Binary oppositions: definition, features and interesting facts

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Binary oppositions: definition, features and interesting facts
Binary oppositions: definition, features and interesting facts

A nebular opposition (also a binary system) is a pair of related terms or concepts that have opposite meanings. It is a system by which language and thought, two theoretical opposites, are strictly defined and opposed to each other. It is a contrast between two mutually exclusive terms such as on and off, up and down, left and right. The meaning of the phrase "binary opposition" denotes an important concept of structuralism, which proclaims differences as fundamental to all language and thought. In structuralism, it is seen as the fundamental organizer of human philosophy, culture and language.

Black and white


Binary opposition originated in Saussure's theory of structuralism. According to Ferdinand de Saussure, opposition is a means by whichwhose units of language matter. Each unit is defined by contact with another term, as in binary code. This is not a contradictory relationship, but a structural, complementary one. Saussure demonstrated that the essence of a sign comes from its context (syntagmatic dimension) and the group (paradigm) to which it belongs. An example of this is that "good" cannot be comprehended if we do not understand "evil".


As a rule, one of the two opposites assumes the role of dominance over the other. The categorization of binary oppositions is "often value-based and ethnocentric" with illusory order and superficial meaning. In addition, Peter Fourier found that oppositions have deeper or second level binaries that help reinforce the meaning. For example, the concepts of hero and villain include secondary binaries: good/bad, handsome/ugly, liked/disliked, etc.


A classic example of a binary opposition is the presence-absence dichotomy. In much of Western thought, including structuralism, the distinction between presence and absence, seen as polar opposites, is a fundamental element of thought in many cultures. Also, according to post-structuralist criticism, presence dominates absence in Western thought because absence is traditionally seen as what you get when you take away presence. If absence were dominant, presence might be most naturally consideredlike what you get when you take away the absence.

Fire and Water


According to Nasser Maleki, there is another example of this phenomenon where people value one part of a binary opposition over another. We, living in a certain culture, think and act similarly in situations where we want to highlight one of the concepts in opposition or in search of truth or center. For example, we give the advantage of life over death. This suggests that the cultural environment of which the reader is a part can influence the interpretation of a work of literature. Only one concept from the binary opposition is ready to be privileged, and the other is usually set aside as having priority. It is the belief that there is an ultimate reality or center of truth. It can serve as the basis for all our thoughts and actions. This may mean that readers may unknowingly accept one concept of binary opposition. Derrida traces this reaction as a cultural phenomenon.

Philosopher Strauss


According to Jacques Derrida, meaning in the West is defined in terms of binary oppositions, a "violent hierarchy" where "one of the two terms governs the other." Within the opposition in the United States, the African American is defined as the devalued other.

An example of a binary opposition is the male-female dichotomy. The post-structuralist view is that, according to traditional Western thought, a man can be seen as dominating a woman because a man isit is the presence of the phallus, and the vagina is the absence or loss. John Searle suggested that the concept of binary oppositions, as taught and practiced by postmodernists and poststructuralists, is false and lacks rigor.

Opposition in the economy

In politics

Political (not analytical or conceptual) critique of binary oppositions is an important part of third wave feminism, post-colonialism, post-anarchism and critical race theory. It is claimed that the perceived binary dichotomy between male/female, civilized/uncivilized, white/black has perpetuated and legitimized Western power structures in favor of "civilized white people". Over the past fifteen years, it has become commonplace for many social and historical analyzes to consider the variables of sex, sexuality class, race, and ethnicity. Within each of these categories there is usually an unequal opposite.

Post-structural critique of binary oppositions is not just a change in opposition, but its deconstruction, which is described as apolitical, that is, in fact, not a preference for one opposite. Deconstruction is an "event" or "moment" when any opposition is considered to contradict itself and undermine its own power.

binary characters

Deconstruction suggests that all binary oppositions must be analyzed and criticized in all manifestations; the function of both logical and axiological oppositions must be studied in all discourses thatgive meaning and value. But deconstruction reveals more than just how oppositions work and how meanings and values ​​are created in a nihilistic or cynical position, "thereby preventing any effective intervention on the ground." To be effective, deconstruction creates new concepts or concepts, not to synthesize terms in opposition, but to mark their difference, undecidability, and eternal interaction.


Logocentrism is the idea associated with binary opposition as the structural basis of myth, which suggests that certain audiences will prefer one part over another. This favoritism depends on the cultural background of the readers. The strong patriarchal themes in Women and the Pot, an Amharic folk tale, could be one example of logocentrism. It tells the story of two women who are frustrated by their diminished role in society and hence turn to their king for help. It effectively conveys the message that women cannot be relied upon to play a greater role in society, which becomes the moral of the tale.

Prasad explains this idea: “The logocentric value is manifested in the 'Eternal Knowledge', the naturalness of male superiority, which is conveyed through a fairy tale. Hidden a priori binary opposition "Man over woman". Prasad says that the audience's cultural heritage influences their unconscious preference for one part of the concept. “Through the study of selected Ethiopian folk tales, the article reveals the presence of logocentrism and a priori binaryopposition in the modern mass consciousness operating in Ethiopian folk tales. These two elements are trying to support and confirm the subordination of women in society.”

Two opposites

In Literature

Binary opposition in language and speech is as deeply rooted in literature as language, and paired opposites are based on the connection with adjacent words within the paradigmatic chain. If one of the paired opposites is removed, the exact meaning of the other will be changed. In addition, opposition has been explored in children's literature. The authors were found to reinforce Western images and philosophies of feminism through hierarchy. Western writers have created representations of non-Western countries based on colonial discourse, using binary oppositions in the humanities to classify people's behavior into one or the other term rather than both. Therefore, the non-Western woman was the "opposite" or "other" woman.

In lexical semantics, opposites are words that lie in inherently incompatible binary oppositions (binary model), like opposite pairs: big-small, long-short and preceding-follow. The concept of incompatibility here refers to the fact that one word in the opposite pair means that it is not a member of the other pair. For example, something long entails that it is not short. This is called a binary relation because there are two terms in the set of opposites. Relationships between oppositesknown as opposition. A member of a pair of opposites can usually be determined by asking: what is the opposite of X?

Monster opposites


The term antonym (and related antonymy) is usually understood as a synonym for the opposite, but antonym also has other, more limited meanings. Graded (or graded) antonyms are pairs of words whose meanings are opposite. They lie in a continuous spectrum (hot, cold). Complementary antonyms are pairs of words whose meanings are opposite but do not lie on a continuous spectrum. Relational antonyms are pairs of words where the opposite only makes sense in the context of the relationship between the two meanings (teacher, student). These more limited meanings may not apply in all scientific contexts.

Antonym is a pair of words with opposite meanings. Each word in a pair is the opposite of the other. There are three categories of antonyms, determined by the nature of the relationship between opposite meanings. When two words have definitions that lie on a continuous spectrum of meanings, they are gradient antonyms. When the meanings do not lie on a continuous spectrum and the words have no other lexical relationships, they are complementary antonyms. If two meanings are only opposite in the context of their relationship, they are relational antonyms.

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