Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art
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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.
Pleasure [New York, 1910], p. 34.) Gehring's observation bears out the similarity with language, where every word that is used even in a narrow context contributes its meaning, as there established, to the living and growing language. " Der Ausdruck musikalischer Elementarmotrje. Eine exfenmental-psychologische Vntcrsuchung (1923). 186 PHILOSOPHY IN A NEW KEY stripped of all contextual elements of timbre, rhythm, volume, etc., by their uniform production on an electrical instrument, in timed
with the "reality" is a certain proportion of parts—the position and relative length of "ears," the dot where an "eye" belongs, the "head" and "body" in relation to each other, etc. Beside it is exactly the same figure with different ears and tail (fig. 2) ; any child will accept it as a cat. Yet cats don't look like longtailed, short-eared rabbits, in reality. Neither are they flat and white, with a papery texture and a black outline running round them. But all these traits of the pictured cat
peaches themselves. But little noises are ideal conveyors of concepts, for they give us nothing but their meaning. That is the source of the "transparency" of language, on which several scholars have remarked. Vocables in themselves are so worthless that we cease to be aware of their physical presence at all, and become conscious only of their connotations, denotations, or other meanings. Our conceptual activity seems to flow through them, rather than merely to accompany them, as it accompanies
combination of words connoting a situation-concept is a descriptive phrase; if the relation-word in such a phrase is given the grammatical form called a "verb," the phrase becomes a sentence. Verbs are symbols with a double function; they express a relation, and also assert that the relation holds, i.e. that the symbol has a denotation.14 Logically they combine the meaning of a function, <£, and an assertion-sign; a verb has the force of "assert c&( )." When a word is given an arbitrary
but not about the latter. And the conventional expression of a feeling, an attitude, etc., is the first, the lowest form of denotation. In a conventional attitude, something is summed up, understood, and consciously conveyed. So it is deeply interesting that both Kohler and Kellogg have observed in their apes quite unmistakable cases of symbolic (not signific) gesture. Kohler reports that when a young chimpanzee would greet Tschego, it would put its hand into her lap. "If the movement of the arm