A George Santayana Home Page

Categories Distinguished

Use of moral

Essence / existence
Truth as category

Spirit incarnate
Virtual knowledge
Mind function of body

Superficial will
Human nature
Relativity of morals
Law & government
Reason & spirit
Free will

British philosophy
False steps

©1996-2017 T. P. Davis

From The Letters of George Santayana

As to the triviality of unimagined, . . . lascivious pictures, how could you feel this contempt for them . . . if they had no essence and one which is so real that it provokes your strongest epithets? I never said essences were more real than existences: they are more fundamental, but far less urgent: their values (when they have them) being relative, like the evil of lasciviousness.

Letters 2:310 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Oxford, February 26, 1918) [#282 1918]

From Animal Faith and Spiritual Life

But even passive and immediate data of appearance, its bare signals and language when stupidly gaped at, retain their aesthetic and logical character—the primary sort of reality or being. Moreover, the fact that any such data appear or are thought of at all, however ideal and non-existent in themselves, is an historical event, with undeniable existence in the empirical sphere. It seem clear, therefore, that the special and invidious kind of reality opposed to appearance must mean an underlying reality, a substance: and it had better be called by that name.

Lach's Animal Faith at 172-173 (Three Proofs of Realism) [#283 1920]

From Animal Faith and Spiritual Life

The sort of being that essences have is indefeasible: they cannot lose it or change it, as things do and must if their being is existence. . . . [I]ts logical or aesthetic character, which is all the reality it has, is inalienable . . . . So that when our roving thought lights up one of these intrinsic possibilities, it discovers an object ontologically far more necessary and fundamental than are physical things or pulses of feelings.

Lach's Animal Faith at 187-188 (Three Proofs of Realism) [#270 1920]

From Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies

For suppose anatomy had done its best or its worst, and had completely mapped the machinery of the human automation ; and suppose at the same time the modern dream-readers and diviners had unearthed all a man's infant concupiscences and secret thoughts ; there would still be something essential undiscovered. I do not mean that behind the whole physical machinery there would be another material agency, another force or set of events ; nor that besides the totality of mental discourse, remembered or unremembered, there would be more thinking elsewhere : the hypothesis is that all that exists in these spheres has been surveyed, and assigned to its place in the evolving system. What has been so far ignored is something on another plane of being altogether, which this automatic life and this mental discourse involve, but do not contain. It is the principle of both and of their relation ; the system of repetitions, correspondences, developments, and ideal unities created by this march of human life in double column.

Soliloquies at 217-218 (The Psyche) [#284 1922]

From Obiter Scripta: Lectures, Essays and Reviews

I believe that every natural event has several ontological dimensions: it moves in the realm of essence, it is definable in the realm of truth, perhaps it flashes and burns for a moment in the realm of spirit, forming an actual feeling or thought.

Buchler's Obiter at 179 (The Unknowable) [#290 1923]

From Scepticism and Animal Faith: Introduction to a System of Philosophy

[Belief] is not inevitable, if I am willing and able to look passively on the essences that may happen to be given: but [ ] if I consider what they are, and how they appear, I see that this appearance is an accident to them; that the principle of it is a contribution from my side, which I call intuition. The difference between essence and intuition, though men may have discovered it late, then seems to me profound and certain. They belong to two different realms of being.

Scepticism at 133 (Essence and Intuition) [#285 1923]

From Scepticism and Animal Faith: Introduction to a System of Philosophy

Spirit, in a word, is no phenomenon, not sharing the aesthetic sort of reality proper to essences when given, nor that other sort proper to dynamic and material things; its peculiar reality is to be intelligence in act.

Scepticism at 273-274 (Discernment of Spirit) [#286 1923]

From Scepticism and Animal Faith: Introduction to a System of Philosophy

Spirit is a category, not an individual being . . . .

Scepticism at 275 (Discernment of Spirit) [#287 1923]

From Scepticism and Animal Faith: Introduction to a System of Philosophy

[S]pirit is in another realm of being altogether, and needs the being and movement of matter, by its large sweeping harmonies, to generate it, and give it wings.

Scepticism at 288 (Discernment of Spirit) [#288 1923]

From Scepticism and Animal Faith: Introduction to a System of Philosophy

This natural faith opens to me various Realms of Being, having very different kinds of reality in themselves and a different status in respect to my knowledge of them.

Scepticism at 309 (Comparison with Other Criticisms of Knowledge) [#289 1923]

From Obiter Scripta: Lectures, Essays and Reviews

Essence so understood much more truly is than any substance or any experience or any event : for a substance, event, or experience may change its form or may exist only by changing it . . . . To be able to become something else, to suffer change and yet endure, is the privilege of existence, be it in a substance, an event, or an experience ; whereas essences can be exchanged, but not changed.

Buchler's Obiter at 191-192 (Some Meanings of the Word "Is") [#291 1924]

From Obiter Scripta: Lectures, Essays and Reviews

Thought is an outsider in respect to the things, facts, events, and essences which it considers ; for although thought is itself an event and has an essence, it cannot at the time consider that fact.

Buchler's Obiter at 197 (Some Meanings of the Word "Is") [#292 1924]

From Obiter Scripta: Lectures, Essays and Reviews

Intuitions are therefore not existences in the same sense as natural things, nor events after the fashion of natural events ; and yet we must say of them preeminently that they exist and arise . . . .

Buchler's Obiter at 208 (Some Meanings of the Word "Is") [#293 1924]

From The Realm of Essence: Book First of Realms of Being

But [the realm of essence] is not the whole of being . . . . Considered in itself, essence is certainly the deepest, the only inevitable, form of reality; but I am here speaking of approaches to it, that is, of considerations drawn from human experience that may enable us to discern that primary reality and to recognise it to be such in contrast to our own form of being. We stand, then, on another plane, the plane of scattered experience, brute fact, contingent existence . . . .

The priority of the realm of essence is therefore not temporal or dynamic. . . .

Essence at 14-15 (Various Approaches to Essence) [#295 1927]

From The Realm of Matter: Book Second of Realms of Being

But nature, events, space-time, and even evolution . . . are indicative terms, containing no ontological analysis: my problem is precisely to distinguish in this vast flood of existence the planes and qualities of reality which it contains or presupposes. I wish to note the differences and the relations between the animate and the inanimate, the physical and the moral, the psychological and the logical, the temporal and the eternal. It is very true that one and the same flux of events exemplifies now one and now another of these realms of being . . . .

[If I had avoided the word matter, there would have been a sort of treason] to spirit, to truth, to essence, to those trembling immaterial lights and that infinite immutable background which, unless sharply contrasted with the matter which they surround, may be transposed in confused apprehension to the plane of matter, and saddled with material functions. Have not both truth and spirit, not to speak of essence, been represented in our day as things physical, temporal, instrumental, and practical? Ontologically, this attitude is absurd, and a mere failure in discernment . . . .

Matter at v-vi (Preface) [#296 1930]

From The Realm of Matter: Book Second of Realms of Being

Nature is not that realm of essence where all variety and all relations are perspicuous and intrinsically necessary. Necessity, in nature, is only an irrational propulsion which, as a matter of fact, is prevalent; existence could not have begun to be, it could not have taken the first step from one form of being to another, if it had not been radically mad. . . .

. . . .

Now, when the flux falls into the trope which we call a psyche, existence commits itself unawares to yet another complication; for now the reverberation of its movement in the realm of truth becomes, so to speak, vocal and audible to itself. . . . At certain junctures animal life, properly a habit in matter, bursts as with a peal of bells into a new realm of being, into the realm of spirit.

Matter at 155-156 (The Psyche) [#612 1930]

From The Realm of Truth: Book Third of Realms of Being

Nevertheless, it is the business of philosophers, in using the categories of common sense—as they must if they are to be consistent and intelligible—incidentally to criticize and to reform them. The category of truth in particular has been lately subjected to rough usage: and those who live in the thick of contemporary controversies, particularly in America, may well ask me, with a certain irritation, what on earth I can mean by truth.

Truth at v (Preface) [#297 1938]

From The Realm of Truth: Book Third of Realms of Being

But the realms of truth and of essence are in quite another case. . . . They are proposed as conceptual distinctions and categories of logic; as one of many languages in which the nature of things may be described. Anyone who wishes is free to discard these categories and employ others. The only question will be how he will get on; what sort of intellectual dominion and intellectual life he will achieve; also whether he will really be using other categories in his spontaneous and successful contacts with the world, or only a different jargon in his professional philosophy. Professional philosophies, sincere and even impassioned enough in controversy, are often but poor hypocrisies in daily life.

Truth at 47 (Radiation of Truth) [#298 1938]

From The Philosophy of George Santayana

We may separate things that lie on the same plane, as England and France are separated by the Channel. Perhaps they were once continuous, and a change in the sea level might make them continuous again. But nothing can ever make existence and essence continuous, as nothing can ever make architecture continuous with music: like parallels such orders of being can never flow into one another. But they may be conjoined or superposed; they may be simultaneous dimensions of the same world.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 525 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#299 1940]

From The Realm of Spirit: Book Fourth of Realms of Being

In general, it would avoid misunderstanding to remember that essence, matter, truth, and spirit are not, in my view, separate cosmological regions, separately substantial, and then juxtaposed. They are summary categories of logic, meant to describe a single natural dynamic process, and to dismiss from organized reflection all unnecessary objects of faith.

Spirit at 277 (General Review of Realms of Being) [#301 1940]

From The Realm of Spirit: Book Fourth of Realms of Being

This analogy between Christian theology and my ontology must not be pressed: the one is a dogma, the other a language: a language based not on inspiration but on analysis, and meant only to render articulate the dumb experience of the soul. I am not concerned in these Realms of Being with alleged separate substances or independent regions. I am endeavouring only to distinguish the types of reality that I encounter; and the lines of cleavage that I discern are moral and logical, not physical chasms. Yet I find this language applicable, and in that sense true.

Spirit at 299 (General Review of Realms of Being) [#302 1940]

From Persons and Places: fragments of autobiography

My philosophy has never changed. It is by no means an artificial or academic hypothesis; it doesn't appeal at all to the professors; it is a system of presuppositions and categories discovered already alive and at work within me, willy-nilly, like existence itself, and virtually present not only in the boy but in the embryo.

Persons and Places at 167 (The Church of the Immaculate Conception) [#303 1944]

From The Letters of George Santayana

My system is only a system of categories or grammar of human imagination, not claiming any scientific or literal or exclusive validity.

Letters 8:154 (To Wincenty Lutoslawski, Rome, April 20, 1949) [#304 1949]

From Dominations and Powers: Reflections on Liberty, Society, and Government

By "spirit" I do not understand any separate power, soul, person, or deity persisting through time with an individual character, like a dramatic personage. I understand by "spirit" only the awakened inner attention that suffuses all actual feelings and thoughts, no matter how scattered they may be and how momentary, whether existing in an ephemeral insect or in the eternal omniscience of God. Spirit so conceived is not an individual but a category: it is life in so far as it reaches pure actuality in feeling or in thought.

Dominations at 55 (Captive Spirit and Its Possible Freedom) [#305 1951]

From The Birth of Reason & Other Essays

[M]y later writings have been devoted to discovering the natural categories of my spontaneous thought, and restating my opinions in those honest terms. It is essentially a literary labour, a form of art; and I do not attempt to drive other people to think as I do. Let them be their own poets.

Cory's Birth of Reason at 134 (Three American Philosophers) [#306 1968]

From Physical Order and Moral Liberty: Previously Unpublished Essays of George Santayana

In other words, time is an intrinsic and measurable medium only in the realm of matter; in the realm of consciousness time is only a principle of perspective. The Kantian philosophy on this point, and in respect to consciousness, deserves to be taken to heart, consciousness being its chosen field; though it should be banished from our minds in considering those other and deeper realms which it ignored.

Lachs' Physical Order at 142 (Consciousness and Time) [#640 1969]

Number of quotations (including supressed): 30

What is ontological analysis according to Santayana? Are his four realms of being better reduced to three categories? Are these four realms equally the most fundamental aspects of reality in Santayana’s philosophy? Cory reports that the four categories which ultimately comprised the realms of being signified different traditional ideas of God:

I did gather that just as The Realm of Matter was a clarification of the old Hebrew idea of Yahveh, so The Realm of Essence was a metaphysical transposition of Brahma, The Realm of Truth a substitute for Allah, while The Realm of Spirit was Apollo and all the Muses.

Santayana '63 at 40 (Two: 1929). There are many instances where Santayana discusses his categories in relation to the traditional notion of God. See, e.g., Letters 3:266 (To Warner Fite, Rome, December 12, 1925) ("Every essence . . . is in one sense a divine thing: and every existence . . . is a proof of God’s presence . . . ."). In Scepticism and Animal Faith, Santayana notes that "Truth is one of the realities covered in the eclectic religion of our fathers by the idea of God." Scepticism '23 at 268-269 (The Implied Being of Truth). In The Realm of Truth, Santayana says that monotheism introduced into the popular mind the notions of matter and of truth, divine omnipotence standing for matter and divine omniscience standing for the truth. Truth '38 at 100 (Truth and Chance). See also id. at 80 (Truth Supertemporal) ("truth nevertheless confronts existence with a divine authority"). In the final chapter of this volume, Santayana notes that "a less mystical way of going beyond truth is to personify it." Id. at 136 (Beyond Truth). He continues:

The truth, in all its detail, scope, and eternity, will then lie open to this divine mind: and if we forget for the moment the other attributes of God, such as power and love, we may say that God not only knows the truth but is the truth existing in act. The trick of identifying, or not yet distinguishing, intuition and essence, runs through the history of speculation and breeds a thousand misunderstandings.

Id. at 136-137. In his General Review of the Realms of Being, Santayana explains that traditional western religion expects God to be "a power that is a spirit," and for this reason he would warn readers against identifying either his notion of truth or of pure Being (the realm of essence) with the idea of God. Spirit '40 at 285-286. Even the orthodox notion of God in Aristotle and Plotinus, where the Good rather than the Truth is deified, must be distinguished from Santayana's philosophical system. Id. at 286-288. Rather, his analysis "transposes the doctrine of the Trinity into terms of pure ontology and moral dialectic," the Father being power, or the realm of matter, the Son being the realm of essence determined as the realm of truth, and the Holy Ghost being the love and pursuit of the Good, that is, spirit. Spirit '40 at 291-294.

On Santayana's logic of being, then, are there other realms of being as irreducible as the four on which he concentrated—such as the realms of Good or of Beauty? On this last point, Santayana writes:

The importance and beauty of any incident lie in itself: and morally they transcend its accidental function in time and belong in the realms of truth and of value. These realms, being determinate and excluding many features that figure with equal right in the realm of essence, are contingent and, viewed from outside, unnecessary. Yet their importance and beauty, being intrinsic, are inalienable and forever actual in their own being.

Animal Faith '67 at 164 (Maxims). On the same point, Santayana writes:

Existence, as it inevitably generates truth, may on special occasions also generate beauty or goodness, but not with the same pervasiveness. Beauty and goodness are far more accidental than truth: they arise only at certain junctures, when various streams of events, already flowing in definite tropes, meet and mingle in a temporary harmony; a harmony which such of these streams as are organized into psyches may feel and rejoice in.

Truth '38 at 39 (Radiation of Truth). The notion of a "single ineffable good" for synthetic spirit is expounded upon in Santayana's Hague lecture. Obiter '36 at 293-296 (Ultimate Religion).

Collected here are additional quotations relevant to the general topic of ontological analysis or the kinds of reality.