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

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

by David Foster Wallace, Steven M. Cahn, Maureen Eckert, James Ryerson, Jay Garfield
     
 

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In 1962, the philosopher Richard Taylor used six commonly accepted presuppositions to imply that human beings have no control over the future. David Foster Wallace not only took issue with Taylor's method, which, according to him, scrambled the relations of logic, language, and the physical world, but also noted a semantic trick at the heart of Taylor's argument.

Overview

In 1962, the philosopher Richard Taylor used six commonly accepted presuppositions to imply that human beings have no control over the future. David Foster Wallace not only took issue with Taylor's method, which, according to him, scrambled the relations of logic, language, and the physical world, but also noted a semantic trick at the heart of Taylor's argument.

Fate, Time, and Language presents Wallace's brilliant critique of Taylor's work. Written long before the publication of his fiction and essays, Wallace's thesis reveals his great skepticism 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, we witness the developing perspective of this major novelist, along with his struggle to establish solid logical ground for his convictions. This volume, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert, reproduces Taylor's original article and other works on fatalism cited by Wallace. James Ryerson's introduction connects Wallace's early philosophical work to the themes and explorations of his later fiction, and Jay Garfield supplies a critical biographical epilogue.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A progression of ordinary-seeming premises that would obliterate free will is challenged on its own grounds by the late, celebrated author of Infinite Jest. Written in the mid-1980s as one of Wallace's two undergraduate theses at Amherst College (his first novel, The Broom of the System, was the other), it addresses a "logical slippage"--as James Ryerson puts it--in Richard Taylor's six famous presuppositions that contend that man has no control over his fate. The paper, a survey of Taylor's argument and its influence on late-20th-century philosophy, is reprinted in its entirety, and the language of modal logic can be heavy going at times--be prepared for pages of highly specialized discussion on logic that necessitate accompanying diagrams. Still, as an early glimpse at the preoccupations of one of the 20th century's most compelling and philosophical authors, it is invaluable, and Wallace's conclusion--"if Taylor and the fatalists want to force upon us a metaphysical conclusion, they must do metaphysics, not semantics"--is simply elegant. (Dec.)
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

Library Journal
This is the late Wallace's previously unpublished senior undergraduate philosophy thesis (1985, Amherst Coll.). He writes on the classical philosophical problem of fatalism, which is essentially the problem of asserting individual free will. As an undergraduate Wallace learned the logic needed to refute a claim of fatalism and the need to propose new logical systems for making his argument against fatalism. This book includes New York Times Magazine editor James Ryerson's introductory essay to establish context; a republication of philosopher Richard Taylor's essay to which Wallace was specifically responding; and a number of previously published papers that feature objections to fatalism or refutations by fatalists, e.g., an essay by coeditor Cahn (philosophy, Columbia Univ.). VERDICT Wallace's senior thesis is accessible to all who have a basic understanding of logic. This book is for any reader who has enjoyed the works of Wallace and for philosophy students specializing in fatalism.—Jim Hahn, Univ. of Illinois Lib., Urbana
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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231151573
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
12/10/2010
Pages:
264
Sales rank:
559,637
Product dimensions:
8.48(w) x 11.70(h) x 0.36(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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What People are saying about this

New York Times Book Review - Jonathan Franzen
I think Dave, foremost among a group of writers that also includes George Saunders and Rick Moody, created a new American literary idiom through which people who are young, or who aren't young but still feel like they are, can give voice to the full range of their intelligence and emotion and moral sensibility without feeling dorky and uncontemporary. It's very hard to read Dave and not feel almost peer-pressured to emulate him—his style is utterly contagious. But none of his emulators have his giant talent or his passionate precision. Somebody could write a whole monograph on how deliberately and artfully he deploys the modifier 'sort of.'

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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