George Santayana

George Santayana: Literary Philosopher

Irving Singer
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 238
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  • Book Info
    George Santayana
    Book Description:

    George Santayana was unique in his contribution to American culture. For almost sixty years before his death in 1952, he combined literary and philosophical talents, writing not only important works of philosophy but also a best-selling novel, volumes of poetry, and much literary criticism. In this fascinating portrait of Santayana's thought and complex personality, Irving Singer explores the full range of his harmonization of the literary and the philosophical.Singer shows how Santayana's genius consisted in his imaginative ability to turn various types of personal alienation into creative elements that recur throughout his books. Singer points out that Santayana was a professional philosopher who addressed immediate problems of existence, a materialist in philosophy who believed in both a life of spirit and a life of reason, a product of American pragmatism who nevertheless rebelled against it, a Spaniard who wrote only in English, an American author who spent the last forty years of his life in different European countries. Against the grain of most twentieth-century philosophy, Santayana kept in view questions that matter to us all in our search for meaningful and satisfying lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12853-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. 1 A Pilgrimage to Santayana
    (pp. 1-12)

    WHEN HISTORIANS in the twenty-first century assess the nature of twentieth-century philosophy from their own perspective, they may have some difficulty in placing the mind and works of George Santayana. There are two ways in which we might appraise his contribution. We could take him as a writer about the human condition who also did philosophy; or else as a theorist in various branches of philosophy who wrote essays, literary criticism, history of ideas, social commentary, volumes of poetry, a best-selling novel, and so on. Both approaches to his talent must be employed, and interwoven, in order to attain a...

  5. 2 His Host the World
    (pp. 13-38)

    THE FINAL PART ofPersons and Places,Santayana’s autobiography, is entitledMy Host the World. Like the other two segments, it was originally published as a separate volume. It appeared posthumously, in accordance with Santayana’s wishes. Completed ten years before his death, it actually antedatesThe Idea of Christ in the GospelsandDominations and Powers. Santayana’s last decade was not an eventful one, however, and could well be omitted from the history of his experiences with persons as well as places. Living in a single room of the sanatorium in Rome, Santayana spent his last years in greater seclusion...

  6. 3 The Last Puritan
    (pp. 39-82)

    WITHIN THE GREAT variety of his achievements as an author and a thinker, Santayana’s ability to combine philosophy and literary awareness is paramount inThe Last Puritan. Throughout the novel the two approaches are organically interrelated. In their unity they reflect his reality as he experienced it. In a letter he wrote in 1921, fourteen years before he finishedThe Last Puritan,Santayana says that his book will “contain all I know about America, about women, and about young men. As this last is rather my strong point, I havetwoheroes, the Puritan and another not too much the...

  7. 4 Idealization: Santayana versus Freud
    (pp. 83-94)

    FOR SANTAYANA, as for Plato, all love worthy of the name must have an “ideal object.” Lovers seek in each other the embodiment of “an ideal form essentially eternal and capable of endless embodiments.”¹ This “form,” or “essence” as Santayana later called it, is the abstract possibility of some perfection. If a man falls in love with a fair-haired woman, he does so because his heart has been captured by the ideal of a perfect blonde. It is this ideal object, not the woman “in her unvarnished and accidental person,” that the man truly loves. And as the man loves...

  8. 5 Santayana’s Philosophy of Love
    (pp. 95-126)

    THOUGH PROFESSIONAL philosophers in America and elsewhere have returned to Santayana’s works in a way that could hardly have been predicted when he died, his thinking about the nature of love has not been adequately studied. In Chapter 4 I discussed shortcomings in his concept of idealization. His ideas are richer than I could indicate there, however, and they require renewed investigation.

    Speaking of Santayana as a twentieth-century Platonist, I tried to show how he used his Platonism to oppose the type of materialism that Freud represents. But it would have been equally valid to have started with Santayana’s own...

  9. 6 Santayana as a Literary Critic
    (pp. 127-150)

    PHILOSOPHERS ARE NOT generally noted for their literary criticism, just as literary critics have rarely distinguished themselves as philosophers. For all its integrity, the philosophic mind always runs the danger of becoming too tendentious: it knows too much and cannot become as a little child. On the other hand, the literary mind all too often resembles the ghost of Hamlet’s father: ’tis here, ’tis there, a perturbed and insubstantial spirit that flits about in mysterious darkness. It is a rare genius who can combine good philosophy with good literary criticism. Santayana was a genius of this sort.

    One is tempted...

  10. 7 Greatness in Art
    (pp. 151-172)

    IN THE ROLE OF literary critic as well as philosopher, Santayana is much concerned about the nature of artistic excellence. The standards he employs are never explicitly stated but may easily be reconstructed from his opinions about the aesthetic effects of different works of art. The four levels of poetry that Santayana describes inInterpretations of Poetry and Religionare especially germane. His literary criticism was, to a considerable degree, written with this classification in mind. He analyzes the subject matter and techniques of the poets with whom he deals, classifies their work in terms of the four levels, and...

  11. 8 The Basis of Aesthetic and Moral Criticism
    (pp. 173-196)

    SANTAYANA’S AESTHETIC and moral philosophy culminates in a theory of criticism. Taking issue with Croce’s view that aesthetics is a separate and unique science, Santayana denies that it is a science at all. In the place of an aesthetic science he finds “the art and function of criticism.” By criticism Santayana means “a reasoned appreciation of human works by a mind not wholly ignorant of their subject or occasion, their school, and their process of manufacture.”¹ Because a work of art is an object that enters into a variety of relations, the critic cannot limit his assessment to an evaluation...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 197-200)

    SINCE THIS BOOK began with an account of my visit to Santayana, a few concluding remarks about the consequences of that visit may be apropos. My increased acquaintance with Santayana’s philosophy started when I returned to Harvard. Having written my undergraduate thesis on Dewey’s theory of value, I thought that for the time being, at least, I had exhausted my store of ideas about American pragmatism. It continued to influence my formation as a thinker, but I did not want to write a doctoral dissertation that dealt with the problems it examines and creates. Analytic philosophy and Continental existentialism also...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 201-212)
  14. Index
    (pp. 213-217)