Thesis, antithesis, synthesis

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The triad thesis, antithesis, synthesis is often used to describe the thought of German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel never used the term himself. It originated with Johann Fichte.[1]

The triad is usually described in the following way:[by whom?]

  • The thesis is an intellectual proposition.
  • The antithesis is simply the negation of the thesis, a reaction to the proposition.
  • The synthesis solves the conflict between the thesis and antithesis by reconciling their common truths and forming a new thesis, starting the process over.

History of the idea[edit]

Thomas McFarland, in his Prolegomena to Coleridge's Opus Maximum,[2] identifies Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781) as the genesis of the thesis/antithesis dyad. Kant concretises his ideas into:

  • Thesis: "The world has a beginning in time, and is limited with regard to space."
  • Antithesis: "The world has no beginning and no limits in space, but is infinite, in respect to both time and space."

Inasmuch as conjectures like these can be said to be resolvable, Fichte's Grundlage der gesammten Wissenschaftaslehre (1794) resolved Kant's dyad by synthesis, posing the question thus:[2]

  • Are synthetic judgments a priori possible?
    • No synthesis is possible without a preceding antithesis. As little as synthesis without antithesis, or synthesis without antithesis, is possible; just as little possible are both without thesis.

Fichte employed the triadic idea "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" as a formula for the explanation of change.[3]

Still according to McFarland, Schelling then, in his Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie (1795), arranged the terms schematically in pyramidal form.

According to Walter Kaufmann, although the triad is often thought to form part of an analysis of historical and philosophical progress called the Hegelian dialectic, the assumption is erroneous:[4]

Whoever looks for the stereotype of the allegedly Hegelian dialectic in Hegel's Phenomenology will not find it. What one does find on looking at the table of contents is a very decided preference for triadic arrangements. ... But these many triads are not presented or deduced by Hegel as so many theses, antitheses, and syntheses. It is not by means of any dialectic of that sort that his thought moves up the ladder to absolute knowledge.

Hegel used the "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" idea only once, and he attributed the terminology to Immanuel Kant. The terminology was largely developed by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, also an advocate of the philosophy identified as German idealism. Although Hegel rejected the Fichtean schema, it is at least arguable that his dialectic can be described in Fichtean terms.[3]

Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) adopted and extended the triad, especially in Marx's The Poverty of Philosophy (1847). Here, in Chapter 2, Marx is obsessed by the word "thesis".[5] It can be said[by whom?] to form an important part of the basis for the Marxist theory of history.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Opus Maximum. Princeton University Press, 2002, p.89
  3. ^ a b Harry Ritter: Dictionary of Concepts in History. Greenwood Publishing Group (1986), p.114
  4. ^ Walter Kaufmann (1966). "§ 37". Hegel: A Reinterpretation. Anchor Books. ISBN 0-268-01068-4. OCLC 3168016. 
  5. ^ Chapter 2 of "The Poverty of Philosophy", by Karl Marx

External links[edit]