David Foster Wallace Thesis

David Foster Wallace Thesis-26
This essay's semantic analysis has shown that Taylor's proof doesn't "force" fatalism on us at all.

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First, there is an excellent general introduction by James Ryerson that provides some useful history with respect to both the contemporary fatalism debate and Wallace's intellectual development up to and after the completion of his thesis at Amherst College in the spring of 1985.

In addition, Ryerson does some explaining to non-philosophers of how the central argument of Wallace's thesis works (here I think philosophers will do better to skip these explanations and read the thesis itself first -- not because there is anything misleading in Ryerson's treatment but because it seems clear to me that Wallace's argument will be able to speak for itself).

Of course, I was also aware of Wallace's 2008 suicide and the convulsions in the literary world it had caused.

Frankly, however, I had my worries that the publication of his undergraduate thesis was a purely opportunistic endeavor under these circumstances.

Wallace claimed to disprove Taylor by showing that his arguments were merely semantic and could not establish metaphysical truths such as determinism.

I accepted the invitation to review this collection, headlined by Wallace's undergraduate senior thesis, on something of a lark.

Though I knew Wallace's fiction at the time only by reputation, I had been impressed by the graduation address he delivered at Kenyon College in 2005.

This address, you will likely recall, had gone more or less viral among academics because of its profound and quirky defense of the value of a liberal arts education (sending up the whole graduation speech genre while nevertheless saying the sorts of things we have been hoping to hear from sweaty commencement speakers since we first were forced to attend these events).

In light of what we've seen about the semantics of physical modality, I hold that Taylor's semantic argument does not in fact yield his metaphysical conclusion.

We should now recall that Taylor was offering a very curious sort of argument: a semantic argument for a metaphysical conclusion.


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