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Dialectical Analysis

by David Barnhill last modified Aug 14, 2010 01:18 PM

A way to deepen your understanding.

Dialectical analysis is a principal way to probe a thinker.

The goal of dialectical analysis is to go beyond a summary to probe the ideas and values, their significance, and their limitations.

It does not matter what your final conclusion is, as long as you show good dialectical analysis in getting there.

The main thing to avoid is too-easy acceptance and too-easy dismissal.


Initial, surface analysis
What are the ideas and values being presented? (Give quotes to illustrate and support your interpretation.)

Deeper analysis
What are the issues involved, their basis, their support, and their implications?

Sympathetic assessment
What is the significance of the ideas and values? In what way do they make sense for that thinker? In what ways are the ideas and their basis and support compelling?

What are the problems and limitations of the ideas, their basis, the support used, and their implications?

How might the thinker or someone else respond to that critique?

What are the assumptions, basis, and implications of your (the critic’s) view? And what are the potential limitations of them?

How might a critic reply to that response?



A dialectical analysis doesn’t require this structure, but the dialectic needs to animate and inform the analysis in some way.

In this way you probe beneath the surface. And in this way your conclusion is more sophisticated and more compelling – even (or especially) if it is more complex.

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by David Barnhill last modified Aug 14, 2010 01:18 PM