Polish avant-garde painter, theoretician of modern art, literary critic, logician, philosopher and mathematician.
Born 1884 in Kraków (or Zakopane?). His father was a doctor and his mother a pianist. He spent his youth in the pleasant town of the Tatras (where he formed a close friendship with Witkiewicz, with whom he conducted throughout his life a lively debate on philosophical and artistic matters). He attended school and university in Kraków, where he studied mathematics and philosophy at the Jagellonian University and at the same time attended the Academy of Fine Arts. When he was awarded his doctorate in 1906, he took up teaching at the Sobieski Gymnasium where he himself had been a pupil, and at the same time conducted research under the guidance of W. Heinrich. Having been granted a scholarship, he went abroad to study logic and mathematics, and attended the lectures of Hilbert and Poincaré (at the University of Ghent, 1909). The result of this period of study was his first work, dedicated to the principle of non-contradiction and inspired by the works of Russell, Fechner, and Whitehead.
1910-1912 studied paintings by Tintoretto and Titian during his trips to Italy; admiration for which is reflected in his own later painting executed in delicate, translucent colours; he also rejected the idea of a total break with the past, for such a rupture would include his beloved Renaissance, which he viewed as a period of individualism and total commitment to perfection and purity of style.
After WWI he began lecturing in Mathematics at the University of Kraków, and became a qualified lecturer in 1928. He was given a chair at University of Lwów in 1930 (position for which Tarski had also applied), where he taught until the outbreak of WWII, when he emigrated to the Soviet Union (where his political sympathies lay). Here he devoted himself to scientific research and political activity in the Union of Polish Patriots which had its headquarters in Moscow. In 1930s involved in a general system of philosophy of science, published in a book translated in in English 1948 as The Limits of Science.
In the 1920s-30s, many European philosophers attempted to reform traditional philosophy by means of mathematical logic. Leon Chwistek did not believe that such reform could succeed. He thought that reality could not be described in one homogeneous system, based on the principles of formal logic, because there was not one reality but many. He developed his 'theory of the multiplicity of reality' (wielośc rzeczywistości) first with regard to the arts; 1918 published his essay Multiplicity of reality in art in 'Maski', an attempt to formulate a response to various hermeneutic theories of art coming from the West, extending to paiting, architecture, poetry, and theatre . He distinguished four basic types of realities, then matched them with four basic types of painting: reality of daily experience and things (common-sense realism) - Primitivism; reality of physical bodies (constructed by physics) - Realism; reality of emotions and sensations (sensory impressions) - Impressionism; reality of imagination (dreams, hallucinations, subconscious states) - Futurism (including Formism) . He didn't intend to constitute a new metaphysical theory. He was a defender of "common sense" against metaphysics and irrational feeling. His theory of plural reality was merely an attempt to specify the various ways in which the term, “real,” is used. Witkiewicz harshly criticized his philosophical views ; whose philosophy was based on a monadic character to the individual's existence, embracing a multiplicity of existences, with the world being made up of a multiplicity of Particular Existences.
Died 1944 in Barwicha near Moscow.
 See also
- Wielosc rzeczywistosci [The Plurality of Realities], Kraków 1921.
- La méthode générale des sciences positives. L'esprit de la semantique, Hermann, Paris 1946.
- The Limits of Science. Outline of Logic and of the Methodology of the Exact Sciences (translated by H.C. Brodie and A.P. Coleman) , Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1948.
- Pisma filozoficzne i logiczne [Logical and Philosophical Works], PWN, Warszawa 1961-63.