cause” corresponds to the initial conditions of the system [x(0), v(0)] at time t=0.

2. The current cause at the present time is the set of constraints which convey to the system an “identity”, allowing it to go by recursion from the given initial phase to the latter phase, which corresponds to what Aristotle called formal cause.

3. What we call inputs or boundary conditions are the impressed forces by the environment, called efficient cause by Aristotle.

As pointed out by Robert Rosen, the first three of Aristotle’s causal categories are tacit in the Newtonian formalism: “the introduction of a notion of final cause into the Newtonian picture would amount to allowing a future state or future environment to affect change of state in the present, and this would be incompatible with the whole Newtonian picture. This is one of the main reasons that the concept of Aristotelian finality is considered incompatible with modern science.

In modern physics, Aristotelian ideas of causality are confused with determinism, which is quite different…. That is, determinism is merely a mathematical statement of functional dependence or linkage. As Russell points out, such mathematical relations, in themselves, carry no hint as to which of their variables are dependent and which are independent.”

The final cause could impress the present state of evolving systems, which seems a key phenomenon in biological systems so that the classical mathematical models are unable to explain many of these biological systems. An interesting analysis of the Final Causation was made by Emst von Glasersfeld (1990). The self-referential fractal machine shows that the hyperincursive field dealing with the final cause could be also very important in physical and computational systems. The concepts of incursion and hyper-incursion deal with an extension of the recursive processes for which future states can determine present states of evolving systems. Incursion is defined as invariant functional relations from which several recursive models with interacting variables can be constructed in terms of diverse physical structures (Dubois & Resconi, 1992, 1993b). Anticipation, viewed as an Aristotelian final cause, is of great importance to explain the dynamics of systems and the semantic information (Dubois, 1996a-b). Information is related to the meaning of data. It is important to note that what is usually called Information Theory is only a communication theory dealing with the communication of coded data in channels between a sender and a receptor without any reference to the semantic aspect of the messages. The meaning of the message can only be understood by the receiver if he has the same cultural reference as the sender of the message and even in this case, nobody can be sure that the receiver understands the message exactly as the sender. Because the message is only a sequential explanation of a non-communicable meaning of an idea in the mind of the sender which can be communicated to the receiver so that a certain meaning emerges in his mind. The meaning is relative or subjective in the sense that it depends on the experiential life or imagination of each of us. It is well- known that the semantic information of signs (like the coding of the signals for traffic) are the same for everybody (like having to stop at the red light at a cross roads) due to a collective agreement of their meaning in relation to actions. But the semantic information of an idea, for example, is more difficult to codify. This is perhaps the origin of creativity for which a meaning of something new emerges from a trial to find a meaning for something which has no a priori meaning or a void meaning.

Mind dynamics seems to be a parallel process and the way we express ideas by language is sequential. Is the sequential information the same as the parallel information? Let us explain this by considering the atoms or molecules in a liquid. We can calculate the average velocity of the particles from in two ways. The first way is to consider one particular particle and to measure its velocity during a certain time. One obtains its mean velocity which corresponds to the mean velocity of any particle of the liquid. The sec- ond way is to consider a certain number of particles at a given time and to measure the velocity of each of them. This mean velocity is equal to the first mean velocity. So there are two ways to obtain the same information. One by looking at one particular element along the time dimension and the other by looking at many elements at the same time. For me, explanation corresponds to the sequential measure and understanding to the parallel measure. Notice that ergodicity is only available with simple physical systems, so in general we can say that there are distortions between the sequential and the parallel view of any phenomenon. Perhaps the brain processes are based on ergodicity: the left hemisphere works in a sequential mode while the right hemisphere works in a parallel mode. The left brain explains while the right brain understands. The two brains arecomplementary and necessary.

Today computer science deals with the “left computer”. Fortunately, the informaticians have invented parallel computers which are based on complex multiplication of Turing Machines. It is now the time to reconsider the problem of looking at the “right computer”. Perhaps it will be an extension of the Fractal Machine (Dubois & Resconi, 1993a).

I think that the sequential way deals with the causality principle while the parallel way deals with a finality principle. There is a paradox: causality is related to the successive events in time while finality is related to a collection of events at a simultaneous time, i.e. out of time.Causality is related to recursive computations which give rise to the local generation of patterns in a synchronic way. Finality is related to incursive or hyperincursive symmetry invariance which gives rise to an indivisible wholeness, a holistic property in a diachronic way. Recursion (and Hyper recursion) is defined in the Sets Theory and Incursion (and Hyperincursion) could be defined in the new framework of the Hypersets Theory (Aczel, 1987; Barwise, Moss, 1991).

If the causality principle is rather well acknowledged, a finality principle is still controversial. It would be interesting to re-define these principles. Causality is defined for sequential events. If x(t) represents a variable at time t, a causal rule x(t+l) = f(x(t)) gives the successive states of the variable x at the successive time steps t, t+l, t+2, … from the recursive functionf(x(t)), starting with an initial state x(0) at time t=0. Defined like this, the system has no degrees of freedom: it is completely determined by the function and the initial condition. No new things can happen for such a system: the whole future is completely determined by its past. It is not an evolutionary system but a developmental system. If the system tends to a stable point, x(t+l) = x(t) and it remains in this state for ever. The variable x can represent a vector of states as a generalisation.

In the same way, I think that determinism is confused with predictability, in modern physics. The recent fractal and deterministic chaos theory (Mandeibrot, 1982; Peitgen, Jurgens, Saupe, 1992) is a step beyond classical concepts in physics. If the function is non-linear, chaotic behaviour can appear, what is called (deterministic) chaos. In this case, determinism does not give an accurate prediction of the future of the system from its initial conditions, what is called sensitivity to initial conditions. A chaotic system loses the memory of its past by finite computation. But it is important to point out that an average value, or bounds within which the variable can take its values, can be known;

it is only the precise values at the successive steps which are not predictable. The local information is unpredictable while the global symmetry is predictable. Chaos can presents a fractai geometry which shows a self-similarity of patterns at any scale.

A well-known fractal is the Sierpinski napkin. The self-similarity of pattems at any scale can be viewed as a symmetry invariance at any scale. An interesting property of such fractals is the fact that the final global pattern symmetry can be completely independent of the local pattern symmetry given as the initial condition of the process from which the fractal is built. The symmetry of the fractal structure, a final cause, can be independent of the initial conditions, a material cause. The formal cause is the local symmetry of the generator of the fractal, independently of its material elements and the efficient cause can be related to the recursive process to generate the fractal. In this particular fractal geometry, the final cause is identical to the final cause. The efficient cause is the making of the fractal and the material cause is just a substrate from which the fractal emerges but this substrate doesn’t play a role in the making.

Finally, the concepts of incursion and hyperincursion can be related to the theory of hypersets which are defined as sets containing themselves. This theory of hypersets is an alternative theory to the classical set theory which presents some problems as the in- completeness of G6del: a formal system cannot explain all about itself and some propositions cannot be demonstrated as true or false (undecidability). Fundamental entities of systems which are considered as ontological could be explain in a non-ontological way by self-referential systems.

Please see my related posts

On Anticipation: Going Beyond Forecasts and Scenarios

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Key sources of Research


Computing Anticipatory Systems with Incursion and Hyperincursion

Daniel M. DUBOIS


Click to access cd554835f0ae367c3d3e3fa40f3e5e5f5f11.pdf




Anticipation in Social Systems:

the Incursion and Communication of Meaning

Loet Leydesdorff 

Daniel M. Dubois

Click to access casys03.pdf





Daniel M. Dubois


Click to access dubois.pdf




Non-wellfounded Set Theory



  • Jon Barwise &
  • Larry Moss


Non-well-founded set theory


What is Code Biology?

What is Code Biology?




Key Terms

  • Code Biology
  • Biosemiotics
  • Charles Sanders Peirce
  • Genetic Code
  • Musical Harmony
  • Symmetry
  • Jay Kappraff
  • Gary Adamson
  • Pythagorean Triples
  • Harmonic Laws
  • Numbers
  • Geometry
  • Matrices
  • Self, Culture, Nature
  • I, We, It, Its
  • Sergey V. Petoukhov
  • Codes
  • Meaning
  • Value
  • Marcello Barbieri
  • RNA, DNA, Proteins, Cells
  • Code Semiotics
  • Ferdinand D Saussure


What is Code Biology?

Codes and conventions are the basis of our social life and from time immemorial have divided the world of culture from the world of nature. The rules of grammar, the laws of government, the precepts of religion, the value of money, the rules of chess etc., are all human conventions that are profoundly different from the laws of physics and chemistry, and this has led to the conclusion that there is an unbridgeable gap between nature and culture. Nature is governed by objective immutable laws, whereas culture is produced by the mutable conventions of the human mind.

In this millennia-old framework, the discovery of the genetic code, in the early 1960s, came as a bolt from the blue, but strangely enough it did not bring down the barrier between nature and culture. On the contrary, a protective belt was quickly built around the old divide with an argument that effectively emptied the discovery of all its revolutionary potential. The argument that the genetic code is not a real code because its rules are the result of chemical affinities between codons and amino acids and are therefore determined by chemistry. This is the ‘Stereochemical theory’, an idea first proposed by George Gamow in 1954, and re-proposed ever since in many different forms (Pelc and Welton 1966; Dunnil 1966; Melcher 1974; Shimizu 1982; Yarus 1988, 1998; Yarus, Caporaso and Knight 2005). More than fifty years of research have not produced any evidence in favour of this theory and yet the idea is still circulating, apparently because of the possibility that stereochemical interactions might have been important at some early stages of evolution (Koonin and Novozhilov 2009). The deep reason is probably the persistent belief that the genetic code must have been a product of chemistry and cannot possibly be a real code. But what is a real code?

The starting point is the idea that a code is a set of rules that establish a correspondence, or a mapping, between the objects of two independent worlds (Barbieri 2003). The Morse code, for example, is a mapping between the letters of the alphabet and groups of dots and dashes. The highway code is a correspondence between street signals and driving behaviours (a red light means ‘stop’, a green light means ‘go’, and so on).

What is essential in all codes is that the coding rules, although completely compatible with the laws of physics and chemistry, are not dictated by these laws. In this sense they are arbitrary, and the number of arbitrary relationships between two independent worlds is potentially unlimited. In the Morse code, for example, any letter of the alphabet could be associated with countless combinations of dots and dashes, which means that a specific link between them can be realized only by selecting a small number of rules. And this is precisely what a code is: a small set of arbitrary rules selected from a potentially unlimited number in order to ensure a specific correspondence between two independent worlds.

This definition allows us to make experimental tests because organic codes are relationships between two worlds of organic molecules and are necessarily implemented by a third type of molecules, called adaptors, that build a bridge between them. The adaptors are required because there is no necessary link between the two worlds, and a fixed set of adaptors is required in order to guarantee the specificity of the correspondence. The adaptors, in short, are the molecular fingerprints of the codes, and their presence in a biological process is a sure sign that that process is based on a code.

This gives us an objective criterion for discovering organic codes and their existence is no longer a matter of speculation. It is, first and foremost, an experimental problem. More precisely, we can prove that an organic code exists, if we find three things: (1) two independents worlds of molecules, (2) a set of adaptors that create a mapping between them, and (3) the demonstration that the mapping is arbitrary because its rules can be changed, at least in principle, in countless different ways.


Two outstanding examples

The genetic code

In protein synthesis, a sequence of nucleotides is translated into a sequence of amino acids, and the bridge between them is realized by a third type of molecules, called transfer-RNAs, that act as adaptors and perform two distinct operations: at one site they recognize groups of three nucleotides, called codons, and at another site they receive amino acids from enzymes called aminoacyl-tRNA-synthetases. The key point is that there is no deterministic link between codons and amino acids since it has been shown that any codon can be associated with any amino acid (Schimmel 1987; Schimmel et al. 1993). Hou and Schimmel (1988), for example, introduced two extra nucleotides in a tRNA and found that that the resulting tRNA was carrying a different amino acid. This proved that the number of possible connections between codons and amino acids is potentially unlimited, and only the selection of a small set of adaptors can ensure a specific mapping. This is the genetic code: a fixed set of rules between nucleic acids and amino acids that are implemented by adaptors. In protein synthesis, in conclusion, we find all the three essential components of a code: (1) two independents worlds of molecules (nucleotides and amino acids), (2) a set of adaptors that create a mapping between them, and (3) the proof that the mapping is arbitrary because its rules can be changed.


The signal transduction codes

Signal transduction is the process by which cells transform the signals from the environment, called first messengers, into internal signals, called second messengers. First and second messengers belong to two independent worlds because there are literally hundreds of first messengers (hormones, growth factors, neurotransmitters, etc.) but only four great families of second messengers (cyclic AMP, calcium ions, diacylglycerol and inositol trisphosphate) (Alberts et al. 2007). The crucial point is that the molecules that perform signal transduction are true adaptors. They consists of three subunits: a receptor for the first messengers, an amplifier for the second messengers, and a mediator in between (Berridge 1985). This allows the transduction complex to perform two independent recognition processes, one for the first messenger and the other for the second messenger. Laboratory experiments have proved that any first messenger can be associated with any second messenger, which means that there is a potentially unlimited number of arbitrary connections between them. In signal transduction, in short, we find all the three essential components of a code: (1) two independents worlds of molecules (first messengers and second messengers), (2) a set of adaptors that create a mapping between them, and (3) the proof that the mapping is arbitrary because its rules can be changed (Barbieri 2003).


A world of organic codes

In addition to the genetic code and the signal transduction codes, a wide variety of new organic codes have come to light in recent years. Among them: the sequence codes (Trifonov 1987, 1989, 1999), the Hox code (Paul Hunt et al. 1991; Kessel and Gruss 1991), the adhesive code (Redies and Takeichi 1996; Shapiro and Colman 1999), the splicing codes (Barbieri 2003; Fu 2004; Matlin et al. 2005; Pertea et al. 2007; Wang and Burge 2008; Barash et al. 2010; Dhir et al. 2010), the signal transduction codes (Barbieri 2003), the histone code (Strahl and Allis 2000; Jenuwein and Allis 2001; Turner 2000, 2002, 2007; Kühn and Hofmeyr 2014), the sugar code (Gabius 2000, 2009), the compartment codes (Barbieri 2003), the cytoskeleton codes (Barbieri 2003; Gimona 2008), the transcriptional code (Jessell 2000; Marquard and Pfaff 2001; Ruiz i Altaba et al. 2003; Flames et al. 2007), the neural code (Nicolelis and Ribeiro 2006; Nicolelis 2011), a neural code for taste (Di Lorenzo 2000; Hallock and Di Lorenzo 2006), an odorant receptor code(Dudai 1999; Ray et al. 2006), a space code in the hippocampus (O’Keefe and Burgess 1996, 2005; Hafting et al. 2005; Brandon and Hasselmo 2009; Papoutsi et al. 2009), the apoptosis code (Basañez and Hardwick 2008; Füllgrabe et al. 2010), the tubulin code (Verhey and Gaertig 2007), the nuclear signalling code (Maraldi 2008), the injective organic codes (De Beule et al. 2011), the molecular codes (Görlich et al. 2011; Görlich and Dittrich 2013), the ubiquitin code (Komander and Rape 2012), the bioelectric code (Tseng and Levin 2013; Levin 2014), the acoustic codes (Farina and Pieretti 2014), the glycomic code (Buckeridge and De Souza 2014; Tavares and Buckeridge 2015) and the Redox code (Jones and Sies 2015).

The living world, in short, is literally teeming with organic codes, and yet so far their discoveries have only circulated in small circles and have not attracted the attention of the scientific community at large.


Code Biology

Code Biology is the study of all codes of life with the standard methods of science. The genetic code and the codes of culture have been known for a long time and represent the historical foundation of Code Biology. What is really new in this field is the study of all codes that came after the genetic code and before the codes of culture. The existence of these codes is an experimental fact – let us never forget this – but also more than that. It is one of those facts that have extraordinary theoretical implications.

The first is the role that the organic codes had in the history of life. The genetic code was a precondition for the origin of the first cells, the signal transduction codes divided the descendants of the common ancestor into the primary kingdoms of Archaea, Bacteria and Eukarya, the splicing codes were instrumental to the origin of the nucleus, the histone code provided the rules of chromatin, and the cytoskeleton codes allowed the Eukarya to perform internal movements, including those of mitosis and meiosis (Barbieri 2003, 2015). The greatest events of macroevolution, in other words, were associated with the appearance of new organic codes, and this gives us a completely new understanding of the history of life.

The second great implication is the fact that the organic codes have been highly conserved in evolution, which means that they are the great invariants of life, the sole entities that have been perpetuated while everything else has been changed. Code Biology, in short, is uncovering a new history of life and bringing to light new fundamental concepts. It truly is a new science, the exploration of a vast and still largely unexplored dimension of the living world, the real new frontier of biology.



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Verhey KJ and Gaertig J (2007) The Tubulin Code. Cell Cycle, 6 (17), 2152-2160.

Wang Z and Burge C (2008) Splicing regulation: from a part list of regulatory elements to an integrated splicing code. RNA, 14, 802-813.

Yarus M (1988) A specific amino acid binding site composed of RNA. Science, 240, 1751-1758.

Yarus M (1998) Amino acids as RNA ligands: a direct-RNA-template theory for the code’s origin. J. Mol. Evol.,47(1), 109–117.

Yarus M, Caporaso JG, and Knight R (2005) Origins of the Genetic Code: The Escaped Triplet Theory. Annual Review of Biochemistry, 74,179-198.



The classical theories of the genetic code claimed that its coding rules were determined by chemistry—either by stereochemical affinities or by metabolic reactions—but the experimental evidence has revealed a totally different reality: it has shown that any codon can be associated with any amino acid, thus proving that there is no necessary link between them. The rules of the genetic code, in other words, obey the laws of physics and chemistry but are not determined by them. They are arbitrary, or conventional, rules. The result is that the genetic code is not a metaphorical entity, as implied by the classical theories, but a real code, because it is precisely the presence of arbitrary rules that divides a code from all other natural processes. In the past 20 years, furthermore, various independent discoveries have shown that many other organic codes exist in living systems, which means that the genetic code has not been an isolated case in the history of life. These experimental facts have one outstanding theoretical implication: they imply that in addition to the concept of information we must introduce in biology the concept of meaning, because we cannot have codes without meaning or meaning without codes. The problem is that at present we have two different theoretical frameworks for that purpose: one is Code Biology, where meaning is the result of coding, and the other is Peircean biosemiotics, where meaning is the result of interpretation. Recently, however, a third party has entered the scene, and it has been proposed that Robert Rosen’s relational biology can provide a bridge between Code Biology and Peircean biosemiotics.



Please see my related posts

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Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Geometry of Consciousness

Mind, Consciousness and Quantum Entanglement



Key Sources of Research:


Code Biology



What is Code Biology?

Marcello Barbieri


Code Biology, Peircean Biosemiotics, and Rosen’s Relational Biology

Marcello Barbieri




Why Biosemiotics? An Introduction to Our View on the Biology of Life Itself

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Rituals | Recursion | Mantras | Meaning : Language and Recursion

Rituals | Recursion | Mantras | Meaning : Language and Recursion


Key Terms

  • Rituals
  • Recursion
  • Mantras
  • Japa
  • Puja
  • Prayer
  • Psychological Development
  • Meaning
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Vedas
  • Tantra
  • Hindu Vedic Rituals
  • Hindu Tantric Rituals
  • Language and Recursion
  • Speech
  • Communication
  • Organizing principle
  • Cognitive science
  • Linguistics
  • Panini
  • Pingala
  • Sanskrit
  • Act of walking and Talking
  • Take a walk
  • Vedic Meters
  • Gayatri Mantra
  • Grammer
  • Panini’s Asthadhyayi
  • Univarsal Grammer
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Frits Staal
  • Subhash Kak
  • Word and World
  • Structure of a Mantra
  • Structure of a Ritual
  • Prose and Poetry
  • Gadya and Padya
  • Fractals
  • Holarchy
  • Holons

Why Language and Thought Resemble Russian Dolls

Michael Corballis is a professor emeritus at the University of Auckland, who has written extensively on the evolution of language and the origins of thought.


Michael Corballis is a professor emeritus at the University of Auckland, who has written extensively on the evolution of language and the origins of thought. In his 2011 book The Recursive Mind, he wrote about how the structure of human language allows for recursion—in which ideas are nested within each other: “He thinks that I think that he thinks.” Recursion allows the construction of sentences of of theoretically unlimited complexity

The main argument of The Recursive Mind is that recursion applies to thought processes and actions that are not limited to language itself, but characterize other aspects of human thought, such as our ability to imagine ourselves in the past or future. I queried Corballis on some of these ideas. An edited transcript follows:

You wrote a book in the last few years called The Recursive Mind. What is recursion and why is it important?

Recursion can refer to a procedure that references itself or similar procedures, or to a structure that contains an embedded structure of the same type. It is important because it allows one to build entities of theoretically unlimited complexity by progressively embedding structures within structures.

Some scholars think that language may be built on the use of recursive building blocks. Isn’t that a fundamental tenet of the modern linguistics pioneered by Noam Chomsky.

Yes, Chomsky’s view of language is that it is recursive, and this gives language its potential for infinite complexity—or what he has also called “discrete infinity.” In recent formulations, this is achieved through an “unbounded Merge,” in which elements are merged, and the merged elements can then themselves be merged—a process that can be repeated without bounds. To Chomsky, though, language is essentially internal thought, a mental monologue, known as I-language, and not a means of communication. The structure of language is therefore a by-product of internal thought. This implies a common structure, called “universal grammar,” that underlies all languages. But there is growing doubt as to whether such a structure exists.

Wasn’t one of the flaws of Chomsky’s work that he thought that the recursion as found in internal self-talk was not linked in any way to natural selection and evolution

Yes, I think so. In Chomsky‘s view, the recursive principle emerged in a single step—a “great leap forward”—at some particular point in human evolution, probably within the time span of our own species. This is contrary to Darwinian evolution, which postulates that change occurs in small, incremental steps, implying that something as complex as language could not have occurred in a single step. Chomsky also argues that language could not have evolved through natural selection because the elements of language are fundamentally symbolic, with no direct reference to the external world, and could not have been “selected” by natural events.

I think these are flawed arguments. The idea of a single step is based in part on evidence of a sudden appearance of symbolic thought in the archeological record, but one can just as easily make a case for a gradual rise. Apes and dogs can fairly easily learn to respond meaningfully to spoken words, suggesting that they, like humans, have innate, mental concepts, to which words are easily attached. Even in humans, the apparently abstract nature of language might well have arisen from more iconic or even pantomimimed representations used as forms of communication that have become “conventionalized” through the generations, sustained through culture rather than biological endowment

I would argue instead that recursive thought may have origins in our ape-like forebears over 6 million years ago, but gained increasing complexity during the Pleistocene, dating from over 2 million years ago, largely as an adaptation toward increasing social complexity. Language depended on this broader recursive capacity, but also owed its earlier origins to manual gesture, perhaps developing a more complex structure through pantomime, with the iconic structure eventually replaced by vocal gestures (speech) or the more arbitrary signs of signed languages.

Hasn’t more recent work extended the idea of recursion? Isn’t it thought that recursive behaviors may actually precede language—and may have led to the emergence of language?

To some extent Chomsky’s view can be seen as consistent with this, since recursion applies to what he calls I-language, which is the language of thought rather than of communication. Communicative language can then regarded as a means of externalizing thought so that we can share our thoughts with others. It may have emerged after the “great leap forward” that gave us I-language, although Chomsky does not, as far as I know, suggest that thought and communicative language arose in sequence.

My own view is that recursive thoughts preceded language in broader ways. So-called theory of mind (“I know what you’re thinking”) or mental time travel (mentally reliving what I did yesterday, or foreseeing what I will do tomorrow) involve the embedding of thoughts within thoughts, and otherwise seem quite independent of what we understand as language. Navigation may be another example, as we embed maps within maps (my office in my house in my city in my country in the world). As I understand it, I-language is based on the structuring of internal symbols, whereas the extended examples I have given are more spatial or iconic than abstract, and therefore have a more direct relation with the external world. It is entirely plausible that they could have emerged through natural selection, which rescues language evolution from the “miracle” of a sudden great leap forward.

Since writing the book, I have moved further from the Chomskyan notion that language is uniquely human to finding the basis of mental time travel even in the ability of rats to “replay” and perhaps “preplay” trajectories in spatial environments. The aim of researchers should be to develop an account of the evolution of thought and language through natural selection, and not through some miraculous event within the past 100,000 years. .

Why are the origins of human language, considered to be one of the hardest problems in science?

The reason is that grammatical language, with its recursive structure, is considered unlike any other form of animal communication, and is restricted to our own species. Part of the difficulty is that we have no historical evidence to go on, since we are the only remaining species among the 20 or so hominins that split from the line leading to the great apes, and even the great apes closest to us do not appear to have grammatical language.

My sense is that we now have enough information from fossil evidence, primate communication, ancient DNA, and the structure of human cognition to begin to construct plausible Darwinian scenarios of how language might have evolved over the past 6 million or so years, and perhaps even earlier, without having to postulate a one-off miracle within the past 100,000.

From Art and Cosmology in India


General equivalences

The view that the arts belong to the domain of the sacred and that there is a connection between them is given most clearly in a famous passage in the Vishnudharmottara Purana in which the sage Markandeya instructs the king Vajra in the art of sculpture, teaching that to learn it one must first learn painting, dance, and music:

Vajra: How should I make the forms of gods so that the image may always manifest the deity?

Markandeya: He who does not know the canon of painting (citrasutram) can never know the canon of image-making (pratima lakshanam).

Vajra: Explain to me the canon of painting as one who knows the canon of painting knows the canon of image-making.

Markandeya: It is very difficult to know the canon of painting without the canon of dance (nritta shastra), for in both the world is to be represented.

Vajra: Explain to me the canon of dance and then you will speak about the canon of painting, for one who knows the practice of the canon of dance knows painting.

Markandeya: Dance is difficult to understand by one who is not acquainted with instrumental music (atodya).

Vajra: Speak about instrumental music and then you will speak about the canon of dance, because when the instrumental music is properly understood, one understands dance.

Markandeya: Without vocal music (gita) it is not possible to know instrumental music.

Vajra: Explain to me the canon of vocal music, because he, who knows the canon of vocal music, is the best of men who knows everything.

Markandeya: Vocal music is to be understood as subject to recitation that may be done in two ways, prose (gadya) and verse (padya). Verse is in many meters.

Please see my related posts

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Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

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On Holons and Holarchy

Indra’s Net: On Interconnectedness

The Great Chain of Being


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Cyber-Semiotics: Why Information is not enough

Cyber-Semiotics: Why Information is not enough


CyberSemiotics is a framework developed by Prof. Soren Brier.  He is from Copenhagen Business School, Denmark.



From Cybersemiotics: a semiotic-systemic transdisciplinary approach

Since the critique of the logical positivists’ unity of science for being too reductionist to be transdisciplinary, most scientists have abandoned this model. But other candidates have emerged. The first was evolutionary system science and cybernetics, which was instrumental in producing the new information science supporting the development of cognitive science, with computation as the central process. But the new info-computational transdisciplinary framework still lacks a phenomenological and hermeneutical foundation just as system science and cybernetics did. Peircean semiotics has this foundation and includes a theory of information and has a transdisciplinary scope, but lacks the self-organization theory developed in autopoiesis theory, which Luhmann uses in his new communicatively based system theory. Cybersemiotics integrates Peirce and Luhmann’s paradigms into a new transdisciplinary framework encompassing the theory of mind as embodied, extended, enacted and embedded.


From Can Cybersemiotics Solve the Problem of Informational Transdisciplinarity?

A transdisciplinary theory for cognition and communication has at least been described from the following paradigms

  • An objective information processing view or info-mechanicism;
  • A social constructivist view;
  • A systemic cybernetic view of self-organization;
  • Semiotic paradigms of experience and interpretation (phenomenological and hermeneutical aspects) including biosemiotic going into animal, plant, bacterial and cellular living systems. They all have their transdisciplinary shortcomings.

A transdisciplinary framework called Cybersemiotics that
integrate phenomenological and hermeneutical aspect in Peircean semiotic logic with cybernetic and systemic autopoietic emergentist process-informational view, is suggested.


From Cybersemiotics: A New Foundation for Transdisciplinary Theory of Information, Cognition, Meaningful Communication and the Interaction Between Nature and Culture

Cybersemiotics constructs a non-reductionist framework in order to integrate third person knowledge from the exact sciences and the life sciences with first person knowledge described as the qualities of feeling in humanities and second person intersubjective knowledge of the partly linguistic communicative interactions, on which the social and cultural aspects of reality are based. The modern view of the universe as made through evolution in irreversible time, forces us to view man as a product of evolution and therefore an observer from inside the universe. This changes the way we conceptualize the problem and the role of consciousness in nature and culture. The theory of evolution forces us to conceive the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities together in one theoretical framework of unrestricted or absolute naturalism, where consciousness as well as culture is part of nature. But the theories of the phenomenological life world and the hermeneutics of the meaning of communication seem to defy classical scientific explanations. The humanities therefore send another insight the opposite way down the evolutionary ladder, with questions like: What is the role of consciousness, signs and meaning in the development of our knowledge about evolution?

Phenomenology and hermeneutics show the sciences that their prerequisites are embodied living conscious beings imbued with meaningful language and with a culture. One can see the world view that emerges from the work of the sciences as a reconstruction back into time of our present ecological and evolutionary self understanding as semiotic intersubjective conscious cultural and historical creatures, but unable to handle the aspects of meaning and conscious awareness and therefore leaving it out of the story. Cybersemiotics proposes to solve the dualistic paradox by starting in the middle with semiotic cognition and communication as a basic sort of reality in which all our knowledge is created and then suggests that knowledge develops into four aspects of human reality: Our surrounding nature described by the physical and chemical natural sciences, our corporality described by the life sciences such as biology and medicine, our inner world of subjective experience described by phenomenologically based investigations and our social world described by the social sciences. I call this alternative model to the positivistic hierarchy the cybersemiotic star. The article explains the new understanding of Wissenschaft that emerges from Peirce’s and Luhmann’s conceptions.




Please see my related posts:

Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Semiotics, Bio-Semiotics and Cyber Semiotics

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Systems View of Life: A Synthesis by Fritjof Capra

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics





Key Sources of Research:



Soren Brier




A New Foundation for Transdisciplinary Theory of Information, Cognition, Meaningful Communication and the Interaction Between Nature and Culture

Søren Brier


Click to access cf50ffc5edbc110ccd08279d6d8b513bfbe2.pdf

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Soren Brier





Why information is not enough!

A Trans-Disciplinary Approach to Information, Cognition and Communication Studies, Through an Integration of Niklas Luhmann’s Communication Theory with C. S. Peirce’s Semiotics.


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Levels of Cybersemiotics: Possible ontologies of signification

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Søren Brier






Soren Brier


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Søren Brier



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Søren Brier


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Cognitive Semiotics


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Integral Philosophy of the Rg Veda: Four Dimensional Man

Integral Philosophy of the Rg Veda: Four Dimensional Man


Meditations Through the Rg veda:  Four Dimensional man was published in 1976.  In 1999, Antonio de Nicholas published a review of his work.  See below.


From Forward to the book.


From Infinity Foundations website

Meditations Through The Rg Veda: A Retrospective
(Philosophy East and West. Vol.49. Number 2. April 1999)
by Antonio T. de Nicolas, PhD

Paradigm, Theory, Ritual

It is now twenty five years since Meditations Through the Rg Veda: Four-Dimensional Man was first published in the United States. My earlier work on the Rg Veda was published in 1971 in Bangalore, India. Though the structures of the book were born during my twelve years of consecutive living in India, these structures did not become a paradigm until later. The structures I refer to are the word things and the order of their arrangement I was embodying as I lived there, a context at a time. It was the way the sun rose or the dawn arrived, the slow-motion for the sun to set and the sudden night; the lines of movement, of people, animals, wind or rain; the sudden appearance of forms, by the river, a well, in the sky; the dissolution of familiar and unfamiliar names, in the rhythm of language, Gujarati, Sanskrit, even English or Spanish names; but above all, the new habit of listening with my eyes to the movements in the sky, the forest, the streets, the homes; for the world, and my body, were a musical string plucked at every turn, in every silence , in every sight, sound, smell, touch and movement. Hidden geometries became human flesh, unnoticed. It was a silent world longing to become language, but can a multiplicity of embodied languages be expressed as one? After a while it was life in the twilight; which was the shadow, which the real object? One has to gain distance, and none farthest than an American Ph.D. Nonetheless, dispite the distance, and dispite the academic language, a new paradigm was born, in the Bronx, of all places. The structures I embodied gave way to an experienced, embodied geometry, sustaining all the structures, texts and statements I silently learned in India. Of course, when I set down this paradigm in writing, be it the Rg Veda or the Gita, the actual written text was already a theory, no longer a paradigm, though perhaps the most accurate translation of the paradigm. Those who disagreed kept silent and those who agreed, the majority, repeated my theory as participants in a ritual. In short, the acts by which the paradigm was born in me, or is born in any one giving birth to an original text like the Rg Veda, is not the written text. The act of creation is silent. The text of the Rg Veda, however, as written down is only a theory of itself, an invitation to a ritual. It is not even one text, or one language, but several and can only be expressed in plural linguistic wholes. Paradigms may be tested; they leave invariant epistemologies, but they can never be taught; they are sheer creation. Theories, as short hand of possible paradigms, on the other hand, we learn in the classroom. They are the easy ones to repeat. Those who follow the path of creation, of embodied-vision, follow the path of the gods. The others follow the path of the fathers, the path of pro-creation, the path of ritual, as the Rg Veda indicates. One leads to immortality, the other to rebirth. On which of these two paths stands the author of the text, rsi, commentator, priest or scholar? Besides, the Rg Veda is the sruti (revelation) tradition of India. As such, it is earlier than any other claim of revelation from any of the canonical texts, from the East, Middle East or West. The paradigm of the interpreter, if it coincides with that of the Rg Veda, should also give birth to those gods that gave humans sensation, inspiration and immortality, not just life to a priesthood that changes ritual as the mood strikes, bent on the act of pro-creation for, after all, the immortality of the ritual is more important than the immortality of the soul. Nor is it legitimate while interpreting to disband these earlier gods in the name of a later one, nor the heart-ethics of these original people for the head-ethics of those who came later, and if done it should be made evident. And this is how the “written” Rg Veda began. The priests wrote it down thousands of years later (depending on which initial date you choose). Ideographic language gave way to alphabetic writing, criteria of sound to those of sight, the path of the gods to that of the fathers, the structures of immortality to those of reincarnation, paradigm to theory repeated in ritual. Which Rg Vedic text are we talking about? What is recoverable from such a text? In the end, all we are left with are the technologies by which we recreate either text. Which path do they open for us? Now, once this is said, however, the modern interpreter cannot be blamed for not being a rsi. Let the reader be free to decide between the two paths, and let the interpreter be aware of both.

The Myth of Invariance

The first scholar to find my 1971 edition of the Rg Vedic world “captivating” was Ernest McClain. His interest was my claim that every statement in the oral/aural Rg Veda was tied to a language grounded on musical criteria. Music was once, at the origin of human language, the epistemology of oral cultures. This was all Ernest McClain needed to make a life and a project of his training as a musicologist. We started collaborating, getting together for brunch at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, in 1974. His first book appeared in 1976, The Myth of Invariance: The Origin of the Gods, Mathematics and Music from the Rg Veda to Plato (Nicolas-Hays, N.Y.) In 1978 he brought out with the same publisher, The Pythagorean Plato: Prelude to the Song Itself, and in 1981 Meditations Through the Quran: Tonal Images in an Oral Culture. When we last spoke he had already found confirmation of his work and mine, not only in Greece, but also in Chinese and Biblical texts. In his words: The Rg Veda is the original epistemology upon which humans built knowledge and also immortality. And thus by the hand of music the Rg Veda re-entered human consciousness.

The Artful Universe

At first glance this book is a most welcome addition to Vedic studies. It covers a territory in Indian Studies few dare to tread, and in doing so the author brings to the discussion almost everyone, ancient or modern, who has written anything on the Vedas. The writing style is beautiful and the translations from the Sanskrit have a modern ring that makes the original less intimidating. There is a definitive purpose by the author in the writing and interpreting of these texts! On the one hand, and this is the thesis of the book, the Vedas are the product of the imagination, and on the other this imagination expresses itself as ritual, as the religious imagination of the Vedic religion. Professor William K. Mahoney takes six chapters to develop this thesis. The first two are a preparation to understanding the religious imagination, the third and fourth chapters cover the Rg Veda and the last two the Upanishads. The book, however, does not end here. The Notes that follow these six chapters are yet another book within the book which allow the reader to follow the inner footsteps of Prof. Mahoney in the composition of his book. It is easy here to admire his delicate scholarship and his flare for the happy phrase in translating or interpreting the work of others. While my intention in writing this essay is a celebration of the human effort carried out in getting to the origins of our species, I wish also to sharpen the debate in the hope that “embodied structures” take over where simple or simplistic statements become the origin of the dialogue.

The modern scholar dealing with the Vedic period has several options: Translations of individual hymns under arbitrary categories, as it has been done and can be found in the Bibliography of The Artful Universe; or corrections, very important, as to the date of the Vedas, as In Search of the Cradle of Civilization, as G. Feuerstein, S. Kak and D. Frawley have successfully done, or he/she may try to uncover for us the paradigm and mental faculty through which the Vedic seers “composed” the original hymns. This is what Prof. Mahoney promises us:

“To Vedic visionary poets, the world is – or could be – an integrated whole, a unified structure and process of being in which there are no unbridgeable distances separating the divine, natural, and human worlds” (p.2).

And this world is held together by ” mental abilities or processes associated with what I will call the imagination” (p.5), ” the divine imagination… and the human imagination – especially the poetic, sacerdotal, and contemplative imagination… (and) whether divine or human, it is precisely the imagination that fashions and recognizes the universe as meaningful, abiding, and valuable, that is to say, real” (p. 7).

Here are my first questions. When we take, say the Rg Veda, for examination or commentary, which “text” are we recreating? The oral text the rsis chanted, the written text the priests codified in ten mandalas and became a ritual, or a new mongrel text that repeats a lot of names and quotes but can be used, at most, as the weekend comfort of New Age Evangelicals? And if so, where are the priests in the Upanishads when the Ksatriya instruct them? But above all, if the imagination is the faculty used by the seers in the composition (creation) of the oral, original hymns, which is the faculty that the priests use when they write down the text and when they repeat the same written text in ritual after ritual? But above all, if the imagination is a faculty, how does it work, which are its movements besides naming it, which are its structures, and are these structures the same or different from our own, and if the same why, and if different, how can we understand the Vedic imagination? How many priests does the author know with imagination? Isn’t their job to repeat a ritual imagined by others, deadening thus not only their senses but their faculties too? An imaginative priest is known as a heretic!

These remarks are not to be answered by Prof. Mahoney. He has written his beautiful text. But is this text the Rg Veda, or is it the case that any attempt at writing down one Rg Veda will give us of necessity several texts? It is obvious that this study fluctuates between the “creation” text of the original rsis and the “pro-creation” text of the later, codifying priests. Where once we had sheer power of creation, through an active imagination, giving birth to gods, powers and continuities, very soon we descend to the repetitive ritual of procreation through human semen, and the danger is that this becomes the ritual we celebrate today:

O holy drop!
You are the master of ecstasies!
You are the immortal god’s favorite drink!
Show us the way to success,
as a friend to a friend. (p. 85)

But it is the Rg Veda itself which admonishes us a few hymns later than the one quoted above by Prof. Mahoney (R.V.9.112) to be weary of one single text, be it rituals or anything else:

l. Our thoughts wander in all directions
And various are the ways of men:
The cartwright looks for accidents,
The physician for the sick,
And the brahman for a rich patron.
For the sake of Indra,
Flow, Indra, flow.

4. The horse draws a swift carriage,
The generous host an easy laugh and play.
The penis seeks a hairy slot
And the frog (brahman) hankers for a flood.
For the sake of Indra,
Flow, Indra, flow.

(My translation in Meditations through the Rg Veda).

How does this effort in all of us at producing “one single” text fail when dealing with Indian classical texts, particularly the Rg Veda?

As regards the Notes of this book I have only admiration. It is almost heroic the effort of Prof. Mahoney to footnote his conclusions. It is as if footnoting he were building a path for others to follow. The way he does it, however, may raise serious questions. Is not this the “path of the fathers” leading to the re-incarnation of all ritual, including the ritual of scholarship? Take, for example, part of the footnote he dedicates to my book Meditations through the Rg Veda:

” …The “four dimensions” of the Vedic intentional life outlined by de Nicolas are similar in some ways to the poetic and ritual aspects of the Vedic World I discuss in Chapters Three and Four, below. We overlap most in regards to what de Nicolas calls the “language of embodied vision.” My approach is different from his, however, in that, whereas he concentrates on the linguistic nature of visionary knowledge, I focus my intention on the visionary background of linguistic expression.” (Emphasis mine) (p.238). Does Prof. Mahoney understand that no matter how he “overlaps” me, (ritualizes my writing?) my work antedates his by twenty five years, and supplies him not only with the pertinent Rg Vedic hymns he quotes but also with the secondary sources he needs to gather the community of scholars that will testify to his thesis? Furthermore, was not my book the one to establish not only the “imagination” as a rational intelligence of oral cultures, but also the “moves” it must make to be an imagination in movement, able to keep a diverse society in continuity within the discontinuity of sensation? If this is my thesis where is his? In the ritual of repetition of the original text? I would most probably let this point go were it not for the fact that this “tracing” over other people’s work seems to count these days as scholarship. It seems to be a mind-set of the times. But is this the “text” that gave birth to the Rg Veda? Scholarship is not a ritual, and more so, a thesis is not a ritual. Where is the imagination to get out of other people’s rituals, to rise to ” the path of the gods”? Let’s go on with our conversation. Prof. Mahoney will rejoin us later in the dialogue.

The New Theogony And The Heresy Of Oedipus

” Let us with tuneful skill
Proclaim the origin of the gods,
So that in future generations these origins
May be seen, when these songs are sung.” (R.V. l0.72.1)

Dr. Colavito, in The New Theogony, perhaps the best book on myth written in English, universalizes the “languages” of the Rg Veda, Asat, Sat, Yajna and Rta, to cover the study of all myth.

“What we call “myth”,” she writes “is a fourfold cluster of actions and mental properties that individually and together account for the necessary and sufficient conditions of the mythopoetic worldview, of the nature and workings of the cosmos, and of the individuals and groups of individuals within this cosmos.” For the sake of clarity she summarizes these languages thus: ” These four fundamental acts defining myth are: maia, mythos, mimesis and logos. Each act is a single focus or mental habit; together the four account for the totality of human and divine acts, or mental habits, that have guided the human species to the present shores. Though strictly speaking myth is merely one of the (four) acts in myth making, even this act is incomprehensible unless the other three mental operations are included in the narratives of myth…” She then goes on outline the four “languages”:

“Maia (Gr. midwife) is the term used to signify the bringing forth of action from inaction, cosmos out of chaos, the initial spark that kindles the mind to transform from nothig to something. It is the midwife between the divine realm of immortality and potentiality and the human realm of temporality and human existence. The aspect of maia in the human sphere is represented by the human faculty of imagining. It is the expression of the creative experience; it cannot be described,, it has no form, its proper abode is the midregion between the human and the immortal. Once an individual begins to interpret or reflect upon the experience, maia disappears and the experience receives an existence of its own, outside the real of potentiality, and it is given a form, name, boundary. In short, the reflective act heralds in the aspect of mythos. And with mythos the world moves from chaos to cosmos.

Mythos (from the Gr. delivered by word of mouth) primarily describes the initial reflection of the creative experience. It is the oral transmission of the experience… The first “scream of individuation,” to quote Nietzsche… Mythos, also, represents the original fall from grace, the first act that breaks from the unity of the beginning, from the glory of immortality; for the telling of the experience now has another element, an experiencer, a self, through whom the experience flowed. Thus… the telling of the experience is not the experience… and only those who have had the same experience may truly understand the full import of the teller’s tale…so that communities of experiencers can share common revelations.

Mimesis (Gr. to make a copy) is the aspect that describes the mythopoetic action of re-membering or re-creating… In this manner the story is told with an intent, a moral… What becomes important now is the story not so much as it relates to the original creative experience of individuals, but as it relates to the desire to make a point… The mimetic phase is … the first frozen form: the pictographic mode… geared toward establishing the social mores of the collective group.

Finally, logos, (Gr. the word by which the inward thought is expressed), taking as its origins these mores, completely eradicates the level of personal experience and uses the rules derived from the mimetic to create theories about human action. These mores are founded on human experience, but only on hypothetically universal experience – in other words, experience filtered through the sieve of a collective interpretation. As such, then , no origin in logos has the certainty of an origin in maia… Logos ceases to be a pictographic representation; it transforms into a symbolic or alphabetic system that has only its own correlatives within its own framework, with no derivative capacity from the experiential realm of the individual… Logos has always been the shadow of maia in the mythopoetic world.

This fourfold division is neither a convenient devise for classification, nor an arbitrary tool for interpretation; it is the fabric itself of myth… an abstraction, that, though distinguishable, is inseparable from myth. From a biological perspective this fourfold division is the neurophysiological equipment of the species, its mental habits accumulated through the repetition of the past: imagining, fantasizing, narrating, following the discursive path of logic… )(Thus) while maia stands for an original experience… mythos, mimesis and logos stand for different ways (languages) of making this experience public, either through narrative (mythos), visual forms (mimesis), or… theory…alphabetic substitutions, or conceptual analyses (logos)… Finally, this fourfold system of acts corresponds to the scientific operations functioning within the oral/aural worldview, which has as its verification the ancient science of acoustics.” (pp.6-8)

Using the model of the one dismembering itself or the model of the zero as an addition of objects, Dr. Colavito makes evident the model through which dialogue and understand of myth is possible, and this not in just a few cases, Classical India, Rg Veda, Upanishads, but also the Greek gods and goddesses ending with the education of Pythagoras as imparted on his students, and the acoustic verification in Plato. A breathless trip that ends in the frustrating realization that while simple acts may lead to overwhelming “oceanic” experiences, the unity of maia, once broken, can never be recovered in one single language, but we must learn to move with of plurality of at least four irreconcilable and irreducible languages. Or is this a frustration or a temptation, the temptation to be the shadow of a god, if not god him/her self?

These are very strong claims. If true they may lead to the mobility of the Rta to perform the good act (sukrta), the original act of creation. Can they also lead to reconstructing the original Rg Veda? Where do we find the verification? Dr. Colavito took it upon herself to get to the bottom of the issue. Equipped with two Ph.Ds – one in Comparative Literature and the other in Psychology, her next book, The Heresy of Oedipus and the Mind/Mind Split, introduces us to her “Biocultural Paradigm.” She starts with the Nature/nurture controversy raging in the biological sciences to conclude that neither one nor the other works in isolation, but that nurture opens Nature, and Nature is not activated without nurture. In other words, the neural passages of the brains are open or forever shut if there is not a mutual fecundation. This interaction is limited, and almost chronologically developed in every child from conception to the age of l2; after that, what nurture has not activated in the right hemisphere of the neocortex is forever destroyed, though the left hemisphere, the seat of logic and discourse and the place of the “interpreter module,” keep developing abstract substitutions based on information received by these other brains or by its own conceptual loops, forever. What in her first book was called maia, in the second is the reptilian brain; mythos becomes the limbic brain; mimesis she divides into two: the visual, right hemisphere and the conceptual left hemisphere; and logos is the interpreter module located in the left hemisphere of the neocortex. In this she follows MacLean and Gazzaniga and the latest discoveries in neurobiology. But for the purpose of our discussion, in what way is this relevant to the Vedas and Prof. Mahoney’s or McClain’s books?

Revelation, individual experience, is an affair of the right side of the brains. The left hemisphere can only interpret, translate what the right hemisphere presents as sensation. Thus, while we have five different brains, (not one as Descartes thought and we presume,) only the three of the right hemisphere deal with original experience. And this in different ways. While maia ( the Asat) is the origin, maia is also wired with a geometry capable of letting forms appear, while mythos, the place of gods and heroes, is already a world of forms. However, and this is the point of our discussion, when these two original and originating brains are translated by the right hemisphere of the neocortex they are translated as “visual images;” they are seen as images even if originally they were waves and movement and tactility. In other words, by the time the ritual priests take on the “visual images” to the sacrifice and the ritual, these visual images, originally, were neither images nor visual. Thus by constituting these images as the original text, the followers are removed from the origin, from the source of sensation and are led into a repetition of acts that may crystallize either in a crisis of faith or in a crisis of dogma. The believers may either end up losing faith,( also sensation) or becoming dogmatic preachers in a game of endless logomachy. And the same with any other “text” bound by single language-games, like Western Theology. Thus, according to the Rg Veda it is precisely because of this tendency that the culture calls for cyclical returns to the Asat: to lose all forms, verbal, audial, or visual and break the dragon Vrta open, again. And that excerise, in the Rg Veda, is the true meaning of sacrifice (yajna). The sacrifice is necessary because these languages are invariant biological epistemologies, irreducible to one another.

Dr. Colavito follows up her neurobiocultural bases with studies on myth, Rg Vedic and principally the Oedipus cycle and the whole history of the House of Cadmus, after the mind/mind split took place in the species with the repetition of the technologies developed to introduce alphabetic writing in our mental habits. The paradigm is so explosive that Time magazine (Feb. 1997) could not avoid making a full use of it to describe the early development of the different brains in children, the contrary pole of Dr. Colavito’s thesis as she verified it through earlier cultures, in the infancy of the species. Of special interest in our discussion is her Appendix 2.3 making visible the hidden geometries of the Asat and the two ways of reading those texts: as from the “path of the fathers” or as from the “path of the gods.” How can we overcome the temptation of one single language, and how do we learn to be open to a plurality of four?

The Human Potential

“We can’t put it together; it is together.”

“What we need to understand may only be expressible in a language that we do not know.”

The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, is a mammoth ongoing enterprise to cover all human problems ( l2,000 profiles with 120,000 hyperlinks), strategies and solutions (29,500 profiles with 91,000 hyperlinks), human development (4,400 profiles with l5,000 hyperlinks) and human values (1,900 profiles with 23.000 hyperlinks). The Encyclopedia hypertexts are currently edited at the Union of International Associations (UIA) by Nadia McLaren. It is now in its fourth hardback edition, first CD-ROM edition, and is available in demo version on the Web (http://www.uiaorg/homeency.htm/), although all texts have been accessible since l998. Profiles on the Web can be translated through Alta Vista into a variety of major languages.

It is in this global environment that the paradigm of “languages” in the Rg Veda has found a home. The Director of the Union of International Associations, Dr. Anthony J.N. Judge, in article after article, profile after profile, conference after conference has articulated, and compiled in the Encyclopedia, the modern consequences of academic attempts at synthesis when these attempts are expressed in one common language, namely the one engendering the problems in the first place. Dr. Judge’s point of departure is the need to start from the experiential human origins as described in the Rg Veda and then articulate the ensuing insights in the plurality of languages available for their manifestation in the Rg Vedic model. Thus, the model or paradigm, is part of the “answer” proposed by the Editors of the Encyclopedia. Contrary to the position academics take of locating themselves within the “web” of a discipline, research, culture, department or, at times, a simple desk, Dr. Judge travels with ease the “lines of the webs” linking the totality of squares, within which the rest of us seem to be trapped, to a knowledge that seems to come only to those who are able to travel in his manner. He is at home in the East and in the West, in music and in science, in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or the Tao, and he seems to know a “knowledge” that comes only to those who travel the “lines” of the “web,” never squeezed by the particular generalizations of the cubicles within each “web’s square.” His summary of the “languages” of the Rg Veda for contemporary guidance to those looking to solve the problems, individual, communal or global, or contemporary life is appealing to him because it takes into account: ” The interrelated formal languages based on tone; (they lead ) toward reintegrating the individual in action; (make ) this integration embodied: re-imagining man; (take care) of the pluralism through an integration of community dialogue; (guarantee) this integrative renewal through sacrifice (of perspectives); (account) for an integrative vision that is encountered in the movement.” ( ” Liberation of Integration, Universality and Concord through pattern, oscillation, harmony and embodiment.” Originally delivered for the 5th Network Meeting of the United Nations University, project of Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development (Montreal) as a contribution to the discussion on integration of the findings of the Project.) And he includes in his remarks the fact that:

” Integration modelled on sound may be inherently more comprehensible to more people than integration modelled on sight.” (Ibid.) In view of Dr. Colavito’s previous discussed work, this conclusion is not so far fetched since the structures of the Rg Veda are the original embodied structures of the humanity that gave us birth, and as such they are embodied structures, bio-culturally invariant, not only in each of us but also in the earlier cultures that preceeded us.

Conclusion: Regathering The Fragments

The Artful Universe provided the occasion for a round discussion of the earliest structures of human “languages” we carry in our genes.

Any one particular language joining the discussion does not only show us the empirical grounding of their speech, experience, academic construction, but also the imperialistic tendency of such mono-linguistic speech universalizing itself. Contemporary discoveries in neurobiology and the paradigm based on them of Dr. Colavito make it clear that life, that is, human life, is life in community. This community is formed through interaction or dismemberment of a sensorium that is plural by its very bio-culture base and becomes integrated through dialogue. All dialogue, all language carries with it the possibility of sharing in the embodied vision of a paradigm that has been with us from the beginning, since through it we had to break through the “experience of separating earth and sky.” In this manner there is no need, as Prof. Mahoney does in one of his initial footnotes with a humility rarely present in Sanskrit scholars, to apologize for not being ethnically Indian while interpreting the Vedas. Interpretation, like everything else, is biocultural not ethnical. We are dealing with neural equipment, genes, receptors and transmitters, not the color of one’s skin, or the geography of one’s birth. And finally, if there is any hope in preserving the integrity of the University or returning it to its original call, especially in the humanities, this hope resides in the work of scholars like Profs. Mahony, Colavito and Judge who through their work in the classical myths were able to avoid the “empiricist languages” of the present Academic fashion and return to us the memories of our distant progenitors with the structures that made them live in innovation and continuity in the company of the gods. If we form the communities to carry these traditions forward, we might be able to share in the glory and celebration of life that once was ours. I am glad and grateful that Meditations Through the Rg Veda was an inspiration to them. But even more so the reiteration that our human makeup is larger, deeper and more full of sensation in the plurality we are than in the oppression of one single language-community-creed.

This is what William Irwin Thompson called, commenting on my work: “the planetization of the esoteric.”


The Artful Universe: An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination.
by William K. Mahoney , Ph.D.
SUNY Press, Albany N.Y. l998

The New Theogony: Mythology for the Real World.
by Maria M. Colavito, PhD
SUNY Press, Albany, N.Y. l992

The Heresy of Oedipus and The Mind/Mind Split: A Study of the Biocultural Origins of Civilization.
by Maria M. Colavito, PhD
The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston,N.Y. l995

Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.
Edited by The Union of International Associations
4th. Edition, K.G. Saur Verlag, Munchen, New Providence,
London, Paris l994-95

The Myth of Invariance: The Origin of the Gods, Mathematics and Music from the Rg Veda to Plato.
by Ernest McClain, Ph.D.
Nicolas-Hays Ltd. N.Y. 1976

The Pythagorean Plato: Prelude to the Song Itself.
by Ernest McClain
Nicolas-Hays Ltd. N.Y. 1978

Meditations Through the Quran: Tonal Images in an Oral Culture.
by Ernest McClain
Nicolas-Hays Ltd. N.Y. 1981

Coming Into Being: Artifacs and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness
by William Irwin Thompson
St. Martin’s Press, New York , 1996. (p.187)

Antonio T. de Nicolas was educated in Spain, India and the United States, and received his Ph.D. in philosophy at Fordham University in New York. He is Professor Emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Dr. de Nicolas is the author of some twenty- seven books, including Avatara: The Humanization of Philosophy through the Bhagavad Gita,a classic in the field of Indic studies; and Habits of Mind, a criticism of higher education, whose framework has recently been adopted as the educational system for the new Russia. He is also known for his acclaimed translations of the poetry of the Nobel Prize-winning author,Juan Ramon Jimenez, and of the mystical writings of St. Ignatius de Loyola and St. John of the Cross.

A philosopher by profession, Dr. de Nicolas confesses that his most abiding philosophical concern is the act of imagining, which he has pursued in his studies of the Spanish mystics, Eastern classical texts, and most recently, in his own poetry.

His books of poetry: Remembering the God to Come, The Sea Tug Elegies, Of Angels and Women, Mostly, and Moksha Smith: Agni’s Warrior-Sage. An Epic of the Immortal Fire, have received wide acclaim. Critical reviewers of these works have offered the following insights:

from, Choice: “…these poems could not have been produced by a mainstream American. They are illuminated from within by a gift, a skill, a mission…unlike the critico-prosaic American norm…”

from The Baltimore Sun: “Steeped as they are in mythology and philosophy these are not easy poems. Nor is de Nicolas an easy poet. He confronts us with the necessity to remake our lives…his poems …show us that we are not bound by rules. Nor are we bound by mysteries. We are bound by love. And therefore, we are boundless”

from William Packard, editor of the New York Quarterly: ” This is the kind of poetry that Plato was describing in his dialogues, and the kind of poetry that Nietzsche was calling for in Zarathustra.”

Professor de Nicolas is presently a Director of the Biocultural Research Institute, located in Florida.


Please see my related posts:


Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Myth of Invariance: Sound, Music, and Recurrent Events and Structures

Sounds True: Speech, Language, and Communication

Mind, Consciousness and Quantum Entanglement

Semiotics, Bio-Semiotics and Cyber Semiotics

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann


Key sources of Research:



Meditations Through The Rg Veda: A Retrospective

(Philosophy East and West. Vol.49. Number 2. April 1999)

by Antonio T. de Nicolas, PhD









Antonio de  Nicolás



On Anticipation: Going Beyond Forecasts and Scenarios

On Anticipation: Going Beyond Forecasts and Scenarios


From Anticipation.Info of Mihai Nadin

A Second Cartesian Revolution

For about 400 years, humankind, or at least the western world, has let itself be guided by the foundation set by Descartes and Newton. The cause-and-effect, deterministic model of the machine became so powerful that every thing and every being came to be considered a machine. As a description of the material world and as an expression of the laws governing its functioning, deterministic-based physics and Cartesian reductionism (of the whole to its parts) proved to be extremely powerful instruments in the overall progress of humankind. But neither Descartes nor Newton, nor most of their followers, could have envisioned the spectacular development of science in its current depth and breadth.

The physicist Erwin Schrödinger concluded that organisms are subject to “a new physics,” which he did not produce, but rather viewed as necessary. This new physics might well be the domain of anticipation. Indeed, from within physics itself—that is, quantum mechanics—a possible understanding of some aspects of anticipation can be derived.

The realization that the world is the unity of reaction and anticipation is not new. What is new is the awareness of the limits of our understanding a dynamics of change that transcends the deterministic view. The urgent need for such an understanding is probably best expressed in the spectacular development of the life sciences.

The perspective of the world that anticipation opens justifies the descriptor “a second Cartesian Revolution.” Instead of explaining complexity away, we will have to integrate it into our existence as the informational substratum of rich forms through which anticipatory processes take place.


From Anticipation.Info of Mihai Nadin

Anticipation: Why is it a subject of research?

Anticipation occurs in all spheres of life. It complements the physics of reaction with the pro-active quality of the living. Nature evolves in a continuous anticipatory fashion targeted at survival. The dynamics of stem cells demonstrate this mechanism. Through entailment from a basic stem cell an infinite variety of biological expression becomes possible.

Sometimes we humans are aware of anticipation, as when we plan. Often, we are not aware of it, as when processesembedded in our body and mind take place before we realize their finality. In tennis, for example, the return of a professional serve can be successful only through anticipatory mechanisms. A conscious reaction takes too long to process. Anticipation is the engine driving the stock market. Creativity in art and design are fired by anticipation.

“The end is where we start from,” T. S. Eliot once wrote. Before the archer draws his bow, his mind has already hit the target. Motivation mechanisms in learning, the arts, and all types of research are dominated by the underlying principle that a future state—the result—controls present action, aimed at success. The entire subject of prevention entails anticipatory mechanisms.


From Anticipation.Info of Mihai Nadin

Research into anticipation revealed various aspects that suggested a number of definitions.

Robert Rosen, Mihai Nadin, Daniel Dennett and others who approached particular aspects of anticipation contributed to some of these definitions. Mihai Nadin (cf. Anticipation – A Spooky Computation) attempted an overview of the various angles from which anticipation can be approached if the focus is on computation. This overview is continued and expanded in the integrated publication (book+dvd+website) to which this website belongs. The following 12 definitions, or descriptions, of anticipation should be understood as working hypotheses. It is hoped and expected that the knowledge community of those interested in anticipation will eventually refine these definitions and suggest new ones in order to facilitate a better understanding of what anticipation is and its importance for the survival of living systems.

  • An anticipatory system is a system whose current state is determined by a future state. “The cause lies in the future,”. (cf. Robert Rosen, Heinz von Foerster)
  • Anticipation is the generation of a multitude of dynamic models of human actions and the resolution of their conflict. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • An anticipatory system is a system containing a predictive model of itself and/or of its environment that allows it to change state at an instant in accord with the model’s predictions pertaining to a later instant. (cf. Robert Rosen)
  • Anticipation is a process of co-relation among factors pertaining to the present, past and future of a system. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipation is an expression of the connectedness of the world, in particular of quantum non-locality. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipation is the expression of natural entailment. (cf. Robert Rosen)
  • Anticipation is a mechanism of synchronization and integration. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipation is an attractor within dynamic systems. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipation is a recursive process described through the functioning of a mechanism whose past, present, and future states allow it to evolve from an initial to a final state that is implicitly embedded in the mechanism. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipation is a realization within the domain of possibilities. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipatory mechanisms can be reinforced through feedback. Feedforward and inverse kinetics are part of the integrated mechanism of anticipation. (cf. Daniel Dennett, Daniel Wolpert, Nadin)
  • Anticipation is a power law-based long-range interaction. (cf. Mihai Nadin)


From An Introduction to the Ontology of Anticipation

Recent years have witnessed the growth of significant interest in theories and methodologies which seek to foresee the future development of relevant situations. Studies of the future fall under many different denominations, and they employ a huge variety of techniques, ranging from forecasting to simulation, from planning to trend extrapolation, from future studies and scenarios to anticipatory systems. Widely different conceptualisations and formalisations have been proposed as well.1 This remarkable variety may be partly simplified by making explicit the main underlying assumptions of at least some of them. Two of these assumptions are that (1) the future is at least partly governed by the past, and (2) the future can be better confronted by opening our minds and learning to consider different viewpoints. According to (1) the future is part of a structured story whose past and present are at least partially known. The claim is defended that the forces that have shaped past and present situations will still be valid while the situation under consideration unfolds. The core thesis is that the future is embedded in the past; it is the projection of the past through the present. Time series analysis, trend extrapolation, and forecasting pertain to this family. Any of the mentioned methodologies may be further supplemented by computer-based simulations. On the other hand, instead of directly addressing the problem of searching for the seeds of the future in the past, (2) considers the different problem of preparing for the unforeseeable novelties awaiting us in the future. Learning about widely different outcomes is now the issue: one must be ready to consider and address possibly unfamiliar or alien scenarios. The main outcome of this exercise is an increased capacity to distinguish among possible, probable, and preferred future scenarios. These activities come under the heading of future studies, while scenario construction is the best known methodology adopted by practitioners. For now on I shall refer to (1) and (2) as respectively the forecasting and the scenario viewpoints. Forecasts and scenarios are not contradictory one to the other. They may and usually do coexist, since they address the future from two different standpoints. Furthermore, experience shows that both are useful. This paper introduces a third, different viewpoint, here termed the viewpoint of anticipatory systems, which can be profitably synthesized with forecasts and scenarios; i.e. it is not contradictory with the claims of either the forecasting or scenario viewpoint. Recent years have witnessed the growth of significant interest in anticipation.2 Anticipatory theories have been proposed in fields as different as physics, biology, physiology, neurobiology, psychology, sociology, economy, political science, computer science and philosophy. Unfortunately, no systematic comparison among the different viewpoints has so far been developed. It is therefore fair to claim that currently no general theory of anticipation is available. Generally speaking, anticipation concerns the capacity exhibited by some systems to tune their behaviour according to a model of the future evolution of the environment in which they are embedded. Generally speaking, the thesis is defended that “An anticipatory system is a system containing a predictive model of itself and/or its enviroment, which allows it to change state at an instant in accord with the model‟s predictions pertaining to a later instant” (Rosen [19: 341]). The main difference between forecasting and scenarios on the one hand, and anticipation on the 1 See, among many others, Adam [1], Bell [4], Cornish [5], Godet [7], Lindgren and Bandhold [8], Retzbach [16], Slaughter [22], Woodgate and Pethrick [23]. 2 Starting from the seminal Rosen [19]. See also [20], [21]. 2 other, is that the latter is a property of the system, intrinsic to its functioning, while the former are cognitive strategies that a system A develops in order to understand the future of some other system B (of which A may or may not be a component element).



Key Terms

  • Hyper Sets
  • Hyper Incursion
  • Hyper Recursion
  • Recursion
  • Incursion
  • Anticipatory Systems
  • Weak Anticipation
  • Strong Anticipation


Key People

  • Roberto Poli
  • Mihai Nadin
  • Riel Miller
  • Robert Rosen
  • John J Kineman
  • Daniel M Dubois
  • John Collier
  • Loet Leydesdorff



Key Sources of Research:


Systems and models with anticipation in physics and its applications

A Makarenko




Anticipatory Viable Systems

Maurice Yolles

Daniel Dubois



Click to access 92666ab431a3f68df0ce8139d594aaeb3f87.pdf



Anticipatory Kaldor-Kalecki Model of Business Cycle

Daniel M. Dubois


Click to access emcsr2004_Daniel-Dubois.pdf



An Introduction to the Ontology of Anticipation

Roberto Poli


Click to access read_Poli-An-Introduction-to-the-Ontology-of-Anticipation.pdf



Towards an anticipatory view of design

Theodore Zamenopoulos and Katerina Alexiou


Click to access anticipation.pdf



The role of anticipation in cognition

Alexander Riegler

Click to access Riegler%20A.%20(2001)%20The%20role%20of%20anticipation%20in%20cognition.pdf

Click to access 7d5ded82973e081a572c79bd76f8188b0ed5.pdf



SDA: System Dynamics Simulation of Inter Regional Risk Management

Using a Multi-Layered Model with Delays and Anticipation

Daniel M Dubois1, Stig C Holmberg



Click to access P1374.pdf



Anticipatory Modeling and Simulation for Inter Regional Security

Daniel M. Dubois, Viveca Asproth, Stig C. Holmberg

Ulrica Löfstedt, and Lena-Maria Öberg


Click to access dubois-C-EMCSR-2012.pdf



Attentional and Semantic Anticipations in Recurrent Neural Networks

Frédéric Lavigne1 and Sylvain Denis


Click to access lavigne-denis-2001.pdf



Not Everything We Know We Learned

Mihai Nadin





Anticipation in the Constructivist Theory of Cognition

Ernst von Glasersfeld





The Communication of Meaning in Anticipatory Systems: A Simulation Study of the Dynamics of Intentionality in Social Interactions

Loet Leydesdorff

Click to access 0911.1448.pdf



Information Systems and the Theory of Categories: Is Every Model an Anticipatory System?

M. A. Heather, B. N. Rossiter


Click to access Rossiter_Information%20systems%20and%20the%20theory%20of%20categories.pdf



Anticipation.Info of Mihai Nadin





Institute for Research in Anticipatory Systems




Robert Rosen’s anticipatory systems

A.H. Louie


Click to access 09e4150cdd961e4a87000000.pdf



Computing Anticipatory Systems with Incursion and Hyperincursion

Daniel M. DUBOIS

Click to access 559558fe08ae99aa62c720f3.pdf



Anticipatory Systems: Philosphical Methematical and Methodological Foundations.

Rosen R.

Springer; 2014.




Judith Rosen





The Many Aspects of Anticipation

Roberto Poli

University of Trento

Click to access 9b480ac8cd96999f281892caba100baacc79.pdf



Being Without Existing: The Futures Community at a Turning Point? A Comment on Jay Ogilvy’s “Facing the Fold”

By Riel Miller

Click to access Being-without-existing-The-futures-community-at-a-turning-point-A-comment-on-Jay-Ogilvys-Facing-the-fold.pdf




Roberto Poli

Balkan Journal of Philosophy. 2009;1(1):19-29.



The Discipline of Anticipation: Exploring Key Issues

Riel Miller, Roberto Poli and Pierre Rossel


Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

There are two related concepts.

  • Socio-Cybernetics
  • Constructivist Approaches

Will appeal to people interested in Philosophy, Cybernetics, and Systems Theory.

A. Socio Cybernetics

Socio-cybernetics can be defined as “Systems Science in Sociology and Other Social Sciences” – systems science, because sociocybernetics is not limited to theory but includes application, empirical research, methodology, axiology (i.e., ethics and value research), and epistemology. In general use, “systems theory” and “cybernetics” are frequently interchangeable or appear in combination. Hence, they can be considered as synonyms, although the two terms come from different traditions and are not used uniformly in different languages and national traditions. Sociocybernetics includes both what are called first order cybernetics and second order cybernetics. Cybernetics, according to Wiener´s original definition, is the science of “control and communication in the animal and the machine”. Heinz von Foerster went on to distinguish a first order cybernetics, “the study of observed systems”, and a second order cybernetics, “the study of observing systems”. Second order cybernetics is explicitly based on a constructivist epistemology and is concerned with issues of self-reference, paying particular attention to the observer-dependence of knowledge, including scientific theories. In the interdisciplinary and holistic spirit of systems science, although sociology is clearly at the centre of interest of sociocybernetics, the other social sciences, such as psychology, anthropology, political science, economics, are addressed as well, with emphases depending on the particular research question to be dealt with.


SOCIOCYBERNETICS traces its intellectual roots to the rise of a panoply of new approaches to scientific inquiry beginning in the 1940’s. These included General System Theory, cybernetics and information theory, game theory and automata, net, set, graph and compartment theories, and decision and queuing theory conceived as strategies in one way or another appropriate to the study of organized complexity. Although today the Research Committee casts a wide net in terms of appropriate subject matters, pertinent theoretical frameworks and applicable methodologies, the range of approaches deployed by scholars associated with RC51 reflect the maturation of these developments. Here we find, again, GST and first- and second-order cybernetics; in addition, there is widespread sensitivity to the issues raised by “complexity studies,” especially in work conceptualizing systems as self-organizing, autocatalytic or autopoietic. “System theory”, in the form given it by Niklas Luhmann, and world-systems analysis are also prominently represented within the ranks of RC51. The institutionalization of sociocybernetic approaches in what was to become RC51, the Re-search Committee on Sociocybernetics of the International Sociological Association, began in 1980 with the founding of an ISA Ad Hoc Group and proceeded with the organization of ses-sions at succeeding quadrennial World Congresses of Sociology. The eventual RC51 became a Thematic Group and then a Working Group. Finally, in recognition of its extraordinary success (growing from some 30 members in early 1995 to 240 in 1998), the group was promoted to the status of Research Committee at the 1998 World Congress of Sociology in Montreal. Over these past two decades, sociocybernetics has attracted a broad range of scholars whose departmental affiliations represent the entire spectrum of the disciplines, from the humanities and the social sciences through the sciences, mathematics and engineering. Furthermore, the many countries of origin of these RC51 members attest to the wide international appeal of sociocybernetic approaches. Within this highly diverse community, there is wide agreement on some very general issues, for instance, on developing strategies for the study of human reality that avoid reification, are cognizant of the pitfalls of reductionism and dualism, and generally eschew linear or homeostatic models. Not surprisingly, however, there are also wide divergences in subject matter, theoretical frameworks and methodological practices. Many have argued that models developed for the study of complexity can be usefully appropriated for the study of human reality. Moreover, however, the emphasis in complexity studies on contingency, context-dependency, multiple, overlapping temporal and spatial frameworks, and deterministic but unpredictable systems displaying an arrow-of-time suggest that the dividing line between the sciences and the historical social sciences is fuzzier than many might like to think. What is more, in the humanities, the uniquely modern concepts of original object and autonomous human creator have come under serious attack. The coincidence of these two phenomena substantiate the impression that across the disciplines there may be observed a new concern for spatial-temporal wholes constituted at once of relational structures and the phenomenological time of their reproduction and change. In this context of rich history and exciting possibilities, the Research Committee on Sociocybernetics of the International Sociological Association extends an open invitation through the Journal of Sociocybernetics to all engaged in the common quest to explain and understand social reality holistically and self-reflexively without forsaking a concern for human values–human values not construed simply as a matter of individual ethics, but conceived as an integral part of a social science for our time.



B. Constructivist Foundations

Constructivist Foundations (CF) is an international peer-reviewed e-journal focusing on the multidisciplinary study of the philosophical and scientific foundations and applications of constructivism and related disciplines. The journal promotes interdisciplinary discussion and cooperation among researchers and theorists working in a great number of diverse fields such as artificial intelligence, cognitive science, biology, neuroscience, psychology, educational research, linguistics, communication science, sociology, mathematics, computer science, and philosophy.

Constructivist approaches covered in the journal include the theory of autopoietic systems, enactivism, radical constructivism, second-order cybernetics, neurophenomenology, constructionism, and non-dualizing philosophy.


Constructivist Approaches

Constructivist approaches support the idea that mental structures such as cognition and perception are actively built by one’s mind rather than passively acquired. However, constructivist approaches vary in function of how much influence they attribute to constructions.

Many assume a dualistic relationship between reality and constructed elements. They maintain that constructed mental structures gradually adapt to the structures of the real world (e.g., Piaget). In this view perception is the pickup of information controlled by the mental structure that is constructed from earlier perceptions (e.g., Neisser). This leads to the claim that mental structures are about learning sensorimotor contingencies (e.g., O’Regan).

Others seek to avoid the dualistic position. Either they skeptically reject that the structures of the real world can be compared with mental ones, independently of the senses through which the mental structures were constructed in the first place (e.g., von Glasersfeld), or they embrace a phenomenological perspective that considers perception as the grouping of experiential complexes (e.g., Mach).

All these approaches emphasize the primacy of the cognitive system (e.g., Llinás) and its organizational closure (e.g., von Foerster, Maturana). Hence, perceived patterns and regularities may be regarded as invariants of inborn cognitive operators (e.g., Diettrich).

Constructivist approaches can be said to differ also with respect to whether constructs are considered to populate the rational-linguistic (e.g., von Glasersfeld, Schmidt) or the biological-bodily (“enactivist/embodied” theories, e.g., Varela).


Common Denominators of Constructivist Approaches

The common denominators of constructivist approaches can be summarized as follows.

  • Constructivist approaches question the Cartesian separation between the objective world and subjective experience;
  • Consequently, they demand the inclusion of the observer in scientific explanations;
  • Representationalism is rejected; knowledge is a system-related cognitive process rather than a mapping of an objective world onto subjective cognitive structures;
  • According to constructivist approaches, it is futile to claim that knowledge approaches reality; reality is brought forth by the subject rather than passively received;
  • Constructivist approaches entertain an agnostic relationship with reality, which is considered beyond our cognitive horizon; any reference to it should be refrained from;
  • Therefore, the focus of research moves from the world that consists of matter to the world that consists of what matters;
  • Constructivist approaches focus on self-referential and organizationally closed systems; such systems strive for control over their inputs rather than their outputs;
  • With regard to scientific explanations, constructivist approaches favor a process-oriented approach rather than a substance-based perspective, e.g. living systems are defined by the processes whereby they constitute and maintain their own organization;
  • Constructivist approaches emphasize the “individual as personal scientist” approach; sociality is defined as accommodation within the framework of social interaction;
  • Finally, constructivist approaches ask for an open and less dogmatic approach to science in order to generate the flexibility that is needed to cope with today’s scientific frontiers.


Key People:

  • Felix Geyer
  • Ernst Von Glasersfeld
  • H Maturana
  • F Varela
  • Heinz Von  Foerster
  • Niklas Luhmann



Key Sources of Research:


Constructivist Foundations (CF)


Click to access riegler2005editorial.pdf

Click to access denominator.pdf



The role of sociocybernetics in understanding world futures 

Bernard Scott

Click to access 1794.pdf




Bernd R. Hornung


Click to access hornung.pdf





Click to access JoS6-2-2008.pdf

Click to access JoS7-2-2009.pdf









Felix Geyer and Johannes van der Zouwen