“thesis, antithesis, synthesis”
Peter Benson explains why Hegel was obsessed with the number three.
One of the best known popularizers of philosophy in Britain is Bryan Magee. Many people will fondly recall his illuminating series of interviews with philosophers for radio and television. So his lavishly illustrated book The Story of Philosophy (Dorling Kindersley, 2001) will attract many readers eager to learn more about the subject. Nor will they be disappointed, for it contains a wealth of information and useful summaries of philosophical ideas.
Nevertheless, I want to draw attention to a significant error in his chapter on Hegel (admittedly a notoriously difficult philosopher). The error is important because it represents a widespread misunderstanding of Hegel’s thought. Quite rightly, Magee emphasizes that, for Hegel, “everything — ideas, religion, the arts, the sciences, the economy, institutions, society itself — is always changing.” But he then goes on to say that Hegel “produced a vocabulary to describe [this process]. The process as a whole he called the dialectical process, or just the dialectic, and he analysed it as made up of three main stages …. thesis, antithesis, synthesis.”