Sunday, May 10, 2009

16 Susan Langer

Susan Langer was a pupil of Alfred North Whitehead and was much impressed and excited by the new symbolic logic. She spent all her working life teaching in American universities, first at Colombia, then Connecticut College.

In her book "Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art" she gives a unique and interesting interpretation of the historical development of philosophical thinking.

Every age in the history of philosophy, she says, has its own preoccupation. You see a certain grouping of ideas, not by their subject-matter, but by a subtler common factor which may be called their 'technique'.

The 'technique' or treatment of a problem begins with its first expression as a question. The way a question is asked limits and disposes the ways in which any answer to it , right or wrong, may be given.

This is the quintessence of her approach. Not the great philosophical systems are the most important matters in philosophy, but the questions from which they originated.

We all have a natural way of thinking. It is filled with assumptions about life, the world. We hardly are conscious of the fact that we are assuming certain basic principles.

But, though they are not stated, they find expression in the forms of our questions. A question is really an ambiguous proposition: the answer is its determination. There can be only a certain number of alternatives that wil complete the sense.

Therefore, she says, a philosophy is more characterized by the f o r m u l a t i o n s of its problems than by its solution of them.Its answers establish an edifice of facts; but its questions make the frame in which its picture of facts is plotted.

Our philosophical questions are limited by fundamental assumptions which appear so obvious that we do not know what we are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occured to us. Thence, every moment in history has its horizon.

Susanne Langer then shows how by changing the philosophical questions also our horizon shifts. And she gives a number of interesting examples to demonstrate how if fact our questionsand not our answers shape our world.

When the Ionian philosophers, for instance Thales of Milete, asked what "all" was made of, or how "all" matter behaved, they were assuming a general notion, namely that of a parent substance, a final universal matter th which all sorts of accidents could happen. This notion dictated the terms of their inquiries: what things were and how things changed.

With Socrates there was a definite shift of the horizon. He cared little about the speculative physics that was the very breath of life of the Ionian philosophers. He came with new questions and therewith he brought a new conceptual framework, an entire different perspective, into Greek philosophy.

Socrates wasn't interested in what is, but in the v a l u e of knowing what is, the purpose of science, of political life, practical arts and finally of the course of nature. That everything had a value was to obvious to require statement, untill Socrates began to question that assumption.

A new realm of questions opened up for philosophical thinking. Susanne Langer calls them the generative ideas in the history of philosophy. It will take too much time to discuss all her examples, for instance how with Descatres the questioning of an inner and outer world began.

Referring to the present day she states that science has overtaken philosophy. To quote.."And so, a scientific culture succeeded to the exhausted philosophical vision. An undisputed and uncritical empiricism - not skeptical, but positivistic - became its metaphysical creed, experiment its avowed method, a vast hoard of data its captital and correct prediction of future occurences its proof."

"The heyday of science has stifled and killed our rather worn-out philosophical interests, born three and a half centuries ago from that generative idea, the bifucation of nature into an inner and an outer world."

So, philosophy is dead....are we at the end of our imagination, do we lack true, new generative ideas? "... the mind of man is always fertile, ever creating and discarding, like the earth", as Susanna Langer states.

The new generative ideas are found in the phenomenon of symbolism, the possibility of symbolizing things. A lot of evidence for this is seen in science where more and more things are "known" by calculations, looking at needles in meters and so on, instead of the looking for direct empirical data.

Her analysis of symbolizing took her especially to the arts. To her the symbols of music for instance are highly articulated and express what cannot be expressed in language, namely emotion, motion and sensation.

Such non-linguistically expressible elements were, she held, the fundamental elements of the mind.

I think this leaves you with enough homework, as there is the analysis of the hidden assumptions in philosophical questions, the possibility and working of symbolizing things and the symbolizing working of the non-linguistically expressable content of our mind.

The Discussion

[13:23] hope63 Shepherd: when did she live..
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: that idea of the music is most interesting
[13:23] herman Bergson: This on Susanne Langer
[13:23] Qwark Allen: it is
[13:23] herman Bergson: 1895 till 1985
[13:24] herman Bergson: yes...most of her later work was focused on the philosophy of art
[13:24] herman Bergson: In the beginning she was excited about the new developments around the Vienna Circle
[13:24] hope63 Shepherd: very wise ..
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: i am surprised that her words are not more in evidence in the philosophies of today
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: her works*
[13:25] herman Bergson: Well ...her book A New Key to Philosophy has seen many editions
[13:25] Mickorod Renard: I think she sounds very interesting
[13:25] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. she does!
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: she certainly was at many universities
[13:25] herman Bergson: Yes, Mickorod
[13:25] Ze Novikov: I like the idea of hidden assumptions in questions
[13:26] herman Bergson: What I have brought forward was her first chapter of the book from 1942
[13:26] Mickorod Renard: I like the link between non lingual thoughts and music
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: and the last years of her life were spent in a very art conscious town in connecticut
[13:26] herman Bergson: the remainder of the book continues on issues of art mainly
[13:26] ChatNoir Talon: Home of Thoreau *sighs*
[13:26] hope63 Shepherd: interesting' mick? i think she drove a nail into the coffin of old philosohy
[13:27] herman Bergson: In a way your are right, Hope..
[13:27] Mickorod Renard: maybe,,but I am just a novice learning some about all
[13:27] herman Bergson: especially as she saw philosophy overtaken by science...
[13:27] Samuel Okelly: her approach to how we view the fundamental elements of the mind is very interesting indeed
[13:27] herman Bergson: the only thing that fascinated her as a sourceo of new ideas and knowledge was mathematics
[13:28] Mickorod Renard: that was what i was thinking sam
[13:28] Mickorod Renard: well there is the link math and music
[13:28] Samuel Okelly: "everything is number" was exceptionaly ionian though
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: my yes
[13:28] hope63 Shepherd: what are the fundamental elements of the mind sam..
[13:28] herman Bergson: Yes Samuel...I was surprised by her approach and her clear description of why the questions make the philosophy and not the ensuing theory
[13:29] herman Bergson: Pythagorean...
[13:29] hope63 Shepherd: she understood the old socrates school.. fianlly there the questions were the basis to arrive at concluzsions..
[13:29] Samuel Okelly: it is experienced by us when , for example, "music" moves us hope
[13:30] herman Bergson: Music was her main interest in art
[13:30] Daruma Boa: yes right samuel^^
[13:30] Daruma Boa: hi rodney^^
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)^^
[13:30] Mickorod Renard: rod
[13:30] Qwark Allen: ˜*•. ˜”*°•.˜”*°• Helloooooo! •°*”˜.•°*”˜ .•*˜ ㋡[13:30] Qwark Allen: Hey!
[13:30] Rodney Handrick: Hi Dar
[13:30] Rodney Handrick: Hi Mick
[13:31] herman Bergson: It always is a tricky discussion : the meaning of music....
[13:31] ChatNoir Talon: And that's true, there's other things apart from written language that can express emotions and things language just can't that easily.. like music.. or emoticons
[13:31] herman Bergson: has music a meaning...
[13:31] Rodney Handrick: translator
[13:31] Laila Schuman: Kandinsky was also interested in the use of non linguistic symbols... and wrote two book length essays on it... and yes... he relateds to music too
[13:31] Mickorod Renard: hi rene
[13:31] Rene2008 Zanzibar: hey!
[13:31] hope63 Shepherd: i once say -many years ago.. music.. dance is a form of expressing oneself just like language..
[13:32] Laila Schuman: although his emphasis was on visual art
[13:32] Mickorod Renard: love Kandinsky
[13:32] hope63 Shepherd: language is not confined to words..
[13:32] Qwark Allen: absolutely
[13:32] herman Bergson: I think we cant answer all questions about this issue, but it is interesting to keep the question about meaning related to music in mind
[13:33] Mickorod Renard: someone was say in other day that when we are in mums womb music,,as in mums voice,,is what we first learn
[13:33] herman Bergson: you could read Susanna Langer on this subject...:-)
[13:33] hope63 Shepherd: you a rocker mick? smile
[13:33] Gemma Cleanslate: she would have approved of keeping the question :-)
[13:33] Mickorod Renard: yeh
[13:33] Gemma Cleanslate: any question
[13:33] Alarice Beaumont: well.. one is supposed to play classic music when pregnant :-)
[13:34] hope63 Shepherd: so your kid can be another mozarft alarice?
[13:34] herman Bergson: there you see a question which underlie dozens of assumptions about the world :-)
[13:34] Alarice Beaumont: yes
[13:34] Mickorod Renard: mine is just crazy
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: words are feeble when compared to the emotional conveyance of music and the visual arts
[13:34] Daruma Boa: stimmt
[13:34] Laila Schuman: agreed Ari
[13:34] Daruma Boa: true^^
[13:34] Laila Schuman: and poetry
[13:34] hope63 Shepherd: don't agree ari.. different.. but not feeble..
[13:35] Mickorod Renard: music seems to touch many emotions
[13:35] ChatNoir Talon: I don't know.. to me a music sheet is a technical sheet of instructions, not unlike lines of computer code, á la MSDOS
[13:35] Rene2008 Zanzibar: sorry, can't stay
[13:35] Mickorod Renard: bye rene
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: well that is why mothers sing to the children so often
[13:36] herman Bergson: Then you dont play an instrument ChatNoir???
[13:36] Laila Schuman: Chatnoir... dance to that music... with your eyes closed... or earphones
[13:36] ChatNoir Talon: No no, I 'm not talking about music, I'm talking about the written languege of music
[13:36] hope63 Shepherd: just because in our society we are submerged by words.. and don't make no differences in what we hear.. doesn't mean that words cannot be as "emotional2 as music..
[13:36] Mickorod Renard: I know where i went wrong,,it was me who sang to my kid
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: lolol
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: fathers too
[13:36] herman Bergson: ^_^
[13:36] ChatNoir Talon: And I do play the piano.. well kind of :P
[13:36] Samuel Okelly: :)
[13:36] Qwark Allen: it`s two different kinds of expression
[13:37] herman Bergson: give you one other mystery that fascinated Susanne Langer..
[13:37] herman Bergson: and still puzzles me...
[13:37] herman Bergson: the relation between reality and mathematics....
[13:38] Gemma Cleanslate: oh boy here it is again
[13:38] herman Bergson: as she has become more and more calculations instead of observations
[13:38] herman Bergson: When you go back to 1925 or so there was a lot of excitement about symbolism...
[13:39] Laila Schuman: nods
[13:39] herman Bergson: Wasnt it mentions last time by Susan Stebbing?
[13:39] hope63 Shepherd: go on herman..
[13:39] herman Bergson: I dont think we willl solve here all questions and problems of the issue
[13:39] herman Bergson: but yet it is worth thinking about...
[13:40] herman Bergson: the fact that on the one hand our mind generates symbols in pure mathematics
[13:40] hope63 Shepherd: relation between math and and observation..reality and math.. explain..
[13:40] herman Bergson: and on the other hand we can apply them to symbolize our world
[13:41] ChatNoir Talon: Exactly. What's the fun in going outside to play, when you can stay in your room and try to calculate what the other kids are playing? :P
[13:41] hope63 Shepherd: isn't every word we utter or write a symbol?
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: i found a really lovely quotation from her regarding art
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: In human life, art may arise from almost any activity, and once it does so, it is launched on a long road of exploration, invention, freedom to the limits of extravagance, interference to the point of frustration, finally discipline, controlling constant change and growth.
[13:41] herman Bergson: no....Hope...
[13:41] hope63 Shepherd: no?
[13:41] herman Bergson: there is a difference between symbol and sign, which is a word
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: the languages of music and art stimulate and massage our passions, the written or spoken word is more cerebral and I think plays to our reason
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes Aristotle...
[13:42] hope63 Shepherd: so if i say stone.. its a sign' ' not a symbol for something i see?
[13:42] Laila Schuman: agree Ari
[13:42] Qwark Allen: it allways depend on how you use the music and the language
[13:42] Mickorod Renard: i like that ari
[13:42] Alarice Beaumont: wow
[13:42] herman Bergson: In relation to that there is again interest in the work of Langer
[13:42] Laila Schuman: left brain.... right brain
[13:42] hope63 Shepherd: no
[13:43] Samuel Okelly: the written word is a symbol and the idea is a sign
[13:43] herman Bergson: Howard Garner, a neuroscientist spent a whole chapter on her ideas on symbolism(1982)
[13:43] ChatNoir Talon: I think its fair to draw a difference between symbolism and semiotics
[13:43] hope63 Shepherd: the idea is a sign.. but.. if my english is correct.. a sign is designed to be recognized by someone else..
[13:43] herman Bergson: in relation to left and right hemispheres of the brain
[13:44] Qwark Allen: and there is neurolinguistic, a science that studies how language can interfere with our mind
[13:44] Qwark Allen: and how our mind interoret it
[13:44] Qwark Allen: interpret
[13:44] hope63 Shepherd: we are entering a field where i'm afraid our knowledge is limited..
[13:45] Qwark Allen: not so
[13:45] herman Bergson: a symbol is more than a sign, definitely in the ideas of Susanne Langer..
[13:45] ChatNoir Talon: All human knowledge is ;)
[13:45] Qwark Allen: we are in a learning process every day
[13:46] hope63 Shepherd: what differnce does she make between a sign and a symbol..
[13:46] Qwark Allen: i`ve studie a lot musicotherapie and neurolinguistic, to work at psychiatric hospital
[13:46] Qwark Allen: in other things
[13:46] Laila Schuman: the visual arts use symbol... in ways... but it is not the expected way and it is not the same message from one case to another using that same symbol...
[13:46] Laila Schuman: everything depends upon context
[13:46] hope63 Shepherd: q.. i was not joking when i said your knowledge is above mine..
[13:46] herman Bergson: To Langer the symbol is characterized by a kind of resemblance with the symbolized
[13:46] Qwark Allen: i know
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd: and the ssign?
[13:47] Samuel Okelly:
[13:47] Laila Schuman: and sometimes we do not even realize, in visual art, that we are responding to symbols that we don't have one to one correspondence to language or idea
[13:48] herman Bergson: according to her symbols in contrast with signs gave expression to thoughts that went beyound what could be expressed in language
[13:48] Qwark Allen: just to say that language and other expressions og non verbal comunication, are importants,
[13:48] Mickorod Renard: In English the words "sign" and "symbol" cannot be used interchangeably, so they are not synonyms. For one thing, "symbol" is almost always used for things whose meaning is established and retrieved by convention, even when that convention is based on physical association; whereas a "sign" (in the sense of "evidence") is almost always used when the meaning is established and retrieved by logical or physical necessity.
[13:48] Mickorod Renard: just for ref
[13:48] ChatNoir Talon: Thanks Mick
[13:48] Ze Novikov: :)
[13:48] Laila Schuman: thanks mick... that is very useful...very
[13:49] Mickorod Renard: mp
[13:49] herman Bergson: maybe you might say that a symbol has in contrast to a sign an emotional dimension
[13:49] herman Bergson: Well...another issue for you.....the difference between sign and symbol....
[13:49] Daruma Boa: sorry, i must leave now. hope to see you thursday.
[13:50] Mickorod Renard: bye dar
[13:50] Laila Schuman: the emotional reaction is usually more important than the logical reaction
[13:50] Rodney Handrick: Bye Dar
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Daruma
[13:50] Laila Schuman: in art
[13:50] Ze Novikov: Bye
[13:50] herman Bergson: Yes Laila....that is what art gives its symbolic function, I would say
[13:50] Alarice Beaumont: bye
[13:51] Laila Schuman: yes...agreed
[13:51] herman Bergson: I think I have given you enough to study and think about..:-)
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: always lol'
[13:52] Ze Novikov: Yesss :))
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: thank you
[13:52] Qwark Allen: true :-)
[13:52] Mickorod Renard: do you like franz marc laila?
[13:52] Qwark Allen: ty herman
[13:52] hope63 Shepherd: smile.. pity.. its more to talk about..:)
[13:52] Mickorod Renard: thank you herman
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: Thank you, Professor
[13:52] ChatNoir Talon: Thanks
[13:52] Laila Schuman: when thinking about it... may i say be very conscious of context
[13:52] Rodney Handrick: yes, thank you Herman
[[13:52] Mickorod Renard: very enjoyable
[13:52] Alarice Beaumont: do we talk about her on thursday again?
[13:52] Samuel Okelly: thank you herman!
[13:52] Anne Charles: Thank you Professor
[13:53] Qwark Allen: cya soon
[13:53] Qwark Allen: ˜*•. ˜”*°•.˜”*°• Bye ! •°*”˜.•°*”˜ .•*˜ ㋡
[13:53] herman Bergson: Thank you all for your participation :-)
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: and the tulips are lovely

Posted by herman_bergson on 2009-01-28 14:56:59

1 comment:

  1. I liked your class and quoted a good chunk about what you said of Langer's wonderful sentence about questions in:

    I hope you approve. Any comments or feedback welcome.

    All the best