Monday, March 28, 2011

Fate and freedom ...

... Boston Review — Leland de la Durantaye: How to Be Happy. (Hat tip, Daniel Pritchard.)

In the fullness of time, Aristotle’s sea battle gave rise to modal logic—the branch of formal logic concerned with possibility and necessity—and thereby to David Foster Wallace’s youthful attempt to use modal logic to refute arguments in favor of fatalism. Sea battles are full of accident and adventure, and thus the sort of thing that generally appeals to budding novelists. Modal logic, however, is a rarer taste, and requires some special explanation. Readers of academic philosophy may be interested in the modal logic, but what is there for Wallace’s literary fans in his thesis? A ready answer is nothing whatsoever. But a better, if hidden, one is that in it is the most important idea of all, the one that links together all his works, all his most passionate thinking: the idea of how truly to be free, or, as he more colorfully expressed it, of how to be “a fucking human being.”

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