A George Santayana Home Page

Isms

Definitions
Use of moral
Isms

Philosophy
Essence / existence
Categories
Truth as category

Metaphysics
Existence
Spirit incarnate
Epi-phenomenalism
Virtual knowledge
Mind function of body

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

Americanism
Catholicism
Protestantism
British philosophy
False steps


©1996-2017 T. P. Davis

Empiricism

Empiricism would be agony if any one was so silly as really to forget his material status and to become the sport of his passing ideas.

Soliloquies at 157 (Masks) [#195 1920]

Empiricism

In an empirical system causation is reduced to superstition, skipping from fact to observed fact without attempting to penetrate any of them substantially. It attributes to a juxtaposition of appearances a mysterious power to reproduce itself. Unfortunately in immediate experience there are, strictly speaking, no repetitions. The word and occurs often; but never, for actual feeling, in exactly the same context, or with exactly the same emphasis or colour. Empirical philosophy, if sincere, ought to become mystical and to deny that the flux of events has any articulation or method in it.

Essence at 87 (Implication) [#196 1927]

Empiricism

Belief in law when hasty is called superstition or, when more cautious, empiricism: but the principle in both cases is the same. Both take expectation for probability; and what probability can there be that an expectation, arising at one point, should define a law for the whole universe? . . . . In superstition, as in empiricism, we yield to the vital temptation to ignore reason, and we trust to courage and to whatever idea is uppermost in the mind.

Matter at 111 (Tropes) [#197 1930]

Empiricism

If society does not actually feel or think, actual feeling or thinking, in its turn, is not a society of self-existing 'ideas' or 'perceptions,' as British empiricism would have it.

Dominations at 371 (Representative Government I: Only Generated Organisms Can Live or Think) [#198 1951]

Empiricism

To attribute one phenomenon to the influence of another phenomenon is superstition, or, when defended by philosophers, empiricism.

Lachs' Physical Order at 37 (Causation) [#199 1969]

Empiricism / positivism / monism / pantheism

My view is that [appearances] are created out of nothing, but not by nothing, not by chance or spontaneously: they are created by something else. . . . Your contrary view is monistic or pantheistic: it does not admit, with me and the Indians, that appearance is illusion and that nothing given exists. . . . You wish to be, at least in some measure, an empiricist, a positivist, a philosopher of the Left.

Letters 3:304 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Rome, November 23, 1926) [#200 1926]

Humanism

To my old-fashioned terminology, a Humanist means a person saturated in the humanities: Humanism is something cultural: an accomplishment, not a doctrine. . . . But unfortunately there is also a metaphysical or cosmological humanism or moralism which maintains that the world is governed by human interests and an alleged universal moral sense. This cosmic humanism for realists, who believe that knowledge has a prior and independent object which sense or thought signify, might be some religious orthodoxy, for idealists and phenomenalists an oracular destiny or dialectical evolution dominating the dream of life. This "humanism" is what I call egotism or moralism, and reject altogether.

Letters 8:328 to 8:327 (To Warren Allen Smith, Rome, February 9, 1951) [#204 1951]

Idealism

What is idealism? I should like to reply: Thought and love fixed upon essence. If this definition were accepted idealism would be a leavan rather than a system . . . . To arrest attention on pure essence and to be an idealist in a moral or poetic sense, would therefore be possible to a man holding any system of physics. Even a materialist might be a true idealist, if he preferred the study of essence to that of matter or events; but his natural philosophy would keep his poetic ecstasies in their proper place. Such an equilibrium, however, has seldom recommended itself to professed philosophers . . . .

Matter at 190 (The Latent Materialism of Idealists) [#205 1930]

Idealism / empiricism / transcendentalism

Evidently when the naturalistic background and meaning of experience have dropped out in this way, empiricism is a form of idealism, since whatever objects we can come upon will all be a priori and a fortiori and sensu eminentiori ideal in the mind. The irony of logic actually made English empiricism, understood in this psychological way, the starting-point for transcendentalism and for German philosophy.

Character & Opinion at 27-28 (The Moral Background) [#794 1920]

Idealism / psychologism / transcendentalism

[By interpreting behaviourism idealistically, we] shall then be brought back to psychologism, the theory which conceives nature to be composed exclusively of various strands of feelings, and thoughts. Psychologism is one of the modern forms of idealism, transcendentalism being the other: and since transcendentalism can escape materialism if it remains a romantic attitude, without any dogmatic cosmology, dogmatic history, dogmatic psychology, or dogmatic memory, so too psychologism may escape materialism if it remains purely literary, like the world of a novel, and when pressed to specify where the existential elements of its literary landscapes are to be found, retires into the citadel of transcendentalism, and says they are found by being feigned, or by being actually experienced. But if transcendentalists find it impossible, in constructing a system, to avoid some dogmatic beliefs, say as to the course of events, the psychologists do not even attempt such rigour; and they take for granted that perfectly well-known experiences fall to everyone''s share: that these persons communicate their feelings, know of one another's existence, and receive the same hard knocks at assignable times, without there existing any common environment, any spatial relations, or any connecting medium between their various experiences. Such, at least, would be their doctrine, if they had one . . . .

Lach's Animal Faith at 81 (Materialism of Idealists) [#206 1967]

Liberalism / Protestantism / Judaism / positivism

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. . . . [P]rosperity may be the ideal of the poor, or it may be the ideal of the rich; and it may be accompanied by domestic, national, and religious joys, or by domestic, national, and religious bitterness. [Where Latins adopt liberalism, it is] the poor man's liberalism; the liberalism of the dominant Anglosaxon is that of the joyful rich man. This colours differently their common ideal of prosperity; but prosperity remains the ultimate ideal of both. For this reason Latins who are rich, either in possessions or sympathies, can hardly be liberals. They love the beautiful.

Persons and Places at 200 (First Return to Spain) [#207 1944]

Materialism

Matter can't exist without form, and its form gives definition to its powers: but matter flows through these forms which are not magic bodiless forces magnetizing it from outside: they are the forms it has assumed in flowing. That, to my mind, is the essence of materialism. As for consciousness, it is a hypostasis of some of these forms, a "second entelechy", doubly dependent.

Letters 5:117 (To Sidney Hook, Rome, June 8, 1934) [#208 1934]

Materialism

For this reason I have sometimes used the word naturalism instead of materialism to indicate my fundamental belief: but that word is open to even worse equivocations. Naturalism might include psychologism or, as Banfi suggests, it might mean only one moral interest or one logical perspective open to absolute thought. The term materialism seems to me safer . . . . The theoretical sensualist, for instance, who thinks only sensations true or real, is evidently no materialist, but a psychological idealist; else Democritus would be an idealist, in believing in geometrical atoms. He was in fact a rationalist; and in this, to my mind, he was not materialistic enough, because there is ideolatry and conceptual dogmatism in attributing geometrical forms to matter absolutely, simply because they are clear essences to our intuition.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 508 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#209 1940]

Materialism

There might be said to be as many materialisms as there are stages of discovery in natural science; and the most recent notions, for instance about the disjointed character of minute events, are perfectly materialistic, jumping being as material an act as gliding. What should prevent matter, if it likes, from existing in pulses, and being atomic in time as well as in space? In any case a principle of continuity could not be absent if the separate strokes were not to form entirely separate universes. That existence should be intermittent therefore would add little to the axiom that it is transitory.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 508 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#210 1940]

Materialism

That matter is capable of eliciting feeling and thought follows necessarily from the principle that matter is the only substance, power, or agency in the universe: and this, not that matter is the only reality, is the first principle of materialism.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 509 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#211 1940]

Materialism

Initially . . . materialism coincides with pantheism, or even with theism of that Islamic and Calvinistic kind which conceives God as omnificent. Divergence begins with the ways of acting attributed to this single force. The more minute, repeated, and constant the tropes discovered, the more materialistic or mechanical our dynamic monism will seem to grow . . . .

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 509-510 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#212 1940]

Materialism

A materialist is therefore fundamentally a naturalist, and begins, not with any theory of the essence of matter, but with the natural assumption made by children and poets that he is living in an existing and persisting world in which there are rocks and trees, men and animals, feelings and dreams; yet the philosophical naturalist has stopped to observe how these things change and grow, often passing into one another, and eating one another up: so that they suggest to him the belief that something continuous runs through them, makes them up, or causes them to appear. But the appearances are not parts of the material object, since they change with the distance, position, and condition of the observer; often, too, when no such object exists, as in the case of illusions and dreams. If on examination and in the practice of the arts the naturalist thinks this theory verified, he has become a materialist.

Now in denying immaterial agencies, the materialist does not deny that material agencies may be at the same time animated by ideal motives and moral purposes.

Dominations at 18-19 (Whether Naturalism is Irreligious) [#213 1951]

Naturalism

Naturalism is a primary system, or rather it is not a special system at all, but the spontaneous and inevitable body of beliefs involved in animal life, beliefs of which the various philosophical systems are either extensions (a supernatural environment, itself natural in its own way, being added to nature) or interpretations (as in Aristotle and Spinoza) or denials (as in idealism). . . . On this material framework it is easy to hang all the immaterial objects, such as words, feelings, and ideas, which may be eventually distinguished in human experience. We are not compelled in naturalism, or even in materialism, to ignore immaterial things ; the point is that any immaterial things which are recognized shall be regarded as names, aspects, functions, or concomitant products of those physical things among which action goes on.

Buchler's Obiter at 214 (Dewey’s Naturalistic Metaphysics) [#214 1925]

Naturalism

In substance I agree with Scholastic analysis, but need other terms, so as to state the matter without the Socratic-Aristotelian presuppositions in general philosophy which imply a conceptual structure in the world and a limited number of standard genera and species, and universals generally for the intellect to recognize. That is why "intuition," in my statements would take the place of both sense and intellect, in so far as these are actually realised in consciousness; while "intent" would take the place of I don’t know exactly what assurance that the object faced not only exists but possesses in itself . . . the qualities given in perception. . . . I think all consciousness is intellectual: the sub-intellectual flux is purely material and only potentially conscious. . . .

At the end you seem to be sorry that, having reduced idealism sceptically to absurdity, I shouldn't simply go back to the conventions from which the idealists started. Those conventions, as stated by the Scholastics, are contrary to naturalism: that is why they led to idealism as criticism was applied to them. I have tried to profit by that experience and to state commonsense beliefs with more circumspection, so as not to be forced to abandon them by the treacherous elements of grammar and moralism which the Socratic School introduced into philosophy.

Letters 5:316 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Rome, April 1, 1936) [#215 1936]

Nominalism

The force of nominalism comes from the appeal to facts; its absurdity comes of perpetually substituting these facts for the differences that distinguish them. These differences cannot occur before the facts that manifest them; therefore the nominalist, who is a hard-headed fellow, swears that differences are nothing except their occurrence. . . . When nominalists say that an essence, before it is exemplified, has no identity, so that reference to it is impossible, they are as usual reversing the relative status of essences and facts. It is the facts that cannot be identified or divided before they arise and are caught in some net of essence, at least in the net of chronology and topography; but essences supply the very definitions by which the facts may be said to define themselves, and may become possible themes for discrimination. . . .

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 535-536 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#216 1940]

Pantheism

Pantheism, in teaching that the world ought to be full of horrors, since so it is, accepts the most savage of ideals . . . . Plotinus, however, was no pantheist, and his God, who created the world by a virtue that flowed, as it were, from the hem of his garment, was not responsible for the world, nor glorified by the evils in it, nor even cognizant of their existence. Plotinus could not explain the origin of evil ; in fact he could not explain the origin of anything, his whole natural philosophy being unnatural, and merely a moral allegory.

Buchler's Obiter at 83 (Plotinus and the Nature of Evil) [#217 1913]

Pantheism

God, at least for Jews, Christians, and Moslems, must be a power that is a spirit, and a spirit that is a sovereign power. As I place spirit and power at opposite ends of the ontological scale, and of cosmic evolution, making spirit the fruit and enjoyment of power, but no part of its radical energy, I must be pronounced an atheist in this company. I am not even a pantheist, as if I regarded the whole of matter as an organ of spirit; for then, even if the dynamic order were purely mathematical, the omnipresence of spirit and the pervasive ministration of matter to moral ends, would allow us to say that the universe was a divine body with a divine mind. But that, in my opinion, is a false extension of spirit . . . .

Spirit at 285 (General Review of Realms of Being) [#218 1940]

Platonic-Christian humanism / German idealism

As I say in that little book [The Genteel Tradition at Bay], I think the Platonic-Christian theology necessary to defend the moralistic position. Kant and the German idealists can't do it, because their position, though subjective, is not humanistic; and the absolute self may turn pantheist or even materialist, or in the other direction, perfectly anarchical, as in Nietzsche. But that theology seems to me an evident fiction, made to defend a moralistic prejudice.

Letters 5:107 (To Stuart Gerry Brown, Rome, May 14, 1934) [#219 1934]

Pragmatism / irrationalism / vitalism / pure empiricism

Yet in philosophy . . . there has been of late a very interesting fresh movement, largely among the professors themselves, which in its various hues may be called irrationalism, vitalism, pragmatism, or pure empiricism. But this movement, far from being a reawakening of any organising instinct, is simply an extreme expression of romantic anarchy. It is in essence but a franker confession of the principle upon which modern philosophy has been building—or unbuilding—for these three hundred years, I mean the principle of subjectivity.

Winds at 11-12 (The Intellectual Temper of the Age) [#768 1913]

Psychologism

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 (Comparison with Some Kindred Doctrines) [#221 1927]

Psychologism

[M]odern psychologism: the view that all we see, say and think is false, but that the only truth is that we see, say and think it. If nothing be real except experience, nothing can be true except biography. Society must then be conceived as carried on in a literary medium, with no regard to the natural basis of society.

Truth at 127 (Denials of Truth) [#222 1938]

Rationalism

By insisting on the infinity of essence I have, in one sense, already discarded any metaphysical rationalism which should attribute this sort of prior existence and authority to any system of logic or grammar. Essences are prior to existence, but being infinitely various they cannot determine existence to take one form rather than another.

Essence at 81 (Implication) [#223 1927]

Scholasticism

[Catholic philosophy-books] have improved immensely of late in their knowledge and understanding of modern views: not so much in their historical criticism, e.g. of Aristotle, Plato, & the Neo-Platonists. They are therefore able to present and defend common-sense—which is what Scholasticism is, apart from the theology—in an enlightened way.

Letters 5:122 to 5:123 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Fiesole, June 25, 1934) [#224 1934]

Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism is the philosophy which the romantic era produced in Germany, and independently, I believe, in America also. Transcendentalism proper, like romanticism, is not any particular set of dogmas about what things exist; it is not a system of the universe regarded as a fact, or as a collection of facts. It is a method, a point of view, from which any world, no matter what it might contain, could be approached by a self-conscious observer. Transcendentalism is systematic subjectivism. . . . In other words, transcendentalism is the critical logic of science. . . .

[A]s a method I regard it as correct . . . . I regard it as the chief contribution made in modern times to speculation. But it is a method only . . . . Yet the Germans who first gained the full transcendental insight were romantic people . . . . Transcendental logic, the method of discovery for the mind, was to become also the method of evolution in nature and history. Transcendental method, so abused, produced transcendental myth. A conscientious critique of knowledge was turned into a sham system of nature. We must therefore distinguish sharply the transcendental grammar of the intellect, which is significant and potentially correct, from the various transcendental systems of the universe, which are chimeras.

Winds at 193-194 (The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy) [#766 1911]

Transcendentalism / materialism

A theoretical materialist, who looks on the natural world as on a soil that he has risen from and feeds on, may perhaps feel a certain piety towards those obscure abysses of nature that have given him birth; but his delight will be rather in the clear things of the imagination, in the humanities, by which the rude forces of nature are at once expressed and eluded. Not so the transcendentalist. Regarding his mind as the source of everything, he is moved to solemn silence and piety only before himself: on the other hand, what bewitches him, what he loves to fondle, is his progeny, the material environment, the facts, the laws, the blood, and the iron in which he conceives (quite truly, perhaps) that his spirit perfectly and freely expresses itself. To despise the world and withdraw into the realm of mind, as into a subtler and more congenial sphere, is quite contrary to his idealism. Such a retreat might bring him peace, and he wants war. His idealism teaches him that strife and contradiction, as Heraclitus said, are the parents of all things; and if he stopped striving, if he grew sick of ambition and material goods, he thinks he would be forsaking life, for he hates as he would death what another kind of idealists have called salvation.

Egotism at 70-71 (Transcendentalism Perfected) [#225 1915]


Number of quotations (including supressed): 36


Santayana's descriptions of philosophical schools and movements are here offered separately from the page of general definitions. Santayana took many liberties when criticizing other philosophers and philosophies. He recognized this trait in himself in a number of places in his writings. For instance, he employed the technique of "radicalizing" the positions of other writers:

It is true that the romantic empiricist is not very radical . . . . In strictness, however, he has no right to this fond interest in himself. If he became a perfect empiricist he would trust experience only if it taught him absolutely nothing, even about is own past.

Soliloquies '22 at 200-201 (Empiricism). Santayana sounded this same note a few decades later:

What I demanded unconditionally was dramatic wholeness. I wanted to articulate each possible system, to make it consistent, radical, and all-embracing.

Phil. of G.S. '40 at 24-25 (A General Confession). Near the very end of his long life, Santayana still employed this critical method:

Nothing could therefore be more false, and willfully ignorant, than to maintain with the Greek Sophists and the British empiricists (when both are radical and consistent) that knowledge and judgment refer to nothing and are always equally true and valid, in the sense that each is equally real—as a sensation when it is felt.

Dominations '51 at 303 (Relativity of Knowledge and of Morals). Elsewhere Santayana admits to having transmuted the "official" positions of writers into ideal types:

. . . I am not at all sure that the extant sayings of Democritus and the rest will justify everything that I put in their mouths. I use them only as Platonic types for points of view which are natural to my own mind . . . .

Letters 3:256 (To Robert Seymour Bridges, Paris, August 8, 1925). Santayana also used the ideas of great philosophers as springboards to his own expression and articulation of traditional philosophical ideas:

I plead guilty to having treated Plato (and all other philosophers) somewhat cavalierly, not at all from disrespect or quarrelsomeness or lack of delight in their speculations, but because my interest has seldom been strictly philological or historical. I have studied very little except for pleasure, and have made my authors a quarry or a touchstone for my own thoughts.

Phil. of G.S. '40 at 543 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua). He acknowledged this manner of proceeding in his use of sacred Indian writings:

This [publication of The Idea of Christ in the Gospels, or God in Man] does not mean any change in my naturalism, but only a critical meditation on religion, as it might have turned to Brahmanism or Buddhism. When I was preparing The Realm of Spirit I procured complete versions of the Upanishads and Dhammapada; but I hardly feel able to write anything objective on this foreign religion: it exists for me only as a stimulus to my private speculations.

Letters 7:97 (To David Page, Rome, November 1, 1944). This said, Santayana's characterizations and criticisms of philosophical movements and schools make for entertaining reading to those familiar with his philosophy.



♦♦♦

Name:


Subject:


Comment: