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Weiss, Paul. Surrogates.

WEISS, Paul. Surrogates. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. xviii + 181 pp. Cloth, $34.95--This remarkable little book starts with the premise that things often stand for something else, and proceeds to explore the metaphysical implications of this seemingly benign remark. A familiar instance is the subject matter of semiotics; however, as Paul Weiss discovers, not only do words have the capacity to signify something other than themselves, but also, and more interestingly, every aspect of Being, as well as Being itself, can play a surrogative role with respect to other aspects of Being. The conviction that animates this study is that systematic metaphysics can be usefully explored by approaching its subject matter mediately; that is, sometimes we better understand "A" through "not-A." The book continues the project begun with Eraphatics (2000), which considers how ordinary experience stands in some dynamic relationship with a second dimension, which provides focus, interruption, significance, or grounds for the first. Surrogates is an ambitious, interesting, and challenging work, in many ways a representative final publication from a thinker whose astonishing energies and achievement spanned more than a full century of life and nearly seventy-five years of singular devotion to the labor of philosophy.

A surrogate, we are told, is "a replacement that is used as a means for transmitting benefits from a context in which its user may not be a part" (p. xvii). It makes sense, therefore, to speak of two sides to a surrogate, the user side and the context side (from which the user is absent, or unable to function). But since surrogates are not limited to practical roles, as in the familiar examples of legal surrogates, the significance of "user" here must be understood in a larger, more phenomenological sense. It is often perspective that determines which side of the surrogate "uses" the context to reveal something else. For example, all beings serve as surrogates for Being, which, unlike everything else, produces its own surrogates and always uses surrogates to reveal itself; from another perspective, however, Being is a surrogate for everything else, insofar as it produces and sustains all beings. Anything, Weiss tells us, could serve as a surrogate--were this not the case, its reality would be beyond our apprehension. And yet, because "there are better and worse ways to use a surrogate" (p. 11), there must be some criterion of success--a point which perhaps deserves more elaboration that Weiss provides.

The study of surrogates allows Weiss to reconsider and recast some fundamental questions. For example, the idea that Being necessarily and uniquely produces its own surrogates, which means that Being can never be isolated from its ultimate conditions and possibilities, has important implications for the realist/idealist debate, and for natural theology as well. In philosophical anthropology, Weiss compares and contrasts the person (the source of consciousness), the lived body (the responsible being who operates in a common, humanized world), and the organism (the biological dimension). Each acts as a surrogate for the other two, and all three act as a surrogate for the individual who possesses them. Furthermore, in epistemology, Weiss attributes the explanatory power of some theories to surrogates: for example, pragmatists find surrogates in the humanized world to stand for ideas, art, religion, and other experiences, whereas Cartesians substitute clear and distinct ideas for what is daily encountered.

Surrogates are contradistinguished against aids, agents, and substitutes. These realities share some similarities, but surrogates differ primarily in that their being is not wholly reducible to, or intelligible in terms of, their mediating role. Surrogates are "independently functioning powers" (p. 114), a point which serves to remind us that precisely because surrogates are, in some sense, really other than their beneficiaries, their demonstrated connection becomes illuminating.

Without a doubt, some of the most enjoyable and enlightening pages of the book are the Question and Answer sections appended to the end of each chapter (a practice begun in Emphatics). These imaginary discussions show Weiss in the creative process, as he (in the guise of the Questioner) challenges his thesis and, sometimes, himself. A particularly interesting moment occurs when Weiss, reflecting on the possibility of self-criticism, has the Questioner ask, "Who am I?" (p. 83). Weiss replies that, although there is an identity between the Questioner and the Respondent, the former is a publicly grounded "me" confronting a personally grounded "I"--a distinction that allows for a detached and even brutal self-examination. The exchanges are generally quite accessible: variously bold and self-effacing, encouraging and cautionary, witty and yet always deadly serious. In short, they rather brilliantly approximate the experience of engaging Weiss in conversation, or encountering him in the classroom.

Robert Cummings Neville provides an excellent Foreword, offering an overview of Weiss's development and output, a clear introduction to the themes of Emphatics and Surrogates, and a consideration of Weiss's place among the important figures in the history of philosophy.--Paul Gaffney, St. John's University.
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Author:Gaffney, Paul
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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