Dialectic Inquiry (Dialectics)

Dialectic Inquiry (Dialectics)
Dialectic Inquiry (Dialectics)

Dialectic Inquiry or Dialectics has a long history during which the meaning and understanding of the terminology changed. In Asia, the idea that everything is made of opposites, yin and yang, goes back to I Ching around 3,000 years ago, and the Taoist master Lao Tzu around 2,500 years ago. Taoism holds that change is the only constant. Taoist philosophy also learns that “gradual change results in a sudden change of form (hua)”. Also around 2,500 years ago, in ancient Greece, Heraclites had the idea that all change comes through the struggle of opposites. The Aztecs also held the idea of the earth is made of opposites. The Lakotas in North America shared this belief. In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates typically “argues” by means of cross-examining of someone else’s assertions. In this way he draws out the inherent contradictions within the position of his opponent. Aristoteles compared Dialectics with Rhetoric (the art of convincing others), saying that dialectics are dealing with an upright looking for the truth. For an unknown reason, the idea of everything being made of opposites died out in the western world, until Kant and Hegel revitalized the idea of dialectics at the time the industrial revolution was beginning. Finally Fichte made the implicit triad existing in Hegel’s work explicit, by clearly distinguishing between Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis, and this idea was subsequently extended by Marx and Engels.

 What is dialectics?

•A logical process of arriving at the truth by putting in juxtaposition contrary propositions; a term often used in medieval philosophy and theology, and also in the writings of Hegel and Marx.

•A philosophical term applied to methods of debate or argumentation that seek to prove or disprove the truth of something by the rules of logic or the laws of reasoning.

•A thinking and communication process based on change through the conflict of (seemingly) opposing forces (paradoxes)

•Compare the picture on the right to appreciate the important difference between dialectics and a trade-off (~mix), a dilemma, a  puzzle, and an average.

Benefits of the Dialectic Inquiry Method

Strategy, Management and Business Ethics are all complex by nature. Dialectics offer a number of advantages to those that must deal with this inherent complexity, and with these seemingly contradicting forces (tensions).

De Wit and Meyer (Strategy: Process, Content, Context) mention the following advantages of taking a dialectical approach to strategic paradoxes and complexity (instead of treating the tensions as puzzles, dilemma’s or trade-offs or taking the average):

1.A range of ideas can be exploited

2.Help focus on points of contention (critical points)

3.Provides a stimulus for bridging seemingly irreconcilable opposites

4.Provides a stimulus for creativity (trying to find a synthesis, which is better than the trade-off between the opposites)

A method resembling Dialectics is the Devil’s Advocate Approach. This method is also useful in exposing underlying assumptions, but has a tendency to emphasize the negative, whereas dialectical inquiry is a more balanced and harmonious approach.

Book: Bob de With and Ron Meyer – Strategy: Process, Content, Context –

Book: Alex Lowy and Phil Hood – The Power of the 2×2 Matrix – Using 2×2 Thinking.. –

Book: Barry Johnson – Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems –

Book: Charles M. Hampden-Turner, Fons Trompenaars – Building Cross-Cultural Competence.. –





Posted in Knowledge & Beyond, Problematising Process.