George Santayana

George Santayana Biography

Born Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, George Santayana was a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist. A lifelong Spanish citizen, Santayana was raised and educated in the United States and identified himself as an American. He wrote in English and is generally considered an American man of letters. At the age of forty-eight, Santayana left his position at Harvard and returned to Europe permanently, never to return to the United States. His last will was to be buried in the Spanish Pantheon of the Cimitero Monumentale del Verano in Rome.

Santayana is known for his (often-misquoted) comments: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", and "[O]nly the dead have seen the end of war." The latter sentence has often been falsely attributed to Plato; The former appears in his book, Reason in Common Sense, the first volume of the five-volume Life of Reason. (In the 1905 Charles Scribner's Sons edition, it is found on page 284.) The philosophical system of Santayana is broadly considered as pragmatist due to his concerns shared with fellow Harvard University associates William James and Josiah Royce. Santayana did not accept this label for his writing and eschewed any association with a philosophical school; he declared that he stood in philosophy "exactly where [he stood] in daily life."

Biography

Early Life

Born Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás on December 16, 1863 in Madrid, he spent his early childhood in Ávila. His mother Josefina Borrás was the daughter of a Spanish official in the Philippines, and Jorge was the only child of her second marriage. She was the widow of George Sturgis, a Boston merchant with whom she had five children, two of whom died in infancy. She lived in Boston for a few years following her husband's death in 1857, but in 1861 moved with her three surviving children to live in Madrid. There she encountered Agustín Ruiz de Santayana, an old friend from her years in the Philippines. They married in 1862. A colonial civil servant, Ruiz de Santayana was also a painter and minor intellectual.

The family lived in Madrid and Ávila until 1869, when Josefina Borrás de Santayana returned to Boston with her three Sturgis children, as she had promised her first husband to raise the children in the US. She left the six-year-old Jorge with his father in Spain. Jorge and his father followed her in 1872, but his father, finding neither Boston nor his wife's attitude to his liking, soon returned alone to Ávila. He remained there the rest of his life. Jorge did not see him again until he had entered Harvard University and took his summer vacations in Spain. Sometime during this period, Jorge's first name was anglicized as George, the English equivalent.

Education

He attended Boston Latin School and Harvard University, where he studied under the philosophers William James and Josiah Royce. After graduating from Harvard, Phi Beta Kappa in 1886, Santayana studied for two years in Berlin. He returned to Harvard to write his dissertation on Hermann Lotze and teach philosophy, becoming part of the Golden Age of the Harvard philosophy department. Some of his Harvard students became famous in their own right, including "T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, Walter Lippmann, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Harry Austryn Wolfson. Wallace Stevens was not among his students, but became a friend. From 1896 to 1897, he studied at King's College, Cambridge.

Travels

In 1912, Santayana resigned his Harvard position to spend the rest of his life in Europe. He had saved money and been aided by a legacy from his mother. After some years in Ávila, Paris and Oxford, after 1920, he began to winter in Rome, eventually living there year-round until his death. During his 40 years in Europe, he wrote nineteen books and declined several prestigious academic positions. Many of his visitors and correspondents were Americans, including his assistant and eventual literary executor, Daniel Cory. In later life, Santayana was financially comfortable, in part because his 1935 novel, The Last Puritan, had become an unexpected best-seller. In turn, he financially assisted a number of writers, including Bertrand Russell, with whom he was in fundamental disagreement, philosophically and politically. Santayana never married.

Philosophical Work and Publications

Santayana's main philosophical work consists of The Sense of Beauty (1896), his first book-length monograph and perhaps the first major work on aesthetics written in the United States; The Life of Reason five volumes, 1905–6, the high point of his Harvard career; Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923); and The Realms of Being (4 vols., 1927–40). Although Santayana was not a pragmatist in the mold of William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, Josiah Royce, or John Dewey, The Life of Reason arguably is the first extended treatment of pragmatism written.

Like many of the classical pragmatists, and because he was also well-versed in evolutionary theory, Santayana was committed to metaphysical naturalism. He believed that human cognition, cultural practices, and social institutions have evolved so as to harmonize with the conditions present in their environment. Their value may then be adjudged by the extent to which they facilitate human happiness. The alternate title to The Life of Reason, "the Phases of Human Progress", is indicative of this metaphysical stance.

Santayana was an early adherent of epiphenomenalism, but also admired the classical materialism of Democritus and Lucretius (of the three authors on whom he wrote in Three Philosophical Poets, Santayana speaks most favorably of Lucretius). He held Spinoza's writings in high regard, without subscribing to the latter's rationalism or pantheism.

Although an agnostic, he held a fairly benign view of religion, in contrast to Bertrand Russell who held that religion was harmful. Santayana's views on religion are outlined in his books Reason in Religion, The Idea of Christ in the Gospels, and Interpretations of Poetry and Religion. Santayana described himself as an "aesthetic Catholic". He spent the last decade of his life at the Convent of the Blue Nuns of the Little Company of Mary on the Celian Hill at 6 Via Santo Stefano Rotondo in Rome, where he was cared for by the Irish sisters.

Man of Letters

Santayana's one novel, The Last Puritan, is a bildungsroman, that is, a novel that centers on the personal growth of the protagonist. His Persons and Places is an autobiography. These works also contain many of his sharper opinions and bons mots. He wrote books and essays on a wide range of subjects, including philosophy of a less technical sort, literary criticism, the history of ideas, politics, human nature, morals, the subtle influence of religion on culture and social psychology, all with considerable wit and humor. While his writings on technical philosophy can be difficult, his other writings are far more accessible and have literary quality. All of his books contain quotable passages.He wrote poems and a few plays, and left an ample correspondence, much of it published only since 2000.

In his temperament, judgments and prejudices, Santayana was very much the Castilian Platonist, cold, aristocratic and elitist, a curious blend of Mediterranean conservative (similar to Paul Valéry) and cultivated Anglo-Saxon, aloof and ironically detached. Russell Kirk discussed Santayana in his The Conservative Mind from Edmund Burke to T. S. Eliot. Like Alexis de Tocqueville, Santayana observed American culture and character from a foreigner's point of view. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, he wrote philosophy in a literary way. Although he declined to become an American citizen and resided in fascist Italy for decades, Santayana is usually considered an American writer by Americans. But, he said that he was most comfortable, intellectually and aesthetically, at Oxford University.

His materialistic, skeptical philosophy was never in tune with the Spanish world of his time. In the post-Franco era, he is gradually being recognized and translated. Ezra Pound includes Santayana among his many cultural references in The Cantos, notably in "Canto LXXXI" and "Canto XCV". Chuck Jones used Santayana's description of fanaticism as "redoubling your effort after you've forgotten your aim" to describe his cartoons starring Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner.

Awards

Royal Society of Literature Benson Medal, 1928
Columbia University Butler Gold Medal, 1945
Honorary degree from the University of Wisconsin

Legacy

Santayana is remembered in large part for his aphorisms, many of which have been so frequently used as to have become clichéd. His philosophy has not fared quite as well. Although he is regarded by most as an excellent prose stylist, Professor John Lachs (who is sympathetic with much of Santayana's philosophy) writes in his book On Santayana that the latter's eloquence may ultimately be the cause of this neglect.

Santayana influenced those around him, including Bertrand Russell, who in his critical essay admits that Santayana single-handedly steered him away from the ethics of G. E. Moore. He also influenced many of his prominent students, perhaps most notably the eminent poet Wallace Stevens. Those who have studied the philosophies of naturalism or materialism in the 20th century come inevitably to Santayana, whose mark upon them has been great.

Santayana is quoted by the Canadian-American sociologist Erving Goffman as a central influence in the thesis of his famous 1959 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

George Santayana Quotes

11 November 2014

It is veneer, rouge, aestheticism, art museums, new theaters, etc. that make America impotent. The good things are football, kindness, and jazz bands.

11 November 2014

Philosophers are very severe towards other philosophers because they expect too much.

11 November 2014

Nietzsche said that the earth has been a madhouse long enough. Without contradicting him we might perhaps soften the expression, and say that philosophy has been long enough an asylum for enthusiasts.

11 November 2014

The word experience is like a shrapnel shell, and bursts into a thousand meanings.

11 November 2014

The love of all-inclusiveness is as dangerous in philosophy as in art.

11 November 2014

The existence of any evil anywhere at any time absolutely ruins a total optimism.

11 November 2014

The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.

11 November 2014

Chaos is a name for any order that produces confusion in our minds.

11 November 2014

Oxford, the paradise of dead philosophies.

11 November 2014

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

11 November 2014

What brings enlightenment is experience, in the sad sense of this word—the pressure of hard facts and unintelligible troubles, making a man rub his eyes in his waking dream, and put two and two together. Enlightenment is cold water.

11 November 2014

The effort of art is to keep what is interesting in existence, to recreate it in the eternal.

11 November 2014

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.

11 November 2014

Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.

11 November 2014

There is a kind of courtesy in skepticism. It would be an offense against polite conventions to press our doubts too far.

11 November 2014

Character is the basis of happiness and happiness the sanction of character.

11 November 2014

Knowledge is not eating, and we cannot expect to devour and possess what we mean. Knowledge is recognition of something absent; it is a salutation, not an embrace.

11 November 2014

The body is an instrument, the mind its function, the witness and reward of its operation.

11 November 2014

Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit.

11 November 2014

The spirit's foe in man has not been simplicity, but sophistication.

11 November 2014

The hunger for facile wisdom is the root of all false philosophy.

11 November 2014

It is easier to make a saint out of a libertine than out of a prig.

11 November 2014

A soul is but the last bubble of a long fermentation in the world.

11 November 2014

That fear first created the gods is perhaps as true as anything so brief could be on so great a subject.

11 November 2014

The more rational an institution is the less it suffers by making concessions to others.

11 November 2014

The family is an early expedient and in many ways irrational. If the race had developed a special sexless class to be nurses, pedagogues, and slaves, like the workers among ants and bees, then the family would have been unnecessary. Such a division of labor would doubtless have involved evils of its own, but it would have obviated some drags and vexations proper to the family.

11 November 2014

Parents lend children their experience and a vicarious memory; children endow their parents with a vicarious immortality.

11 November 2014

To knock a thing down, especially if it is cocked at an arrogant angle, is a deep delight to the blood.

11 November 2014

Society is like the air, necessary to breathe but insufficient to live on.

11 November 2014

Wealth, religion, military victory have more rhetorical than efficacious worth.

11 November 2014

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.

11 November 2014

To delight in war is a merit in the soldier, a dangerous quality in the captain, and a positive crime in the statesman.

11 November 2014

My remembrance of the past is a novel I am constantly recomposing; and it would not be a historical novel, but sheer fiction, if the material events which mark and ballast my career had not their public dates and characters scientifically discoverable.

11 November 2014

The theatre, for all its artifices, depicts life in a sense more truly than history, because the medium has a kindred movement to that of real life, though an artificial setting and form.

11 November 2014

Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself.

11 November 2014

Oaths are the fossils of piety.

11 November 2014

Fun is a good thing but only when it spoils nothing better.

11 November 2014

Sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled.

11 November 2014

The mind of the Renaissance was not a pilgrim mind, but a sedentary city mind, like that of the ancients.

11 November 2014

The primary use of conversation is to satisfy the impulse to talk.

11 November 2014

Experience is a mere whiff or rumble, produced by enormously complex and ill-deciphered causes of experience; and in the other direction, experience is a mere peephole through which glimpses come down to us of eternal things.

11 November 2014

Happiness is the only sanction of life; where happiness fails, existence remains a mad and lamentable experiment.

11 November 2014

A conceived thing is doubly a product of mind, more a product of mind, if you will, than an idea, since ideas arise, so to speak, by the mind's inertia and conceptions of things by its activity. Ideas are mental sediment; conceived things are mental growths.

11 November 2014

Language is like money, without which specific relative values may well exist and be felt, but cannot be reduced to a common denominator.

11 November 2014

When men and women agree, it is only in their conclusions; their reasons are always different.

11 November 2014

Old age is as forgetful as youth, and more incorrigible; it displays the same inattentiveness to conditions; its memory becomes self-repeating and degenerates into an instinctive reaction, like a bird's chirp.

11 November 2014

You cannot prove realism to a complete sceptic or idealist; but you can show an honest man that he is not a complete sceptic or idealist, but a realist at heart. So long as he is alive his sincere philosophy must fulfil the assumptions of his life and not destroy him.

11 November 2014

There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.

11 November 2014

America is a young country with an old mentality.

11 November 2014

Nothing can be meaner than the anxiety to live on, to live on anyhow and in any shape; a spirit with any honor is not willing to live except in its own way, and a spirit with any wisdom is not over-eager to live at all.

The Best Poem Of George Santayana

Premonition

The muffled syllables that Nature speaks
Fill us with deeper longing for her word;
She hides a meaning that the spirit seeks,
She makes a sweeter music than is heard.

A hidden light illumines all our seeing,
An unknown love enchants our solitude.
We feel and know that from the depths of being
Exhales an infinite, a perfect good.

Though the heart wear the garment of its sorrow
And be not happy like a naked star,
Yet from the thought of peace some peace we borrow,
Some rapture from the rapture felt afar.

Our heart strings are too coarse for Nature's fingers
Deftly to quicken as she pulses on,
And the harsh tremor that among them lingers
Will into sweeter silence die anon.

We catch the broken prelude and suggestion
Of things unuttered, needing to be sung;
We know the burden of them, and their question
Lies heavy on the heart, nor finds a tongue.

Till haply, lightning through the storm of ages,
Our sullen secret flash from sky to sky,
Glowing in some diviner poet's pages
And swelling into rapture from this sigh.

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