Monday, 10 December 2012

George Santayana


From Wikipedia :-

Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, known as George Santayana (1863 – 1952) was a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist.

He appears on my radar as a man who valued Spinoza and knew William James. His writing style is easy yet penetrating in a way only genial people seem to manage. Not only that, but the genial temperament is  something Santayana seems to value as an aid to good reasoning - when married to a habit of sympathetic yet detached people-watching.

He is also very quotable, even though his philosophy seems to have faded from the scene. Possibly because his opinion of professional philosophers was not high.

To covet truth is a very distinguished passion. Every philosopher says he is pursuing the truth, but this is seldom the case. As Mr. Bertrand Russell has observed, one reason why philosophers often fail to reach the truth is that often they do not desire to reach it

Yet although his philosophy is largely forgotten, many people have come across Santayana even if they didn't know it - because of this famous aphorism :- 

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

His style resembles prose rather than hardcore philosophy, which makes him difficult, at least in my view, to sum up. The way he writes, the flavour and texture of his attitudes are at least as important as his reasoning. He really has to be read rather than summarised. 

This is why he is on my to-do list. I know him through a commentary on Spinoza, some essays and other bits and pieces, but I've also known for a number of years that I need to delve deeper. Here are a few quotes which may help explain why :-

Life is running turbid and full; and it is no marvel that reason, after vainly supposing that it ruled the world, should abdicate as gracefully as possible, when the world is so obviously the sport of cruder powers—vested interests, tribal passions, stock sentiments, and chance majorities. Having no responsibility laid upon it, reason has become irresponsible.
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For an idea ever to be fashionable is ominous, since it must afterwards be always old-fashioned.
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Finding their intelligence enslaved, our contemporaries suppose that intelligence is essentially servile; instead of freeing it, they try to elude it. Not free enough themselves morally, but bound to the world partly by piety and partly by industrialism, they cannot think of rising to a detached contemplation of earthly things, and of life itself and evolution; they revert rather to sensibility, and seek some by-path of instinct or dramatic sympathy in which to wander. 

I particularly like some by-path of instinct or dramatic sympathy, because if that doesn't get to the heart of the modern malaise, I don't know what does. 

4 comments:

James Higham said...

http://iat.iupui.edu/santayana/

A K Haart said...

James - thanks for the link, I may need it. I've just downloaded the Kindle version of his "The Life of Reason" - about 800 pages I believe.

Sam Vega said...

"This is why he is on my to-do list."

Mine too, now. I only hope my retirement lasts long enough.....

A K Haart said...

Sam - retire early if you get the chance. I did and never regretted it.