Dialectic

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  • In the ancient world, the term is most associated, as recorded by Plato, with the Socratic method of refutation of his interlocutors by means of questions that uncover the others' error (elenchus). Exposing the absurd consequences of their assertions frees them from ignorance and helps them “deliver themselves” (as in pregnancy) of the truth within them. Socrates thus acts as a midwife (his own metaphor), or in another famous metaphor (in the Apology), he likens his needling questions to a gadfly stinging the Athenians out of their intellectual torpor. Although Plato empha sizes the centrality of reason in dialectic, Socrates' dialectic is also a process embedded in personal encounters, where it retains its nontechnical sense of conversing (hence Plato's “dialogues”). In the course of ...

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