Richard Rorty on Santayana. Richard Rorty (1931-2007), one of the leading contemporary American philosophers, is perhaps most famous for his claim that philosophy and literature are just two different types of culture. It means that philosophy is not privileged by having any ‘special’ methods (methodology) thanks to which it has a closer access to the truth about the nature of reality, and philosophers, despite their cognitive ambitions, cannot know much more about the reality and truth than novelists, poets, and dramatists can. His philosophical position is commonly known as ‘neopragmatism’ or as an American version of postmodernism, so much developed in France, Germany, and Italy. In his famous Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Rorty recognized the role of Santayana’s philosophy, putting him close to the biggest names: “On the periphery of the history of modern philosophy, one finds figures who, without forming a ‘tradition,’ resemble each other in their distrust of the notion that man’s essence is to be a knower of essences. Goethe, Kierkegaard, Santayana, William James, Dewey, the latter Wittgenstein, the later Heidegger, are figures of that sort” (Rorty 1979, 367). [Read more…]
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 The History of Philosophy. Santayana is a good example for us to see at least four different approaches to the history of philosophy: 1) studying the past authors to see what they really claimed and why, 2) using past authors and their ideas as “a quarry or a touchstone for my own thoughts” (PGS 543), 3) contributing to (the history of) philosophy by originally developing selected problems, issues, and ideas that have been circulating through time, and 4) comparing ideas, texts, and worldviews that have been proposed by the great authors.
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…]