The Ethics of David Foster Wallace

Leland de la Durantaye in the Boston Review:

Durantaye_36_2_david_foster_wallace Ships as far as the eye can see. The rising sun glittering on the Aegean. Wind rippling the sails, water lapping the bows, fear, excitement, vengeance, glory, the favor of the gods, the order contemplated, the order given.

Or, expressed differently:

Since obviously under any analysis I have to do either O or O´ (since O´ is not-O), that is, since □(O v O´); and since by (I-4) it is either not possible that I do O or not possible that I do O´, (~◊O v ~◊O´), which is equivalent to (~◊~~O v ~◊~O), which is equivalent to (□~O v □O), we are left with □ (□O v □~O); so that it is necessary that whatever I do, O or O´, I do necessarily, and cannot do otherwise.

Both of these remarks are about fate and free will, necessity and contingency. The first is the scene Aristotle sets; the second is David Foster Wallace’s reformulation of it in his exceptionally promising, and sole, contribution to technical philosophy: his senior honors thesis, newly published in a volume entitled Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will.

In On Interpretation Aristotle defends a view about fate, free will, necessity, and contingency that is at once logical, metaphysical, and naval:

A sea battle must either take place tomorrow or not, but it is not necessary that it should take place tomorrow, neither is it necessary that it should not take place, yet it is necessary that it either should or should not take place tomorrow.

This seems clear enough, and is. Nothing in Aristotle’s example is necessary except that something take place or not take place; a sea battle, after all, cannot both happen and not happen. But what of the metaphysical implications of this logical necessity? How should we speak of contingency and potentiality, if such things truly exist? Is the general free to give the order for battle, or is all foreordained to happen, fixed in future place by natural law and supernatural will?

More here.