Santayana on barbarism. The notion of ‘barbarism’ in Santayana has predominantly (though not exclusively) a form of something that can be called a ‘cultural barbarism’ as opposed to ‘civilization,’ and, in this sense, does not refer directly to any indiscriminate killings or plundering, as it is frequently associated in the popular usage of this term. According to him, barbarism in this cultural form can be found both in the ancient past, when “barbarian genius infused into Christianity” (LR 228) – the Gothic cathedrals having been an example of such an infusion -, and in the modern era, when such eminent representatives of the “poetry of barbarism” can be found as Walt Whitman and Robert Browning. By employing the opposition ‘barbarian-civilized’ in many of his texts, he wanted to tell us that the civilized way of thinking lies in having a clear vision of a perfect life along with the recognition of the ultimate justification of the machinery of life, understanding it with its ideals, wisdom, and beauty (cf. IPR, 166-168); contrary to that, barbarian means “undisciplined, rebellious against the nature of things” (L4, 45). [Read more…]
Santayana on Values. Although Santayana did not use such phrases as a ‘philosophy of values,’ ‘axiology,’ and ‘value theory,’ almost all his numerous works are full of references to the problem of values. He gives us, in his works, an answer to the question as to what is valuable, how values and the valuable emerge, and what constitutes the processes of evaluation. We can talk, then, about a need to reconstruct his philosophy of values or his theory of values, although he saw the practice of becoming a worthy person doing valuable activities much more important for a philosopher than producing a theory in an academic style; as Arthur Danto commented on the example of the value of ‘beauty’, Santayana “doubtless would have said that it is better to create beauty than to analyze it” (Danto xvi). [Read more…]
Santayana on Fanaticism. “Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim (LR 8)” – this most famous Santayana’s quote on fanaticism encapsulates his view on the issue. The fanatics multiply their emotions in the realization of something that does not serve a worthy cause in the long run. They give up the realization of a given ideal in a positive way, which is building, attracting, and developing; instead, they attack and destroy in a brutal way the objects and humans that symbolize or represent the rivalling ideology, religion, and lifestyle. He was against such ideologies that prioritize some moral systems and depreciate others claiming that “the fanatic is a tyrant on principle and often a hypocrite in practice (DP 200).” [Read more…]
Santayana on Music. “Music is essentially useless, as life is: but both have an ideal extension which lends utility to its conditions” (LR 315) – these are perhaps the most famous words of Santayana’s philosophy of music. They somewhat remind us of the Stoic wisdom according to which things in life are indifferent, but the use we make of them is not indifferent (cf. Epictetus, 2.5.1). Santayana’s philosophy of music is a combination of naturalism (music is a part of the natural world) and ‘naturalized Platonism’ (music has ideal meanings). [Read more…]
Santayana on Travel. In “The Philosophy of Travel” (1964) Santayana takes a look at human existence as “a form of motion and a journey through a foreign world” (BR 5), and discusses different types of travelling (migration, exploration, wandering, pilgrimage, tourism) as metaphors for different forms of having a good life. Since for Santayana ‘a good life’ should include philosophizing, these metaphors also deal with the role of experiencing various intellectual traditions, dealing with incompatible ways of argumentation, coping with sundry modes of the articulation of human views as well as expanding your passion, hoping for surprises, awaiting novelties, fulfilling your curiosity, and approaching wisdom by differentiating illusion from reality. [Read more…]
Santayana on Education. Formal education at school and a highly specialized university education constitute just a part of a much wider educational life-long project, which is to activate and constantly develop such potentialities in each of us as: reasoning, understanding, imagination, critical thinking, creativity, harmonizing conflicting interests, self-expression, and enjoyment. An educated person, apart from being an expert in the society of technocrats, is able/should be able to self-develop and consciously realize ideas that are selected and pursued more or less independently of the current political pressures, cultural fashions, market demand, economic dependencies, and social conventions. This is usually problematic, since we, more often than not, are unable to resist the predominant influences of our time and of our milieu. Current stereotypes are so strongly imposed by sundry institutions upon each of us that their critical assessment is one of the biggest educational challenges, as is the ability to express one’s own worldview by means of a work (philosophical and literary works for example) as well as appreciation of the good and beautiful things around as to make us happier. At this point his philosophy assumes a humanistic and perfective character since a part of living a good life is understanding life — “to be happy you must be wise” (EGP 152) — and working on the constant development of one’s potentialities, which is most effectively realizable by studying the liberal arts. In opposition to those who understand the term ‘progress’ as the accumulation of goods, creation of new devices, and the development of social institutions, Santayana saw ‘progress’ as a process of “improvement or approach to perfection in some specific direction” (PGS 499), for example, the progress in better and better expressing one’s character and in having a fuller life in general. The accumulation of goods, the creation of new devices, and the development of social institutions, even accumulation of technical knowledge can, but do not have to contribute to having a better life; instead, they can become a burden and a misfortune for those who are not able to detect and use the opportunities that are available. Education, especially a liberal arts education, should be instrumental in understanding all this.