Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Modern theories of meaning usually culminate in a critique of science. This book presents a study of human intelligence beginning with a semantic theory and leading into a critique of music.
By implication it sets up a theory of all the arts; the transference of its basic concepts to other arts than music is not developed, but it is sketched, mainly in the chapter on artistic import. Thoughtful readers of the original edition discovered these far-reaching ideas quickly enough as the career of the book shows: it is as applicable to literature, art and music as to the field of philosophy itself.
The topics it deals with are many: language, sacrament, myth, music, abstraction, fact, knowledge--to name only the main ones. But through them all goes the principal theme, symbolic transformation as the essential activity of human minds. This central idea, emphasizing as it does the notion of symbolism, brings Mrs. Langer's book into line with the prevailing interest in semantics. All profound issues of our age seem to center around the basic concepts of symbolism and meaning. The formative, creative, articulating power of symbols is the tonic chord which thinkers of all schools and many diverse fields are unmistakably striking; the surprising, far-reaching implications of this new fundamental conception constitute what Mrs. Langer has called "philosophy in a new key."
Mrs. Langer's book brings the discussion of symbolism into a wider general use than criticism of word meaning. Her volume is vigorous, effective, and well written and will appeal to everyone interested in the contemporary problems of philosophy.
the surest index to a general prospect—the growing preoccupation with that new theme is quite apparent. One needs only to look at the titles of some philosophical books that have appeared within the last fifteen or twenty years: The Meaning of Meaning; 7 Symbolism and Truth; 8 Die Philosophie der symbolischen Formen: 9 Language, Truth and Logic; l0 Symbol und Existenz der Wissen78 C. K. Osden and I. A. Richards (London. 1923). Ralph Munroe Eaton (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. 1925). 9
cannot prove every musical phrase or figure to mean some nameable feeling, memory, or idea, declares, "Until this is done, we must deny that symbolization accounts for the essential charm of the art." 58 But this is a fallacy, based on the assumptions that the rubrics established by language are absolute, so that any other semantic must make the same distinctions as discursive thought, and individualize the same "things," "aspects," "events," and "emotions." What is here criticized as a weakness,
only a rudimentary foundation for a more interesting aspect of meaning. Everything is mere propaedeutic until we come to discourse. It is in discursive thinking that truth and falsehood are born. Before terms are built into propositions, they assert nothing, preclude nothing; in fact, although they may name things, and convey ideas of such things, they say nothing. I have discussed them at such great length simply because most logicians have given them such cavalier treatment that even so obvious
part, to play in the ceremony; as the cult develops, the presiding power acquires an epithet expressing this function: "She who Harkens," "He of Appeasement," "He of Sword-play, He of the Sword." The epithet serves as a name, and soon becomes a name; the name fixes a character which gradually finds expression in new physical representations. So the pillar that was once a phallic symbol becomes a "Herm," and the rock that was itself taboo shelters a sacred snake to account for its holiness. The
musicologist and organist, said without experimental evidence in 1775: that "the force of sound in alarming the passions is prodigious," and that music "does naturally raise a variety of passions in the human breast, similar to the sounds which are expressed; and thus, by the musician's art, . . . we are by turns elated with joy, or sunk in pleasing sorrow rouzed to courage, or quelled by grateful terrors, melted into pity, tenderness, and love, or transported to the regions of bliss, in an