George Santayana

George Santayana

Born: 1863. Died: 1952.


- Beauty is pleasure objectified - pleasure regarded as the quality of an object.

- Belief in the existence of anything is incapable of proof.

- By animal faith we believe in ourselves and a world of which we are a part.

- Knowledge is faith mediated by symbols.

- Spirit is a form of life in which values are consciously universalized.


Spanish-American philosopher, poet and humanist, student of William James.

Santayana was born in Madrid. His mother was Scottish and father Spanish. When Santayana was nine, his family moved to the United States, and settled in Boston. On arrival he did not speak English, though he made it his literary language. In new home country he considered himself only as an observer. Santayana never became an American citizen, he always kept his distance from the culture.

Santayana studied at Boston Latin School, and Harvard University, Cambridge (1882-1886). In 1888 he was Walker Fellow in Germany and England, and in 1889 he received his Ph.D. From 1896 to 1897 he studied at King's College, Cambridge.

From 1889 to 1912 Santayana taught at Harvard University. He was Hyde Lecturer at Sorbonne, Paris, in 1905-1906. Santayana's lectures on the philosophy of history formed the foundation of 'The Life of Reason' (1905-1906), an interpretation of the role of reason in manifold activities of the human spirit. According to Santayana happiness is the good for humankind and is best secured by the harmonization of our various interests by the use of reason. From this basis he asked 'In which of its adventures would the human race, reviewing its whole experience, acknowledge a progress and a gain,' and focused his survey on society, religion, art and science.

Santayana lived in America until he was 50 years old, and then started his life as a 'wandering scholar.' In 1912 he moved to Europe, living three years in England, then in France, and moving finally to Rome (1925-1952).

In 1923 he published 'Scepticism and Animal Faith', in which he formulated ideas of scepticism. According to Santayana, all rational processes are expressions of animal compulsion to believe certain things, such as the existence of matter. We have an irresistible urge ('animal faith') to believe in the independence of the external world. Further, Santayana distinguishes between existence and being - the latter has four realms: essence, matter, truth and spirit. Matter is external to consciousness, and all existence is grounded in matter. Spirit and body are realizations of the same fact in incomparable realms of being.

In 'Interpretattion of Poetry and Religion' (1900) Santayana stated that human imagination compensates for the limitations of understanding - art arises in response to our need for entertainment through our senses and imagination. 'Mind does not come to repeat the world but to celebrate it.' (from 'A General Confession', 1940)

During World War II Santayana stayed in Mussolini's Italy, for which he was much criticized. For the remaining years of his life, Santayana was tended by the English sisters of the Little Company of Mary. He died in Rome on September 26, 1952. Santayana remained bachelor for his whole life. He was homosexual and in private had a disdain for heterosexuality - he called it 'breeding'.

Santayana wrote poems, bestselling novel 'The Last Puritan' (1935) and a great deal of literary criticism. Santayana's Platonist as well as materialist system of philosophy is set out in the comprehensive 4-volume 'Realms of Being' (1927-1940). In his philosophy Santayana despised idealism and Germany, its spiritual home, but was devoted to Christianity, in particular Catholic Christianity. He was generally sceptical about knowledge, and his political conservatism had also a sceptical foundation. He felt that no system of thought is to be trusted, and wrote in the essay 'A General Confession' that 'mind does not come to repeat to world but celebrate it'.

Major Books of George Santayana

- Character and Opinion in the United States: With Reminiscences of William James and Josiah Royce and Academic Life in America, 1920
- Dialogues in Limbo, With Three New Dialogues, 1948
- Dominations and Powers: Reflections on Liberty, Society, and Government, 1951
- Egotism in German Philosophy, 1915
- The Genteel Tradition at Bay, 1931
- The Idea of Christ in the Gospels; or, God in Man: A Critical Essay, 1946
- The Last Puritan; a Memoir in the Form of a Novel, 1936
- The Letters of George Santayana, Books: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 1905-1906
- The Life of Reason; or the Phases of Human Progress, 1905-1906
- Little Essays, Drawn From the Writings of George Santayana, with Logan Pearsall Smith, 1920
- Obiter Scripta: Lectures, Essays and Reviews, editors, Justus Buchler and Benjamin Schwartz, 1936
- Persons and Places: The Background of My Life, 1944
- Persons and Places: The Middle Span, 1945
- Platonism and the Spiritual Life, 1927
- The Realm of Matter, 1930
- The Realm of Spirit, 1940
- The Realm of Truth, 1938
- Realms of Being: The Realm of Essence, 1927
- Scepticism and Animal Faith, 1923
- The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outlines of Aesthetic Theory, 1896
- Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, 1922
- Some Turns of Thought in Modern Philosophy: Five Essays, 1933
- Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe, 1910
- Winds of Doctrine: Studies in Contemporary Opinion, 1913

Major Articles of George Santayana

- 1906, The Efficacy of Thought, The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods
- 1915, German Philosophy and Politics, The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods
- 1916, Two Rational Moralists, The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods
- 1918, Literal and Symbolic Knowledge, The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods
- 1924, Some Meanings of the Word "Is" , The Journal of Philosophy
- 1925, The Mutability of Aesthetic Categories, The Philosophical Review

Quotes from George Santayana

- "Mysticism is not a religion but a religious disease." (from "Interpretations of Poetry and Religion", 1900)

- "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim." (from "The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress", 1905-1906)

- "Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit." (from "The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress", 1905-1906)

- "The highest form of vanity is love of fame." (from "The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress", 1905-1906)

- "Individualism is in one sense the only possible ideal; for whatever social order may be most valuable can be valuable only for its effect on conscious individuals." (from "The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress", 1905-1906)

- "It is easier to make a saint out of a libertine than out of a prig." (from "The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress", 1905-1906)

- "Many possessions, if they do not make a man better, are at least expected to make his children happier; and this pathetic hope is behind many exertions." (from "The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress", 1905-1906)

- "Music is essentially useless, as life is." (from "The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress", 1905-1906)

- "The soul is the voice of the body's interests." (from "The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress", 1905-1906)

- "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (from "The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress", 1905-1906)

- "To abolish aristocracy, in the sense of social privilege and sanctified authority, would be to cut off the source from which all culture has hitherto flowed." (from "The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress", 1905-1906)

- "It is not the worldly ecclesiastics that kindle the fires of persecution, but mystics who think they hear the voice of God." (from "New Republic", 1916)

- "Manhood and sagacity ripen of themselves; it suffices not to repress or distort them." (from "Character and Opinion in the United States", 1920)

- "Intelligence is quickness in seeing things as they are." (from "Little Essays" edited by Logan Pearsall Smith, 1920)

- "Masks, wigs, cowls, and stays are too troublesome; if you are not always on the watch, the beastly things will fall off." (from "Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies", 1922)

- "Nothing could be madder, more irresponsible, more dangerous than this guidance of men by dreams." (from "Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies", 1922)

- "There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval." (from "Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies", 1922)

- "The world is a perpetual caricature of itself; at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be." (from "Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies", 1922)

- "In each person I catch the fleeting suggestion of something beautiful and swear eternal friendship with that." (from "Persons and Places", 1944-1953)

- "Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it"


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