Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art, Third Edition

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Harvard University Press, Jul 1, 2009 - Philosophy - 334 pages
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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.

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Susanne K. Langer is perhaps the only aesthetician with a firm grasp of mathematics, in particular symbolic logic. She wrote a book on that subject which is close to being a page-turner. Her prose is crystalline and her wit is as well-aimed as are her closely reasoned arguments. Because of her solid background in logical symbolism, she was able to build on the work of Ernst Cassirer and create the only viable science-based theory of aesthetics that I know of. (Recent books by neural scientists treating art as incidental instinctive behavior are misguided exercises in scientific arrogance, not science-based aesthetics).
Her work was buried in the avalanche of anti-science that accompanied the rise of post-modernism, and her wonderful books are no longer in print. This book, along with her masterpiece, "Feeling and Form," work together to create a solid foundation for a rational understanding of how each of the major art forms work to create their powerful effects.
Her unfinished magnum opus, "Mind," is fascinating, strange, and worth a careful reading.


The New Key
Symbolic Transformation
The Logic of Signs and Symbols
Discursive and Presentational Forms
LifeSymbols The Roots of Sacrament
LifeSymbols The Roots of Myth
On Significance in Music
The Genesis of Artistic Import
The Fabric of Meaning

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