Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art

Author(s): Susanne K. Langer

Culture & Ideas

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.


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One of those synoptic works which, by bringing together separate areas of knowledge, suddenly reveals the pattern of reality, and gives new meaning to all one's piecemeal explorations...I know of no book in the field of aesthetics which in our time has had such a profound effect. -- Herbert Read

A Prefatory Notes to the Third Edition Preface to the Edition of 1951 Chapter 1: The New Key Chapter 2: Symbolic Transformations Chapter 3: The Logic of Signs and Symbols Chapter 4: Discursive Forms and Presentational Forms Chapter 5: Language Chapter 6: Life-Symbols: The Roots of Sacrament Chapter 7: Life-Symbols: The Roots of Myth Chapter 8: On Significance in Music Chapter 9: The Genesis of Artistic Import Chapter 10: The Fabric of Meaning

General Fields

  • : 9780674665033
  • : Harvard University Press
  • : Harvard University Press
  • : June 1990
  • : 203mm X 140mm X 24mm
  • : United States
  • : January 1978
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Susanne K. Langer
  • : 334
  • : 3rd Revised edition
  • : Paperback