Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will

Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will

by David Foster Wallace
     
 

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Long before he probed the workings of time, human choice, and human frailty in Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote a brilliant philosophical critique of Richard Taylor's argument for fatalism. In 1962, Taylor used six commonly accepted presuppositions to imply that humans have no control over the future. Not only did Wallace take issue with Taylor's

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Overview

Long before he probed the workings of time, human choice, and human frailty in Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote a brilliant philosophical critique of Richard Taylor's argument for fatalism. In 1962, Taylor used six commonly accepted presuppositions to imply that humans have no control over the future. Not only did Wallace take issue with Taylor's method, which, according to him, scrambled the relations of logic, language, and the physical world, but he also called out a semantic trick at the heart of Taylor's argument.

Wallace was a great skeptic of abstract thinking made to function as a negation of something more genuine and real. He was especially suspicious of certain paradigms of thought-the cerebral aestheticism of modernism, the clever gimmickry of postmodernism-that abandoned "the very old traditional human verities that have to do with spirituality and emotion and community." As Wallace rises to meet the challenge to free will presented by Taylor (and a number of other philosophical heavyweights), we experience the developing perspective of this major novelist, along with the beginning of his lifelong struggle to establish solid logical ground for his soaring convictions. This volume reproduces Taylor's original article and other works on fatalism cited by Wallace in his critique. James Ryerson, an editor at the New York Times Magazine, draws parallels in his introduction between Wallace's early work in philosophy and the themes and explorations of his fiction.

A companion website, www.davidfosterwallace-fate-time-language.net, established by Maureen Eckert, will feature interviews with philosophers and avid Wallace fans on the import of his arguments.

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Editorial Reviews

Justin Moyer
The particulars of Wallace's argument will elude lay readers unfamiliar with philosophy's "contingent future-tensed propositions" and "law of the excluded middle." Still, fiction lovers with even a minimal knowledge of Aristotle and Wittgenstein will understand that the core proposition of fatalism—we have no say in what we do—haunted Wallace's writing.
—The Washington Post
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
Fatalism, the sorrowful erasure of possibilities, is the philosophical problem at the heart of this book. To witness the intellectual exuberance and bravado with which the young Wallace attacks this problem, the ambition and elegance of the solution he works out so that possibility might be resurrected, is to mourn, once again, the possibilities that have been lost.

Financial Times - Anthony Gottlieb
[A] tough and impressive book.Financial Times

Times Literary Supplement - Robert Potts
an excellent summary of Wallace's thought and writing which shows how his philosophical interests were not purely cerebral, but arose from, and fed into, his emotional and ethical concerns.

Notre Dame Philosophical Review - Daniel Speak
Fate, Time, and Laguage contains a great deal of first-rate philosophy throughout, and not least in Wallace's extraordinarily professional and ambitious essay....

Australian Literary Review - James Ley
Valuable and interesting.

Midwest Book Review
A philosophical argument that deserves a place in any college-level library interested in modern philosophical debate. A lively, debative tone keeps this accessible to newcomers.

Financial Times
[A] tough and impressive book.

— Anthony Gottlieb

Times Literary Supplement
an excellent summary of Wallace's thought and writing which shows how his philosophical interests were not purely cerebral, but arose from, and fed into, his emotional and ethical concerns.

— Robert Potts

Notre Dame Philosophical Review
Fate, Time, and Laguage contains a great deal of first-rate philosophy throughout, and not least in Wallace's extraordinarily professional and ambitious essay....

— Daniel Speak

Australian Literary Review
Valuable and interesting.

— James Ley

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231151566
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
12/10/2010
Pages:
264
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) wrote the acclaimed novels Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System and the story collections Oblivion, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Girl with Curious Hair. His nonfiction includes the essay collections Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and the full-length work Everything and More.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
February 21, 1962
Date of Death:
September 12, 2008
Place of Birth:
Ithaca, NY
Place of Death:
Claremont, CA
Education:
B.A. in English & Philosophy, Amherst College, 1985;MFA, University of Arizona, 1987

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