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).”
Did Santayana exclude love as a union of two persons from philosopher’s life or simply he did not believe in it at all? I suppose he believed in it, though he suggested that philosophy and love, understood as inter-personal affection are incompatible. In his best-selling novel, The Last Puritan (1935), there is a scene in which two protagonists represent these two attitudes. Namely, Oliver — whose ambition is to approach “all perfections and all beauties and all happiness” (LP 552) –, while writing the word ‘philosophy’ on the occasion of his reading of Plato’s Symposium is interrupted by Mario, telling him about his failure in his love-affair; later, Oliver comes back to his writing and sees that his has written just a half of the word ‘philosophy’ as if to suggest that ‘phileo [loving]’ and ‘sophia [philosophical wisdom]’ are two different things. Irving Singer, commenting on this scene in the context of the philosophy of love says that “Santayana’s thinking always has its feet on the ground and its head in the clouds. Whether there is, or ought to be, anything in between remains a matter of controversy” (Singer 2000, 132).
On Santayana’s personal and private view about love we can read from one of his letters (January 16, 1924): “Love has never made me long unhappy, nor sexual impulse uncomfortable: on the contrary in the comparatively manageable form in which they have visited me, they have been great fun, because they have given me an interest in people and (by a natural extension of emotion) in things, places, and stories, such as religion, which otherwise would have failed me altogether” (L 3:179).
Comparison. Santayana’s idealization differs from Freudian idealization, which is an overestimation of the given sexual object by exaggeratedly attributing him/her positive qualities, and somewhat related to narcissism. Santayana’s idealization is not subjective or psychological (nor sociological), because the ideas he talks about are abstract guides for perfections that have an over-individual character, as have the ideas of the beautiful and the good. Nor is Santayana’s idea consonant with ‘Platonic love’ where searching for the absolute, eternal, never-ending, immaterial, supernatural, and objectively existing ideal or Form is the main sense of eros in Plato’s Symposium. Santayana is not a Platonist as regards the belief in an independent, objective, and autonomous realm of Forms, although he resembles the Platonists in referring to such terms as ‘essence,’ ‘perfection’, and ‘ideals’ — these, however, are categories having a naturalistic background and origin, and they do not logically or intrinsically refer to any part of the cosmic reality. Irving Singer compares Santayana to the Renaissance neo-Platonists, Marsilio Ficino in the first instance (Singer 2000, 102), and there are also few others (Kunz 1985) who see him as a Christian neo-Platonist despite the fact that Santayana was formally an atheist, a declared materialist, and in close intellectual relationship with American pragmatists.
Criticism. Santayana was criticized on some points of his philosophy of love, and one of them is a danger, if not necessity, of constantly comparing the loved person with others as regards the level of reaching perfection or an ideal. The beloved person is not treated as an end, as person as such, and one that does not need to be compared with anybody and anything else, even if not perfect (Singer 2009, 36). In Santayana, we do not care about the particular person but rather about the ideas that she or he embodies.
Contribution. Santayana’s combining animal basis (naturalism) with a non-material ideal (a version of ‘naturalized’ or ‘demythologized’ Platonism) as well as stressing the role of the imagination in love — is his main contribution to the philosophy of love. His philosophy of love well exemplifies his general philosophical project which was to include the spiritual life into the framework of naturalism (he preferred the term ‘materialism’).
A note: This is the first version of the entry on love; a more completed version, having more plots, referring to more material, and including more commentators will be provided after the presentation of the entries on imagination, romanticism, sexuality, friendship, freedom, and similar topics.
(IPR) Santayana, George (1900). Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, New York: Scribner’s.
(RS) Santayana, George (1905). Reason in Society. London: Constable.
(LP) Santayana, George (1935/1994). The Last Puritan: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel. Critical Edition. Herman Saatkamp, General Editor. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: The MIT Press.
(PP) Santayana George (1944-1953/1988). Persons and Places: Fragments of Autobiography. Critical Edition. Edited by William Holzberger and Herman Saatkamp. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: The MIT Press.
(L) Santayana George (2002). The Letters of George Santayana. Book Three 1921-1927. Critical Edition. Edited by William Holzberger. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: The MIT Press.
Kunz, Paul (1985). “Categories and Orders of Santayana’s Neo-Platonism,” in: Overheard in Seville: Bulletin of the Santayana Society, no. 3, pp. 9-21.
Madigan, Tim (2011). “Singer and Santayana on Love,” in: Philosophy Now: A Magazine of Ideas, Issue 85, July/August. URL=https://philosophynow.org/issues/85/Singer_and_Santayana_On_Love
Singer, Irving (2000). “Santayana’s Philosophy of Love,” in: Irving Singer, George Santayana: Literary Philosopher. Yale University Press, pp. 95-126.
Singer, Irving (2009). “Idealization in Freud and Santayana,” in Irving Singer, The Nature of Love, vol. 1, From Plato to Luther, second edition. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, pp. 23-38.
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