Susanne Langer

American philosopher

Susanne Katherina Langer (December 20, 1895July 17, 1985) was an American philosopher of art. She is best known for her 1942 book Philosophy in a New Key.


  • Tragedy dramatizes human life as potentiality and fulfillment. Its virtual future, or Destiny, is therefore quite different from that created in comedy. Comic Destiny is Fortune—what the world will bring, and the man will take or miss, encounter or escape; tragic Destiny is what the man brings, and the world will demand of him. That is his Fate.
    • Feeling and Form, ch. 19, Scribner (1953)
  • Art is the objectification of feeling.
    • Mind, An Essay on Human Feeling, vol. 1, pt. 2, ch. 4 (1967)
  • Music is the tonal analogue of emotive life.
    • Feeling and Form, ch. 1, p. 27, Scribner (1953)
  • Probably the profoundest difference between human and animal needs is made by one piece of human awareness, one fact that is not present to animals, because it is never learned in any direct experience: that is our foreknowledge of death. The fact that we ourselves must die is not a simple and isolated fact. It is built on a wide survey of facts that discloses the structure of history as a succession of overlapping brief lives, the patterns of youth and age, growth and decline; and above all that, it is built on the logical insight that one’s own life is a case in point. Only a creature that can think symbolically about life can conceive of its own death. Our knowledge of death is part of our knowledge of life.
    • Philosophical Sketches, Ayer (1979)
  • Philosophical questions are not by their nature insoluble. They are, indeed, radically different from scientific questions, because they concern the implications and other interrelations of ideas, not the order of physical events; their answers are interpretations instead of factual reports, and their function is to increase not our knowledge of nature, but our understanding of what we know.
    • Feeling and Form, ch. 1, Scribner (1953)
  • 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.
    • Philosophy in a New Key (1941)
  • If we would have new knowledge, we must get us a whole world of new questions.
    • Philosophy in a New Key (1941)
  • The men in the laboratory... cannot be said to observe the actual objects of their curiosity at all. ...The sense data on which the propositions of modern science rest are, for the most part, little photographic spots and blurs, or inky curved lines on paper. ...What is directly observable is only a sign of the "physical fact"; it requires interpretation to yield scientific propositions.
    • Philosophy in a New Key (1942)

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