What relation does the Hegelian dialectic have to the structuralist notion of binary opposition? If it has any, where does the synthesis fit in to the dualistic nature of the structuralist system?

Examples in terms of posits might exist in the form, "If it is not A, it must be B". For example, how true is it to say, "If you are not good, you must be bad"? And how true is it to say, "If you are not right, you must be wrong"?

In a Hegelian system, what would the synthesis of the thesis: "good", and its antithesis: "evil" be? Presumably here, evil would necessarily be defined as the absence of virtue.

  • @Conifold happy to accept answer
    – martin
    May 21, 2017 at 22:06

1 Answer 1


There is no "synthesis" in Hegel, it is Fichte's term later adopted by Marx and Engels. Hegel specifically discards Fichte's thesis-antithesis-synthesis triad and replaces it with his own: abstract-negative-concrete. Sublation (not synthesis) is the concretization of the abstract through a successive pair of determinate negations, another of Hegel's special terms, and something much more "descriptive" than the formal negation of logic. More globally, in Hegel's dialectic abstract notions undergo a series of determinations ("omnis determinatio est negatio") in a historical process with the limit of full concretization into the real, "the rational is the real".

Levi-Strauss, one of the founders of French structuralsim in humanities, named Marxism and psychoanalysis among his influences, and there are some triadic developments in his writings, e.g. the dialectic of "langue and parole" (Saussurian distinction of language and speech) in The Structural Study of Myth (1955). See also the OAC discussion Is structuralism an elaboration of dialectics? Levi-Strauss's general historicist outlook is also Hegelian:

"At a different level of reality, Marxism seemed to me to proceed in the same way as geology and psycho-analysis (in the sense in which its founder understood it). All three showed that understanding consists in the reduction of one level of reality to another; that true reality is never the more obvious of realities, and that its nature is already apparent in the care which it takes to evade our detection. In all these cases the problem is the same: the relation, that is to say, between reason and sense-perception; and the goal we are looking for is also the same: a sort of super-rationalism in which sense-perceptions will be integrated into reasoning and yet lose none of their properties."

As for good and evil, Hegel was extremely obscure on the issue, and Marx of course dismissed them as metaphysical abstractions detached from reality. One place where Hegel discusses their dialectic is Conscience: the Beautiful Soul, Evil and its Forgiveness chapter in Phenomenology of the Spirit (morality is also discussed in the second and third chapters of the Philosophy of Right). According to Rockmore's commentary to Phenomenology of the Spirit:

"In the beautiful soul, we find the self as a confirmed individualist, who is isolated from the group... From the perspective of morality, someone who orients his actions to his own values is seen as "evil" and from the ethical perspective as illustrating "hypocrisy" (§660, 401). Evil and hypocrisy can be corrected through restoring the identity of the individual and the universal. For "it must be made apparent that it is evil... and the hypocrisy must be unmasked".

Yet this is not easy to do. The identity cannot be restored "either by the one-sided persistence" of the beautiful soul in taking itself as the principle of action or in condemning it from "the universal perspective" (§662, 402)... Yet "the true, i.e., the self-conscious and existing equalization" (§669, 407), or a way out of this impasse, is already present through mutual recognition, or absolute spirit, in which each party recognizes the other. This occurs when the side that judges the beautiful soul as wanting softens its unyielding attitude. For "it intuits [anschaut] itself" in the beautiful soul that "throws away [wegwirft] its actuality and makes itself into a sublated this [aufegehobenen Diesen], in fact puts itself forward as universal" (§670, 407)."

One can make of this what one may, Hegel (and Marx) were often accused of sacrificing the individual to the "universal" (social). But Levi-Stross was of course more interested in cultural anthropology of morality than specifics of Hegel's speculative manipulation of it.

  • 1
    One should add that morality is but the concept of good, i.e. it may be materially identical with the idea, but is still a determinate negation (something formal) in the subject. It is the law that is the realisation and idea of the good (iff it corresponds with its concept). Only in this positive determination there is no room for evil anymore.
    – Philip Klöcking
    May 22, 2017 at 7:34

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