The Dreaded Triad: "Thesis–Antithesis–Synthesis"

CONTRADICTIO EST REGULA VERI
"Contradiction is the rule of the true."—G.W.F. Hegel
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HegelonTV
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class="first">The Dreaded Triad: "Thesis–Antithesis–Synthesis"

Post by HegelonTV » Sun Oct 25, 2020 7:22 am

It's been known for a pretty long time now that the formula "thesis–antithesis–synthesis" (TAS) is not an accurate representation of Hegel's dialectic, but every now and then you see it pop up somewhere. (It even has its own Wikipedia page.) As far back as 1958 it was pretty much definitively debunked by Gustav Mueller in a brief article he wrote for the Journal of the History of Ideas called: "The Hegel Legend of 'Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis'", which is available on JSTOR:

..........https://www.jstor.org/stable/2708045

Mueller traces TAS back to a book by the young Karl Marx: The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), and says, further, that Marx most likely got it from a philosophy professor named Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus, who wrote a book called Historical Development of Speculative Philosophy from Kant to Hegel in 1837. The book is actually a collection of lectures given in Dresden ("before a circle of gentlemen", the author notes) in the winter of 1835-6—just 4 years after Hegel's death in 1831.

I assumed this was some small, obscure commentary, but was surprised to find it’s a large book that was translated into English—not once, but twice! So it must have been fairly widely read ... and influenced many more people than just Marx in their thinking about Hegel.
I found both translations on archive.org:

..........Historical Survey of Speculative Philosophy from Kant to Hegel
..........https://archive.org/details/historicalsurvey00chaluoft (Tulk trans., London) (see p. 317)

..........Historical Development of Speculative Philosophy from Kant to Hegel
..........https://archive.org/details/historicalphilo00chaluoft (Edersheim trans., Edinburgh) (see p. 366)

Interestingly, Chalybäus doesn't make a big deal about TAS—instead just mentioning it once explicitly, that I could find (on the pages indicated above) ... though the word "synthesis" appears often.

I have transcribed the offending paragraph from the Turk translation below:
Such is the first trilogy; the unity of being, naught, and origination [being, nothing, becoming?], or of position, negation, and limitation [?]; but, as has been already said, we have not by the latter term to think of any external limitation, but only of the internal self-differencing of this movement, or of the oscillation and vibration between being and non-being. In this first methodological thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, whereof the latter consists in a process or course of gradually closer self-determination, we have at once an example or type of all succeeding theses, and shall understand these the more readily by referring to the above simple movement of thought.
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And they say Hegel is hard to read—I thought this was supposed to clarify the issue!

Strangely, I found that the editions do not match—for some reason, there are 18 lectures in the Edersheim version, but only 17 in Tulk, so I don't know if it's just edited differently, or what.
As for the influence of the TAS model, I find it puzzling: first, I expected the book it's traced back to to be a book about Hegel. Instead it's a series of lectures about speculative philosophy in general (given not long after Hegel died)—principally about Kant, Jacobi, Herbart, Fichte, Schleiermacher, Schelling, and, finally, Hegel. (Herbart, I had to look up: Johann Friedrich Herbart—German philosopher, psychologist and founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline.)
And, second, I expected TAS to be a prominent feature of the interpretation, not just something that's mentioned only once.
So, I'm left wondering what accounts for the prolonged fascination with Chalybäus' TAS formulation? If Mueller is correct, it was first spread in Germany by a young Karl Marx (then still in his 20s), but it seems to have taken a more persistent hold in English-speaking (that is, more analytic) philosophy ... perhaps, I would argue, because it is so formalistic, or formulaic—representing what Hegel would call the (one-sided) thinking of the understanding or an “empty schema”.

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AlysonA
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>Re: "Thesis–Antithesis–Synthesis"—The Dreaded Triad

Post by AlysonA » Mon Oct 26, 2020 2:24 am

Thank you for posting this. I read Mueller's superb take-down of the "dreaded triad" in The Hegel Myths & Legends edited by Jon Stewart (the philosopher not the comedian). I thought it was interesting not only for debunking TAS, but also the "bonus" myth that Hegel glorified the Prussian state. (Check it out! I think there may even be a 3rd myth he mentions, too. Great book overall - I remember the Kauffmann essay about Popper being just devastating!)
Back to the Chalybaus book he mentions - I also got the impression it was mainly about Hegel and really pushed the "Thesis-Antithesis" line, so I'm interested to read in your post that it was actually mostly about other guys, some of whom I've never even heard of (!) and also that it came out so close in time to Hegel actually being alive. I want to have a look at it to try to get an almost contemporary view of Hegel's philosophy (from someone who's not Hegel!) ... though from the passage you quoted, I don't know how readable it will be. LOL
You listed 2 translations - do you recommend one over the other? Thanks!

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HegelonTV
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>Re: The Dreaded Triad: "Thesis–Antithesis–Synthesis"

Post by HegelonTV » Tue Oct 27, 2020 5:07 am

Alyson-
Thank you for reading my (rather long) post ... and sorry for the delay in replying. I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long!
Regarding the the difference in the two translations of the Chalybäus book, I can't say I have much of an opinion either way. I didn't spend much time comparing them - I was more concerned about the discrepancy between the number of lectures ... but the one I used to quote in my original post was Tulk. Let's compare them now:

"Such is the first trilogy; the unity of being, naught, and origination, or of position, negation, and limitation ... In this first methodological thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, whereof the latter consists in a process or course of gradually closer self-determination..."(Tulk)

"Here then we have the first trilogy; the unity of being. of naught and of origination, or, of position, negation and limitation ... At the same time this first methodical thesis, antithesis and synthesis, the latter of which consists in a process or a flowing..."(Edersheim)

You got me interested, so I went back to archive.org and found the original German version of the paragraph in question:

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As far as I can tell, that's the only place where T, A & S appear all together in all 451 pages.

FROM: Historische entwickelung der speculativen philosophie von Kant bis Hegel
—Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus: https://archive.org/details/historischeentwi00chal

And I agree - Stewart's Hegel Myths & Legends is a great read!
Last edited by HegelonTV on Wed Oct 28, 2020 3:06 am, edited 5 times in total.

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ErnestG
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>Re: The Dreaded Triad: "Thesis–Antithesis–Synthesis"

Post by ErnestG » Tue Oct 27, 2020 10:37 am

Interesting discussion - with potentially serious implications: if Karl Marx's understanding of Hegel's dialectic is faulty (as suggested by the flawed thesis-antithesis-synthesis interpretation under discussion here) what are the implications for his own theories?
If Marxism is, to whatever extent, founded on Hegelian logic / philosophy of history / phenomenology (master-slave), etc., how could it not suffer from serious problems of misappropriation and misinterpretation? Could Marx and Hegel both be right (or wrong)... but for different reasons?

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