The Anti-Dialectic and the Nihilectic

dialectic Hegel Marx

The dialectical method, popularized by Plato’s characterization of Socrates, and then updated by Hegel and Marx, is often thought of as a three-step process: person/group A proposes a thesis P, person/group B offers an anti-thesis that contradicts it ~P, and then there is a synthesis of the two that results in a new thesis Y. Hegel introduced the idea that the thesis contains within itself its own antithesis, that a thesis contains contradictions that must be worked out in a process that repeats through multiple aufheben until we arrive at the Absolute. Marx took this and applied it to history: the material conditions of an age contains its own contradictions that must be worked out in a process that eventually leads to a classless, stateless utopia known as communism.

This dialectical method has been updated throughout the centuries, but it more-or-less remains the same. As such, it runs the risk of doing to philosophical methodology what Aristotle did to logic (or, to be fair, what all his successors did to logic in light of Aristotle’s discovery), which is to say that it will become entrenched as the final word on processual philosophy. And so, I propose an expansion of the dialectical method with two new concepts. We can define all three in the following way:

  • Dialectic: synthesis of competing thesis/anti-thesis that transcends the two
  • Anti-Dialectic: the splitting or fracturing of a unity into a plurality of theses/anti-theses
  • Nihilectic: a synthesis that doesn’t not transcend the thesis/anti-thesis, but instead subceeds (to be less than) the two

So the Dialectic we already understand. But would be examples of the Anti-Dialectic and and the Nihilectic?

For the Anti-Dialectic, I propose the sort of Weberian disenchantment and Durkheimian anomie in light of the Weberian rationalization. This process of rationalization that Weber talks about is a process of unification, standardization, and predictability. Yet, at the same time it leads to atomization, and a sort of disintegration of society. We therefore have these two opposites – unification by rationalization and atomization by alienation – occurring at the same time. Furthermore, conditions are becoming objectively better for a greater and greater proportion of the population, yet this leads to anxiety, depression, and loneliness. We therefore have, instead of the anti-thesis contained within a thesis being reconciled through a synthesis, we have a synthesis that precipitates its own contradictions in a reversal of the dialectical process. We have an Anti-Dialectical process.

For the Nihilectic we have a different sort of opposite to the Dialectic. The thesis contains its own anti-thesis, but the synthesis of the two, instead of transcending both of them will subceed both of them. One way to think about this is in terms of compromise, where proponents of both the thesis and the anti-thesis leave equally unhappy with what resulted. Another example might be a solution that is worse than the problem, such as political ideologies like communism or fascism.

But mostly what I have in mind are (1) postmodern deconstruction, which, although critiquing reason and rationality, actually takes both to the extreme; and (2) analytical philosophy, which has analyzed metaphysics into oblivion.

What I mean is that many of the ways that postmodernism deconstructs the icons of modernist Enlightenment philosophy is by in part showing that those projects fail to meet their own criteria. In other words, postmodern critique set the bar for reason and rationality even higher than the Enlightenment thinkers had and then demonstrates how reason and rationality fail to meet those high bars.

Analytic philosophy has done much the same in, for instance, showing that there are always counterfactuals for things like the analysis of knowledge; that language and logic are insufficient for metaphysics; and that logic itself is incomplete (with Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem itself being an instance of such a Nihilectic).

And so we can see that reason itself contains its own contradiction, yet the synthesis of reason with its anti-thesis results in what I might call a subcession of the two – we end up somewhere lower than where we started, knowing both that reason itself is inadequate, but unreason is itself untenable (self-defeating) and pernicious.

We are thus stuck in a synthesis of reason and unreason that leaves us worse than what we had with either by themselves. Yet, the Nihilectic has so far gone unrecognized because humans cannot live in such an epistemological vacuum. Even knowing Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, or the inadequacies of reason, we still use math and we still apply reason. We do this because the work good enough, in the sense of pragmatist epistemology.

And a vacuum is a good characterization of this Nihilectic, because it is not a synthesis, but a void, a lack of synthesis, of any substance whatsoever. It is not a Nihilectic synthesis, but a Nihilectic obliteration, an ontology reduced to emptiness. Only a pragmatic nominalism remains as a way of measuring this void, but it is by definition measuring nothing.

Thus, we can propose a new Marxian dialectic, but instead of dialectical materialism, it is Nihilectical Eradicationism. It’s a history of obliteration, where the “utopia” at the end is extinction.

Being no longer comes to know itself, as in Hegel’s dialectic, but instead becomes alienated from itself and eventually forgets itself – it loses its consciousness and perishes.

Humans discovered that the universe has no meaning, and we found ourselves in the absurd condition described by Camus. We then then tried to ascribe our own meaning. The obliteration of this thesis/anti-thesis subceeded humankind into impotent desperation, lost in a void where disintegration of the social fabric into a scattered multitude of lonely dissimulating “truths” goes rushing headlong into the looming event horizon of annihilation.

Then the Nihilectic of our highest ideals and greatest innovation with our simple animalistic nature summons Vishnu, whose voice brings together one last time the lost and isolated “truths” of all humans with the words “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.