I. Historical Review

Heraclitus’ Dialectic―A Dynamic Method

Heraclitus (ca. 535-475 BC), called the founder of the dialectic by Hegel, considered the fundamental matter of the universe to be fire and regarded fire as constantly changing. Stating that “everything is in a state of flux,” he held that nothing is eternal; rather, everything is in a state of generation and movement. Further, stating that “war is the father and the king of all,” he considered everything to be generating and changing through the conflict of opposites. In that way, Heraclitus grasped all things in the aspects of generation, change, and flux; thus, his method was called dialectic by Hegel. Nevertheless, he held that there is something unchangeable in generation and change, namely, law, which he called Logos. Also, he held that in all things, harmony arises through conflict. Heraclitus’ methodology deals with the way nature is, and with its development. His dialectic, which seeks to grasp the dynamic aspect of things in this way, could be called a dynamic method.

Zeno’s Dialectic―A Static Method

Contrary to Heraclitus, who asserted that everything is in a state of flux, Parmenides (ca. 510 BC) of the Eleatic school held that there is neither generation nor destruction; neither motion or change. Inheriting Parmenides’ idea, Zeno of Elea (ca. 490-430 BC) denied movement, and tried to prove that there are only motionless beings.

Zeno cited four proofs for his view that material bodies, though appearing to be moving, are, in fact, not moving at all. One of his proofs is that Achilles can not ever overtake a tortoise. Achilles was a hero who distinguished himself during the Trojan War. Though a very fast runner, still he could not overtake a tortoise, Zeno maintained. Suppose the tortoise starts first; after the tortoise has advanced to a certain point, Achilles starts running after it. When Achilles arrives at the place where the tortoise was when he started, the tortoise has already gone ahead a certain distance. When Achilles arrives at that next place, the tortoise has already advanced again by a certain distance. Consequently, the tortoise is always ahead of Achilles.

Another proof offered by Zeno was that a flying arrow is always at rest. Suppose an arrow is flying from point A toward point C. Between A and C, the arrow passes the pints B1, B2, B3,…. To pass through these points means to stop at each point for a moment. Since the distance between A and C is a continuum of an innumerable number of points, the arrow is continuously at rest. Therefore, the arrow is always at rest.

Zeno’s method is the art of dispute through question and answer, whereby one refutes his opponent by exposing contradictions in his argument, while examining his assertions. Aristotle called him the founder of the dialectic. Zeno’s dialectic, which denied movement and proved that there are only motionless beings, could be called a static method.

Socrates’ Dialectic―A Method of Dialogue

In the latter half of the fifth century BC, democratic politics was developed in Athens. During that time, young people made an effort to learn the art of persuasion in order to succeed in politics. Therefore, there appeared professionals who specialized in teaching young people the art of persuasion. They were called sophists.

Early Greek philosophy dealt with nature as its object of study; but the sophists turned away from the philosophy of nature to discuss human and social problems. They realized, however, that, while nature has objectivity and necessity, human matters are relative; as a result, relativism, which claimed that the understanding of human matters is different according to one’s subjective view, and skepticism which gave up the effort in finding solutions to human problems, gained influence. Sophists, who walked around the polis, could witness the fact that the standard of judgment differed from place to place, and so they came to assert that no truth exists with regard to human beings. As a result, the art of persuasion that they taught attached importance only to the method of refuting one’s opponents, and came to use even sophistry for that purpose.

Socrates (470-399 BC) deplored the fact that sophists were confusing people in that way and asserted that what is important is the virtue with which one should live, rather than any technical knowledge designed for political success. For him, only true knowledge can show what virtue really is. He held that in order to attain truth, what is necessary, first of all, is to accept one’s own ignorance, and stated, “Know thyself.” Also, he asserted that, with a humble heart, one could reach the truth by engaging in dialogue with another person. Then, starting from the particular, we can be led to universal conclusions. To attain the truth is to evoke, through asking questions, the truth dormant in the mind of a person and, in this way, to draw forth the truth already inherent in the person’s mind. Socrates named this process midwifery. His method of pursuing the truth is called a dialectic, and it takes place through discussion.

Plato’s Dialectic―A Method of Division

Plato (427-347 BC), a disciple of Socrates, tried to explain how true knowledge, concerning the virtue referred to by Socrates, comes to be obtained. Plato maintained the existence of non-material being, which is the essence of a thing, and he called it Idea, or form (eidos). Among scores of Ideas he regarded the Idea of the Good as supreme, and asserted that only when people intuit the Idea of the Good can they lead the supreme life. According to Plato, that which truly exists is Idea, and the phenomenal world is but a copy of the world of Ideas. Accordingly, a knowledge of the Ideas is indeed true knowledge. He also called his method, the cognition of Ideas, the dialectic.

Plato’s dialectic sought to determine the relationships between Ideas and to explain the structure of Ideas, which placed the Idea of the Good at the apex. In the cognition of Ideas, there are two directions: The first progresses from the upper to the lower through the division of the generic concepts into specific concepts; the second progresses from the lower to the upper through synthesizing the concepts of individual things, aiming at the supreme concept. Between the two methods, the direction of synthesis corresponds to Socrates’ dialectic; the direction of division is most typically Plato’s. Thus, when we refer to Plato’s dialectic, we usually mean the method by division.

In contrast to Socrates, who held that knowledge could be obtained through a dialogue between persons, Plato proposed his dialectic as a method of classifying concepts, or a method of self-questioning and self-answering, namely, a method of questioning and answering taking place in one’s own mind.

Aristotle’s Deductive Method

The study of how correct knowledge can be obtained was systematized by Aristotle (384-322 BC) as the science of knowledge, that is, logic. Logic, which was compiled in his Organon, was regarded as an instrument for reaching truth through proper thinking, as a science preliminary to the various other sciences.

According to Aristotle, true knowledge should be obtained through logical proof. He recognized the inductive method as well, in which one proceeds from the particular to the universal; but Aristotle regarded it as less than perfect. He thought that the deductive method, in which the particulars are deduced from the universal, would provide surer knowledge. The fundamental tool of this method is the syllogism, a representative example of which is as follows:

All men are mortal. (Major Premise)
Socrates is a man. (Minor Premise)
Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (Conclusion)

In the Middle Ages, great importance was attached to Aristotle’s logic as an instrument for proving the propositions of theology and philosophy deductively. The Aristotelian syllogism has been recognized for two thousand years, hardly undergoing any change.

Bacon’s Inductive Method

Throughout the Middle Ages God was regarded as being transcendental, but during the Renaissance, the perception of the transcendental character of God was gradually lost among philosophers. Moreover, there arose a pantheistic philosophy of nature, which regarded God as inherent in nature. At the time when the Middle Ages came to an end and the Modern Age began, a philosopher proposed a new methodology with which to study nature. His name was Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

According to Bacon, previous studies, based on metaphysics, were “sterile and like a virgin consecrated to God, producing nothing,” mainly because they employed Aristotle’s method. Aristotle’s logic was a method for the sake of logical proof. With such logic, one might persuade others. With it, however, one could not obtain truths from nature. Thus, Bacon advocated the inductive method as the logic for finding new truth. He named his own discourse on logic New Organon, in contrast to Aristotle’s Organon.

Asserting that traditional studies, which were based on Aristotle’s logic, had been nothing but logical arguments of useless words, Bacon held that in order to obtain sure knowledge, we must first eliminate those prejudices to which we are liable, and then directly explore nature itself. Those prejudices he called the four Idols (see “Epistemology”). After eliminating these Idols, we will be able to observe nature with a clear mind and make observations and experiments. In that way, we can find universal essences existing within individual phenomena. Inductive methods before Bacon had sought to derive general laws from a small number of observations and experiments; Bacon, however, tried to present a true inductive method in order to obtain sure knowledge by collecting as many cases as possible, even attaching importance to negative instances.

Descartes’ Methodic Doubt

Due to the remarkable achievements made in the natural sciences since the Renaissance period, seventeenth-century philosophy regarded the mechanistic view of nature as absolute truth, and tried not to contradict it. Rationalism tried to provide a foundation for the mechanistic view of nature from a fundamental standpoint. Its representative proponent was René Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes considered the mathematical method to be the only true method; thus, as in mathematics, he first looked for an intuitive truth that was obvious to everyone, and then based upon that, he sought to develop a new, certain truth deductively.

Thus, there arose the question of how one could seek an intuitive truth that could become the starting point of philosophy. Descartes’ method was to doubt as much as he could in order to pursue an absolutely reliable truth, which could then become the principle for all knowledge. Even though he doubted everything, however, he noticed that the fact that he, who doubted, existed could not be doubted. He expressed this in his famous proposition, “I think, therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum). Next, he asked why that proposition was certain without any proof, and he answered that it was because that proposition was clear and distinct. From that point he derived the general rule that “things we conceive very clearly and very distinctly are all true.” Cartesian doubt is not for the sake of doubt, but for the sake of discovering truth. It is called methodic doubt. Descartes tried to obtain sure knowledge by following the mathematical method, with which one starts with axioms that can be intuited clearly and distinctly, and then goes on to prove various propositions.

Hume’s Empiricism

Contrary to rationalism, represented by Descartes, empiricism, emerging in Britain, took the position of explaining mental phenomena on the basis of natural laws discovered empirically. In order to find a complete system of sciences, David Hume (1711-76) analyzed the mental processes of the human mind objectively, with a new method of finding truth. Through his search for the unchanging, natural laws in the human mind, Hume tried to clarify the foundation of all the sciences, wherein the human mind is involved.

Hume analyzed ideas, which are the elements of the human mind. According to Hume, when simple ideas are associated with each other to bring about complex ideas, there are three principles of association: resemblance, contiguity in time and space, and cause and effect. Among these three, he held that the resemblance of ideas and the contiguity of ideas are sure knowledge, whereas cause and effect is merely a subjective belief. As a result, Hume’s empiricism fell into skepticism, which asserted that objective knowledge can not be obtained even through inductive inference based on experience and observation. He came to deny all forms of metaphysics and even regarded the natural sciences as insecure.

Kant’s Transcendental Method

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) started from the position of rationalism and natural science. He proclaimed that Hume had awakened him from his “dogmatic slumber,” by which he meant that he felt obliged by Hume’s criticism of causality to deal with the question of how causality could have objective validity. If causality remains a subjective belief, as Hume has stated, the law of cause and effect naturally loses its objective validity, and natural science, which is established on the basis of the law of cause and effect, ceases to be a system of truth with objective validity. Thus, Kant questioned how experience in general is possible, and how objective truth can be obtained. With his transcendental method he tried to solve these problems.

Kant reasoned that if, as Hume had said, cognition is wholly dependent on experience, we can never reach objective truth. So Kant, who pursued the question of how objective truth can be obtained, examined human reason critically and discovered that there exist a priori elements, or forms, within the subject. That is to say, Kant asserted that there exist a priori forms of cognition, common to every person, prior to experience. Those a priori forms are the intuitive forms of time and space and the pure concepts of understanding (categories). According to Kant, cognition is not achieved by grasping the actual object as it is, but the object of cognition is synthesized through the subject’s a priori forms.

Hegel’s Idealistic Dialectic

While Kant’s method was aimed at discovering how objective truth could become possible, the method of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) is the logic of thought, called dialectic, which is identified with the logic of reality.

Kant proposed a priori concepts in order to guarantee the objective truth. Hegel, on the other hand held that, while a concept is a priori, it moves by transcending itself. That is, from the position of affirming itself, the concept comes to know that there exists a determination incompatible with itself, and then transcends both these two contradictory determinations in order to develop to a position that synthesizes the two. Hegel named these three stages “in itself,” “for itself,” and “in and for itself.” These three stages are also called affirmation, negation, and negation of negation; or thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

Hegel regarded contradiction to be the driving force of the self-development of a concept. He said, “Contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity.” In this way, the logic of self-development through contradiction is the root of Hegel’s dialectic. Hegel states that a concept develops by itself to become an Idea; the concept (Idea) negates itself, is alienated and emerges as Nature; then develops through human being as Spirit. Thus, Hegel’s dialectic is the method of development of a concept, and at the same time the method of development of the objective world.

Marx’s Materialistic Dialectic

In the modern age, the dialectical method was developed by German idealists, and Hegel stood at its apex. Karl Marx (1818-83) held, however, that Hegel’s dialectic was distorted due to its idealism, and reversed Hegel’s idealistic dialectic from the materialist position, thereby reestablishing dialectic. According to Friedrich Engels (1820-95), Marx’s dialectic is “nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought,” in which the development of nature and society is regarded as the basis upon which the development of thought is dependent.

Both Hegel’s idealistic dialectic and Marx’s materialistic dialectic are dialectics of contradiction that can be understood as processes of development through the three stages of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Contradiction is the state in which one element rejects (negates) another, while maintaining a mutual relationship at the same time. In the case of Hegel’s dialectic, the emphasis is placed more on synthesis (unity), while in the case of Marx’s dialectic, the idea of struggle, in which one party overthrows and annihilates the other, is added to the concept of contradiction.

According to Engels, the fundamental laws of the materialist dialectic consist of the following three laws: (1) the law of the transformation of quantity into quality; (2) the law of the unity and struggle of opposites (or the law of the interpenetration of opposites); and (3) the law of the negation of negation.

The first law states that qualitative change occurs only through quantitative change, and when quantitative change reaches a certain stage, a sudden qualitative change occurs. The second law states that all things contain elements that are in an inseparable relationship to each other, yet reject each other, that is, are opposites, and that all things develop through the unity and struggle of these opposites. The third law states that things develop as the old stage passes to a new stage by being negated, and then passes to the third stage by again being negated. This passing over to the third stage is said to be the return to the initial stage, but on a higher dimension. (This is called “development in a spiral form.”) When Engels explained these three laws, he referred to Hegel’s Science of Logic and regarded the first law as being discussed in the Doctrine of Being, the second law in the Doctrine of Essence, and the third law in the Doctrine of Notion.

Among the three laws, the most central is the second one, namely, the law of the unity and struggle of opposites. It is said that the unity and struggle of opposites is the essence of contradiction; but in actuality, Marxists emphasize struggle more than unity. In fact, Lenin said, “The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.” He even went as far as to say that “development is the ‘struggle’ of opposites.”

Husserl’s Phenomenological Method

Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) advocated phenomenology as the first philosophy, a universal science that provides a basis for all sciences. Phenomenology deals with consciousness, which makes up theories of the sciences and with which an object is cognized. He starts with the absolute certainty of Descartes’ “I think,” and while excluding the metaphysical dogmas underlying traditional philosophies, he examined consciousness as a strict science. He tried to clarify pure consciousness intuitively, rejecting all preconceptions.

In so doing, he made “To things themselves!” his motto. The word “things” here, does not refer to empirical facts, but rather to pure phenomena that manifest themselves within pure consciousness. He sought to describe these phenomena intuitively, just as they are. According to Husserl, first we should exclude empirical elements from things, and then we grasp the essence intuitively and then grasp the internal essence of consciousness, and finally analyze the structure of a priori pure consciousness.

Our everyday view regarding the natural world lying before us as self-evident is called the “natural attitude.” In this natural attitude there are, however, deep-rooted habits and preconceptions at work, and therefore, the world thus cognized can not be the true world. Thus, the “natural attitude” must change to a “phenomenological attitude,” Husserl stated. For that purpose, we need to pass through the two stages of “eidetic reduction” and “transcendental reduction.”

The term “eidetic reduction,” for Husserl, refers to entering from the factual world into the world of essence. What takes place at this point is the intuition of essences through “free variation.” In other words, when one changes existing individual beings through free imagination, and when something universal and unchanging, regardless of the variation, is intuited, one has reached the essence. For example, the essence of flower can be obtained by examining a rose, a tulip, a bud, a withering flower, etc., and extracting something unchangeable from all of these observations.

The next step that takes place is that of “transcendental reduction.” This is carried out by stopping our judgment about whether the world does or does not exist. This does not mean to deny or doubt the existence of the external world, but to “suspend,” or “bracket,” our judgment. This process is called phenomenological epochē. What remains after being bracketed (excluded) is “pure consciousness,” or “transcendental consciousness.” What appears in this consciousness is “pure phenomena.” This kind of attitude of seeking to comprehend pure phenomena is the phenomenological attitude (see fig. 11.1). When we inquire into the general structure of pure consciousness, we find that it consists of noesis, which is the intentional act, and noema, which is the objective content the act refers to. The relationship between them is as that between “to think” and “to be thought.” In this way, phenomenology tries faithfully to describe pure consciousness.

From Natural Attitude to Phenomenological Attitude

Fig. 11.1. From Natural Attitude to Phenomenological Attitude

Analytical Philosophy―Method of Linguistic Analysis

Analytical philosophy forms one of the mainstreams of philosophy in the contemporary Western world. Analytical philosophy is the position that generally considers that the main task of philosophy lies in the logical analysis of linguistic structures. This position can be divided into two schools, namely, logical positivism in the early period, and the ordinary language school in the later period.

Logical positivism was formed centering around the philosophers of the Vienna Circle, namely, Moritz Schlick (1882-1936) and Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970). Logical positivism was influenced by “logical atomism,” proposed by Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). According to logical atomism, the world is an agglomeration of atomic facts, which are the ultimate logical units. Logical positivism asserts that only knowledge that is verified through empirical perception is correct, and that all studies of facts should be done by science. Thus, the task of philosophy is to make a logical analysis of language so as to eliminate the ambiguities of ordinary language expressions. Renouncing conventional languages, they aimed at establishing one ideal, artificial language common to all sciences. This is the mathematical language employed by physics, or the language of physics. They sought to unify the sciences through this ideal language. The mottos of logical positivism were antimetaphysics, the analysis of language, and scientism.

It was realized, however, that even scientific knowledge is based on unverified propositions, and that the assertions of logical positivism themselves were a form of dogma; thus, the limitations of logical positivism became clear. So, an ordinary language school, centering on George Edward Moore (1873-1958) and Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976), came to be established. The ordinary language school also holds that the task of philosophy is the logical analysis of language, but it abandoned the idea of forming a single, ideal, artificial language, and considered its task to be that of clarifying the meaning of concepts and discovering the logical structure within ordinary languages. Along with this, the anti-metaphysical outlook in analytical philosophy was eased considerably.