A George Santayana Home Page


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


Presentness is the coming, lasting, or passing away of an essence, either in matter or in intuition. . . . Such coming and going, with the interval (if any) between, constitute the exemplification of that essence, either in the realm of matter or in that of spirit. Thus presentness, taken absolutely, is another name for the actuality which every event possesses in its own day, and which gives it its place for ever in the realm of truth.

Matter at 61-62 (Pictorial Space and Sentimental Time) [#245 1930]


This is not to say that the same essence that appears in intuition may not be exemplified also passively in objects.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 518 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#24 1940]


I regard [matter] as the only power [not the only existent], as composing the groundwork or scaffolding on which everything is stretched and supported; but the great characteristic of matter as known to us is its potentiality; an existing potentiality, definite in its possibilities and distribution, so that all its ulterior manifestations give knowledge of it. It determines the character, order, and tempo of all events: but in itself this potentiality, like the pregnancy of any seed, is unpictured and blind. The appearances and the perceptions that it is destined to breed do not pre-exist in it explicitly; yet it would not be the potentiality that it is were those developments not forthcoming on the appropriate occasions. And how should this ultimate phase of explicitness, in which potentiality becomes actuality, be less existent than the primary phase? In animals the ultimate phase is moral. Nature, which was dynamic in matter then becomes actual in spirit; it becomes the sense and the knowledge of its own existence. And how should this moral actualisation of existence be less existent than the physical potentiality of it?

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 521 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#25 1940]

Analytic / synthetic judgments

The question does not arise whether mathematical judgments are analytic or synthetic. Psychologically all judgments and all intuitions of the complex are synthetic, because the terms given are distinguished and compared in thought. But if the judgments are necessary, they must be analytical logically, i.e., founded on the nature of the terms.

Truth at 2 note 1 (There Are No Necessary Truths) [#26 1938]

Animal faith

In the knowledge of fact there is instinctive conviction and expectation, animal faith, as well as intuition of essences ; and this faith (which is readiness to use some intuitive category), while it plunges us into a sea of presumption, conjecture, error, and doubt, at the same time sets up an ideal of knowledge, transitive and realistic, in comparison with which intuition of essence, for all its fallibility, is a mockery. We might almost say that sure knowledge, being immediate and intransitive, is not real knowledge, while real knowledge, being transitive and adventurous, is never sure.

Buchler's Obiter at 129 (Literal and Symbolic Knowledge) [#27 1918]


[A]rt proper is that organic or external rearrangement of matter by which a monument or maxim is established in the world, and an element of traditional form is added to culture.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 501 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#28 1940]

Autobiography / literature

This is [science's] business, to investigate and to understand the material world better; but if it ceased to investigate things by experiment and lapsed into the description of experience as a drama, it would cease to be science and would become autobiography. Science—I am speaking of natural science, not of mathematics or philology—is the study of nature; the description of experience is literature.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 507 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#29 1940]


The difference between beauty and the good in general and all-inclusive sense, is that beauty is the excellence or perfection of the expression of a thing: It is the adequate presentation of the ideal impulse, whereas virtue is its adequate existence. Therefore virtue is beautiful when represented, but beauty is not virtuous. For beauty being in the image or expression of things, these things need not exist to produce beauty, but only their image need exist—Verbum sat.

Letters 1:92 (To William Morton Fullerton, Berlin, December 28, 1887) [#31 1887]

Concepts & ideals

Intended essences thus acquire, through the machinery of identification, projection, and intent, a certain remoteness and mystery; they become concepts and ideals.

Essence at 116 (Essences as Terms) [#32 1927]


The word consciousness does not seem to me ambiguous. It means what Descartes called pensée, the fact that somebody is awake and having experiences that, as they differ from death, deep sleep, and psychic non-existence, constitute self-existing and indubitable facts, and have moral importance. Where there is consciousness there is a shade and beginning of happiness or unhappiness; and there is also a shade or beginning of cognition.

Letters 2:149 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Cambridge, November 2, 1913) [#33 1913]

Conventional moment

Now, on the human scale, the most obvious units in action are men, and their forward tension is dramatically called their will. . . . Each personage in history, each passion or interest in a man's life, may be called a conventional moment. . . . How these conventional moments begin, how they end, how matter flows through them, and what determines their inner character while they last are all matters of common knowledge: we call them birth, death, food, and influence.

Matter at 92 (The Flux of Existence) [#370 1930]


The sincere dialectician, the genuine moralist, must stand upon human, Socratic ground. Though art be long, it must take a short life for its basis and an actual interest for its guide. The liberal dialectician has the gift of conversation; he does not pretend to legislate from the throne of Jehovah about the course of affairs, but asks the ingenuous heart to speak for itself, guiding and checking it only in its own interest. The result is to express a given nature and to cultivate it; so that whenever any one possessing such a nature is born into the world he may use this calculation, and more easily understand and justify his mind. Of course, if experience were no longer the same, and faculties had entirely varied, the former interpretation could no longer serve. Where nature shows a new principle of growth the mind must find a new method of expression, and move toward other goals. Ideals are not forces stealthily undermining the will; they are possible forms of being that would frankly express it. These forms are invulnerable, eternal, and free; and he who finds them divine and congenial and is able to embody them at least in part and for a season, has to that extent transfigured life, turning it from a fatal process into a liberal art.

Science at 208-209 (Dialectic) [#34 1906]


What is dialectic? Precisely an analysis or construction of ideal forms which abstracts from such animal faith as might be stimulated by their presence, and traces instead the inherent patterns of logical relations of these forms as intuition reveals them.

Essence at 3 (Various Approaches to Essence) [#35 1927]


[T]he dialectician who most resolutely hedges-in his thought in one lane of logic, may go farthest in that direction, and most unerringly. He unveils some integral pattern, perhaps never copied by things, in the realm of essence; the integrity of his pure intent and undivided attention have enabled him to unveil it. He has laid on himself the difficult task of being consistent, of being loyal, not to the realm of essence, which cannot be betrayed, but to his own commitments; he is determined to find and clarify the meaning of his spoken thoughts. Dangers lie to right and left of his path: he may slip into a change in his premises or into forgetfulness of his goal. Fulfilment is moral, even in logic. The mind bears burdens no less than the body, from which indeed the mind borrows them; and the pregnancy and implication of ideas are signs of that vital bias.

Essence at 101 (The Basis of Dialectic) [#36 1927]


And what, properly speaking, is dialectic? Only, I think, a play of variations in meaning. It was invented by the Sophists, as a method of confusing and discrediting all received opinions. It was rescued and turned against its inventors by Socrates, without making it into a pure logic: for dialectic had, and has always retained, an element of foresight and malicious intent, which in Socrates became benevolent irony. He employed dialectic in the pursuit of self-knowledge, in the effort to discover, beneath current language and prejudice, what at bottom a man really thought or loved.

Lach's Animal Faith at 119 (Some Developments of Materialism) [#38 1949]


There was a third type of reflection, besides myth and science, that prepossessed the Greek thinkers. Their civilization had become dialectical; they were all orators, arguers, disputants. No less than on shapes and stories, they doted on words. Now it was the power of words, over subtle minds familiar with the vocabulary and grammar only of their native language, that led to what seems to me the first false step in Greek philosophy. Their budding natural science was confused with dialectic, which is play with the ambiguously branching meanings of words. Oracular force attributed to these meanings denaturalised myth into revelation.

Cory's Birth of Reason at 148 (On the False Steps of Philosophy) [#37 1964]


Aristotle called the soul the first entelechy of such a body. This first entelechy is what we should call life, since it is possessed by a man asleep. The French I know but do not use is in its first entelechy; the French I am actually speaking is in its second. Consciousness is therefore the second or actualised entelechy of its body.

Science at 149 note (Psychology) [#40 1906]


The contemplation of so much of essence as is relevant to a particular life is what Aristotle called the entelechy or perfect fruition of life.

Scepticism at 130 (Essence and Intuition) [#41 1923]


Mind . . . possesses a hypostatic spiritual existence, over and above the whole behaviourist or pragmatic ground-work of mind : it has become conscious, or as Aristotle would say, has reached its second entelechy and become intellect in act.

Buchler's Obiter at 221 (Dewey’s Naturalistic Metaphysics) [#42 1925]


The words entelechy and act or actuality, which I have used often to designate consciousness, are borrowed from Aristotle; and indeed I think no other philosopher has conceived the relation of the body to the mind that animates it so fairly and squarely.

Lach's Animal Faith at 279 (Comparison With Other Views of Spirit) [#39 1967]


An event, as I take the word, means a portion of the flux of existence; it is a conventional moment, like the birth of Christ or the battle of Waterloo, composed of natural moments generating one another in a certain order, and embedded in a particular context of other events: so that eache event is a particular and can occur only once.

Matter at 101 (Tropes) [#366 1930]

Form of eternity

Spinoza has an admirable doctrine, or rather insight, which he calls seeing things under the form of eternity. This faculty is fundamental in the human mind; ordinary perception and memory are cases of it. Therefore, when we use it to deal with ultimate issues, we are not alienated from experience, but, on the contrary, endowed with experience and with its fruits. A thing is seen under the form of eternity when all its parts or stages are conceived in their true relations, and thereby conceived together. The complete biography of Caesar is Caesar seen under the form of eternity.

Poets at 189-190 (Goethe's Faust) [#43 1910]

Form of eternity

[Spirit] aspires to see each thing clearly and to see all things together, that is to say, under the form of eternity, and as sheer essences given in intuition.

Scepticism at 128 (Essence and Intuition) [#44 1923]

Form of eternity

It shows life under the form of eternity, which is the form of death.

Truth at 115 (Love and Hatred of Truth) [#45 1938]

Form of eternity

Liberalism, Protestantism, Judaism, positivism all have the same ultimate aim and standard. It is prosperity, or as Lutheran theologians put it, union with God at our level, not at God's level. The thing all these schools detest is the ideal of union with God at God's level, proper to asceticism, mysticism, Platonism, and pure intelligence, which insist on seeing things under the form of truth and of eternity. You must be content, they say, to see things under the form of time, of appearance, and of feeling. . . .

Persons and Places at 200 (First Return to Spain) [#46 1944]


On the other hand, the good, when actually realized and not merely pursued from afar, is a joy in the immediate; it is possessed with wonder and is in that sense aesthetic. Such pure joy when blind is called pleasure, when centred in some sensible image is called beauty, and when diffused over the thought of ulterior propitious things is called happiness, love, or religious rapture.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 20 (A General Confession) [#47 1930]


Vitally and intrinsically, good is whatsoever life aspires to in any direction; not, as in charity and kindness, the confluence of aspiration in one life with aspiration in another.

Idea of Christ at 207 (Moralism) [#48 1946]


A need is not a good. It denotes a condition to be fulfilled before some natural virtue can be exercised and some true good thereby attained. To feel needs is to feel separated from the good by some unfulfilled prerequisite to possessing it.

Dominations at 40 (Primal Will) [#49 1951]


But heathenism ignores happiness, despises it, or thinks it impossible. . . . [German moralists] think the pursuit of happiness low, materialistic, and selfish. They wish everybody to sacrifice or rather to forget happiness, and to do "deeds."

It is in the nature of things that those who are incapable of happiness should have no idea of it. Happiness is not for wild animals, who can only oscillate between apathy and passion. To be happy, even to conceive of happiness, you must be reasonable or (if Nietzsche prefers the word) you must be tamed. You must have taken the measure of your powers, tasted the fruits of your passions and learned your place in the world and what things in it can really serve you. To be happy you must be wise. This happiness is sometimes found instinctively, and then the rudest fanatic can hardly fail to see how lovely it is; but sometimes it comes of having learned something by experience (which empirical people never do) and involves some chastening and renunciation; but it is not less sweet for having this touch of holiness about it, and the spirit of it is healthy and beneficent. The nature of happiness, therefore, dawns upon philosophers when their wisdom begins to report the lessons of experience; an a priori philosophy can have no inkling of it.

Happiness is the union of vitality with art, and in so far as vitality is a spiritual thing and not mere restlessness and vehemence, art increases vitality. . . .

Egotism at 152-153 (Heathenism) [#50 1915]


When Descartes, for example, identified matter with extension, he substituted essence for substance . . . . . . . . When he imagined geometrical figures, indistinguishable in scale, parts, or quality, and bounded by merely ideal lines, nevertheless moving in reference to one another, he was substituting a possible pattern of nature for living nature herself. . . . The only substance remaining in his system—the only being self-existent in all its parts and in actual flux—was accordingly the discourse in which the material world might appear as a picture. Descartes thus became the father of psychologism against his will . . . .

Essence at 159-160 (Some Kindred Doctrines) [#51 1927]

Individual / universal | particular / general

Repetition is impossible in the realm of essence . . . . Repetition is possible only among objects which are particular but not individual; that is, when they exist and are distinguished by their external relations, even if internally they should happen to be precisely similar, and should have but one individuality or essence. . . . This possibility of iterating or repeating an essence is what, from the point of view of existence, makes essences seem abstract or general, when in reality they are the only individuals. . . . Every essence is universal not because there are repeated manifestations of it (for there need be no manifestations at all) but because it is individuated internally by its character, not externally by its position in the flux of nature: and no essence is general for the same reason.

Essence at 35-36 (Adventitious Aspects of Essence) [#52 1927]


[I]t is the Life of Matter. And this in both senses of the word life: for it is the history of the fortunes of that plastic enduring being, and it is also the forward tension intrinsic to each moment of that career: an inner tension which is sometimes raised to consciousness and turns to spiritual light, but which animates matter everywhere and renders it transitional.

Matter at 94 (The Flux of Existence) [#367 1930]

Literary psychology

Knowledge of discourse in other people, or of myself at other times, is what I call literary psychology. It is, or may be, in its texture, the most literal and adequate sort of knowledge of which a mind is capable.

Scepticism at 173-174 (Knowledge is Faith Mediated by Symbols) [#53 1920]

Literary psychology

Science as a whole is not a description of experience, but of nature; only literary psychology describes experience, or rather the way in which experience emerges in nature.

Letters 4:257 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Rome, June 2, 1931) [#54 1931]

Literary psychology

To read actions in terms of spirit and to divine the thought that doubtless accompanied them is perfectly legitimate in principle although often mistaken in practice. I call it literary psychology and believe that when the mind-reader and the mind read are genetically akin, it may be more literally true than any other kind of knowledge. Yet it is essentially divination, not science. Scientific psychology must be behaviouristic: it can discover, not what spirits feel or think, but what people are likely to say and do under specific conditions.

Spirit at 282 (General Review of Realms of Being) [#55 1940]


Logic is a refined form of grammar.

Truth at 33 (Psychological Approaches to Truth) [#56 1938]


Specific potentialities existing at specific places and times are precisely what substance means. I should adopt that for a definition of matter.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 586 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#57 1940]


Here, before the pattern of my philosophy was fully disentangled, I find in the mouth of my Harvard teachers, full as they were of kindness towards my person, the latent and permanent principle of almost all the hostility I encounter. This principle is what I call moralism, and has two forms. . . . It was moralism and not logic that led Royce to deprecate my separation of essence from existence. . . .

Moralism was likewise the preconception that led James to think my aestheticism corrupt. . . .

This same moralism, sometimes political, sometimes romantic or pseudological, sometimes humanitarian, animates the more severe strictures passed upon me in this book.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 502-503 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#136 1940]


Morality—by which I mean the principle of all choices in taste, faith, and allegiance—has a simple natural ground. The living organism is not infinitely elastic; if you stretch it too much, it will snap; and it justifiably cries out against you somewhat before the limit is reached. This animal obstinacy is the backbone of all virtue, though intelligence, convention, and sympathy may very much extend and soften its expression. As the brute unconditionally wills to live, so the man, especially the strong masterful man, unconditionally wills to live after a certain fashion. To be pliant, to be indefinite, seems to him ignominious.

Genteel Tradition at Bay at 54-55 (Moral Adequacy of Naturalism) [#58 1931]

Morality / virtue | Logic / Wisdom

Dialectic is the conscience of discourse and has the same function as morality elsewhere, namely, to endow the soul with integrity and to perfect it into a monument to its own radical impulse. But as virtue is a wider thing than morality, because it includes natural gifts and genial sympathies, or even heroic sacrifices, so wisdom is a wider thing than logic. To coherence in thought it adds docility to facts, and humility even of intellect, so that the integrity of its system becomes a human virtue, like the perfect use of a single language, without being an insult to the nature of things or a learned madness.

Essence at 100 (The Basis of Dialectic) [#59 1927]


[Mysticism] consists in the surrender of a category of thought on account of the discovery of its relativity. . . . The ideal of mysticism is accordingly exactly contrary to the ideal of reason ; instead of perfecting human nature it seeks to abolish it; instead of building a better world, it would undermine the foundations even of the world we have built already ; instead of developing our mind to greater scope and precision, it would return to the condition of protoplasm to the blessed consciousness of an Unutterable Reality.

Poetry & Religion at 14 (Understanding, Imagination, and Mysticism) [#60 1900]


There is accordingly . . . a universal justice called charity, a kind of all-penetrating courtesy . . . . Value is attributed to rival forms of life . . . . When this imaginative expansion ends in neutralising the will altogether, we have mysticism; but when it serves merely to co-ordinate felt interests with other actual interests conceived sympathetically, and to make them converge, we have justice and charity.

Religion at 220-221 (Charity) [#61 1905]

Natural moments

I conceive a natural moment as a description rather than a constituent; it is the flux in so far as any particular essence is maintained in it, so long as it is maintained. The substance and its movement are not governed by these essences, which in turn define the "natural moments" in it.

Letters 4:279 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Naples, September 25, 1931) [#63 1931]

Natural moments

And the interval between the coming and going of any essence from the flux of existence is, by definition, a natural moment. Be it observed also that these moments are not cosmic in lateral extension; they are not moments of everything at once: so that when one comes to an end, almost everything in the universe will run on as if nothing had happened. Spring every year and youth in every man are natural moments, so is the passage of any image or idea in a mind; but the change (so momentous in that private transformation) is far from jarring the whole universe . . . .

Letters 4:282 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Naples, October 7, 1931) [#64 1931]


Substance is fluid, and, since it cannot exist without some form, is always ready to exchange one form for another ; but sometimes it falls into a settled rhythm or recognizable vortex, which we call a nature, and which sustains an interesting form for a season. These sustained forms are enshrined in memory and worshipped in moral philosophy, which often assigns to them a power to create and to reassert themselves which their precarious status is very far from justifying.

Soliloquies at 132 (The Tragic Mask) [#65 1921]

Orders of evidence and of discovery

There is something disreputable in sentimental self-consciousness. Nevertheless, the exercise is possible and (for a critical philosophy) indispensable: and unless you are willing to indulge in it . . . [y]ou will never have studied the order of evidence. . . . [I]f we believe in the existence of anything, our belief must exist too, and is first in the order of evidence, though not first in the order of discovery. For what is first in the order of discovery may be an illusion; but what is second, that a sense of discovering something has existed, cannot be an illusion, if there is to be an order of evidence at all.

Letters 3:14 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Paris, March 28, 1921) [#122 1921]


Perception is definable as a sensation turned into knowledge of its ground, that is, of its present occasion.

Truth at 90 (Cognition of the Future) [#66 1938]


Potentiality seems a vain word, and deceptive; yet it indicates a fact in the realm of truth, since seeds are capable of development into certain organisms only, and these cannot spring from any other source.

Matter at 94 (The Flux of Existence) [#368 1930]


That in the heart of matter there was always a germ of spirit seems to me as much a truism as it would be to say that in a grape-seed lies the potentiality of the vine, the vine-leaves, and the grapes that actually grow out of it. 'Potentiality' does not signify the pre-existence of eventual things; it signifies only the existence of the conditions which, according to the process of nature, will bring those things about. I smile at the acrobatic logic of Leibnitz, who convinced himself that little feelings and ideas must exist in every minutest particle of cosmic substance. Anaxagoras had reasoned in that way in his qualitative atomism, thinking that metamorphosis must be as impossible in nature as in the realm of essence.

Dominations at 10-11 (The Roots of Spirit in Matter) [#67 1951]

Properties and qualities

There remains an ambiguity [in your essay], I think, about space and time, and you acknowledge it. The properties of a portion of physical space and time constitute a physical substance: but pictorial space and sentimental time have no properties, only qualities. They are essences.

Letters 5:100 (To Curt John Ducasse, Rome, April 8, 1934) [#68 1934]


[T]he psychical, as I propose to use the word, in contrast with the psychological is a part of the realm of matter itself. The psychical may be, and is, substantial in respect to the mental, being a mode of substance and a habit of matter by which the mental is generated . . . .

Lachs' Physical Order at 130 (No Psychological Substance) [#565 1969]


To the ideal function of envisaging the absent, memory and reflection will add (since they exist and constitute a new complication in being) the practical function of modifying the future. Vital impulse, however, when it is modified by reflection and veers in sympathy with judgments pronounced on the past, is properly called reason.

Common Sense at 2 (Introduction) [#73 1905]


[F]or reason, taken psychologically, is an old inherited passion like any other, the passion for consistency and order ; and it is just as prone as the other passions to overstep the modesty of nature and to regard its own aims as alone important. But this is ridiculous ; because importance springs from the stress of nature, from the cry of life, not from reason and its pale prescriptions. Reason cannot stand alone ; brute habit and blind play are at the bottom of art and morals, and unless irrational impulses and fancies are kept alive, the life of reason collapses for sheer emptiness.

Soliloquies at 22 (The Comic Mask) [#74 1921]


There is no dilemma in the choice between animal faith and reason, because reason is only a form of animal faith, and utterly unintelligible dialectically, although full of a pleasant alacrity and confidence, like the chirping of birds.

Scepticism at 283 (Discernment of Spirit) [#75 1923]


What from the moral point of view we call the instruments of reason are primarily the ground and cause of reason: and reason can control matter only because reason is matter organised, and assuming a form at once distinctive, plastic, and opportune. Unity of direction is thus imposed on our impulses; the impulses remain and continue to work and to take themselves most seriously; things tempt and hurt us as much as ever. Yet this very synthesis imposed upon the passions has brought steadiness and scope into the mind. The passions seem less absolute than before: we see them in a more tragic or comic light; and we see that even our noble and civilised life of reason is bought at a price. As there were wild animal joys that it has banished, so there may be divine insights that it cannot heed.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 24 (A General Confession) [#76 1937]


But how should conscience or reason arise in me or gain the least ascendancy over my heart, if I had no natural needs, interests, or affections? These with their truly categorical imperative might then lend reason and conscience some vital force to oppose to a no less natural madness or vice. Rational life could be nothing but natural life becoming harmonious. The principle of harmony itself, if disembodied, is as impotent as any other essence to govern existence or to manifest itself as a prescribed end to a mind not organically directed upon it.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 502-503 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#77 1940]


Reason is a species of insight, by which essential relations are seen to obtain between ideal terms. It therefore cannot arise before animal sensibility has offered such terms to actual attention, and until the stress of anxious life has given the mind time to pause and notice the peculiar character of one given term contrasted with the peculiar character of another: as for instance the difference, when a cloud suddenly hides the sun, between sunshine and shade.

Dominations at 373 (Representative Government II: Moral Representation in Nature) [#78 1951]


Suppose now we define religion to be the recognition of the Powers on which our destiny truly depends, and the art of propitiating those Powers and of living, as far as the power in us avails, in devout harmony with them. We should not be friends of religion if we confined it to proclaiming imaginary powers, and living under the real ones in ignorance and despair. A religion worth having must recognise true Powers, however poetical the form may be which that religion lends them; and it must tend to establish peace and sanity in the mind, not fanatical madness. That imagination plays a great part in popular religions, and that fanaticism often invades them, cannot be denied by a materialist; but the fanaticism is often inspired by political motives, as fanatical persecution of religion is also; it is a political rather than a religious vice. Asceticism, on the other hand, has religious motives, and becomes a vice when carried too far; but then the wiser religious authorities themselves condemn it. And the same may be said of the riot of fancy and superstition in some religions. Without killing the imagination that bred religious ideas, theology may interpret them philosophically; and in this the materialist may consistently join.

Dominations at 19-20 (Whether Naturalism is Irreligious) [#83 1951]


A triangle does not lose its triangularity when not thought of: but it ceases to be speciously triangular. "Specious" is only a term used to vary the monotony of "given", "apparent", or "intuited". It is not a category of some essences in their own realm as distinguished from other essences there. I should therefore not say that Platonic ideas retained their specious character when not contemplated. They retain their essential character—the only character they have—but lose their specious presence or actuality.

Letters 3:316 to 3:317 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Rome, February 9, 1927) [#82 1927]


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) [#84 1951]


"Subsistence" is a particularly dangerous and cowardly word: it assimilates essences to facts or to truths, giving them a sort of cosmic status, like the Logos; which is too much and too little. Too much, because essences are then hypostasized, or half hypostasized: too little, because they are not recognized to be independent of and prior to existence or to the actual, quite contingent, structure of the world.

Letters 5:88 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Rome, February 24, 1934) [#88 1934]

Substance / existence

It sometimes looks to me as if by existence you meant substance; in that case I should readily agree that appearances did not exist. . . . [And yet, these] manifestations are notable historic and experimental facts; to say that, as sensuous and poetic manifestations, they do not exist seems to me a hopeless torturing of language. They are certainly not substances, but they exist as truly as your opinions and mine upon this subject exist: opinions which again are not substances, but mental phenomena the substance of which is something in our brain and in the mechanical world that plays upon our brains.

Letters 2:10 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Cambridge, March 16, 1910) [#89 1910]

Substance / existence

Substance may be conceived logically, and then it means pure Being; or it may be conceived psychologically, and then it means absorption in the sense of pure Being; or it may be conceived physically as matter, a name for the constant quantities in things that are traceably transformed into one another. Pure Being and the contemplation of pure Being seem at first sight very different from matter; but they may be a dramatic impersonation of matter, viewed from the inside, and felt as blind intensity and solidified ignorance.

Soliloquies at 95-96 (War Shrines) [#90 1922]


A chief characteristic of pictorial space, which betrays its animal origin, is that it has a centre. This centre is transcendental; that is to say, it is not determined by any distinction in the parts of space itself, as conceived, all of which are equally central. The dignity of being a centre comes to any point of space from the spirit, which some fatality has lodged there, to the exclusion, at least in its own view, of all other places. These other places appear in that view as removed and ranged in concentric spheres at greater and greater distances. The cosmos of Ptolemy is the perfect model of systematisation of pictorial space. The choice of the earth for a centre, although arbitrary geometrically, was not arbitrary historically, because Ptolemy and all other human beings found themselves on the earth, and were natives of it. So the fatality which always lodges spirit at some one point in nature, and makes this its centre, is not arbitrary biologically: for wherever there is a living organism it becomes a centre for dramatic action and reaction, and thereby calls down spirit to assume that station, and makes it a moving vehicle for one phase of its earthly fortunes. Pictorial space therefore reappears, wherever an animal rises to intuition of his environment, and in each case it has its moral or transcendental centre in that animal; a centre which, being transcendental or moral, moves wherever the animal moves, and is repeated without physical contradiction or rivalry in as many places as are ever inhabited by a watchful animal soul.

Matter at 51-52 (Pictorial Space and Sentimental Time) [#92 1930]

Transcendental logic

Certainly I do not exclude transcendental logic; but I admit it only in what I think its place, consistently with materialism; just as, consistently with materialism, I admit the authority of grammar over language when a particular language has developed a particular grammar, and thereby has become coherent internally and communicative. Yet a language, however organically developed, cannot impose its grammar on things or on other languages. Similarly transcendental logic serves to render articulate certain special perspectives necessarily confined to the subjective or poetic sphere. Whether it should have any validity or appropriateness in relation to further facts remains an open question.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 506 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#93 1940]

Transcendental method

In inventing the transcendental method, the study of subjective projections and perspectives, [German philosophy] has added a new dimension to human speculation.

Egotism at 12 (The General Character of German Philosophy) [#94 1915]

Transcendental method

I am consequently far less inclined [in my later years] to take a transcendental point of view, as if spirit at every point were absolute, and its objects its creations. . . .

[S]ubjectivity in me was never more than a method . . . .

Common Sense 2d at vi-vii (Preface to the Second Edition) [#556 1922]

Transcendental method

Naturalism will break down, however, so soon as words, ideas, or spirits are taken to be substantial on their own account, and powers at work prior to the existence of the organs, or independent of them. Now it is precisely such disembodied powers and immaterial functions prior to matter that are called metaphysical. Transcendentalism is not metaphysical if it remains a mere method, because then it might express the natural fact that any animal mind is its own centre and must awake in order to know anything: it becomes metaphysical when this mind is said to be absolute, single, and without material conditions. To admit anything metaphysical in this sense is evidently to abandon naturalism.

Buchler's Obiter at 215 (Dewey’s Naturalistic Metaphysics) [#95 1925]


I will therefore give a separate name to the essence of any event, as distinguished from that event itself, and call it a trope.

Matter at 101-102 (Tropes) [#372 1930]


Primal Will, as I understand it, is not coextensive with the entire automatism in nature. Automatism and Will are indeed akin, and the first always subtends and envelops the second. Will, however, though it does not imply intelligence or premeditation, does imply eagerness to act. For this reason I should not attribute Will to plants, in spite of the precise and persistent order of their growth.

Dominations at 41 (Needs and Demands) [#96 1951]


By the word 'Will,' written with a capital, I understand the universal movement of nature, even if quite unconscious, in so far as running through a cycle or trope it precipitates a result that seems to us a consummation. When this Will in man foresees and desires some consummation, perhaps impossible, I call it will in the psychological sense, and write the word with a small letter.

Dominations at 41 note 1 (Needs and Demands) [#97 1951]

Number of quotations (including supressed): 82

This page gathers definitions of commonly used philosophical terminology appearing in Santayana's works. His commitment to clear definition is apparent in his criticism of German philosophy:

Such in brief is German philosophy, at least, such it might be said to be if any clear account of it did not necessarily falsify it; but one of its chief characteristics, without which it would melt away, is ambiguity. You cannot maintain that the natural world is the product of the human mind without changing the meaning of the word mind and of the word human. You cannot deny that there is a substance without turning into a substance whatever you substitute for it. You cannot identify yourself with God without at once asserting and denying the existence of God and of yourself. When you speak of such a thing as the consciousness of society you must never decide whether you mean the consciousness individuals have of society or a fabled consciousness which society is to have of itself: the first meaning would spoil your eloquence, and the second would betray your mythology.

What is involved in all these equivocations is not merely a change of vocabulary, that shifting use of language which time brings with it. No, the persistence of the old meanings alone gives point to the assertions that change them and identify them with their opposites. Everywhere, therefore, in these speculations, you must remain in suspense as to what precisely you are talking about. A vague, muffled, dubious thought must carry you along as on a current. [A] certain afflatus must bear you nobly onward through a perpetual incoherence. . . .

Egotism '16 at 17-18 (The General Character of German Philosophy).





By: John Castle
Date: 2012-Jan-31
Subject: Essence

Why no definition of "essence"?


By: t.p. davis
Date: 2012-Jan-31
Subject: Definition of Essence

Even though the Definitions page was not helpful to you, you might try searching on the Custom Quotations page, or finding on the All Quotations page. A quotation that comes up when one searches for essence on the Custom Quotations page is this: "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. . . . Its 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." This quotation appears on the page entitled, Categories Distinguished, which is found under the navigation link (at the upper-left of your screen when viewing this site in a browser) that says, Categories.


By: John Castle
Date: 2014-Feb-16
Subject: Essence

Belated thanks for your response on "essence". I have spent years trying to grasp the concept. And thanks for the website.


By: t.p. davis
Date: 2014-Feb-16
Subject: Definition of Essence

In a quotation not yet posted to the web site, S says, "An essence is simply the recognizable character of any object or feeling, all of it that can actually be possessed in sensation or recovered in memory, or transcribed in art, or conveyed to another mind." Obiter at 273. Also, while I assume you have read RE, I suggest you try Apologia at pp.525-542, Misunderstandings of Essence. That is a mature explication of this category offered in response to some critics.