Suggestions for a Pedagogy of Dialectical Thinking

Dialectical thinking has a long history of both practice and neglect. In modern times, its renewal was brought about by Roy Bhaskar (1949-2014). His theory of MELD, four degrees or moments of dialectic, not only allowed him to show the flaws of hegelian and the depth of marxian thinking, it also grounded his ARA metaphysics which added to the real world of Meld a layer of ethical and aesthetic depth.

The pedagogy of dialectical thinking that is on my mind is strictly one of MELD, thus of the real world seen from a scientific perspective. This pedagogy is based on a very simple connection explored in my work in adult cognitive development and organizational complexity, namely that between Bhaskar’s Moments of Dialectic and Basseches’ dialectical schemata or, as I say, thought forms (TFs). In my conception, expanding logical thinking by breadth-first search leads to four moments of dialectic, while extending this search into depth leads to an unfolding of moments by dialectic by TFs. This connection of moments of dialectic and associated thought forms is the crux of DTF. Mastering DTF is commensurate which understanding and mastering this connection.

The pedagogy I have in mind is therefore based on DTF, the Dialectical Thought Form Framework (Laske 2008, 2015, 2018) which connects Bhaskar’s moments with Basseches’ and Laske’s thought forms. In this pedagogy, I will be very practical, asking: “what is an optimal way for a logical thinker to break out of his/her cocoon and through breadth-first search arrive at Bhaskar’s four moments, and extend this movement through thought forms that leads him/her closer to how the real world works?”

In asking this question, I assume that ‘the real world’ is characterized by (a) lack of a unitary origin, (b) layering, (c) totality [dense interrelationships between components], (d) unceasing movement in the form of change process, and (e) transformation (qualitative change within systems). Movement is not just social or physical movement. Rather, it is structurally rooted movement that has been called ‘negativity’ or ‘absence’, and indicates all that is not simply and positively there but may be absent without not being there, or else is a delimiter of what is there much like the space between words in a text without which one could not “read” the text.

In the world we live in, a pedagogy of dialectical thinking is a priceless tool for moving closer to how the real — both physical and social — world works than we are able to come using binary or modal logic, even systems thinking. It is also a priceless tool for moving from a monological to a dialogical mindset, not only in research, but also in commercial and political practice.

It is a major assumption of dialogical dialectic that Mind cannot be bottled up in single brains or individual bodies but represents an “inter-world” that connects body, self, and the social — if not also the physical — world. Therefore, Mind is not something human minds do, but what they are. Or put differently: there is no Mind outside of internal and external dialog; there are only mind abstractions.

I will lay out and deepen dialogical pedagogy in teachable and learnable steps. My suggestions will be based on a table derived and extended from a 2016 workshop on DTF by Nick Shannon and Bruno Frischherz at ESRAD, shown below:

Steps in Learning Dialectical Thinking

Author: Otto Laske

I am the founder and director of IDM, the Interdevelopmental Institute. My background is in philosophy, psychology, consulting, and coaching based on developmental theory to which I have mightily contributed myself. See the blogs at