Authors Related Essays Plato and Dialectic Preparatory Study Images

      The originating inspiration for this essay produced a quandary as to what aspect of dialectic remained to be explored, since so many facets have already been investigated in previous essays.

        We discovered many essential elements of the personal interchange and communication aspects of dialectic that have not yet been explored. The authors have experienced dialectical interchange together and in the writing of this essay explored the dynamics of dialectical writing, an entirely new phenomenon. 1

      We ascertained that dialectical writing, a core element of dialectical communication, had never before been identified or utilized. This essay grew from ongoing dialectical interchange and is itself an example of dialectical writing.

      In a previous essay we saw that life is an ongoing dialectical interchange between humans and an unknown reality appearing, emerging, being released into existence. For those capable of philosophical understanding, dialectic becomes the accustomed mode of speaking, feeling, and sharing concepts. The extra-normal element of Dialectic comes into play when participants realize that they are co-creators of events and other phenomena such as artistic and literary works.

      When two or more advanced persons engage in authentic 2  dialectical interchange, in some sense they "write" or compose shared personal events. Those events may or may not be later recorded in written form. Interchange between true philosophers possesses the nature of "dialectical writing" in an interesting metaphysical sense.

      This essay took shape from what we experienced writing dialectically. All material in this essay derives from our actual personal experience; we refer only to the understanding we've reached through participation. We encountered fascinating new phenomena as we went, witnessing the "reality" of the essay coming into being. We assimilated new aspects of the essence and process of dialectical writing in specific and dialectical interchange in general as we proceeded. In part, this essay recounts our discovery of this new reality, dialectical writing.

No Hidden Agendas in Dialectical Interchange

      We found that an essay created in this "dialectical writing" mode only begins with intimations and intuitions, not a finished concept. We came to realize that the conceiving phase was very real and that Socrates' claim that he had no prior knowledge of what was to transpire in dialectical interchange was not ironic but literal.
Adeimantus: "I divine that you're looking into the question of whether or not we'll allow tragedy and comedy into our city.

Socrates: "Perhaps, and perhaps even more than that, for I myself really don't know yet, but whatever direction dialectic leads us, that's where we must go."

Plato, Commnwealth III, 394d

      A superficial reading of Plato's dialogues encourages the "learned" scholar to suppose that Socrates' claim that he was ignorant was merely a ploy, a pretence, nothing but word-play. Scholastics refuse to take seriously what Socrates himself said: that he possessed only the knowledge of what he did not know, that he had only the advantage of being aware of his own ignorance. Socrates was sincere in saying that he did not begin a dialogue with an agenda.

      Socrates quite honestly believed that he was ignorant, because he was seeking not just knowledge but wisdom. Wisdom is the art of discovering what things really are, what their true relationships are, what their true worth is, and living in harmony with these discoveries. In the infinite realm of wisdom, it would be preposterous to think that one had ever reached the end point.
A Scholastic Side Show: Watch the Pedant Contradict Himself Within a Single Paragraph!

"Think about Socrates. He sometimes pretended to be ignorant in order to awaken the native intelligence of those he was trying to teach. His pose of knowing nothing was one of his masks, a role he chose to play. He asked people to explain abstract concepts to him--justice, beauty, piety--and to do so slowly, carefully, precisely, so that he could grasp every detail. He thus led them to formulate ideas they had never imagined they could formulate, ideas Socrates himself was not necessarily expecting. In that sense his pose of being ignorant was not a pose at all, but a reality: he educated himself by educating others. His mask was naked.

J. E. Rivers, "Confessions of a Mask: A Personal View of Teachers and Teaching"

"There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action."

Does Dialectical Interchange Teach?

     People in Socrates' and Plato's time assumed that they used dialectic to propound their philosophical views. However, dialectical interchange is "instructional" only indirectly and fortuitously. This is an aspect of authentic dialectical interchange which is particularly challenging to grasp. No true Perennialist-Platonist uses Dialectic as a soapbox or pulpit. One must approach Dialectic with NO pre-determined agenda; the event must unfold without being forced to meet pre-arranged guidelines or strict objectives. There may be a theme that one of the participants proposes, but, as in all dialectical interchange, even such a possible theme may be jettisoned if the magic moves in another direction.

      Within dialectical interchange, one participant may be more advanced than another. But the ordinary, traditional teacher-student relationship does not apply. For example, the student must not assume that the interchange will be continually supervised or initiated by the teacher. The student must take equal responsibility for the interchange, both in mental, psychological, spiritual preparation and in initiatory activity within the interchange.

      In dialectical interchange a person comes to meanings and concepts which he or she strongly believes to be correct. The declaration of those insights may appear, to the unitiated, as "teaching" or even pontificating. But ALL content in authentic dialectical interchange is provisional and subject to review and revision.

Paul Brunton with his Guru       This aspect of Platonic dialectical interchange distinguishes it unmistakably from the usual Guru-Disciple relationship in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other authoritarian religions.

      Within the context of dialectical interchange--the primary mode of investigation and learning in the Perennial Tradition--the teacher and student are both seekers. The teacher will have achieved higher understanding and the student will be seeking increased awareness and discernment, but both are equally engaged in opening to the transcendent realities--meanings, concepts, sensibilities--that reveal themselves during dialectical interchange.

      In some instances, dialectical interchange occurs between persons who are equal in development: both persons being teacher and student simultaneously. An instance of this occurs in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth and Darcy teach each other about themselves and in turn learn from the other.

Indirect Teaching within Dialectical Interchange

      We get a very striking picture of the indirectness of teaching within dialectical interchange in the movie Harold and Maude. People viewing the movie receive a stunning "teaching" that many don't "get" or misconstrue. For example, persons who after seeing Harold and Maude ask themselves: "What did he see in her?" miss the point of the movie almost entirely.

      The deeper meaning of the movie is that Maude is an advanced teacher dealing with a beginning student, Harold, teaching him how to die before he dies. Harold is obsessed with physical dying until Maude liberates him from the living death he had elected.

Harold: I decided then I enjoyed being dead.

Maude: A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They're just backing away from life.

*Reach* out. Take a *chance.* Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! [pause]

Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room.

      Maude has "died" to the superficiality of ordinary life and sees the world through her spiritual senses. She seems weird to most people. Harold has grasped the unreal nature of common life and has attempted to mimic death. But he must learn from Maude the essence of dying before he dies.

Maude - ..I like to watch things grow.
.................They grow, and bloom, and fade, and die, and change .............
....into something else!
Maude: But, Harold, we begin to die as soon as we are born. What is so strange about death? It's no surprise. It's part of life. It's change.

Maude: (smiles warmly)
And this too shall pass away.

Harold: Never! Never! I'll never forget you. I wanted to marry you. Don't you understand!
I love you. I love you!

Maude: Oh! That's wonderful, Harold. Go - and love some more.

Static Concepts Can't Explain Dialectical Interchange

Socrates and his wife Xanthippe    It's impossible to use "social exchange theory" in exploring or describing authentic dialectical interchange. The relationship between interchange participants is sometime unequal. The participants in authentic dialectical interchange may not all feel that they have received equal value from their intercommunication.

      For example, we sometimes use dialectical interchange as a screening device when that procedure is indicated--when a person possesses specific qualities that render this process appropriate. Understandably, some participants in screening interchange events will feel that they have not received what they want, and choose not to repeat the experience.
      Social exchange theory is a social psychological and sociological perspective that explains social change and stability as a process of negotiated exchanges between parties. Social exchange theory posits that all human relationships are formed by the use of a subjective cost-benefit analysis and the comparison of alternatives. For example, when a person perceives the costs of a relationship as outweighing the perceived benefits, then the theory predicts that the person will choose to leave the relationship. The theory has roots in economics, psychology and sociology.

      For social exchange theorists, when the costs and benefits are equal in a relationship, then that relationship is defined as equitable. The notion of equity is a core part of social exchange theory.

Dialectical as the Touchstone for Interchange

      A touchstone is a test, criterion, or object for determining the quality or genuineness of an entity. When we've once experienced authentic dialectic, it's clear that this is the touchstone for genuine interpersonal and non-personal interchange and intercommunication. Participants in dialectic open their consciousness to embrace "the other" as they share the mystical experience that is dialectical interchange. Their beings widen to enfold persons or transformative material, with an ultimate goal of union--a coming together of once-divergent elements, gritty ideas that provoke the production of a pearl.

   In its very essence, dialectic is transformation--what Plato referred to as elenchus. 3 Elenchus is today frequently misdefined as "cross-examination" or "refutation." It's actually the process of revealing inconsistent, unproductive, or thoughtless beliefs, characteristics, or ideas and substituting true and sound understanding. Dialectic transformation involves the constant, unending endeavor to discover aspects of immaturity or sleep in yourself and to rise above those to a higher awareness.

Dialectical Interchange Exposes the Debilitating Self

     If you're not finding horrifying elements in your behavior and feelings, then your Master-Panjandrum in inner dialectical interchange isn't performing his or her duty and you should get yourself a more productive guru. Don't put up with someone who isn't forcing you to see odious traits in yourself. Be assured, they are there to be discovered and it's just that your preceptor is falling down on her or his job.

                One of the ways you can determine if you're engaged in a genuine dialectical interchange is if this relationship exposes your debilitating self. The debilitating self inevitably rears its ugly head whenever persons attempt to engage in authentic dialectical interchange because it fears real exposure.

      Always pretending to be the angel of light and reason, the debilitating self may try to convince you that you don't have the capability to engage in dialectical interchange, that this is too exalted a process for your meager talents. Yes, dialectical interchange is an unfamiliar manner of relating to others and requires summoning the courage to step into new territory and learn new skills. But, dialectical interchange is not beyond the powers of anyone who will make the leap into learning to fly by the seat of one's pants and allowing the flow-through of the ever-present outpouring of transcendent inspiration.

      "I have nothing important to say," the debilitating self whines, or "My views wouldn't be accepted by other people, they'd reject what I offer or twist it into an unrecognizable shape. I want what I say or write to be just as I express it, with no one else mangling my deathless prose and its faultless style."

      You know you're experiencing genuine dialectical self-transformation when you regularly discover traits and behaviors in yourself of which you were previously unaware, negative elements that controlled you without your being cognizant of them.

      Genuine dialectical interchange inevitably results in participants discovering character traits that they want to change--and the incentive for that personal transformation. One of the outstanding illustrations of such personal transformation on the part of two persons in a dialectical relationship occurs in Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice.

"It taught me to hope," said Darcy, "as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain that, had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly."

Elizabeth coloured and laughed as she replied, "Yes, you know enough of my frankness to believe me capable of that. After abusing you so abominably to your face, I could have no scruple in abusing you to all your relations."

"What did you say of me, that I did not deserve? For, though your accusations were ill-founded, formed on mistaken premises, my behaviour to you at the time had merited the severest reproof. It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence."

"We will not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed to that evening," said Elizabeth. "The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, will be irreproachable; but since then, we have both, I hope, improved in civility."

"I cannot be so easily reconciled to myself. The recollection of what I then said, of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it, is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: 'had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.' Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me;--though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice."

"I was certainly very far from expecting them to make so strong an impression. I had not the smallest idea of their being ever felt in such a way."

"I can easily believe it. You thought me then devoid of every proper feeling, I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way that would induce you to accept me."

"Oh! do not repeat what I then said. These recollections will not do at all. I assure you that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it."

Darcy mentioned his letter. "Did it," said he, "did it soon make you think better of me? Did you, on reading it, give any credit to its contents?"

She explained what its effect on her had been, and how gradually all her former prejudices had been removed.

"I knew," said he, "that what I wrote must give you pain, but it was necessary. I hope you have destroyed the letter. There was one part especially, the opening of it, which I should dread your having the power of reading again. I can remember some expressions which might justly make you hate me."

"The letter shall certainly be burnt, if you believe it essential to the preservation of my regard; but, though we have both reason to think my opinions not entirely unalterable, they are not, I hope, quite so easily changed as that implies."

"When I wrote that letter," replied Darcy, "I believed myself perfectly calm and cool, but I am since convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit."

"The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness, but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."

"I cannot give you credit for any philosophy of the kind. Your retrospections must be so totally void of reproach, that the contentment arising from them is not of philosophy, but, what is much better, of innocence. But with me, it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude which cannot, which ought not, to be repelled. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased."

"Had you then persuaded yourself that I should?"

"Indeed I had. What will you think of my vanity? I believed you to be wishing, expecting my addresses."

"My manners must have been in fault, but not intentionally, I assure you. I never meant to deceive you, but my spirits might often lead me wrong. How you must have hated me after that evening?"

"Hate you! I was angry perhaps at first, but my anger soon began to take a proper direction."

"I am almost afraid of asking what you thought of me, when we met at Pemberley. You blamed me for coming?"

"No indeed; I felt nothing but surprise."

"Your surprise could not be greater than mine in being noticed by you. My conscience told me that I deserved no extraordinary politeness, and I confess that I did not expect to receive more than my due."

"My object then," replied Darcy, "was to show you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to. How soon any other wishes introduced themselves I can hardly tell, but I believe in about half an hour after I had seen you."

He then told her of Georgiana's delight in her acquaintance, and of her disappointment at its sudden interruption; which naturally leading to the cause of that interruption, she soon learnt that his resolution of following her from Derbyshire in quest of her sister had been formed before he quitted the inn, and that his gravity and thoughtfulness there had arisen from no other struggles than what such a purpose must comprehend.

She expressed her gratitude again, but it was too painful a subject to each, to be dwelt on farther.

"Those who understand Higher Wisdom do not speak in an ordinary manner.

Those who speak in an ordinary manner do not grasp Higher Knowledge.
Lao-tzu, Oriental Teacher

Dialectical Interchange Requires Autonomy, Intelligence, and Honesty

      Interaction and communication within dialectic evinces an uncommon, supernormal openness, considerateness, and honesty which can be experienced in no other atmosphere. Once a person has experienced this kind of interaction, the "small talk" and inanity of ordinary interchange seems unrewarding and repugnant.

      Participants in dialectical interchange are better able to "see" and "listen to" others--in the interchange environment and otherwise. Ego distractions no longer blind and deafen us, and we suddenly discern deeper meanings within persons, events and objects, enabling new, more potent responses.

      Participants in dialectic are more capable of disclosing feelings and ideas, both those which they are aware of when the interchange begins and those newly realized elements which appear as the dialectical process proceeds.

      Many persons are incapable of participating in dialectical interchange because they lack the requisite autonomy, intelligence, and honesty. Until very recently, women were not considered "equal" to men, and relationships were male dominated. Along with the misquoting of the Bible's "a woman shall cleave to her husband," English law enshrined this inequality. English jurist William Blackstone, arbiter of English law pontificated:
"in law a husband and wife are one person, and the husband is that person."

      The destructive prejudice of female inferiority is illustrated by a letter which Charlotte Bronte received from the British Poet Laureate of the time, Robert Southey, when she sent him a sample of her work:
Keswick, March 1837


. . . . Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as accomplishment and a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are you will be less eager for celebrity . . .

      For two or more persons to engage in genuine dialectical interchange, it's necessary that they both possess mental and spiritual autonomy. Their stations in life do not necessarily need to be equal. All participants must be able to think for themselves and must possess the personal force to maintain their own "position." An interesting example of personal autonomy is that between Jane and Mr. Rochester in the novel Jane Eyre. Though Jane is Mr. Rochester's hired governess and he her "master," she possesses a completely autonomous mind which Mr. Rochester not just tolerates but admires.

I was dumb still. He bent his head a little towards me, and with a single hasty glance seemed to dive into my eyes.

"Stubborn?" he said, "and annoyed. Ah! it is consistent. I put my request in an absurd, almost insolent form. Miss Eyre, I beg your pardon. The fact is, once for all, I don't wish to treat you like an inferior: that is" (correcting himself), "I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years' difference in age and a century's advance in experience. This is legitimate, et j'y tiens, as Adèle would say; and it is by virtue of this superiority, and this alone, that I desire you to have the goodness to talk to me a little now, and divert my thoughts, which are galled with dwelling on one point--cankering as a rusty nail."

He had deigned an explanation, almost an apology, and I did not feel insensible to his condescension, and would not seem so.

"I am willing to amuse you, if I can, sir--quite willing; but I cannot introduce a topic, because how do I know what will interest you? Ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them."

"Then, in the first place, do you agree with me that I have a right to be a little masterful, abrupt, perhaps exacting, sometimes, on the grounds I stated, namely, that I am old enough to be your father, and that I have battled through a varied experience with many men of many nations, and roamed over half the globe, while you have lived quietly with one set of people in one house?"

"Do as you please, sir."

"That is no answer; or rather it is a very irritating, because a very evasive one. Reply clearly."

"I don't think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience."

"Humph! Promptly spoken. But I won't allow that, seeing that it would never suit my case, as I have made an indifferent, not to say a bad, use of both advantages. Leaving superiority out of the question, then, you must still agree to receive my orders now and then, without being piqued or hurt by the tone of command. Will you?"

I smiled: I thought to myself Mr. Rochester is peculiar--he seems to forget that he pays me £30 per annum for receiving his orders.

"The smile is very well," said he, catching instantly the passing expression; "but speak too."

"I was thinking, sir, that very few masters would trouble themselves to inquire whether or not their paid subordinates were piqued and hurt by their orders."

"Paid subordinates! What! you are my paid subordinate, are you? Oh yes, I had forgotten the salary! Well then, on that mercenary ground, will you agree to let me hector a little?"

"No, sir, not on that ground; but, on the ground that you did forget it, and that you care whether or not a dependent is comfortable in his dependency, I agree heartily."

"And will you consent to dispense with a great many conventional forms and phrases, without thinking that the omission arises from insolence?"

"I am sure, sir, I should never mistake informality for insolence: one I rather like, the other nothing free-born would submit to, even for a salary."

"Humbug! Most things free-born will submit to anything for a salary; therefore, keep to yourself, and don't venture on generalities of which you are intensely ignorant. However, I mentally shake hands with you for your answer, despite its inaccuracy; and as much for the manner in which it was said, as for the substance of the speech; the manner was frank and sincere; one does not often see such a manner: no, on the contrary, affectation, or coldness, or stupid, coarse-minded misapprehension of one's meaning are the usual rewards of candour. Not three in three thousand raw school-girl-governesses would have answered me as you have just done. But I don't mean to flatter you: if you are cast in a different mould to the majority, it is no merit of yours: Nature did it. And then, after all, I go too fast in my conclusions: for what I yet know, you may be no better than the rest; you may have intolerable defects to counterbalance your few good points."

      Though the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester at this point in the novel is one of mutual autonomy, it still lacks the element of complete honesty. Only when Mr. Rochester and Jane later achieve total honesty with each other does the relationship come to full fruition.

"We experience this other self . . . in such a way that we feel almost as though . . . we confront what we might call our past, brought into the spirit world in the form of memory and transformed into something spiritual by being brought there. And this past of ours begins a conversation in the region where living thought-beings converse." 4


1 Written material originating from dialectical interchange has previously been featured in two essays:
  • The Triumph of Will

  • Diotima and Socrates

    Dialectical writing is entirely new, in that we find no historical record of persons deliberately engaging in dialectical interchange as the mode of producing written material. However, there have been instances of dialectical interchange being recorded in written form, beginning with Plato's dialogues.
2 We're distinguishing between authentic and inauthentic dialectical interchange because most philosophers continue to assume that dialectic is merely argument or debate.

3 One of the major procedures in Platonic Dialectic is elenchus, involvement of the Dialectic participant in self-improvement, confrontation with a self whose irrational attachments to appetite and ego are exposed and overcome. Elenchus comes from the Greek word for "examine" or "investigate." In both the Meno and Book I of the Commonwealth, Plato compares elenchus to a Mystery initiation ritual, indicating that it plays a complex role in the experience of the teacher and student.

Socrates revealed self-contradictions in a participant's belief system to help him to, among other things, guard against erroneously accepting another person as an expert. He also revealed beliefs that the participant didn't know he had, to determine their invisible influence on him. In Plato's dialogues, elenchus involves purging the soul of internal and external obstacles that interfere with learning and transformation. The purpose of elenchus was to help the participant become aware of his ignorance and redirect him towards a virtuous life, beneficial to his soul.

4 Dan Merkur, "Gnosis: An Esoteric Tradition of Mystical Visions and Unions"