The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy and Character and Opinion in the United States

The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy and Character and Opinion in the United States

Edited and with an Introduction by James Seaton
Wilfred M. McClay
John Lachs
James Seaton
Roger Kimball
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy and Character and Opinion in the United States
    Book Description:

    This book brings together two seminal works by George Santayana, one of the most significant philosophers of the twentieth century:Character and Opinion in the United States,which stands with Tocqueville'sDemocracy in Americaas one the most insightful works of American cultural criticism ever written, and "The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy," a landmark text of both philosophical analysis and cultural criticism.

    An introduction by James Seaton situates Santayana in the intellectual and cultural context of his own time. Four additional essays include John Lachs on the ways Santayana's understanding of "the soul of America" help explain the relative peace among nationalities and ethnic groups in the United States; Wilfred M. McClay on Santayana's life of the mind as it relates to dominant trends in American culture; Roger Kimball on Santayana's "most uncommon benefice, common sense"; and James Seaton on Santayana's distinction between "English liberty" and "fierce liberty." All the essays serve to highlight the relevance of Santayana's ideas to current issues in American culture, including education, immigration, and civil rights.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15651-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Contributors
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. A Note on the Texts
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: George Santayana—The Philosopher as Cultural Critic
    (pp. xi-2)

    George Santayana is best known as one of the great American philosophers, but he was also a poet, a playwright, an autobiographer, a best-selling novelist, and a cultural critic of the first rank. His writings on American culture, especially “The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy” andCharacter and Opinion in the United States, are essential texts not merely for students of American philosophy but for anyone interested in studying American culture and society. The insights of his cultural criticism were made possible by Santayana’s unusual position as both an outsider and an insider in American society. Santayana was born in...

  6. Texts
      (pp. 3-20)

      Ladies and Gentlemen: The privilege of addressing you to-day is very welcome to me, not merely for the honor of it, which is great, nor for the pleasures of travel, which are many, when it is California that one is visiting for the first time, but also because there is something I have long wanted to say which this occasion seems particularly favorable for saying. America is still a young country, and this part of it is especially so; and it would have been nothing extraordinary if, in this young country, material preoccupations had altogether absorbed people’s minds, and they...

      (pp. 23-24)
      (pp. 25-38)

      About the middle of the nineteenth century, in the quiet sunshine of provincial prosperity, New England had an Indian summer of the mind; and an agreeable reflective literature showed how brilliant that russet and yellow season could be. There were poets, historians, orators, preachers, most of whom had studied foreign literatures and had travelled; they demurely kept up with the times; they were universal humanists. But it was all a harvest of leaves; these worthies had an expurgated and barren conception of life; theirs was the purity of sweet old age. Sometimes they made attempts to rejuvenate their minds by...

      (pp. 39-50)

      During some twenty-five years—from about 1885 to 1910—there was at Harvard College an interesting congregation of philosophers. Why at Harvard in particular? So long as philosophy is the free pursuit of wisdom, it arises wherever men of character and penetration, each with his special experience or hobby, look about them in this world. That philosophers should be professors is an accident, and almost an anomaly. Free reflection about everything is a habit to be imitated, but not a subject to expound; and an original system, if the philosopher has one, is something dark, perilous, untested, and not ripe...

      (pp. 51-63)

      William James enjoyed in his youth what are called advantages: he lived among cultivated people, travelled, had teachers of various nationalities. His father was one of those somewhat obscure sages whom early America produced: mystics of independent mind, hermits in the desert of business, and heretics in the churches. They were intense individualists, full of veneration for the free souls of their children, and convinced that every one should paddle his own canoe, especially on the high seas. William James accordingly enjoyed a stimulating if slightly irregular education: he never acquired that reposeful mastery of particular authors and those safe...

      (pp. 64-80)

      Meantime the mantle of philosophical authority had fallen at Harvard upon other shoulders. A young Californian, Josiah Royce, had come back from Germany with a reputation for wisdom; and even without knowing that he had already produced a new proof of the existence of God, merely to look at him you would have felt that he was a philosopher; his great head seemed too heavy for his small body, and his portentous brow, crowned with thick red hair, seemed to crush the lower part of his face. “Royce,” said William James of him, “has an indecent exposure of forehead.” There...

      (pp. 81-91)

      A question which is curious in itself and may become important in the future is this: How has migration to the new world affected philosophical ideas? At first sight we might be tempted, perhaps, to dismiss this question altogether, on the ground that no such effect is discernible. For what do we find in America in the guise of philosophy? In the background, the same Protestant theology as in Europe and the same Catholic theology; on the surface, the same adoption of German idealism, the same vogue of evolution, the same psychology becoming metaphysics, and lately the same revival of...

      (pp. 92-102)

      The language and traditions common to England and America are like other family bonds: they draw kindred together at the greater crises in life, but they also occasion at times a little friction and fault-finding. The groundwork of the two societies is so similar, that each nation, feeling almost at home with the other, and almost able to understand its speech, may instinctively resent what hinders it from feeling at home altogether. Differences will tend to seem anomalies that have slipped in by mistake and through somebody’s fault. Each will judge the other by his own standards, not feeling, as...

      (pp. 103-120)

      The straits of Dover, which one may sometimes see across, have sufficed so to isolate England that it has never moved quite in step with the rest of Europe in politics, morals, or art. No wonder that the Atlantic Ocean, although it has favoured a mixed emigration and cheap intercourse, should have cut off America so effectually that all the people there, even those of Latin origin, have become curiously different from any kind of European. In vain are they reputed to have the same religions or to speak the same languages as their cousins in the old world; everything...

  7. Essays
    • The Unclaimed Legacy of George Santayana
      (pp. 123-147)

      The first difficulty in writing about George Santayana, the one that points toward all the others, arises out of the question of style. Clearly the fact that Santayana is such an elegant and deliciously entertaining writer is a large part of what makes him so worth writing about. But there are few philosophical writers for whom medium and message are more closely entwined, and that fact presents one with a problem. How does a mere scholar do justice to a subtle and intriguing philosopher who was also a prose stylist of the first order—particularly when the philosophical substance of...

    • Understanding America
      (pp. 148-159)

      There is a striking difference between how members of certain nationalities and religions behave in the Old World and how they relate to each other in the New. The changes may be situational or due to some deeper valuational transformation that accompanies immigration. In either case, this difference sheds light on the nature and practices of American society. It also illuminates the extent to which Santayana understood the soul of America.

      Members of some nations, ethnic groups, and religions are mortal enemies in the parts of the world that are their native homes. There are historical reasons for the enmity...

    • The Genteel Tradition and English Liberty
      (pp. 160-174)

      Those who know George Santayana’s “The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy” only by its title may be forgiven for assuming that the essay has little to contribute to an understanding of American culture and society today, however illuminating it might have been when first delivered as a lecture at the University of California in 1911. The genteel tradition Santayana analyzed surely lost its power to stifle or censor long ago. The crucial decade was the 1920s, after the passage in 1920 of a constitutional amendment prohibiting alcohol consumption roused a generation to combat Puritanism in all its forms. Critics like...

    • Mental Hygiene and Good Manners: The Contribution of George Santayana
      (pp. 175-192)

      George Santayana was one of the most urbane philosophers ever to put pen to paper. He was also one of the sanest practitioners of the philosopher’s craft and (as it often is) sullen art.

      Admittedly, that may not be saying a great deal. You do not have to read far in the corpus of philosophical speculation to appreciate that neither urbanity nor sanity—especially not sanity—has generally been much prized byhomo philosophicus. There are exceptions, of course. Plato and Descartes were nothing if not urbane; Hume was commendably sane. But as a rule philosophers have demonstrated by their...

  8. Index
    (pp. 193-200)