Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Paul Weiss's Method(s) and System(s)

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Paul Weiss's Method(s) and System(s)

Article excerpt

Understanding the work of any philosopher requires that we be familiar not only with its stated claims but also with the method used to arrive at them; both to see whether it has been employed consistently and to try it out ourselves and test its results. We may also have to think along, challenging ourselves to answer the same questions. The work of Paul Weiss is a prime example. Given its sheer bulk, as well as the numerous changes in nomenclature and even basic ontology, we have to penetrate deeper than just what has been said at this or that time but understand the method, check its results and, perhaps, dare to think along.

The release of a systematic metaphysical treatise, Being and Other Realities,(1) and Volume 23 of the Library of Living Philosophers, The Philosophy of Paul Weiss(2), then, calls for an exposition of this latest expression and an inquiry into both Weiss's method and its role in the development of his thought up to this point. In what follows, the somewhat novel doctrine of Being and Other Realities will be briefly summarized. Then, Weiss's philosophical method(s) and their role in the development of his system(s) will be addressed. The expressions "method(s)" and "system(s)" refer to the totality of Weiss's different methods and systems; their unities are not entirely clear. What Weiss's "method," is, that is, which one is foremost, has perplexed Weiss's readers for some time.(3) It continues to do so. Here, several methods will be identified, including one based on his early theory of the propositions used in perceptual judgment. This will shed light on the continuity and consistency of his many systematic expressions. Although not an in-depth study of Being and Other Realities, this article is an attempt to place that work in the context of Weiss's entire opus, hopefully making both more accessible.


The central insight in Paul Weiss's philosophical writing is that Being constitutes a multiplicity of individuals, held together by universal constraints, which contour all there is in at least four irreducibly different ways. The goal of the theoretical articulation of this insight is to reveal the fault lines of the fundamental dimensions of Being. If successful, it would ground a complex pluralism, preventing the accommodation of multiple perspectives from degenerating into perspectivalism or unrestrained relativity. Consequently, puzzles pressed upon us in our current intellectual scene, like those encapsulated in references to "alternative conceptual schemes," "multiculturalism," and "pluralisms" of all sorts, are situated within a metaphysical scheme with sufficient complexity to resolve them. Might a metaphysical theory resolve all such puzzles that reach into every contemporary intellectual endeavor, including semantics, ethics, politics, and ontology? Certainly, this is the sort of grand task which Paul Weiss has set for himself. He is not alone.(4)

Weiss has, however, expressed this fundamental pluralism in quite a number of ways. In Being and Other Realities, the doctrine is more complex than any previously offered. The book begins with a recapitulative introduction which takes us through this latest doctrine in summary form. Weiss begins his inquiry, as he does elsewhere, with reflections on early experience and common sense. He moves on to an account of the fundamental realities and their relation to a necessary Being, ending with a discussion of the importance of metaphysics for ethics.

In Being and Other Realities, Weiss claims to discover the existence of four fundamental domains: the domain of persons, the humanized world, nature, and the cosmos.(5) "Domain" is not explicitly defined but three of its central meanings are clearly intended: a territory under one dominion; a field or sphere of activity or influence (for example, the domain of science); and the set of values for a variable which can be used as an argument for a given function. …

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