O or O´


From Boston Review:

Ships as far as the eye can see. The rising sun glittering on the Aegean. Wind rippling the sails, water lapping the bows, fear, excitement, vengeance, glory, the favor of the gods, the order contemplated, the order given.

Or, expressed differently:

Since obviously under any analysis I have to do either O or O´ (since O´ is not-O), that is, since □(O v O´); and since by (I-4) it is either not possible that I do O or not possible that I do O´, (~◊O v ~◊O´), which is equivalent to (~◊~~O v ~◊~O), which is equivalent to (□~O v □O), we are left with □ (□O v □~O); so that it is necessary that whatever I do, O or O´, I do necessarily, and cannot do otherwise.

Both of these remarks are about fate and free will, necessity and contingency. The first is the scene Aristotle sets; the second is David Foster Wallace’s reformulation of it in his exceptionally promising, and sole, contribution to technical philosophy: his senior honors thesis, newly published in a volume entitled Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will.

Wallace’s thesis is a dense, formula-filled, 80-page examination, restatement, and refutation of the distinguished philosopher (and bee-keeper) Richard Taylor’s 1962 paper “Fatalism.” The thesis was submitted to Amherst College’s philosophy department in 1985 and was awarded the Gail Kennedy Memorial Prize in Philosophy (the same prize that Wallace’s father, James, had won 26 years earlier). As the passage cited above suggests, it is not an easy read—one of the reasons it is surrounded by so much ancillary material (the reader doesn’t reach the thesis itself until page 141 of the book) and why James Ryerson’s introduction is indispensable. But despite its technical language, the thesis is relatively easy to characterize: it aspires to refute the idea, advanced in Taylor’s paper, that free will is an illusion.

“How to Be Happy: The Ethics of David Foster Wallace”, Leland de la Durantaye, Boston Review