- Series: Harvard Paperbacks
- Paperback: 313 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; 3rd edition (1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674665031
- ISBN-13: 978-0674665033
- Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #168,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art 3rd Edition
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The central problem of this interesting book is to ascertain precisely the functions served by myth, ritual, and especially the arts, and to develop an adequate theory of artistic significance...What is novel in this book is...Mrs. Langer's development of her theme within the framework of a general theory of symbolism, in accordance with her conviction that the coming period of creative philosophy will use the distinctions of symbolic analysis as its key concepts. To her task she brings an unusual equipment: a solid grounding in modern logical and philosophical analysis, a wide familiarity with relevant anthropological literature, and an expert knowledge of the materials of the arts, especially music...Her analyses are singularly earnest and vigorous, and her conception of the problem is fresh and generally broad. (Ernest Nagel Journal of Philosophy)
The leading contention of Mrs. Langer's striking book resides in the thesis that there is a bifurcation of the world of human meaning into the two domains of semantic and symbolic interpretation, and that the elucidation of the semantic side, which proliferates into the fields of viable behaviour and the logic of the sciences, has, in philosophy, been yielding place for some time past to the insistent claims of the symbolic impulse...One can have little but admiration for the sanity and clarity of the principles of interpretation to which Mrs. Langer subscribes. (Times Literary Supplement)
One of those synoptic works which, by bringing together separate areas of knowledge, suddenly reveals the pattern of reality, and gives new meaning to all one's piecemeal explorations...I know of no book in the field of aesthetics which in our time has had such a profound effect. (Herbert Read)
One of those synoptic works which, by bringing together separate areas of knowledge, suddenly reveals the pattern of reality, and gives new meaning to all one's piecemeal explorations...I know of no book in the field of aesthetics which in our time has had such a profound effect.
--Herbert Read --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Langer addresses the limitations of purely and merely sense-data as a means of coming to terms with reality. She points out that not just seeing (or touching, hearing, tasting, or smelling) is reality. Such perceptions may provide elements of knowledge about the world, but humans create conceptions about reality not based on simply empiricism, but more importantly based on the RELATIONS that we create between such sensed elements. And so perceptions are transformed seamlessly, effortlessly, and often without a second thought, into concepts and ideas about the world.
Langer spells out the different kinds of meaning and makes note of the differences in function between signs and symbols. She defines two broad categories of symbolism - discursive and presentational - and in so doing concludes that all genuine thinking is symbolic and what cannot be expressed in language may be able to be expressed in a presentational form such as painting or music. She explores why this is the case, and concludes that everything that is not speakable thought is feeling.
This is a profoundly important book, and is extraordinarily relevant to human life today.
Science is the process of developing concepts that are expressed symbolically and, by analogy, mirror reality.
The iPhone and, more generally, the Internet, allow us to import and export symbols, but there is no way for the user of such symbols to establish whether the symbols so communicated represent anything real or not.
Langer's book concludes with a chapter on "The Fabric of Meaning." Here she talks about the nature of "facts" and "reality." And herein is the relevance to today: social organizations can take on various forms, but history is replete with examples of what forms of social organization are effective and which forms are not effective. Social organizations of human beings are based not simply on economic relations but relations built of symbolic content, and rules that are communicated from one human element to another using symbols.
Concepts such as individual liberty, freedom, free markets, centrally-planned societies, equality, charity, slavery, theft, private property, the political left, the political right, morality, religion are all fundamentally symbolic creations of humans which, as all symbols do, have a relationship to ideas (connotation) and the real world (denotation). For human beings to have a rational discourse on such matters, we must agree on the real or abstractable elements and their relations which pertain to these things. This book is essential reading if human kind is to live in harmony as our social world becomes increasingly interconnected across the planet Earth through the ability to send and receive symbols of all sorts rapidly from near and far.
The next phase of human evolution will be greatly enhanced if all human beings understand the fundamental philosophical concepts that Langer in this book articulates.
And if you read this and get anything from it, please don't forget that this is just one and not the biggest of Langer's works. She used this as the starting point for her later exploration of the arts in "Feeling and Form," in which she puts to use the ideas of Philosophy in a New Key. Her major opus is the three volume "Mind", which I haven't tackled yet.
Get the book, and stick with it for a relatively dry couple chapters while Langer lays some groundwork in symbolic logic. You'll be glad you did.
To fathom the source of meaning in our life experience, Langer has posed a new question to science that suggests an answer that is still "new" sixty years after it was presented; "is it not possible that the deepest truths, the meaning of life, are not to be found in scientific fact, but in subjective experience?" Her answer- we transmute sense input into symbols of reality that transcend surface meaning. Langer discusses the difference of "discursive logic," based on ideas which can be described in verbal form, from "presentational logic," which is subjective and not fully amenable to verbal formulation. That is, presentational logic is thinking in metaphorical terms- thinking that is in part subconscious. "Symbolization," she writes, "is the essential act of mind; and mind takes in more than what is commonly called thought. Only certain products of the symbol-making brain can be used according to the cannons of discursive reasoning. In every mind there is an enormous store of other symbolic material which is put to different uses or perhaps even to no use at all- a mere result of spontaneous brain activity, a reserve fund of conception,a surplus of mental wealth." In short, symbolic transformation of sense images in the mind, which are often given form through religion, art, poetic use of language, and music, provides access to meanings which purely denotive language cannot set forth, though logic and language are later employed in an attempt to express these subjective feelings. In a chapter discussing music as symbol, Langer writes, "Because the forms of human feeling are much more congruent with musical forms than with the forms of language, music can reveal the nature of feeling with a detail and truth that language cannot approach." She admits that even in 1942, when the book was first published, the various types of logical meaning- signification, denotation, and connotation- were not new concepts. "I have discussed them at such great lengths," she continues, "simply because most logicians have given them such cavalier treatment that even so obvious a distinction as that between sign-function and symbol-functions passed unnoticed, so that careless philosophers have been guilty of letting ambitious genetic psychologists argue them from the conditioned reflex to the wisdom of G. Bernard Shaw, all in one skyrocketing generalizaton." Unfortunately, this oversight is evident in scientists' discussion of the nature of consciousness and "free will" (or the lack thereof) to this day. Some leading neuroscientists are so bound up with the mechanical workings of the brain that they confuse chemical-electrical synaptic connections in the brain with abstract thought. "They have eyes, but cannot see."
"To us [moderns] whose intelligence is bound up with language, whose achievements are physical comforts, machines, medicines, great cities and the means of their destruction, theory of knowledge means theory of communication, generalization, proof, in short; critique of science. But the limits of language are not the last limits of experience, and things inacessible to language may have their own forms of conception, that is to say, their own symbolic devices. Such non-discursive forms, charged with logical possibilities of meaning, underlie the significance of music; and their recognition broadens our epistemology to the point to including not only the semantics of science, but a serious philosophy of art." These insights by Professor Langer are perhaps not new to most of us living in the twenty first century, but they are worth revisiting from time to time, and they are expressed in a straight-forward idiom that even neuroscientists may comprehend. What is needed today, at the end of an epoch which is accustomed to thinking almost exclusively in scientific terms, is a paradigm shift, to see old facts with new eyes. That, Langer would certainly agree, is the sign of a New Age.
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