About

Columbia University Press Pinterest

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

James Fleming / Atmosphere: Air, Weather, and Climate History Blog

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

Grzegorz W. Kolodko / "Truth, Errors, and Lies"

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

Michael LaSala / Gay and Lesbian Well-Being (Psychology Today)

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

November 30th, 2010 at 7:53 am

David Foster Wallace as Philosopher

David Foster Wallace“I was just awfully good at technical philosophy, and it was the first thing I’d ever been really good at, and so everybody, including me, anticipated I’d make it a career. But it sort of emptied out for me somewhere around age twenty.”—David Foster Wallace

Fate, Time and Language: An Essay in Free Will is David Foster Wallace’s now-famous undergraduate thesis in philosophy. Written while at Amherst, the work challenges the philosopher Richard Taylor’s logical argument regarding human beings’ control over the future.

As James Ryerson points out in his introduction (read an excerpt here), for a period Wallace considered both fiction and philosophy as possible future careers. After receiving his MFA, Wallace was accepted and enrolled in the PhD. program in philosophy at Harvard. Realizing that pursuing philosophy would not allow him to continue writing and grappling with depression, Wallace abandoned his formal pursuit of philosophy.

However, as Ryerson points out in his introduction, philosophy would “forever loom large in his life” and work. Ryerson writes,

In addition to having been formative for his cast of mind, philosophy would repeatedly crop up in the subject matter of his writing. His essay “Authority and American Usage,” about the so-called prescriptivist/descriptivist debate among linguists and lexicographers, features an exegesis of Wittgenstein’s argument against the possibility of a private language. In Everything and More, his book about the history of mathematical ideas of infinity, his guiding insight is that the disputes over mathematical procedures were ultimately debates about metaphysics—about “the ontological status of math entities.” His article “Consider the Lobster” begins as a journalistic report from the annual Maine Lobster Festival but soon becomes a philosophical meditation on the question, “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?” This question leads Wallace into discussions about the distinction between pain and suffering; about the relation between ethics and (culinary) aesthetics; about how we might understand cross-species moral obligations; and about the “hard-core philosophy”—the “metaphysics, epistemology, value theory, ethics”—required to determine the principles that allow us to conclude even that other humans feel pain and have a legitimate interest in not doing so.

Post a comment