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Dialectical materialism

The philosophical basis of Marxism is dialectical materialism, an outgrowth of both Hegel's dialectics and Ludwig Feuerbach's materialism. It uses the concepts of thesis, antithesis and synthesis to explain the growth and development of human history. Although Hegel and Marx themselves never used the "thesis, antithesis, synthesis" model to summarize dialectics or dialectical materialism, it is now commonly accepted as illustrating the overall essence of the philosophy.

While dialectical materialism has been traditionally associated almost exclusively with Marxism, the philosophy is applicable to a contemporary worldview as well. There is nothing in either the concept of dialectic as elaborated by Hegel or in materialism itself which requires Marxism. However, because Marxism is essentially free of traditional theological influences, it is particularly well-suited to dialectical materialism, and a comparable political system based on the philosophy has not yet emerged.

Dialectical materialism was foreshadowed in Taoism, an ostensibly materialistic philosophical system which, being free of supernatural elements, posits a naturalistic unity of complementary polarities known as Yin and Yang. This co-substantial union of opposites, known as the Taiji or 'Supreme Ultimate,' is a forerunner of modern dialectical thinking.

Table of contents
1 Materialism
2 Dialectics
3 Selected readings on dialectical materialism


In essence, materialism answers the fundamental question of philosophy by asserting the primacy of the material world: in short, matter precedes thought.

Materialism holds that the world is material, that all phenomena in the universe consist of matter in motion, wherein all things are interdependent and interconnected and develop in accordance with natural law, that the world exists outside us and independently of our perception of it, that thought is a reflection of the material world in the brain, and that the world is in principle knowable.

The ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought. --Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1.


Dialectics is the science of the most general laws of development of nature, society, and thought. Its principal features are as follows:

1) The universe is not an accidental mix of things isolated from each other, but an integral whole, wherein things are mutually interdependent.

2) Nature is in a state of constant motion:

All nature, from the smallest thing to the biggest, from a grain of sand to the sun, from the protista to man, is in a constant state of coming into being and going out of being, in a constant flux, in a ceaseless state of movement and change. --Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature.

3) Development is a process whereby insignificant and imperceptible quantitative changes lead to fundamental, qualitative changes. The latter occur not gradually, but rapidly and abruptly, in the form of a leap from one state to another.
Merely quantitative differences beyond a certain point pass into qualitative changes. --Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1.

4) All things contain within themselves internal contradictions, which are the primary cause of motion, change, development in the world.

Laws of dialectics

The three laws of dialectics are:


The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the this-worldliness of his thinking in practice. --Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach.

Selected readings on dialectical materialism

See also:
Marx, Engels, Marxism, historical materialism