Three Dialectics
Three dialectical processes in the history of philosophy are used to explore the origins of some of the key ideas of metaphysical positivism.
First words on the three dialectics and their connection with metaphysical positivism and the fundamental triple-dichotomy.
First words on the three dialectics and their connection with metaphysical positivism and the fundamental triple-dichotomy.

There have been many different kinds of dialectic in the history of philosophy, and our usage here does not refer specifically to any of them. It refers rather loosely to a long term historical debate between two supposedly opposite views which may be susceptible of resolution by some kind of synthesis.

So one of the things I can say about this kind of dialectic is that, though it may appear (especially to the proponents at the early stages in the dialectic) as a dichotomy, it is at best a false dichotomy. It may seem that one must chose one or other of the two opposing viewpoints, but instead some kind of combination of the key aspects of each will be possible.

Progress in such a dialectical debate may involve a series of attempts to find the right synthesis. But what seems like a reasonable position avoiding the indefensible extremes of two positions poles apart by one philosopher at some time, will later be opposed by a different synthesis, and these two positions may then become new extremes demanding resolution in a further synthesis.

Just as dialectic should be distinguished (in this context at least) from dichotomy, synthesis should not be confused with compromise. The dialectical process is not a process of mediation between extremes, but a process of locating and eliminating the flaws in each extreme position to yield positions which can be united.

The Three
The three dialectics of present interest are:
  • dogmatism versus scepticism
  • rationalism versus empiricism
  • essentialism versus conventionalism
Dogmatism versus Scepticism

This dialectic begins with the pre-socractic dogmatic metaphysicians, whose diverse view spawn sophistical relativism. This is answered by Socrates and the great dogmatic philosophical systems of Plato and Aristotle. There followed a long tradition of Pyrrhonean and Academic scepticism.

Scepticism is revived in the seventheenth century in religious controversy leading to a positivistic synthesis in the work of David Hume.

Rationalism versus Empiricism
From precursors to this dialectic in the philosophical systems of Plato and Aristotle we pass through the rationalist and empiricist philosophies once more to a positivistic synthesis in the philosophy of David Hume.
Essentialism versus Conventionalism
Once again we begin with Plato and Aristotle. In its earlier stages the debate is between varieties of essentialism and nominalism. In this case Hume's positivism is far from a synthesis, but marks a transition to a dialectic between essentialism and conventionalism.
Dogmatism versus Scepticism
Rationalism versus Empiricism
Essentialism versus Conventionalism

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