Dov M. Gabbay and John Woods, vol. 4, British Logic in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Elsevier, 2008), 75–91; John Stuart Mill, “On Fallacies,” in A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, ed. J. M. Robson, in Collected Works of ...
Author: Elisa Tamarkin
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Category: Meaning (Philosophy)
"Before 1800 nothing was irrelevant. So argues Elisa Tamarkin's sweeping cultural history of a key shift in consciousness: the arrival, around 1800, of "relevance" as the means to grasp how something previously disregarded becomes important and interesting. At a time when so much makes claims to attention every day, how does one decide what is most valuable right now? This is not only a contemporary problem. For Ralph Waldo Emerson, the question for the nineteenth century was how, in the immensity and "succession" of objects, anything becomes a proper object of experience. How that question was finally defined as one of relevance is the story of Apropos of Nothing. Relevance, Tamarkin shows, was primarily an Anglo-American concept. It engaged major intellectual figures, centrally the pragmatists-William James, Alain Locke, and John Dewey-and before them thinkers including Emerson and Alfred North Whitehead. Most of all, relevance was a problem for the worlds of art, literature, education, and criticism. These were fascinated by how old, boring, distant, or unfamiliar things get taken in; how they are admitted as meaningful; how they come home to us like the ludicrous raven comes to Edgar Allan Poe's student in the middle of the night in some obscure connection with himself. Many nineteenth-century American artists saw their paintings as pragmatic works that make relevance-that suggest versions of events that feel apropos of our world the moment we see them. (Tamarkin's book is richly illustrated, in color, with works by Winslow Homer, Abbott Handerson Thayer, Edgar Degas, and others.) Relevance remains a conundrum, especially for the humanities. It obliges us to say why we admit Poe's poem-or, say, a line of Emerson's-is interesting enough to study it, to dedicate ourselves to understanding it, to affirming that this effort is, in Emerson's words, "relevant to me and mine, to nature, and the hour that now passes.""--