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’s disrespect of formal education is even more interesting when we realize that he graduated from the best American institutions: Boston Latin School, the oldest American secondary school, and Harvard University, the oldest and the best American university (he was the fourth graduate student in Harvard’s history to be awarded a PhD in philosophy, 1889). On the other hand, he remembered his excellent teachers he had been lucky to have, and it seems that the personality of the professors impressed him much more than the material they taught, as it was in the case of Wm James (cf. PGS 15). Santayana witnessed the substantial reforms at Harvard (under President C. W. Eliot’s administration) as a result of which education there meant preparation for professional life and its main goal was “service in the world of business” (PP 396). Santayana’s strong disagreement with such a policy was one of the reasons why he gave up his professorship at Harvard and never came back to academia.
Comparison. Santayana employed mainly old Greek doctrines into his philosophy of education. Stoicism, when he claims that we should learn how to reduce the meaning the external (social, political) conditions upon the development of our own reasoning and of fortitude; Epicureanism, when saying that a pleasant life is one of the basic components a good life and one should learn how to get satisfaction out of everyday activities; Cynicism, when he warns us against the shallowness of some social conventions, and how to learn to distinguish cheap and temporary convention from a worthy and long-lasting attitude; Platonism, when he pays special attention to the ideas as guides towards various types of perfections; Aristotle, when he talks about the perfective and progressive character of self-development until its culmination in eudaimonia (happiness) and kalokagathia (being good, beautiful, and perfect), which is “perhaps the finest flower of human nature (SB 31). Santayana’s philosophy has also been compared to pragmatism and/or commented by American pragmatists — see below (criticism).
Criticism. Santayana was criticized for paying too little attention to education; John Lachs writes that “the magnificent scope of his system does not include a significant contribution to the philosophy of education” (Lachs 1988, 132). Those, however, who recognized at least some worthy points of his philosophy of education, criticized him for having little concern about promoting democratic ideas of citizenship and participation in institutionalized life. Henry Levinson criticizes his aristocratic or elitist views according to which ‘people’ do not have enough education and that is why they require representation by leaders; instead, Levinson continues from a pragmatist viewpoint, the efforts should be made to “Educate them sufficiently to manage themselves and to deputize the specialists among them to help them out when they know they do not know enough” (Levinson 1992, 264).
Reception. Santayana’s ideas on education were appreciated by others much more than by himself. In 1940, the famous American poet Ezra Pound invited Santayana to join him and T. S. Eliot to write a book on education, which Santayana refused saying he had nothing to say and that he was indifferent to the topic (L 6: 335). Martin Coleman takes Pound’s proposal seriously, and justifies the view that Santayana has something interesting to say on education (for example, that it does not have to start at some definite beginning and can be had at any moment, in media res), and proposes to us a conceivable Santayana’s reply to the benefit of “a reader concerned with pedagogy” (Coleman 2010, 1). Not so long ago, some research on teaching history in some American middle schools was done, and Santayana’s famous claim was one of the basic points there: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (LR 82): the author of the research treats this view as “Santayanan rationale for studying history” and claims that “The invocation of Santayana’s dictum was a common theme” among the interviewed pupils, although they did not refer directly to Santayana (Vansledright 1997, 530). Others evoke Santayana’s idea of the life of reason for educational purposes: MacDonald claims that Santayana’s idea of the life of reason “is the best means of attaining a life full of human satisfactions” and that “the liberal arts education is the best means for attaining the life of reason” (MacDonald 1977, 1).
In 1945, in Uruguay, Encyclopedia de Educación dedicated to Santayana appeared. It was a collection of essays by Santayana and about Santayana, published by la Dirección de Enseñanza Primaria y Normal de Montevideo. An interesting description of this volume, its origin and impact was given by J. Beltrán (see References below). Beltrán writes the following:”la obra de Santayana llegó a ser una aportación notable, tanto como para llegar a formar parte del programa de estudios y de la bibliografía de referencia de estudiantes universitarios, dentro de los cambios y reformas educativas que se estaban realizando en Uruguay. En este sentido, este tomo de la Encyclopedia de Educación sintetiza, a la par que simboliza, la alianza entre polis y paideia, entre la provisión educativa y la libertad de pensamiento…(p. 178)”
Contribution. Despite the fact that Santayana’s views may seem old-fashioned, his message can be attractive today. Personal independence while looking for ideas to be realized practically in life, and the way of perceiving what happens around in your own way despite huge social pressure to follow the dominating conventions, be it dogmatic religion, rat-race, public opinion, or something else — all this can be stimulating for those who want to see in education something more than professional knowledge. Following Vansledright’s suggestion (see above), we can also see Santayana as someone who proposed a pragmatic rationale for learning (and teaching) history, and this can include the history of philosophy: not to repeat the mistakes and misconceptions that were committed in the past.
A note: This is the first version of the entry on education; 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 teaching philosophy, university, liberal arts, critical thinking, the role of philosophy, Harvard, and others.
(EGP) Santayana, George (1916). Egotism in German Philosophy. London: Dent.
(LR) Santayana, George (1905-1906/1998). The Life of Reason. One volume edition. Amherst: Prometheus Books.
(L 6) Santayana, George (2004). The Letters of George Santayana. Book Six 1937-1940. Critical Edition. Edited by William Holzberger. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: The MIT Press.
(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.
(SB) Santayana, George (1896/1955). The Sense of Beauty. Being an Outline of Aesthetic Theory. New York: Dover Publications.
(PGS). Schlipp, Paul Arthur, editor. (1940/1951). The Philosophy of George Santayana. Library of Living
Philosophers. New York: Tudor Publishing Company.
Encyclopedia de Educación (1945). Dirección de Enseñanza Primaria y Normal de Montevideo, Uruguay.
Beltrán, Jose (2009). “Presentación de Encyclopedia de Educación (1945) dedicada a Santayana,” in: George Santayana, Materiales para utopia: Angologia de poemas y dos textos de filosofia, Valencia: MuVIM, pp. 163-178.
Coleman, Martin (2010). “‘It doesn’t… matter where you begin’: Pound and Santayana on Education,” in: Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 44, no. 4, pp. 1-17.
Lachs, John (1988). George Santayana. Boston: Twayne Publishers.
Levinson, Henry Samuel (1992). Santayana, Pragmatism, and the Spiritual Life. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.
MacDonald, Douglas (1977). “The Life of Reason and the Liberal Arts,” in: Furman Studies, vol. 24, no. 2, pp.
Vansledright, Bruce (1997). “And Santayana Lives on: Students’ Views on the Purposes for Studying American History,” in: Journal of Curriculum Studies, vol. 29, no. 5, pp. 529-557.
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