generally used in common parlance in a contemptuous sense for verbal or purely abstract disputation devoid of practical value. According to Aristotle, Zeno of Elea "invented" dialectic, the art of disputation by question and answer, while Plato developed it metaphysically in connection with his doctrine of "Ideas" as the art of analyzing ideas in themselves and in relation to the ultimate idea of the Good. The special function of the so-called "Socratic dialectic" was to show the inadequacy of popular beliefs.
Aristotle himself used "dialectic," as opposed to "science," for that department of mental activity which examines the presuppositions lying at the back of all the particular sciences. Each particular science has its own subject matter and special principles on which the superstructure of its special discoveries is based. The Aristotelian dialectic, however, deals with the universal laws of reasoning, which can be applied to the particular arguments of all the sciences. The sciences, for example, all seek to define their own species; dialectic, on the other hand, sets forth the conditions which all definitions must satisfy whatever their subject matter.
Again, the sciences all seek to educe general laws; dialectic investigates the nature of such laws, and the kind and degree of necessity to which they can attain. To this general subject matter Aristotle gives the name "Topics". "Dialectic" in this sense is the equivalent of "logic." Aristotle also uses the term for the science of probable reasoning as opposed to demonstrative reasoning. The Stoics divided logic into rhetoric and dialectic, and from their time till the end of the middle ages dialectic was either synonymous with, or a part of logic.
In modern philosophy the word has received certain special meanings. In Kantian terminology Dialektik is the name of that portion of the Critique of Pure Reason(1787) in which Kant discusses the impossibility of applying to "things-in-themselves" the principles which are found to govern phenomena. In the Hegelian system, the word resumes its original Socratic sense, as the name of that intellectual process whereby the inadequacy of popular conceptions is exposed. Throughout its history, therefore, "dialectic" has been connected with that which is remote from, or alien to, unsystematic thought, with the a priori, or transcendental, rather than with the facts of common experience and material things.
- (Republic, vii.)
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911