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French: [[dialectique]]


The term "dialectic" originated with the Greeks, for whom it denoted (among other things) a discursive procedure in which an opponent in a debate is questioned in such a way as to bring out the contradictions in his discourse.

This is the tactic which Plato ascribes to Socrates, who is shown as beginning most dialogues by first reducing his interlocutor to a state of confusion and helplessness.

Psychoanalytic Treatment

Lacan compares this to the first stage of psychoanalytic treatment, when the analyst forces the analysand to confront the contradictions and gaps in his narrative.

However, just as Socrates then proceeds to draw out the truth from the confused statements of his interlocutor, so also the analyst proceeds to draw out the truth from the analysand's free associations.[1]

Thus Lacan argues that "psychoanalysis is a dialectical experience"[2], since the analyst must engage the analysand in 'a dialectical operation."[3]

It is only by means of "an endless dialectical process" that the analyst can subvert the ego's disabling illusions of permanence and stability, in a manner identical to the Socratic Dialogue.[4]

Hegelian Dialectic

Although the origin of dialectics goes back to the Greek philosophers, its dominance in modern philosophy is due to the revival of the concept in the eighteenth century by the post-Kantian idealists Fichte and Hegel, who conceived of the dialectic as a triad of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

For Hegel, the dialectic is both a method of exposition and the structure of historical progress itself.

Thus in Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), Hegel shows how consciousness progresses towards absolute knowledge by means of a series of confrontations between opposing elements.

Each confrontation is resolved by an operation called the Aufhebung (usually translated as "sublation") in which a new idea (the synthesis) is born from the opposition between thesis and antithesis; the synthesis simultaneously annuls, preserves and raises this opposition to a higher level.

Alexandre Kojève

The particular way in which the Hegelian dialectic is appropriated by Lacan owes much to Alexandre Kojève, whose lectures on Hegel Lacan attended in Paris in the 1930s.

Following Kojève Lacan puts great emphasis on the particular stage of the dialectic in which the master confronts the slave, and on the way that desire is constituted dialectically by a relationship with the desire of the Other.

Progression Toward Truth

Using the Dora case to illustrate his point, Lacan shows how psychoanalytic treatment progresses towards truth by a series of dialectical reversals.[5]


Lacan also makes use of a concept of Aufhebung to show how the symbolic order can simultaneously annul, preserve and raise an imaginary object (the imaginary phallus) to the status of a signifier (the symbolic phallus); the phallus then becomes "the signifier of this Aufhebung itself, which it inaugurates by its disappearance."[6]

Lacanian Dialectic

However, there are also important differences between the Lacanian dialectic, and the Hegelian dialectic.

For Lacan, there is no such thing as a final synthesis such as is represented by Hegel's concept of absolute knowledge; the irreducibility of the unconscious represents the impossibility of any such absolute knowledge.

For Lacan, then, "the Aufhebung is one of those sweet dreams of philosophy."[7]

This denial of a final synthesis subverts the very concept of progress itself.

Thus Lacan contrasts his own version of the Aufhebung with that of Hegel, arguing that it repalces Hegel's idea of progress with"the avatars of a lack."[8]

See Also


  1. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 140
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 216
  3. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book I. Freud's Papers on Technique, 1953-54. Trans. John Forrester. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. p. 278
  4. Lacan, Jacques. "Some Reflections on the Ego," Int. J. Psycho-Anal., vol. 34, 1953 [1951b]. p. 12
  5. Lacan, Jacques. "Intervention sur le transfert", in Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. pp. 215-26 ["Intervention on the Transference", trans. Jacqueline Rose, in Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose (eds), Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the École Freudienne, London: Macmillan, 1982 [1951a]. pp. 61-73
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 288
  7. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XX. Encore, 1972-73. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1975. p. 79
  8. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 837