Philosophy against Misosophy


From Fortune

March 1945


Essays by Me

Essays by Others


Susanne Knauth

Radcliffe College, 1920

(Hat tip to David Marans: check out his Open Access Logic Gallery: Aristotle to the Present.)


From Whose Togas I Dangle


Susanne K. Langer

December 20, 1895-July 17, 1985



By Langer:

About Langer:

By Donald Dryden

By Richard Liddy

By others:



The scholars to whom I owe, directly or indirectly, the material of my thoughts represent many schools and even many fields of scholarship; and the final ex-pression of those thoughts does not always give cre-dit to their influence.  The writings of the sage [Alfred North Whitehead] to whom this book [Philosophy in a New Key] is dedicated receive but scant explicit mention; the same thing holds for the works of Ernst Cassirer, that pioneer in the philosophy of sym-bolism, and of Heinrich Schenker, Louis Arnaud Reid, Kurt Holdstein, and many others.



The continual pursuit of meanings—wider, clearer, more negotiable, more articulate meanings—is philosophy.  It permeates all mental life:  sometimes in the conscious form of metaphysical thought, sometimes in the free, confident manipulation of established ideas to derive their more precise, detailed implications, and sometimes—in the great-est creative periods—in the form of passionate myth-ical, ritual, and devotional expression.  In primitive society such expression meets with little or no obstacle; for the first dawn of mentality has nothing to regret.  Only as one culture supersedes another, every new insight is bought with the life of an older certainty.  The confusion of form and content which characterizes our worship of life-symbols works to the frustration of well-ordered discursive reason, men act inappropriately, blindly, and viciously; but what they are thus wildly and mistakenly trying to do is human, intellectual, and necessary.  Standards of science and ethics must condemn it, for its overt form is rife with error; traditional philosophy must despair of it because it cannot meet any epistemo-logical criterion; but in a wider philosophy of symbol-ism it finds a measure of understanding.  If there is any virtue in the theory of what I have called “symbolic transformation,” then this theory should elucidate not only the achievements of that function, but also its miscarriages, its limitations, and its by-products of illusion and error.  Freedom of thought cannot be reborn without throes; language, art, morality, and science have all given us pain as well as power.  For, as Professor Whitehead has frankly and humbly declared: “Error is the price we pay for progress.” 

Philosophy in a New Key



Science is an intellectual scheme for handling facts, a vast and relatively stable context in which whole classes of facts may be understood.  But it is not the most decisive expression of realistic thinking:  that is the new “historical sense.”  Not our better knowledge of what are the facts of history—there is no judging that—but the passion for running down evidence, all the evidence, the unbiased, objective evidence for specifically dated and located events, without distortion, hypothesis, or interpretation—the faith in the attainability and value of pure fact is that surest symptom . . . .

It is the historical mind, rather than the scientific (in the physicist’s sense), that destroyed the mythical orientation of European culture; the historian, not the mathematician, introduced the “higher criticism,” the standard of actual fact.  It is he who is the real apostle of the realistic age.  Science builds its structure of hypothetical “elements” and laws of their behavior, touching on reality at crucial points . . . . But the historian does not locate known facts in a hypothetical, general pattern of processes; his aim is to link fact to fact, one unique knowable event to another individual one that begot it.  Not space and time, but a geographical place and a date, B.C. or A.D., anchor his propositions to reality.  Science has become deeply tinged with empiricism, and yet its ideal is one of universality, formalism, permanence—the very ideal that presided over its long life since the days of Euclid and Archimedes. . . . Science is almost as old as European culture; but history (not contemporaneous chronicle and genealogy, but epochal, long-range history) is only a few hundred years old; it is peculiarly a product of the realistic phase, the adult stage of judgment.

Philosophy in a New Key