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This article considers how the formal structure of metaphysical thought is displayed in Oscar Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest. One frequent aim of metaphysics is to understand the world as a whole. We cannot gain such a global vantage point without separating ourselves from all the particular meanings things have for us within the world. But we start within the world, and so can only proceed on the basis of those particular meanings. Consequently we can only separate ourselves from them if they work to cancel themselves in favor of the global understanding. When the separate range of meanings is established, however, it and the world it aims to understand no longer have any meaning for each other. Metaphysics therefore succeeds by establishing and canceling its relevant meaning, all at once. This self-canceling moment or process of thought constitutes a grasp of the world as a whole. It also allows different understandings of reality as a whole to recognize and so enter into dialogue with each other. The climactic moments of The Importance of Being Earnest are structured as a map of this insight-granting process of the self-cancellation of a global range of meanings. That is, they express the formal structure of metaphysical thought.


This is the author’s manuscript. The published version of record is available from the publisher at Copyright © 2008 The Author. Journal compilation © 2008 Metaphilosophy LLC and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

This paper has been revised and an improved version appears as a chapter in Dr. Barris’ book Sometimes Always True: Undogmatic Pluralism in Politics, Metaphysics, and Epistemology. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015.

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