Throughout history the term dialectic has had many  meanings and begotten many controversies. The resulting confusion disgusted many people. Large numbers figured that, if logicians spent their days arguing and quibbling and spinning incomprehensible conjurations, then why bother with logic or dialectics at all? Without any particular conscious design, this aversion to dialectics and logic created a tendency to pass over the subject.

In the United States today (1975) many well-educated people have never encountered dialectic in an intellectual sense and are unaware of the rich history of the term. This creates a certain naivete. When the term dialectic is used, even by modern intellectuals, one can never know whether they are innocently throwing in the term because it is stylish, or whether they are using it with understanding and refer to one of the historical meanings. Even if the term is intentionally used, we’re still in the dark as to which  historical meaning is implied. Janov says in  the “Primal Scream”,

“Feeling is the antithesis of Pain. The dialectic of the Primal method is that the more Pains one feels, the less pain one suffers.”[76]

Will Durant says in The Story of Philosophy,

“...the Jesuits gave him [Voltaire] the very instrument of skepticism by teaching him dialectics-the art of proving anything, and therefore at last the habit of believing nothing.”[77]

Benedict M. Ashley, O.P, said in “The Arts of Learning and Communication”,

“The art of storytelling is called poetics, the art of discussion and inquiry is called dialectics, and the art of persuasion is called rhetoric.”[78]

Norman O. Brown in “””Life Against Death” states,

“It was a surprise to perceive, in the course of this study (a study of Freud), affinities not generally recognized:  First Freud’s methodologized affinity with the heretical tradition in logic that can be labeled dialectical, second, his doctrinal affinity with a certain tradition of mystic heresy of which the most important modern representative is Jacob Boehme.[79]

All of the men quoted above could be called modern writers and yet they all seem to mean something different by the term dialectic. In today’s writing (1975), the dialectic has not shed its old meanings as it adopted the new. Rather a variety of  meanings, many of them oppositional to each other operate side by side. When a modern writer speaks of dialectic and also speaks of “revolution”, one is perpetually in doubt as to which dialectic he means and what kind of revolution he has in mind.

In the light of the revolutionary connotations the term dialectic can convey, this confusion of meaning can seriously cloud vital issues. Hegel claimed his Dialectic was a new logic, and higher consciousness, and new reason and a new way to think.  What relation does Hegel’s “new” reason bear to the “new” reason advocated by many English writers in the Twentieth Century? 

The answer to  this question can be found by discovering what relation a theory of rationality, whether old or new, bears to the basic rules of right reason as traditionally supposed in Western philosophy. A theory that accepts the basic rules of common sense will not be a radical dialectic no matter how “new” it claims to be. A truly root change will come in our society when we adopt a logic that rejects the basic rules of common sense, no matter  what name it is given. A dialectical reason can oppose common sense reason and throw a society into a revolution or it can be a common sense reason and unite people into a community of conversation. A definition of reason can raise a flag or lower it.