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

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


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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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231151566
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 12/10/2010
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 862,820
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About 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.

Date of Birth:

February 21, 1962

Date of Death:

September 12, 2008

Place of Birth:

Ithaca, NY

Place of Death:

Claremont, CA


B.A. in English & Philosophy, Amherst College, 1985;MFA, University of Arizona, 1987

Table of Contents

Preface, by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert Introduction: A Head That Throbbed Heartlike: The Philosophical Mind of David Foster Wallace, by James Ryerson
Part I: The Background
Introduction, by Steven M. Cahn
1. Fatalism, by Richard Taylor
2. Professor Taylor on Fatalism, by John Turk Saunders
3. Fatalism and Ability, by Richard Taylor
4. Fatalism and Ability II, by Peter Makepeace
5. Fatalism and Linguistic Reform, by John Turk Saunders
6. Fatalism and Professor Taylor, by Bruce Aune
7. Taylor's Fatal Fallacy, by Raziel Abelson
8. A Note on Fatalism, by Richard Taylor
9. Tautology and Fatalism, by Richard Sharvy
10. Fatalistic Arguments, by Steven Cahn
11. Comment, by Richard Taylor
12. Fatalism and Ordinary Language, by John Turk Saunders
13. Fallacies in Taylor's "Fatalism", by Charles D. Brown
Part II: The Essay
14. Renewing the Fatalist Conversation, by Maureen Eckert
15. Richard Taylor's "Fatalism" and the Semantics of Physical Modality, by David Foster Wallace
Part III: Epilogue
16. David Foster Wallace as Student: A Memoir, by Jay Garfield Appendix: The Problem of Future Contingencies, by Richard Taylor

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.'

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Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
CK25_00 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
David Foster Wallace was more than a complex fiction writer. He was also a complex philosopher. Much like his father, James Wallace, David had a knack for wrapping his brain around logistical queries and rewriting them to his liking. One such problem concerned a paper on Fatalism written back in the 60¿s by a fellow named Richard Taylor. Taylor sought out to prove that, though philosophy, a logical argument could be made for maintaining a position that fatalism is alive and well in what he calls `logical necessity¿.A fatalist reasons that the future (much like the past) cannot be changed and thinks that any and all future events are inevitable. What happens was meant to happen and there¿s no other way it could have happened. The book starts with Taylor¿s short essay and then snowballs into back and forth sniping between Taylor and critics that sought to expose fatalism as nothing more than wishful thinking. Then, in 1985, Wallace, a twenty-something grad student looking for a thesis, took on Taylor¿s argument, and, in the process, created what was called System J, for interpreting physical modalities. To be sure, this is incredibly deep material. As someone who¿s had only a few philosophical (logic, not historical) classes, I quickly lost my nerve after reading the first essay by Taylor. A big part to understanding the material is rooted in mathematical algebraic logic. Though it¿s not as mind-bending as his 2010 book on mathematical infinity, ¿Everything and More...¿, Time, Fate, and Language is no pushover. However, it¿s DFW¿s writing that helps the reader glean his overall point, which I believe is cogent enough for any reader to understand. It¿s not that Taylor is outright wrong, but rather, Wallace argues that Taylor is confusing metaphysics and semantics in his presuppositions leading to the oft-repeated syllogism: A sea battle will either take or not take place if a naval commander issues a certain order. Should fans of DFW be encouraged to pick up this previously unpublished thesis? On the one hand there is some insight (not enough), mostly contained in the preface and appendices that shed light on DFW as a student and his blossoming philosophy hobby. It doesn¿t necessarily, and shouldn¿t, act as a full biographical account, as that¿s not where the focus of the book lies, but if you¿re interested to know some of DFW¿s motivations as a student (not to mention to see how densely constructed his writing could be for a 25 year old) then perhaps you may want to seek out this title. At the worst you¿ll spend days after bemoaning the loss of such a philosophical and literary talent but at the very best you¿ll have a spent just a little more time gaining some insight into the mind of a gifted individual.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago