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

David Foster Wallace, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert, intro. by James Ryerson, Columbia Univ., $19.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-231-15157-3
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.)
Reviewed on: 10/11/2010
Release date: 12/01/2010
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