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

From The Letters of George Santayana

You must keep one thing always in mind if you want to avoid hopeless entanglements: we do not act on the ideas we previously have, but we acquire ideas as the consequence of action and experience.

Letters 1:48 (To Henry Ward Abbot, Berlin, February 4, 1887) [#415 1887]

From Introduction and Reason in Common Sense

Thought is essentially practical in the sense that but for thought no motion would be an action, no change a progress; but thought is in no way instrumental or servile; it is an experience realised, not a force to be used. . . . To execute the simplest intention we must rely on fate: our own acts are mysteries to us. Do I know how I open my eyes or how I walk down stairs? Is it the supervising wisdom of consciousness that guides me in these acts? Is it the mind that controls the bewildered body and points out the way to physical habits uncertain of their affinities? Or is it not much rather automatic inward machinery that executes the marvellous work, while the mind catches here and there some glimpse of the operation, now with delight and adhesion, now with impotent rebellion? . . . . The mind at best vaguely forecasts the result of action: a schematic verbal sense of the end to be accomplished possibly hovers in consciousness while the act is being performed; but this premonition is itself the sense of a process already present and betrays the tendency at work; it can obviously give no aid or direction to the unknown mechanical process that produced it and that must realise its own prophecy, if that prophecy is to be realised at all.

Common Sense at 213-214 (How Thought Is Practical) [#416 1905]

From Introduction and Reason in Common Sense

In a word, the value of thought is ideal. The material efficacy which may be attributed to it is the proper efficacy of matter—an efficacy which matter would doubtless claim if we knew enough of its secret mechanism. And when that imputed and incongruous utility was subtracted from ideas they would appear in their proper form of expressions, realisations, ultimate fruits.

Common Sense at 219 (How Thought Is Practical) [#417 1905]

From Introduction and Reason in Common Sense

That thought is nature's concomitant expression or entelechy, never one of her instruments, is a truth long ago divined by the more judicious thinkers, like Aristotle and Spinoza; but it has not met with general acceptance or even consideration. It is obstructed by superficial empiricism . . .; it is obstructed also by traditional mythical idealism, intent as this philosophy is on proving nature to be the expression of something ulterior and non-natural and on hugging the fatal misconception that ideals and eventual goods are creative and miraculous forces . . . .

Common Sense at 223-224 (How Thought Is Practical) [#418 1905]

From Introduction and Reason in Common Sense

Threatened destruction would not involve pain unless that threatened destruction were being resisted; so that the reaction which pain is supposed to cause must already be taking place before pain can be felt. . . . Determinate impulses must exist already for their inhibition to have taken place or the pain to arise which is the sign of that inhibition.

Common Sense at 227 (How Thought Is Practical) [#419 1905]

From Reason in Art

We must observe, however, that only by virtue of a false perspective do ideas seem to govern action . . . .

Art at 6 (The Basis of Art in Instinct and Experience) [#420 1905]

From Reason in Science

The thoughts of men are incredibly evanescent, merely the foam of their labouring natures . . . .

Science at 127 (Psychology) [#421 1906]

From The Letters of George Santayana

And this leads me to make a slight complaint against you for having said that I am an "epiphenomenalist"—I don't complain of your calling me a "pragmatist" because I know that it is mere piety on your part. But the title of epiphenomenalist is better deserved, and I have only this objection to it: that it is based (like the new realism) on idealistic prejudices and presuppositions. An epiphenomenon must have some other phenomenon under it: but what underlies the mind, according to my view, is not a phenomenon but a substance—the body, or nature at large. To call this is [sic] a phenomenon is to presuppose another thing in itself, which is chimerical. Therefore I am no epiphenomenalist, but a naturalist pure and simple, recognizing a material world, not a phenomenon but a substance, and a mental life struck off from it in its operation, like a spark from the flint and steel, having no other substance than that material world, but having a distinct existence of its own (as it is emitted continually out of bodily life as music is emitted from an instrument) and having a very different kind of being, since it is immaterial and moral and cognitive. This mental life may be called a phenomenon if you like, either in the platonic sense of being an instance of an essence (in which sense every fact, even substance, is a phenomenon) or in the modern sense of being an observable effect of latent forces; but it cannot be called an epiphenomenon, unless you use the word phenomenon in the one sense for substance and in the other sense for consciousness.

Letters 2:127 (To Horace Meyer Kallen , Madrid, April 7, 1913) [#422 1913]

From The Letters of George Santayana

But I still believe that "consciousness", or the intuition of essences, is an event which, being immaterial, is imponderable, not measurable in quantity or position or velocity, nor even intrinsically in date or duration: so that to assign any mechanical efficacy to it is impossible. But of course, it is as good a sign of its circumstances as any other habitual item among them: and it may have a certain prophetic or symptomatic value as to the probable future, which the superstitious regard as a magic efficacy: and this is what people really cling to, and try to disguise to themselves as an experience of power.

Letters 3:13 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Paris, March 28, 1921) [#423 1921]

From Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies

When I speak of being governed by imagination, of course I am indulging in a figure of speech, in an ellipsis; in reality we are governed by that perpetual latent process within us by which imagination itself is created. Actual imaginings—the cloud-like thoughts drifting by—are not masters over themselves nor over anything else. . . . Imagination, when it chimes within us, apparently of itself, is no less elaborately grounded [than the chime in the night is grounded in the church tower, the composer's head, and the beadle winding things up]; it is a last symptom, a rolling echo, by which we detect and name the obscure operation that occasions it . . . .

Soliloquies at 123 (Imagination) [#424 1922]

From Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies

That universals are present to intuition was the secret of Plato . . . . It comes to seem a paradox, or even inconceivable, because people suppose they see what they believe they are looking at, which is some particular thing, the object of investigation, of desire, and of action; they overlook the terms of their thought . . . . These terms, which are alone immediate, are all universals. Belief—the expectation, fear, or sense of events hidden or imminent—precedes clear perception; but it is supposed to be derived from it. Perception without belief would be mere intuition of Ideas . . . . The human mind, on the contrary, is the expression of an animal life, swimming hard in the sea of matter. It begins by being the darkest belief . . . . Ideas, in the discovery of facts, are only graphic symbols . . . .

Soliloquies at 229-230 (Ideas) [#425 1922]

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

The existence of things is assumed by animals in action and expectation before intuition supplies any description of what the thing is that confronts them in a certain quarter.

Scepticism at 133 (Essence and Intuition) [#426 1923]

From Obiter Scripta: Lectures, Essays and Reviews

Intuition is an emanation of life, an intellectual response of the animal to his vicissitudes; it is an actualisation or hypostasis of formal facts in nature, not an added existence on the same plane as its organ. If either the substance or the intuition were a phenomenon (which neither is), the relation of intuition to substance might be called epiphenomenal; for the two are not collateral, but the intuition is as completely dependent on the body for arising, as the body and nature at large are dependent on intuition for being imagined, loved, or described. This spiritual hypostasis of life in intuition is therefore less and more than natural existence and deserves a different name. I will call it actuality.

Buchler's Obiter at 208-209 (Some Meanings of the Word "Is") [#427 1924]

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

The enormity of our childish idealism would prove immediately fatal if we needed to have a true idea of things in order to act properly in their presence. But ideas which are ridiculous as descriptions may be adequate as signals: all animals eat and breed without any notion of calorics or eugenics: hunger and love are moral overtones quite sufficient to express for them their share in the rude economy of nature. The mind is not a fifth wheel to her coach, but her observations on the journey.

Essence at 35 (Adventitious Aspects of Essence) [#428 1927]

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

Spirit is what is called epi-phenomenal, although this word is very ill-chosen, since neither substance nor spirit is phenomenal; but the essences embodied in matter and those revealed to intuition are indeed deployed in two different media: the spiritual perspective being at each point dependent for its existence and its character upon the balance and movement of the vital process beneath. . . . There are not, then, two parallel streams, but rather one stream which, in slipping over certain rocks or dropping into certain pools, begins to babble a wanton music; not thereby losing any part of its substance or changing its course, but unawares enriching the world with a new beauty.

Essence at 134 (Instances of Essences) [#429 1927]

From The Philosophy of George Santayana

Of this [the hereditary life of the body] the mind is a concomitant spiritual expression, invisible, imponderable, and epiphenomenal, or, as I prefer to say, hypostatic: for in it the moving unities and tensions of animal life are synthesized on quite another plane of being, into actual intuitions and feelings.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 18 (A General Confession) [#436 1930]

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

If I want water, it is because my throat is parched; if I dream of love it is because sex is ripening within me. . . . Conscious will is a symptom, not a cause; its roots . . . are . . . material . . . .

Matter at 121 (Teleology) [#430 1930]

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

[C]onsciousness is the most highly conditioned of existences, an overtone of psychic strains, mutations, and harmonies . . . .

Matter at 155 (The Psyche) [#431 1930]

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

Thus sensations and ideas always follow upon organic reactions and express their quality; and intuition merely supplies a mental term for the animal reaction already at work unconsciously. With each new strain or fresh adjustment, a new feeling darts through the organism; digestive sleep breaks into moral alertness and sharp perception; and, once initiated, these modes of sensibility may persist even in quiescent hours—for they leave neurograms or seeds of habit in the brain—and may be revived in thought and in dreams.

Matter at 157 (The Psyche) [#432 1930]

From The Letters of George Santayana

For instance, I hope you may find occasion before long to clear up and emphasize the ubiquitous directness of the dependence of mind on organic life, and the non-existence of mental machinery. Isn't it grotesque to suppose one idea capable of generating another, as if in music one note were to produce another note? . . . . In discourse relevant ideas are "chosen" because, the bodily and psychic (not mental) reactions being determined by inheritance, training, and circumstances, only relevant ideas can arise.

Letters 4:251 (To Morris Raphael Cohen, Rome, May 11, 1931) [#433 1931]

From The Letters of George Santayana

[T]he constitutional uselessness of the mental side of things is another point important in my view, but perhaps better left alone.

Letters 5:84 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Rome, February 2, 1934) [#434 1934]

From The Letters of George Santayana

[It is as if both you and John Locke] regarded the originality of mind and the human scale of sensuous images as required for the mechanical adjustment and utility of these images and minds in the midst of action. That needs clearing up: consider dreams, poetry, the syntax of language. Mind everywhere is only an illustration to the running text; it is not useful images that are created (how should they have been known to be useful, or even aposite, before they were thought of?) but useful summary reactions or affections of the organism create images, like smells, vaguely reporting to consciousness the turn of affairs and apposite because they occur then. However, this question of the epiphenomenal level and poetic function of all mind, doesn't come within your direct subject, and it is my own preoccupation with it that raises it inopportunately, like a ghost in the daytime.

Letters 5:195 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Rome, May 28, 1935) [#435 1935]

From The Philosophy of George Santayana

[S]o that both the transitive indicativeness and the subjective animal status proper to all mind are corollaries of materialism. Yet that is not all: from the transcendental nature of mind follows also, that it cannot figure among the objects it surveys, yet is essential to their moral presence. For the realm of matter cannot admit mind into its progressive structure and movement; each trope or rhythm must be complete before sensation can arise; so that this sensation is intrinsically a result and not a cause, a comment and not an agent, an occurrence not physical but spiritual and moral. It is in an ideal synthesis impossible in a flux, in spanning relations in the realm of truth, that mounting animal passions attain this hypostatic individuality, and become feelings. Events have then given birth, in a living organism, to experience of events. My whole description of the spiritual life is thus an extension of my materialism and a consequence of it.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 504 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#437 1940]

From The Philosophy of George Santayana

Reflection and reason are forms taken by life, they are psychic processes in organisms, involving all sorts of physical relations and potentialities. They are not clear hypostatic results of these processes such as consciousness and spirit are.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 541 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#438 1940]

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

Perhaps it is not logically impossible that spirit should exist without a body: but in that case how should spirit come upon any particular images, interests, or categories.

Spirit at 11 (The Nature of Spirit) [#439 1940]

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

It is not at all true that, as Virgil says, mind agitates a lump of formless matter and mixes itself with the vast body of nature. Mind would have to become matter before it could do that. Nor is it true even in human fine arts or in eloquence that there is a previous purely mental image that the sculptor's hand or the speaker's words retrace when they are inspired.

Dominations at 96 (Ambiguity of 'Spirit' in the Arts) [#442 1951]

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

This potential revival of past perceptions really occurs . . . . Such recurrence is naturally explicable only because the same living organism endures, with its always total, though always differently focused and selective consciousness. So the feelings that were once new and central recur marginally or merely suggest themselves, whenever the original process that caused them is reawakened in the organism . . . .

Dominations at 371-372 (Representative Government I: Only Generated Organisms Can Live or Think) [#443 1951]

From The Birth of Reason & Other Essays

[I]t is chiefly the impact of surrounding bodies, or troubles, needs, and impulses in his own organism, that cause ideas to appear before his mind. To these removed facts his instincts and actions then adjust themselves automatically . . . .

Cory's Birth of Reason at 158 (On the False Steps of Philosophy) [#441 1964]

From Animal Faith and Spiritual Life

The purpose itself arises by virtue of the ripening of certain actions, or impulses in the organism; these impulses, before the sort of action in question has been often performed or observed, come clothed only in vague feelings of uneasiness or impatience: but when the appropriate action is well-known, they come clothed in images picturing that action by anticipation: and the purpose in that case can prefigure graphically its probable or normal fulfilment. The issue is not called forth or shaped by that image in the mind: but the first images accompanying the purpose may be very like the images which perception of the result will arouse in the end: and this natural congruity in two pictures will be transformed by superstitious haste into the power of the first image—whose causes are ignored—to produce the material event which the second image reports to the same minds.

Lach's Animal Faith at 251 (Purposes and Results) [#444 1967]

From The Birth of Reason & Other Essays

If a man, dozing, brushes away a fly from his bald head, he need not have formed a clear image of that fly; yet his action shows an exact apprehension in his organism of an intrusion at that place. In more general terms, a living creature, beneath and before all imagination, is affected by the contact or even by the movement of objects, and has a propensity to react upon them.

Cory's Birth of Reason at 137 (Mind Liberating and Deceptive) [#445 1968]

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

Experience and knowledge are by no means composed of a multitude of clear intuitions associated or conjoined . . . . I first believe in the world, and as I pick my way about in it, I gradually distinguish its most notable contrasts, such as good and bad, far or near, light and dark, myself and things: and these constraints allow me to distinguish object from object in practice, without giving me the least power to say what each object is intrinsically. . . . Attention is a symptom of alarm, or at least of stimulation; it is initially fixed on objects of intent, asking what they are or what they will do: and when this practical question is settled, or ceases to interest, attention lapses altogether, and the essences which served as signals or as discriminating marks seldom become objects of attention on their own account.

Lachs' Physical Order at 120 (Psychologism) [#564 1969]

Number of quotations (including supressed): 35

Epiphenomenalism might be defined as the theory that consciousness is an inefficacious, immaterial by-product of the animal processes that underlie it. Santayana once used a less idealistic term, "epigenesis," to clarify this view of the relationship of mind to body:

Even those instances of essence which are not forms of substance in this passive manner, are manifestations of substance by way of active expression or epigenesis; though not embodied in substance they are evoked from it and compose the realm of spirit, which is a natural manifestation of substance in man, but not a true description of it.

Matter '30 at 27 (Presumable Properties of Substance).

Santayana did not use the expression causation in describing the unilateral relation between animal psyche and consciousness. He says:

But if we adopted this language we should have to remove from the notion of causation the suggestion of an identical substance or force passing from an earlier to a later arrangement: the psychic expression of life is contemporary with its material phases, and it is in itself perfectly unsubstantial, evanescent, inconsequential, and impotent. It is no continuation of the same process that goes on in body, no transformation of the same energy. It is a spirit brooding over the waters; and the principle on which it arises here and not there, and reveals this sensuous quality and not that, is a mysterious corollary to the morphology of animal life.

Physical Order '69 at 27 (Causation). See also Letters 1:115 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Ávila, August 10, 1890) ("If you mean only that no energy is spent on thought, and that mind wherever it may appear, is an epiphenomenon, I sympathize with you . . . ."; "The mind would have to be treated as a parasite, if that can be called a parasite which consumes nothing of the substance on which it lives.").

Rather than use the language of causation to describe the categorical distinction between mind and body, Santayana adopted terminology borrowed from the Aristotelean tradition. Santayana writes:

Yet the element of succession is absent, the terms being simultaneous; and it is consequently more proper to name the feelings that arise the expression or entelechy or hypostasis of the bodily situation, and this the organ or instrument of the actual consciousness. For we must remember that while in the order of genesis consciousness is the last, most unsubstantial, and most fugitive of beings, it is first in the order of discovery, and in its intensity of being; so much so that, from its point of view, the whole realm of matter may be called merely potential, until actualised, discovered, and brought to a head in experience.

Physical Order '69 at 28 (Causation). See also Phil. of G.S. '40 at 18 (prefers term "hypostatic"); id. at 504 ("It is in an ideal synthesis impossible in a flux, in spanning relations in the realm of truth, that mounting animal passions attain this hypostatic individuality, and become feelings."); id. at 541 ("Reflection and reason are forms taken by life, they are psychic processes in organisms . . . . They are not clear hypostatic results of these processes such as consciousness and spirit are.").

Scholars may quarrel with the provenance of Santayana's terminology. His hijacking apt expressions foreign to modern ears, though, is not without its advantages if one wishes to emphasize the categorical distinction between power and spirit. The quotations on this page may shed further light on Santayana's "epi-phenomenalism."