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.
Among those specific types of travelling, migration may seem the most radical and tragic when caused by a necessity to leave one’s native land, culture, and attachments; however, the liberty of the migrant to do what s/he wants in the circumstances, according to the possibilities s/he has, gives unprecedented opportunities to use stimulations to make the migrant’s dreams come true; then, the excitement, satisfaction, and pride of what s/he has achieved in the foreign land becomes something incomparable to the plight experienced at home. Exploration is even a greater form of travelling, yet it requires more patience and lacks momentous changes. Unlike the migrant, an explorer’s heart is not uprooted and usually successful in having reached his/her aspirations sooner or later. Tourism does not evoke such excitements because it focuses merely on curiosity about facts and about attractions, yet it has positive sides for self-development: learning, helping to destroy prejudice, and fostering humour. Merchants (seafarers, surveyors, hunters, trappers) are the most ordinary, constant, and ‘normal,’ because they deal with prosaic objects, common people, and with the panorama of everyday issues. Rambling is an accidental, capricious, unpredictable, idle, and unreliable form of living, deprived of any vision of approaching any solid form of good living.
In “Essence of the Traveller” (Persons and Places) he characterizes travelling philosophy as a stance that requires “fixed interests and faculties, to be served by travel” (PP 449); travelling philosopher’s definite character and his or her moral tradition are the vantage points from which observation and absorption of novelties can be had. Traveller philosopher should never give up his/her criticism and never stop being a stranger, irrelevantly of the economic profits ahead. These characteristics correspond to Santayana’s own way of practicing travelling philosophy. His life was full of travels both factual and imaginary. His geographical travels include many countries in which he lived for years (Spain, the US, Germany, England, France, Switzerland, and Italy) and working at or visiting the best universities of the Western world: Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Sorbonne, Humboldt. His imaginary travels include intellectual exploration of the past epochs (he studied ancient and medieval cultures) and the systems of thought of eminent figures.
Reception. Santayana’s skilful weaving of the philosophical dimension of travelling and the practical/existential dimension of travelling evoke much interest among philosophers. Giuseppe Patella, in “A Traveling Philosophy,” characterizes it in this way: “a philosophy in continuous transit between different cultures, languages, countries, cities, ideas, philosophers, and schools of thought, a philosophy in permanent dialogue with past traditions and in critical comparison with present philosophical trends (…). This philosophy of travel is (…) perfectly consistent with a nomadic, but never restless, existence like Santayana’s, who moved between different cities and countries from nearly his inception” (Patella 2014, 125). Also Graziella Fantini, in her book Shattered Pictures of Places and Cities in George Santayana’s Autobiography, writes that “Santayana’s physical travels illustrate his philosophical travels, and that physical geographies depict moral geographies” (Fantini 2009,16). José Beltrán Llavador, in his book Celebrar el mundo. Introducción al pensar nómada de George Santayana, puts contradictory tendencies both in Santayana’s philosophy and in his life, namely transcending borders and solitude, in the perspective: “‘discurso’ y el ‘decurso’, el ‘texto’ y el ‘contexto’ (the ‘word’ and the ‘world’)” (Beltrán 2002, 39). More specifically, Beltrán inteprets Santayana’s numerous trans-oceanic travels between the Old World (Europe) and the New (America) in the light of such philosophical topics as: faith/scepticism; spirit/body; Christian/pagan, illusion/reality (cf. ibid., 40).
Comparison. Santayana frequently compared himself to the medieval clerici vagantes (singular form: clericus vagans), or wandering students, for whom intellectual adventure was no less important than adventures experienced in various places, and their sense of liberty corresponded to their search for truth. Cosmopolitanism, both as a stance and as a philosophy, can also be evoked here: the title of one of his books, My Host the World, stresses how significant was for him free travelling, both geographical and imaginary, and the famous sentence, from his book Scepticism and Animal Faith is for many commentators the best characterization of his philosophical efforts in general: “In the past or in the future, my language and my borrowed knowledge would have been different, but under whatever sky I had been born, since it is the same sky, I should have had the same philosophy” (SAF x).
Criticism. Daniel Aaron criticized Santayana for his neglect of a recognition of a similar tradition in American literature, and for his Europocentrism: “Had he read with any attention the American writers he belittled or glancingly referred to or failed to mention at all — Hawthorne, Thoreau, Poe, Melville, Henry James, Edith Wharton, to name a few — he might have discovered unsuspected affinities between himself and these literary pilgrims who had gone off on real or imaginary voyages. Since the early nineteenth century, Europe had been a way station for them, a necessary stopping point in their spiritual itineraries — but seldom ‘home.’ For Santayana, the case was reversed. ‘Home,’ if anywhere, meant Europe” (Aaron 1987/1994, 174).
Contribution. Fantini claims in her book on Santayana that his presentation of three cities in which he lived, that is Ávila, Boston, and Rome “explores three different ways of dwelling in the modern world and illustrates how the morally disinherited modern man and intellectual are able to find their place” (Fantini 2009, 15), these three ways of dwelling being: emplacement, displacement, and homeward bound.
A note: This is the first version of the entry on travel; 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 the philosophy of the city, on Santayana’s philosophical reflections about some particular cities (Ávila, Boston, Berlin, Rome), and others.
(BR) Santayana, George (1968). The Birth of Reason and Other Essays. Edited by Daniel Cory. New York:
Columbia University Press, pp. 5-17.
(PP) Santayana, George (1944-1953/1986). Persons and Places. Fragments of Autobiography. Critical Edition.
Edited by William Holzberger and Herman Saatkamp. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London,
England: The MIT Press.
(SAF) Santayana, George (1923). Scepticism and Animal Faith. New York: Scribner’s Sons.
Aaron, Daniel (1987/1994). “Pilgrim’s Progress: George Santayana,” in: Aaron, Daniel, American Notes: Selected Essays. Boston: Northeastern University Press, pp. 165-176
Beltrán Llavador, José (2002). Celebrar el mundo. Introducción al pensar nómada de George Santayana.
Valencia: Biblioteca Javier Coy d’estudis nord-americans Universitat de València
Fantini, Graziella (2009). Shattered Pictures of Places and Cities in George Santayana’s Autobiography.
Valencia: Publicaciones de la Universitat de València.
Patella, Giuseppe (2014). “A Traveling Philosophy,” in: George Santayana at 150: International
Interpretations. Edited by Matthew Caleb Flamm, Giuseppe Patella, and Jennifer A. Rea. Lanham: Lexington Books, pp. 125-138.
A copyright note: The present Santayana: A Philosophical Guide blog material cannot be copied without the author’s permission.