A George Santayana Home Page

Essence and Existence

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 Interpretations of Poetry and Religion

The mass of mankind is divided into two classes, the Sancho Panzas who have a sense for reality, but no ideals, and the Don Quixotes with a sense for ideals, but mad. The expedient of recognizing facts as facts and accepting ideals as ideals . . . , although apparently simple enough, seems to elude the normal human power of discrimination.

Poetry & Religion at 4 (Preface) [#260 1900]

From Reason in Religion

God [to Saint Augustine] was simply the ideal eternal object of human thought and love. . . . . . . God is not true but the truth (i.e., the ideal object of thought in any sphere), not good but the good (i.e., the ideal object of will in all its rational manifestations). . . . [H]ence the sweetness of that endless colloquy in prayer into which he was continually relapsing, a passion and a sweetness which no one will understand to whom God is primarily a natural power and only accidentally a moral ideal.

[T]heology, for those whose religion is secondary, is simply a false physics . . . . [T]hose whose reflection or sentiment does not furnish them with a key to the moral symbolism and poetic validity underlying theological ideas . . . will very soon come to regard religion as a delusion. Where religion is primary, however, all that worldly dread of fraud and illusion becomes irrelevant, as it is irrelevant to an artist's pleasure to be warned that the beauty he expresses has no objective existence, or as it would be irrelevant to a mathematician's reasoning to suspect that Pythagoras was a myth and his supposed philosophy an abracadabra. . . .

Proofs of the existence of God are therefore not needed, since his existence is in one sense obvious and in another of no religious interest. It is obvious in the sense that the ideal is a term of moral experience, and that truth, goodness, and beauty are inevitably envisaged by any one whose life has in some measure a rational quality. It is of no religious interest in the sense that perhaps some physical or dynamic absolute might be scientifically discoverable in the dark entrails of nature or of mind. The great difference between religion and metaphysics is that religion looks for God at the top of life and metaphysics at the bottom; a fact which explains why metaphysics has such difficulty in finding God, while religion has never lost him.

This brings us to the grand characteristic and contradiction of Saint Augustine's philosophy . . . . This is the idea that the same God who is the ideal of human aspiration is also the creator of the universe and its only primary substance.

Religion at 155-159 (The Christian Compromise) [#264 1901]

From Reason in Religion

The insoluble problems of the origin of evil and of freedom, in a world produced in its every fibre by omnipotent goodness, . . . are artificial problems, unknown to philosophy before it betook itself to the literal justification of fables in which the objects of rational endeavour were represented as causes of natural existence. The former are internal products of life, the latter its external conditions. When the two are confused we reach the contradiction confronting Saint Augustine, and all who to this day have followed in his steps. The cause of everything must have been the cause of sin, yet the principle of good could not be the principle of evil. Both propositions were obviously true, and they were contradictory only after the mythical identification of the God which meant the ideal of life with the God which meant the forces of nature.

Religion at 167-168 (The Christian Compromise) [#265 1901]

From Obiter Scripta: Lectures, Essays and Reviews

You became in this way idealists in physics and realists in morals, so that in neither department had your philosophy any validity or truth.

Buchler's Obiter at 25 (The Two Idealisms) [#261 1902]

From Introduction and Reason in Common Sense

It may therefore be worth while, before leaving this phase of the subject [of the relation of mind to body, of reason to nature], to consider one or two prejudices which might make it sound paradoxical to say, as we propose, that ideals are ideal and nature natural.

Common Sense at 224 (How Thought Is Practical) [#262 1905]

From Reason in Religion

Man is still in his childhood; for he cannot respect an ideal which is not imposed on him against his will, nor can he find satisfaction in a good created by his own action.

Religion at 91 (The Christian Epic) [#263 1905]

From Reason in Religion

It is hard to convince people that they have such a gift as intelligence. If they perceive its animal basis they cannot conceive its ideal affinities or understand what is meant by calling it divine; if they perceive its ideality and see the immortal essences that swim into its ken, they hotly deny that it is an animal faculty, and invent ultramundane places and bodiless persons in which it is to reside; as if those celestial substances could be, in respect to thought, any less material than matter or, in respect to vision and life, any less instrumental than bodily organs. It never occurs to them that if nature has added intelligence to animal life it is because they belong together. Intelligence is a natural emanation of vitality.

Religion at 266 (Ideal Immortality) [#266 1905]

From Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies

Apparently there is not energy enough in the human intellect to look both ways at once, and to study the world scientifically whilst living in it spiritually.

Soliloquies at 214 (The Progress of Philosophy) [#267 1922]

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

It is especially important at this point to dispel that confusion between essences and facts which makes a quicksand of all philosophy. 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) [#371 1930]

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

Thus as among the ancients, so among the moderns, the denial of truth is due to palpable confusions between truth and knowledge of truth, between essence and existence, between the ideal and the actual.

Truth at 129 (Denials of Truth) [#268 1938]

From The Philosophy of George Santayana

Josiah Royce . . . once said to me that the gist of my philosophy was the separation of essence from existence. This was one of those rare criticisms that open one's eyes to one's own nature. It was also, perhaps, one of those prophecies that help to fulfil themselves; because it came long before I began to make any special use of the word essence, or attempted to analyse the concept of existence. But in Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, then just published, I freely referred to "ideals" . . . . Ideals belonged to poetry, not to science or to serious hypothesis. . . .

. . . .

For quite different reasons, my thesis about poetry and religion also made an unfavourable impression on William James, who declared it to be “the perfection of rottenness.” . . . . [W]hat arrested [James'] attention was my aestheticism, that seemed to find the highest satisfaction in essences or ideals, apart from their eventual realisation in matters of fact.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 497-499 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#555 1940]

From The Idea of Christ in the Gospels; or, God in Man: A Critical Essay

As in poetry, so in religion, the question whether the events described have actually occurred is trivial and irrelevant. Anything may occur in infinite time. The question is what light it would kindle within us, if it happened to happen. Facts matter little for the spirit except for what they mean to the heart. Whether the Christian faith is true is a momentous question for science and history, because it affects the conditions under which men must live and their destiny; but the spiritual value of the idea of Christ does not depend on its having been already realised in fact but on the depth to which it sounds the ultimate vocation of every living being. Lucifer might admit that a divine Christ had existed, yet might disdain to imitate him; and a disillusioned philosopher might aspire to imitate him without believing in his existence.

Idea of Christ at 173-174 (Traditional Assumptions) [#269 1946]

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

But let me say this in passing: in considering existence, as in considering anything else, we need to distinguish the essence from the fact. The essence of existence, though indefinable like all simple essences, is familiar, being an object of continual intuition; but the fact of existence is an object of belief—a belief which is indeed inevitable in life, yet may be questioned by the determined sceptic and is actually denied by some mystics and logicians. . . .

Nature [for example] is defined by the forms and laws which it manifests and renders true. We may say that such forms and laws exist, because we find them illustrated in existence. In truth it is only the event that exists, bearing the name of the essence found in it. The difference between the two is manifest when we ask: Am I describing a fact by its given universal character, or am I noting this universal given character itself? The latter is the absolute datum; the fact is an object of intent and endeavour, a particular that I believe would exist whether it yields any datum to me or not.

Lachs' Physical Order at 91-92 (What are Data?) [#542 1969]

Number of quotations (including supressed): 13

A characteristic distinction, maybe better described as a methodology, made by Santayana since his earliest philosophical writings, is that between essence and existence. The prominence of this distinction, especially as found in the early writings of Santayana, has been observed by scholarly critics and even by Santayana himself. This way of putting the matter is not far removed from the distinction between the ideal and the actual. Later works maintain this vocabulary, too, as is evident from the quotations here gathered.