A Daoist Critique of Dialectics and Why It Matters

69 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2018 Last revised: 12 Aug 2020

See all articles by Joseph Pratt

Joseph Pratt

Peking University Law School

Yingnan Zhao

Peking University Law School, Students

Date Written: April 12, 2019


Georg W. F. Hegel’s theory of dialectics is one of the most influential modern attempts at a complete account of reality. Kant and other scholars had resurrected dialectics during the Industrial Revolution as the contradictory either/or thinking accorded with their sense of a fragmented and conflicted world. Hegel then developed a dynamic version of dialectics that he offered as a complete theory. Marx, following scientific trends, applied that dynamic approach to a material explanation of reality. These two dialectic theories, however, beginning with their assumption of contradiction as fundamental, also rested on controversial first principles and thus were stuck in the same kind of paradox that Hegel had originally lamented. The Eastern wisdom tradition of Daoism, in contrast to dialectics, encompasses not just contradiction in a disharmonious dialectic with confirmation, but also complementarity in a harmonious relationship with opposition. This complementarity allows for a seamless path to a transcendent whole and eventually to an ultimate reality, which in Daoism is called “the Dao.” Though Daoism’s particular metaphysical details have been overlooked even in China for much of the past two millennia, they have been practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine and are otherwise central to much of Chinese culture. Daoism is the realization of the dialectical quest for a complete account of reality, and as such warrants contemporary scholars’ attention.

Keywords: Dialectics, Daoism, Holism, Reductionism, Kant, Hegel, Marx

Suggested Citation

Pratt, Joseph and Zhao, Yingnan, A Daoist Critique of Dialectics and Why It Matters (April 12, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3140946 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3140946

Joseph Pratt (Contact Author)

Peking University Law School ( email )

Chenming Building, Room 217
Haidian District
Beijing, 100871

Yingnan Zhao

Peking University Law School, Students ( email )


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