The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018
Dialectic: Originally developed by Greek philosophers, mainly Socrates and Plato (in The Republic and Phaedrus [both c. 360 B.C.]), a form and method of logical argumentation that typically addresses conflicting ideas or positions. When used in the plural, dialectics refers to any mode of argumentation that attempts to resolve the contradictions between opposing ideas.
The early-nineteenth-century German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel described dialectic as a process whereby a thesis, when countered by an antithesis, leads to the synthesis of a new idea. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, adapting Hegel’s idealist theory, used the phrase dialectical materialism to discuss the way in which a revolutionary class war might lead to the synthesis of a new socioeconomic order.
In literary criticism, dialectic typically refers to the oppositional ideas and / or mediatory reasoning that pervade and unify a given work or group of works. Critics may thus speak of the dialectic of head and heart (reason and passion) in William Shakespeare’s plays. American Marxist critic Fredric Jameson coined the phrase dialectical criticism to refer to a Marxist critical approach that synthesizes structuralist and poststructuralist methodologies.