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Paul Weiss, Philosopher and Challenger of Age Bias, 101, Dies


By: Ari L. Goldman
New York Times, July 24, 2002

 

Paul Weiss, an indefatigable philosopher who kept teaching despite the efforts of some of the best American universities to stop him because of his advancing age, died on July 5 at his home in Washington. He was 101.

Dr. Weiss published more than 30 books. His most recent, "Emphatics," about the use of language, was published in 2000 by Vanderbilt University Press. A new book, "Surrogates," is to be published next year by Indiana University Press.

"The Philosophy of Paul Weiss," edited by Lewis Edwin Hahn, was published in 1995 as part of the Library of Living Philosophers. It is unusual in the series because it includes examples of Dr. Weiss's drawings, which he did when he was developing a philosophy of art.

The living philosophy series, established in 1938, has published critical analyses of philosophers like John Dewey, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, who was one of Dr. Weiss's teachers at Harvard.

Dr. Weiss worked in the branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, which addresses questions about the ultimate composition of reality, including the relationship between the mind and matter. He was particularly interested in the way people related to each other through symbols, language, intonation, art and music.

He was credited by many in the field with making philosophy more diverse. The topics of Dr. Weiss's books include metaphysics, cosmology and theology.

Dr. Weiss taught at Yale from 1946 until 1969, when he was forced to retire as Sterling Professor of Philosophy because of his age. He was 68. A year later, he was offered a prestigious chair at Fordham University, but then the offer was rescinded, again because of his age.

Dr. Weiss lost a well-publicized $1 million age discrimination suit against Fordham in 1971. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case on appeal even though, as Dr. Weiss pointed out, several justices continued to serve well into their 80's.

After leaving Yale, Dr. Weiss became the Heffer visiting professor of philosophy at Catholic University in Washington, an appointment that was renewed each year until 1992. That year, when Dr. Weiss was 91, the university refused to renew his contract, which brought a flurry of protest that he was the victim of age discrimination.

Working with his son, Jonathan A. Weiss, a lawyer and the director of Legal Services for the Elderly in New York, Dr. Weiss challenged the firing. An investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission confirmed that the reason was age discrimination. Catholic University apologized to Dr. Weiss and reinstated him for two more years, after which he retired.

Paul Weiss was born on May 19, 1901, in Manhattan. Dr. Weiss sometimes said he became a philosopher after he was hit twice by horse-drawn carts as a boy. He began to wonder why he had been hit twice when others were not hit at all, and why he survived when others did not.

He graduated from City College with a degree in philosophy and then went on to study with Whitehead at Harvard, where he received his doctorate in 1929. He lectured for a year at Harvard and Radcliffe and then taught philosophy at Bryn Mawr.

Among Dr. Weiss's major accomplishments were co-editing the collected papers of the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce in six volumes. The major summation of his early work was his book "Modes of Being" (Southern Illinois University Press, 1958).

In 1947, he founded the Metaphysical Society of America and its academic journal, Review of Metaphysics. He served as the journal's editor until 1964.

Dr. Weiss's wife, Victoria, died in 1953. In addition to his son Jonathan, he is survived by a daughter, Judith E. Weiss of Las Vegas.


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