Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Philosopher Profile: Paul Weiss

Paul Weiss (1901-2002) was an American philosopher primarily interested in metaphysics, aesthetics, theology, cosmology, ethics, and social and political philosophy.  With Charles Hartshorne he edited all 6 volumes of the Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (Harvard University Press).

Weiss was primarily influenced by ancient and process philosophy, thus arriving at his own "neo-classical" metaphysics.  Philosophers such as Alfred North Whitehead, G. W. F. Hegel, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were of tremendous importance for him.  He authored twelve books, nearly all through Southern Illinois University Press, as well as several hundred articles.  He authored the gargantuan Philosophy in Process (nearly twelve volumes), a collection of his personal thoughts and philosophical reflections.

Weiss was the founder of the Metaphysical Society of America (an organization to which this blog author belongs), established the journal Review of Metaphysics, and his teaching career spanned Bryn Mawr College, Yale University, and the Catholic University of America.  Along with the Charles S. Peirce papers and the Dewey papers, Weiss's papers are found at the Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center.

Weiss's contemporary relevance is easy to establish.  Anyone who claims to specialize in speculative philosophy - attempting to discern modes of being or the most general and ultimate traits of reality - must in fact struggle with the same questions that Weiss did in a similar manner that today's metaphysics warrants.  Weiss's philosophy was that of a bold metaphysician, it is educational today simply because of its fundamentally creative yet also precise, nature: a systematic attempt to think about "all actualities and finalities grounding not only subjective appearances but also objective reality."  His philosophy is at once of the rationalist and realist outlook; he is also a process philosopher, pragmaticist, and speculative idealist.

For me, Weiss's book Creative Ventures is the most relevant of his books.  As I consider creativity and art, Weiss's exciting thinking (which when one reads speculative and systematic philosophy, an outright "exciting" book among turgid technical enterprises is a tough find) emphasizes the venture and quest of creative philosophy and its systematization.  He captures a certain creative transcendence, not as particularized arts or the pluralized host of human adventures, as one finds in art, mathematics, science, leadership (all discussed within the book), but simply as a factor at work within "all of reality."  This book is, for me, truly the first clear reflection on creativity within a precise and technical philosophy that stands among the greats of speculative and systematic philosophy: Hegel, Whitehead, and so on.  In my opinion, Weiss joins these great metaphysicians with this book.  

Creative Ventures "systematically maps creativity in its primary forms - the arts, mathematics, and the sciences, character, society, and the state.  Weiss shows how each created work makes primary use of an irreducible "ultimate" and realizes a distinctive ideal prospect."  We are told that there are two "ultimates" - the first of them dividing into five conditions, and the second is what he calls the Dunamis.  These are the main subjects of the book (the appendix essay on the Dunamis is superb).

Weiss's bold speculative philosophy has been lost to a generation, as, during the heyday of analytical philosophy any focus metaphysics dropped into the background.  Weiss's Creative Ventures is exciting and fresh, so I hope that it is rediscovered today, especially considering the recent resurgence in metaphysics.

Those who are interested in discovering Weiss are urged to begin with Creative Ventures and the LLP Volume on The Philosophy of Paul Weiss.