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Dichotomy is the claim that “there are two kinds of X in the world.”


Dichotomy is derived from the Greek, meaning “cut in two,” and means that a given field can be divided into two classes: male and female, emotion and reason, and so on.

In most cases, dichotomy turns out to be mistaken, except for trivial cases. “Inside the body” and “outside the body” does divide the world into two, but this dichotomy turns out to be of limited use in either medicine or psychology because of the continual interchange and movement between the inner and outer, and there are few processes which can be unambiguously assigned to either inner or outer.

But the problem of dichotomy is rarely resolved by the notion of “fuzzy boundaries” or “in-between cases.” Rather, it is a matter of Mediation between one and the other, of the mutual constitution of each by the other, their interdependence and relativity and of continual movement between one and the other.

And nor should the effort to avoid dichotomy (or “dualism”) lead us to deny distinction. To make a distinction, for example, between the individual and the social, is rational, though it is quite impossible to ascribe any set of features or characteristics unambiguously to the social or the individual. But to declare that the distinction does not exist is fruitless.

Often, the problem of dichotomy is most fruitfully resolved by introducing a third so that each of the three categories mediates between the other two, thus avoiding both dichotomy and trichotomy. Sometimes the dichotomy is resolved only by abandoning one or other category as simply a “bad concept.”

-- AndyBlunden - 08 Oct 2014


Topic revision: r1 - 08 Oct 2014, AndyBlunden

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