Friday, 5 April 2013


Santayana was a most unusual philosopher in that he was careful to distinguished between systems of belief as propounded in books and what we actually believe and act on in daily life. The former he saw as largely worthless. 

For me this is an important issue in climate science in that those promoting an alarming future do not act as if they believe their own prognostications - because of course they don't.

Theirs are merely professional beliefs, the same kind of belief Santayana accused almost all philosophers of promoting. Of course it isn't only philosophers and climate scientists who do it.

The Germans call knowledge Wissenschaft, as if it were something to be found in books, a catalogue of information, and an encyclopaedia of the sciences. But the question is whether all this Wissenschaft is knowledge or only learning. 

My criticism is criticism of myself : I am talking of what I believe in my active moments, as a living animal, when I am really believing something: for when I am reading books belief in me is at its lowest ebb ; and I lend myself to the suasion of eloquence with the same pleasure (when the book is well written) whether it be the Arabian Nights or the latest philosophy. 

My criticism is not essentially a learned pursuit, though habit may sometimes make my language scholastic ; it is not a choice between artificial theories ; it is the discipline of my daily thoughts and the account I actually give to myself from moment to moment of my own being and of the world around me. 

I should be ashamed to countenance opinions which, when not arguing, I did not believe. It would seem to me dishonest and cowardly to militate under other colours than those under which I live. 

Merely learned views are not philosophy ; and therefore no modern writer is altogether a philosopher in my eyes, except Spinoza ; and the critics of knowledge in particular seem to me as feeble morally as they are technically.

George Santayana - Scepticism and Animal Faith 


James Higham said...

When a system of belief is validated, then all the reductio-ad-phiilosophy is at best amusing and at worst destructive in that it allows those with destructive beliefs to ride over the common people.

A K Haart said...

James - yet there is practical wisdom to be found in the common people.