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Fate, Time, and Language

An Essay on Free Will

Fate, Time, and Language
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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.

Columbia University Press; January 2011
240 pages; ISBN 9780231527071
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