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…]
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.
Santayana on Love. Love has a natural, animal, instinctive, sexual, and biological basis and, on the other hand, it has some ideal object (RS 8), which means that someone we love, apart from being desired and needed, is also seen as one embodying some impersonal ideal or ideals that we, the loving persons, long for and prize, the beautiful for example. Hence, someone we love is desired and, at the same time, idealized in our imagination: the loving person imposes upon the loved person some features (one or many) that is believed to be objective (truly belonging to that loved person), perfect, and, perhaps, long-lasting, and these are the essential factors that make us say that we love. Hence, a role of imagination; actually, Santayana, in the chapter “Love” of Reason in Society, narrows down the term ‘love’ to “imaginative passion, to being in love” (RS 7). The role of imagination in love is potentially hugely important because the lover can, if s/he is able to, use his/her imagination to approach the lover as if the lover were herself/himself the ideal (Singer 2009, 36). In other words, we do not love other people as such (although we desire them as such), but rather we love the ideal features they possess or seem to possess; love is an appreciation of ideals, not a relationship between loving persons (Madigan 2011). However, these ideals, are hardly ever fulfilled (IPR 126), hence love is hardly ever to be consumed in such a way as desire can be, especially sexual union. Imagination can be unlimitedly developed: “To possess things and persons in idea is the only pure good to be got out of them; to possess them physically or legally is a burden and a snare (PP 428).”
Philosophers provide us with different things: thoughts, inventions, reflections on various topics, worldviews, lifestyles, and their own visions of philosophy. Some of them can be seen as masters who can teach us how to live well, others as scientists who provide us with theories, still others can serve us as guides and interpreters.
I have been encouraged to blog about Spanish-American philosopher, best-selling author, and poet, George Santayana, or Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás (1863-1952), seen as a thinker who, by means of his abundant output and wide scope of his interests, can show us his own way of looking at practicing philosophy, at other philosophers, philosophical schools, arts, philosophical problems within different disciplines, and even philosophical reflections about the places he visited.