Philosophy in a New Key, by Susanne K. Langer – Session 3 [Cosmos Café 2021-12-02]

We continue to explore Langer’s delightful, weird book.

Reading / Watching / Listening

We are reading Chapter 7 and 8

Previous sessions:

Session 1: Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne Langer [Cosmos Café 2021-11-04]
Session 2: Philosophy in a New Key, by Susanne K. Langer – Session 2 [Cosmos Café 2021-11-18]

Reading Schedule

  • Nov 04: Chs, I, II, III
  • Nov 18: Chs IV, V, VI
  • Dec 02: Chs VII, VIII
  • Dec 16: Chs IX, X

Seed Questions

Langer says," Intelligence is a slippery customer; if one door is closed to it, it finds, or even breaks, another entrance to the world. If one symbolism is inadequate, it seizes another. So I will go with the logicians and linguists as far as they like, but do not promise to go no further. For there is an unexplored possibility of genuine semantic beyond the limits of discursive language. " p. 86

Langer, in chapters 7 and 8, attempts to perform the move from discursive ( English) to non-discursive symbol systems ( music, poetry, ritual and the arts). How successful is she? Discursive forms allow her to go from premises to conclusions in logical steps, but not so with non-discursive forms. Music and ritual performance, she claims, allows humanity to transcend the animal world.

But can you get to transcendence from within the positivist camp that she also claims she has sworn allegiance to? Can she hold these tensions until a shift in perception occurs that will open up the unexplored possibility?

And when does the slippery customer find another entrance to the world?

Or does the slippery customer have to break down the door?

And if she does enter into another semantic space, what happens to those other slippery customers (Carnap and the early Wittgenstein) who were her former mentors and companions?

And why does sad music sometimes make us feel good?

And why does Comedy make us enjoy the folly of others?

And why, during Tragedy, do we grow to admire the victims of folly?

And why do we love to hate the villains? And why do we miss them when they are gone?

And how does private joy or sorrow become public?

And when the intelligent slippery customer has to break down the door, what happens to the Culture within Mrs. Langer’s strange store?

At the back of the opening chapter from Langers texbook An Introduction to Symbolic Logic are an interesting list of questions she gives the student. Her questions gives us a glimpse for how her mind is working in a classroom. And how does her “style” change when she moves from a classroom on logic to a book on aesthetics and culture at large as she attempts to do in A New Key? What does she leave behind? What does she carry across? Can we enter into the weave of her world, 1943-1953, when her work was coming together, and contrast and compare her times with ours?

  1. What is the meant by “transformation”? Why is this notion important for science?
  2. What is the difference between knowledge of a thing and knowledge about it? Do you think a dog has both kinds of knowledge?
  3. What is a " logical picture"? How does it differ from an ordinary picture?
  4. What is a " construct"? Is it always something that has been put together? Is a cloud a " construct"?
  5. What is meant by " content"? What is its relation to form, to “stuff”? May two forms have the same content? May one form have different contents?
  6. What is meant by calling two things “analogous”? What is the importance of analogy?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics



Three years before atomic bombs were dropped upon Japan by the Americans, Langer wrote," The gods have their twilight, the heroes are forgotten; but though mythology has been a passing phase in man’s mental history, the epic lives on, side by side, with philosophy and science, and all higher forms of thought."-p.203

The Mythic and the Modern collide in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. This old fashioned staging of the opening to Act 2 of Die Walkure gives us a sense of the comic book quality of the Mythic Mind’s stock characters, combined with the dissonant power of the modern orchestra, driven by the Beautiful Soul of the anti-semite Wagner. Mark Twain, when he first heard this music, quipped, " It’s better than it sounds."

In a dreamier mood, Sibelius, drawing upon the Finnish epic, Kalevala,( mentioned in Langer’s text), evokes the liminal zone. The tone poem suggests the great Swan gliding across those cold, northern, shimmering lakes, accompanied by the longing of the English horn.


The Sound Waves are a Expressing Themselves into Our Frequency,maybe?


Get a load of this. Male soprano, Bruno di Sa, knocks it out the park. It’s a freaky experience. This is a very rare voice.

1 Like