While researching Marxist ideology for revision lessons on the Russian Revolution, I came across the idea of thesis/antithesis/synthesis as an argumentative framework.
I have since used it successfully in my classes. I think the notion of Dialectics and thesis/antithesis/synthesis fits in well with my other ideas about essay writing (they are nothing new, I’ve just recast them in my own way: TEAC).
What is dialectics?
Dialectics of any sort is a means of trying to resolve a paradox.
It’s important first of all to understand the difference between a paradox and a contradiction. Two things contradict if they CANNOT co-exist. A person cannot be male AND not-male. That is a contradiction. A paradox is something that SEEMS to contradict but which may possibly have some middle ground. A person might be male and female, for example, if they are a hermaphrodite (they have both sets of sex organs).
That, in a nutshell, is what dialectics does. To learn about something, it considers something that is almost its opposite, and then tries to figure out what the compromise is between the two. So perhaps you’d figure out the meaning of life by comparing it to the meaning of death. But that’s getting off-topic. a
What is dialectical materialism?
Marx was a materialist. To him, the only things worth considering were real, physical things that you could see and lay your hands on. So ideas and knowledge were pointless, unless those idea were put to work and produced results. This is why most of Marx’s work has to do with money and work, instead of some of the more airy ideas that are usually associated with philosophy.
So if you’re a materialist, one of the dialectics you are going to be really interested in is the contrast between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. How is it that some people have lots of material stuff and some people don’t? And what is the inevitable outcome of such a situation? Marx even went so far as to describe all of human history in the terms of this materialist dialectic.
Feudalism, to Marx, was a struggle between the aristocrats (haves) and the peasants (have-nots). Slave labour works to produce things to an extent, but skilled labour produces things better. A capitalist system recognises and rewards skilled workers more highly than unskilled ones, so in his view all feudal systems were doomed to eventually become capitalist ones.
But a capitalist system still has a dialectic. There are haves (the owners of the factories, which he called ‘bourgeoisie’) and the have-nots (the workers). So how will this inevitably be resolved? Marx thought that eventually the workers would simply stop working for the bourgeoisie and work only for themselves. All workers would then be owners, and there would be no more dialectic – a permanent, stable system that he called ‘socialism’.
To him, this was inevitable. Trying to resist this transition would only make the transition harder. There are, however, many criticism of dialectics as a whole and Marx’s conclusions in specific, so exactly how inevitable it really is can still be a matter of protracted debate. b
What is thesis/antithesis/synthesis?
In our case, we are going to use thesis, antithesis and synthesis as an argumentative tool, and it can be used very effectively as an essay writing framework:
- Thesis – a statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved
- Antithesis – the negation or contradiction of the thesis
- Synthesis – the resolution of the conflict between thesis and antithesis
Pick a thesis. Use your knowledge, handouts, your notes and the internet to do the following:
- Support your thesis with two or three key points, quotes or explanations.
- Write a credible antithesis and support it with two or three key points, quotes or explanations.
- Write a synthesis which expresses your reasoned conclusion.