Overview


Long before he published Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote a brilliant 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 that lie at the heart of Taylor's argument.

Wallace...

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

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Overview


Long before he published Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote a brilliant 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 that lie at the heart of Taylor's argument.

Wallace was a great skeptic of abstract thinking as a negation of something more genuine and real. He was especially suspicious of certain theoretical paradigms& mdash;the cerebral aestheticism of modernism, the clever gimmickry of postmodernism& mdash;that abandoned "the very old traditional human verities that have to do with spirituality and emotion and community." As Wallace rises up to meet the challenge of Taylor (not to mention a number of other philosophical heavyweights), we watch the perspective of a major novelist develop, along with a lifelong struggle to find solid 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 philosophy and fiction.

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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.
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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231527071
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 1/22/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 409,734
  • File size: 645 KB

Meet the Author

David Foster Wallace

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.

Biography

Born in Ithaca, NY, and raised in Champaign, IL, David Foster Wallace grew up athletically gifted and exceptionally bright, with an avid interest in tennis, literature, philosophy, and math. He attended Amherst and graduated in 1985 with a double major in English and Philosophy. His philosophy thesis (on modal logic) won the Gail Kennedy Memorial Prize. His English thesis would become his first novel, The Broom of the System. Published in 1987 during his second year of grad school at the University of Arizona, the book sold well, garnering national attention and critical praise in equal measure. Two years later, a book of short stories, Girl with Curious Hair, was published to admiring reviews.

In the early 1990s, Wallace's short fiction began to appear regularly in publications like Playboy, The Paris Review, and The New Yorker, along with excerpts from his second novel, a complex, enormously ambitious work published in 1996 as Infinite Jest. Surpassing 1,000 pages in length, the novel was hailed as a masterpiece ("[A]n entertainment so irresistibly pleasurable it renders the viewer catatonic," raved Newsweek. "[R]esourceful, hilarious, intelligent, and unique," pronounced Atlantic Monthly), and Wallace was crowned on the spot the new heavyweight champion of literary fiction.

Hyperbole aside, Infinite Jest, with its linguistic acrobatics (challenging complex clauses, coined words, etc.) and sly, self-referential footnotes, proved to be the template for a new literary style. Subversive, hip, and teeming with postmodernist irony, the book attracted a rabid cult following and exerted an influence on up-and-coming young writers that is still felt today. The scope of Wallace's achievement can be measured by the fact that one year after the publication of Infinite Jest, he was awarded the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant."

Nearly as famous for his nonfiction as for his novels and stories, Wallace produced mind-boggling essays on assignment for magazines like Harper's. In contrast to his sad, dark, disturbing fiction, these essays -- subsequently collected into such bestselling anthologies as A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (1997), Everything and More (2003), and Consider the Lobster (2007) -- were ridiculously exuberant, fairly bursting with humor, energy, and good cheer. Yet Wallace himself suffered from clinical depression most of his adult life. He was treated successfully with anti-depressants, until side effects from the drugs began to interfere with his productivity. At his doctor's suggestion, he stopped taking the medication.The depression returned, and he did not respond to any further treatment. In September of 2008, at the age of 46, he committed suicide.

Wallace's influence on contemporary literature cannot be overstated. Descended from post-war superstars like Thomas Pynchon and Don De Lillo, his style is clearly visible in the work of postmodernists like Jonathan Safran Foer and Dave Eggers. His untimely death was mourned by critics, writers, and millions of adoring fans. As author David Lipsky stated in a tribute that aired on NPR in September, 2008: "To read David Foster Wallace was to feel your eyelids pulled open."

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

Table of Contents

Preface, by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen EckertIntroduction: A Head That Throbbed Heartlike: The Philosophical Mind of David Foster Wallace, by James RyersonPart I: The Background Introduction, by Steven M. Cahn1. Fatalism, by Richard Taylor2. Professor Taylor on Fatalism, by John Turk Saunders3. Fatalism and Ability, by Richard Taylor4. Fatalism and Ability II, by Peter Makepeace5. Fatalism and Linguistic Reform, by John Turk Saunders6. Fatalism and Professor Taylor, by Bruce Aune7. Taylor's Fatal Fallacy, by Raziel Abelson8. A Note on Fatalism, by Richard Taylor9. Tautology and Fatalism, by Richard Sharvy10. Fatalistic Arguments, by Steven Cahn11. Comment, by Richard Taylor12. Fatalism and Ordinary Language, by John Turk Saunders13. Fallacies in Taylor's "Fatalism", by Charles D. BrownPart II: The Essay 14. Renewing the Fatalist Conversation, by Maureen Eckert15. Richard Taylor's "Fatalism" and the Semantics of Physical Modality, by David Foster WallacePart III: Epilogue 16. David Foster Wallace as Student: A Memoir, by Jay GarfieldAppendix: The Problem of Future Contingencies, by Richard Taylor

Columbia University Press

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