CriticaLink | Plato: Phaedrus | Terms


The term dialectic is used by different branches of philosophy to indicate different concepts. In Plato's Phaedrus, it appears in two related senses:

  1. The intellectual process of synthesis and analysis that must precede any rhetorical treatment of a topic.
  2. The question-and-answer form of philosophical dialogue, also called elenchus, by which Socrates guides his listeners to true knowledge of the topic under discussion.

The two uses of the term are not so distant from one another, as Socrates's dialectical approach to philosophical conversation most often involves the synthetic and analytical investigation of the topic, defining key terms and setting up clear categories.

In the middle ages, dialectic, along with grammar and rhetoric, became one of the three areas of study in the "trivium," the foundation of the liberal arts. Under the influence of Aristotle's work on the subject, dialectic became primarily the study of logic.