What is the dialectical method in ethics


The Greek dialegesthai originally meant: talking to each other, talking to each other, asking and understanding questions, as well as distinguishing and choosing.

The dialectic is therefore originally an art of dispute. To this day it is true of the dialectical method that thinking takes place in contradictions and aims at overarching contexts. The special task is not only to find conflicting theses, but also to formulate a synthesis that "cancels" the previous theses.

Socratic conversation is a special form of dialectic.

Insight into the dialectical method

The following text could be presented to students (10th grade and above) to get a Insight into the dialectical method to get. You should then try them out for yourself, e.g. on the subject justice or beauty.

This specific dialectical thought movement develops in three steps:

  • In the first step it is important to fix a certain topic, a concept or an argument. For example, the word "freedom"Noted on a blackboard or on a flip-chart and then written as many positive associations as possible about it: personal, social freedom, etc. When working on the topic, it becomes clear at the same time that the concept of freedom can only be identified in certain distinctions and needs to be supplemented in this sense .
  • At the second step the dialectical movement begins with the negation of freedom, which only becomes meaningful in opposition to necessity, i.e. to compulsion and determination. If everyone writes a “dialectical essay” for themselves on this level, the arguments move between these two poles, for each of which good reasons can be given. Usually this back and forth ends with a compromise: Man is both free and unfree ...
  • The third step consists in a surprising reversal of the perspective that brings about the dialectical change: one now looks at the overarching context that has so far governed the interplay of the oppositions. It is precisely this context that is meant by the category of contradiction (in G.W.F. Hegel). For our topic this means looking for a general sense of freedom that unites the previous opposites of freedom and necessity. In ethics, this means free insight into the necessity of a moral bond, in short: the self-commitment to moral action.

Slightly modified text after Rohbeck: Philosophische Schreibstile, in: ZDPE 2/2002, p. 98ff., Here p. 103