A George Santayana Home Page

Lives of Reason and Spirit

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Truth as category

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False steps


©1996-2017 T. P. Davis

Contrasting the lives of nature, reason, and spirit

[Protestantism] boasts, not without cause, of its depth and purity; but this depth and purity are those of any formless and primordial substance. It keeps unsullied that antecedent integrity which is at the bottom of every living thing and at its core; it is not acquainted with that ulterior integrity, that sanctity, which might be attained at the summit of experience through reason and speculative dominion. It accordingly mistakes vitality, both in itself and in the universe, for spiritual life.

Religion at 115-116 (Pagan Custom and Barbarian Genius Infused Into Christianity) [#644 1905]

Contrasting the lives of nature, reason, and spirit

As common morality itself falls easily into mythical expressions and speaks of a fight between conscience and nature, reason and the passions, as if these were independent in their origin or could be divided in their operation, so spiritual life even more readily opposes the ideal to the real, the revealed and heavenly truth to the extant reality, as if the one could be anything but an expression and fulfillment of the other. Being equally convinced that spiritual life is authoritative and possible, and that it is opposed to all that earthly experience has as yet supplied, the prophet almost inevitably speaks of another world above the clouds and another existence beyond the grave; he thus seeks to clothe in concrete and imaginable form the ideal to which natural existence seem to him wholly rebellious. Spiritual life comes to mean life abstracted from politics, from art, from sense, even in the end from morality. Natural motives and natural virtues are contrasted with those which are henceforth called supernatural, and all the grounds and sanctions of right living are transferred to another life. Religion 05 at 227-228 (Charity).

Religion at 227-228 (Charity) [#665 1905]

Contrasting the lives of nature, reason, and spirit

The natural and the spiritual fruits of life are not opposed, but they are different. Its natural fruits are more life, persisting through readjustments and an incessant generation of new forms, so that youth may fill the place of age and attain an equal, though not identical, perfection. It is in these perfections, or in approaches which partly anticipate them, that the spiritual fruits are found. As we have seen, they may ripen early, and may be gathered at all seasons, when any phase of life is perfected in action; but the spiritual fruits are internal or tangential to this action, not consequent upon it, like the natural fruits: they may be omnipresent in existence, but only by everywhere transmuting existence into essence. Spirit is life looking out of the window; the work of the household must have been done first, and is best done by machinery.

Essence at 10 (Various Approaches to Essence) [#645 1927]

Contrasting the lives of nature, reason, and spirit

Those who have spirit in them will live in the spirit, or will suffer horribly in the flesh; but this very insight into pure Being and into the realm of essence shows that both are absolutely infinite, the one implicitly, the other explicitly; they therefore release the mind from any exclusive allegiance to this or that good. It is only by the most groundless and unstable of accidents that any such good has been set up, or any such world as that to which this good is relevant; and only to the merest blindness does this world or this good seem absolute or exclusive. Now it would be stupid in a blind man, because he was blind, to deny the greatness of a painter who was admittedly supreme in his art, or the sanctity of a saint, or the insight of some thoroughly trained, purged, and disinterested intellect; yet that blind man would by no means be bound in his own person to begin for that reason to paint, to pray, or to go into the Indian wilderness and contemplate pure Being. Humility in these respects is not incompatible with freedom. Let those excel who can in their rare vocations and leave me in peace to cultivate my own garden. Much as I may admire and in a measure emulate spiritual minds, I am aware of following them non passibus aequis; and I think their ambition, though in some sense the most sublime open to man, is a very special one, beyond the powers and contrary to the virtues of most men. As for me, I frankly cleave to the Greeks and not to the Indians, and I aspire to be a rational animal rather than a pure spirit. Preferences are matters of morals, and morals are part of politics. It is for the statesman or the humanist to compare the functions of various classes in the state and the importance or timeliness of various arts. He must honour the poets as poets and the saints as saints, but on occasion he is not forbidden to banish them.

Essence at 65 (Pure Being) [#646 1927]

Contrasting the lives of nature, reason, and spirit

All that can be said is that without animal life and capacity for intuition the essence of beauty could not be realized: and if you had no preference for life, no heart, you would not come within range of the good in any form: not even of the spiritual life as a form of salvation. Perhaps, then, you forget that in analyzing the spiritual life, I do not forget (I hope) that it is life: if it becomes pure Being it ceases to exist. And this leads to 2nd the relation of the spiritual life to the rational life. Suppose that instead of mysticism I was considering taste: the poet or musician may, in moments of ecstasy, lose himself entirely in the intuition of his ideal theme. It is a limit to one movement in the Life of Reason. To revert to humanity and morality he has to consider the healthfulness of such rapture: he has to re-introduce it into the political life. Yet the moral world (being animal and spontaneous in its elements) does have those windows. I have been looking out of one lately: but, as you seem to suspect, with no intention of jumping out of it.

Letters 4:103 to 4:104 (To Sterling Power Lamprecht, Rome, January 28, 1929) [#647 1929]

Contrasting the lives of nature, reason, and spirit

[T]he detachment of spirit, or of understanding, is itself an inevitable aspect or moment of natural intelligence. To see things as they are, or in their truth, by variously exchanging, balancing, and thereby transcending any one private station or interest, is the condition of seeing them usefully in the larger economy of life. There is nothing anti-natural in reflection, imagination, or impersonal hypothesis. We must discount our personal equation—sensuous organs, passions, etc.—in order to calculate correctly the movement of things, in which our animal existence and passions are interpolated. But in thus serving our natural life our intelligence has detached itself, in idea, from the bias of that life: it has become impartial and disinterested. It can therefore, to that extent and in that relation, constitute a spiritual life detached from the person and lost in the truth: although materially it remains a function of animal intelligence, with its material organs, and its roots in the free play and requisite transpositions of animal fancy.

Letters 4:185 (To John Middleton Murray, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, June 22, 1930) [#649 1930]

Contrasting the lives of nature, reason, and spirit

You revert to the idea of a contradiction or conflict in my mind between MacS. and Van T. Please let me repeat that, to my feeling, it is only a shift in attention or interest, not a doubt at all about doctrine. If you take the political moral point of view, and shout for your side in the football match, you are MacS. If you consider the place of shouting and football in the universe, you are Van T. The latter is therefore the deeper philosopher: yet the former is the more radical and ineradicable man, because man is an animal before he is a spirit, and can be a spirit only because he is alive, i.e. an animal. The nature of the human animal, however, is to be intelligent, to be speculative; and hence the vocation to transcend the conditions of his existence in his thought and worship.

Letters 5:29 (To George Washburne Howgate, Rome, May 31, 1933) [#651 1933]

Contrasting the lives of nature, reason, and spirit

What people . . . dislike is not so much the materialism or ontology slipped under the life of reason, as the 'spiritual life' supposed to be substituted for it in my estimation.

That is a complete misconception. No doubt when I wrote The Life of Reason I was taken up with rational ethics and interested (as I still am) in the theory of government and the pro's and con's of religious institutions. But I never thought of life in society, or of moral economy, as the obligatory or only worthy life. I am not a dogmatist in ethics. In so far as we legislate, and arrange things for mankind at large, of course we must do so rationally, with as fair a regard as possible for all the interests concerned. But these interests change and fade into infinity, and the art of government or education must, in practice, be rather empirical and haphazard. The best results, like the worst, will be unforeseen. Meantime actual life in each creature has its exquisite or terrible immediate reality. It is a spiritual life. It is spiritual in children as easily as in anchorites. This is not a substitute for the life of reason, but the cream or concomitant ultimate actuality of what the organized life of reason produces in consciousness. Of course, in so far as a man's thoughts are absorbed in instrumentalities, in business or politics or war or jollification, we do not call his experience spiritual: but those very actions might be food for a spiritual life if a recollected and mystical man performed them: so that the rationality of his life and its spirituality might be called two concomitant dimensions of it, the one lateral and the other vertical. The vertical or spiritual dimension is what inward religion has always added to life in the world, or in the cloister, which is a part of the world: that element may be more or less emphatic or genuine, according to a man's temperament or experience, but it is always an element, optional, private, like the love of music or like love at large. The legislator may salute it, he cannot contract to produce it.

Letters 5:354 to 5:355 (To Justus Buchler, Paris, July 1, 1936) [#652 1936]

Contrasting the lives of nature, reason, and spirit

In my later writings I speak of something called the spiritual life; of a certain disintoxication clarifying those passions which the life of reason endeavours to harmonise. . . . Spirit and reason, as I use the words, spring from the same root in organic life . . . . But intelligence and reason are often merely potential, as in habit memory, institutions, and books: they become spirit only when they flower into actual consciousness. . . .

Between the spiritual life and the life of reason there is accordingly no contradiction: they are concomitant: yet there is a difference of temper and level, as there is between agriculture and music. . . .

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 26-27 (A General Confession) [#648 1937]

Contrasting the lives of nature, reason, and spirit

Without being attached to any traditional system, even in philosophy, I naturally live in the presence of human creations (and ruins) of all sorts, and I try to understand what they mean and to do them justice, not by reviewing them in a list of opinions, for a text-book, but by living as much as possible in their presence. For instance, the point you labour so much about the compatibility or otherwise of the L. of R. and the spiritual life has been solved ages ago by the Catholic Church. There are the commandments for every body, and there are the evangelical counsels for those having a special vocation, (such as turning the other cheek). Pacifism, asceticsm, mysticism are thus allowed and honoured without disallowing the L. of R. for the world at large.

Letters 6:129 to 6:130 (To Milton Karl Munitz, Rome, May 2, 1938) [#654 1938]

Contrasting the lives of nature, reason, and spirit

[Critics wonder] how at one time I avow a preference for being a rational animal rather than a pure spirit, and at another time profess to have no passionate love of existence and no desire for immortality. . . . [I]f you choose to exalt these feelings into maxims, [though these are better understood as poetic sentiments, than as precepts,] I see no contradiction. . . . The first maxim would therefore merely assert that life is acceptable . . . . The second maxim affirms the same thing seen from above rather than from within. . . .

For those how demand a complete code of ethics, as I do not, there is an orthodox way of reconciling the morality proper to lay life and that peculiar to a consecrated spirit. The Catholic Church, for instance, distinguishes Commandments imposed on everybody from Evangelical Counsels of Perfection . . . .

Another version of the relations between rational and post-rational morality may be found in the Mahabharata, in the well-known scene where two armies face each other with drawn swords, awaiting the signal for battle. . . .

This version has the advantage of not separating natural virtue and spiritual insight into two different lives or two strands of action or interest: the two may be lived together and in the same moment. Just as rational ethics would have no materials if pre-rational preferences were abolished, so post-rational detachment would have no occasion and no reality if men and nations had no natural passions and ambitions. . . .

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 569-571 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#655 1940]

Life of reason

Thought is not a mechanical calculus, where the elements and the method exhaust the fact. Thought is a form of life, and should be conceived on the analogy of nutrition, generation, and art. Reason, as Hume said with profound truth, is an unintelligible instinct.

Common Sense at 67 (The Discovery of Natural Objects) [#657 1905]

Life of reason

[Subjectivity] was a method appropriate to a book like this, a presumptive biography of the human intellect, which instead of the Life of Reason might have been called the Romance of Wisdom.

Common Sense 2d at vii (Preface to the Second Edition) [#656 1922]

Life of reason

Beliefs and ideas might also be surveyed in the order of discovery, as within the field of human grammar and thought they come to be discriminated. Such a survey would be a biography of reason, in which I should neglect the external occasions on which ideas and beliefs arise and study only the changing patterns which they form in the eye of thought, as in a kaleidoscope. What would probably come first in the order of discovery would be goods and evils . . . .

Scepticism at 109-110 (Identity and Duration Attributed to Essences) [#658 1923]

Life of reason

This book [The Life of Reason] was intended to be a summary history of the human imagination, expressly distinguishing those phases of it which showed what Herbert Spencer called an adjustment of inner to outer relations; in other words, an adaptation of fancy and habit to material facts and opportunities.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 13-14 (A General Confession) [#660 1930]

Life of reason

Consequently there is no opposition in my mind between materialism and a Platonic or even Indian discipline of the spirit. The recognition of the material world and of the conditions of existence in it merely enlightens the spirit concerning the source of its troubles and the means to its happiness or deliverance: and it was happiness or deliverance, the supervening supreme expression of human will and imagination, that alone really concerned me. This alone was genuine philosophy: this alone was the life of reason.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 13-14 (A General Confession) [#661 1930]

Life of reason

Such a power of intellectual synthesis is evidently the mental counterpart of the power of acting with reference to changing or eventual circumstances: whether in practice or in speculation, it is the faculty of putting two and two together, and this faculty is what we call reason. It is what the idiot lacks, the fool neglects, and the madman contradicts. But in no case is reason a code, an oracle, or an external censor condemning the perceptions of sense or suppressing the animal impulses. On the contrary, in the moral life, reason is a harmony of the passions, a harmony which perceptions and impulses may compose in so far as they grow sensitive to one another, and begin to move with mutual deference and a total grace.

Genteel Tradition at Bay at 59-60 (Moral Adequacy of Naturalism) [#659 1931]

Life of reason

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) [#662 1937]

Life of spirit

The same minds [the profounder ones] are, moreover, often swayed by emotion, by the ever-present desire to find a noble solution to all questions, perhaps a solution already hallowed by authority and intertwined inextricably, for those who have always accepted it, with the sanctions of spiritual life.

Poetry & Religion at 6 (Understanding, Imagination, and Mysticism) [#666 1900]

Life of spirit

As to the Socratic philosophy of love, there is an obvious spiritual tendency in it, inasmuch as it bids the heart turn from the temporal to the eternal; and it does so not by way of an arid logic but by a true discipline of the affections, sublimating erotic passion into a just enthusiasm for all things beautiful and perfect. . . . It lives by a poignant sense of eternal values—the beautiful and the good—revealed for a moment in living creatures or in earthly harmonies. Yet who has not felt that this Platonic enthusiasm is somewhat equivocal and vain? Why? Because its renunciation is not radical. In surrendering some particular hope or some personal object of passion, it preserves and feeds the passion itself; there is no true catharsis, no liberation, but a sort of substitution and subterfuge, often hypocritical. Pure spiritual life cannot be something compensatory, a consolation for having missed more solid satisfactions: it should be rather the flower of all satisfactions, in which satisfaction becomes free from care, selfless, wholly actual and, in that inward sense, eternal. Spiritual life is simple and direct, but it is intellectual. Love, on the contrary, as Plotinus says, is something material, based on craving and a sense of want. For this reason the beautiful and the good, for the Platonic enthusiast, remain urgent values; he would cease to be a true Platonist or a rapt lover if he understood, if he discounted his illusions, rose above the animal need or the mental prejudice which made these values urgent, and relegated them to their relative station, where by their nature they belong. Yet this is what a pure spirit would do, one truly emancipated and enlightened.

Platonism at 28-29 (Chapter VIII) [#664 1927]

Life of spirit

Spiritual life is not a worship of "values," whether found in things or hypostatized into supernatural powers. It is the exact opposite; it is disintoxication from their influence. Not that spiritual insight can ever remove values from nature or cease to feel them in their moral black and white and in all their aesthetic iridescence. Spirit knows these vital necessities: it has been quickened in their bosom. All animals have within them a principle by which to distinguish good from evil, since their existence and welfare are furthered by some circumstances and acts and are hindered by others. Self-knowledge, with a little experience of the world, will then easily set up the Socratic standard of values natural and inevitable to any man or to any society. These values each society will disentangle in proportion to its intelligence and will defend in proportion to its vitality. But who would dream that spiritual life was at all concerned in asserting these human values to be alone valid, or in supposing that they were especially divine, or bound to dominate the universe for ever?

Platonism at 30 (Chapter IX) [#667 1927]

Life of spirit

I think that pure reason in the naturalist may attain, without subterfuge, all the spiritual insights which supernaturalism goes so far out of the way to inspire. . . .

In this congenital spiritual life of his, man regards himself as one creature among a thousand others deserving to be subordinated and kept in its place in his own estimation: a spiritual life not at all at war with animal interests, which it presupposes, but detached from them in allegiance, withdrawn into the absolute, and reverting to them only with a charitable and qualified sympathy, such as the same man can have for the madman, or the soul in general for inanimate things: and of course, it is not only others that the spiritual man regards in this way, but primarily himself. . . .

. . . .

Reason may thus lend itself to sublimation into a sort of virtual omniscience or divine ecstasy: yet even then reason remains a harmony of material functions spiritually realised, as in Aristotle the life of God realises spiritually the harmonious revolutions of the heavens. So it is with reason in morals.

Genteel Tradition at Bay at 64-67 (Moral Adequacy of Naturalism) [#668 1931]

Life of spirit

Evidently that which the Indians discern and venerate is pure spirit, and if nothing compels us to follow them in their traditional ascetic and mystical discipline, calculated to bring them into perfect union or moral identity with that spirit, this happens because we have no wish for identity or union with it, but are perfectly content to be brave working and reasoning animals, as decent as possible, and to leave pure spirit alone with its loneliness.

Egotism (New) at 174 (Postscript: The Nature of Egotism and of the Moral Conflicts That Disturb the World) [#669 1939]

Life of spirit

The use of experience, to my mind, cannot be to prepare us for further experience; somewhere this experience must be self-rewarding, else all would be a democracy of unhappy tyrants making slaves of one another. There is a concomitant fruit to be gathered during this journey, experience at another level, the level of reflection, of spiritual self-possession, of poetry, of prayer. This is not a parasitic growth or expensive luxury that need not be added or that might exist elsewhere by itself. It could never exist elsewhere by itself, and the life here could never be complete naturally or spontaneously without it; not that it adds any energy or gives any new direction to the vital process, but that it is that vital process brought to a head and becoming a moral reality instead of a merely physical one. This moral reality or spiritual life will of course be peopled only with such images and sentiments as crude experience has elicited in each particular soul. I cannot transcend the scope of my faculties; but within these limits I am content to trace and to recast freely those special images and conceptions which the world or the arts happen to arouse in me. In the sphere of essence I lose nothing of my lessons learned from the facts, except precisely the wagers that at first I may have made about them. I can now smile at my losses, and at myself; but when the clock strikes, I instantly recover my dogmatic readiness in the requisite direction, and confidently skimming over all essence and appearances, I make my way back to school as directly, if not so fast, as any urchin. But I am no longer merely a distracted automaton; spirit in me has laid up some immaterial treasures in its own depths.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 533 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#671 1940]

Life of spirit

Now Spinoza, my master and model in respect to the first point [does he understand the natural basis of morality], does not satisfy me in respect to the second [how humane and representative is his sense for the good] . . . . The complete moralist must not only be sound in physics, but must be inwardly inspired by a normal human soul and an adequate human tradition; he must be a complete humanist in a complete naturalist. Spinoza was not only a complete naturalist, but, by a rare combination, also a spiritual man, seeing and accepting the place of the human heart in the universe; accepting it not grudgingly or viciously or frivolously, as your worldling does, but . . . humbly, in that he asked to be nothing more than he was, and joyously because what he was allowed him, in spirit, to salute and to worship every form of the good. Nevertheless, Spinoza was not a complete humanist. He had no idea of human greatness and no sympathy with human sorrow. His notion of the soul was too plebeian and to quietistic. . . . Now such limitations, deep as they run, do not at all annul the nobility of Spinoza's simple and brave life, devoted to sublime speculation; yet they destroy the authority of his judgment in moral matters. He was virtuous but not normal. He had found his vocation, which it was his right and duty to follow; a high but very special vocation, that made him a model neither for mankind at large nor for man in his wholeness. He was a genius; but as a guide in the spiritual life, he was narrow and inadequate. The saint and the poet are hardly sane or authoritative unless they embody a wide tradition. If they are rebels, disinherited and solitary, the world may admire but cannot follow them. They have studied human nature by looking at the stars.

Persons and Places at 235-236 (College Studies) [#670 1944]

Life of spirit

[The model of Christ] is what forced Catholic theology to adopt the doctrine of the supernatural human soul: so that only a sacrificial human life and a sanctified human body should be truly natural to man and compatible with his perfect happiness. This implies the sacrifice of almost everything that a man ordinarily cares for, including his animal will and his animal self.

Can this really be the universal vocation of spirit? I will answer this question in the honest scholastic way, by a distinguo. Spirit may be taken in two ways, in its essence or its instances. In its essence, the vocation of spirit is that of Christ: to be incarnate, to suffer and do what is appointed, and to return, at every recollected moment, to perfect union with God. In its instances, however, the vocation of spirit is different in each soul. In the poet, the artist, or the wit, intelligence and love are disinterested: in so far as they those names, that which lives in them is the liberated spirit. At moments they may touch perfect self-forgetfulness; and no fulfilment can come to the spirit more genuine than that. Moreover, the whole evolution of nature and history is centrifugal, polyglot, reaching incommensurable achievements. Life radiates in every way it finds open, and in each species, in each art, flowers into a different glory. To impose one form, one method, one type of virtue upon every creature would be sheer blindness to the essence of the good. Spirit, then, I reply, has its essence in a single vocation, to reflect the glory of God; but this vocation can be realised only in special and diverse forms. . . .

Idea of Christ at 250-251 (Conclusion) [#672 1946]


Number of quotations (including supressed): 30


Readers of Santayana's writings notice a difference in tone and perspective between Santayana's early, grand work in moral philosophy, The Life of Reason, and his later ontological opus, Realms of Being. See generally Letters 5:127 (To Justus Buchler and Benjamin P. Schwartz, Cortina d'Ampezzo, July 23, 1934) ("Although my feeling is—contrary to what some critics assert—that I have always held the same opinions, I am aware of a distinct change, in temper and manner, between my professorial days, when I was . . . in America, and my free-lance days, when I have lived in Europe . . . ."); Letters 5:369 to 5:370 (To Milton Karl Munitz, Glion-surMontreux, August 21, 1936) (describing his last literary period as less humanistic and more naturalistic, neither essence nor spirit being departures from naturalism). Some critics suggest in particular that Santayana's elaboration of the spiritual life in his later works is incompatible with his explication of the reasonable life in his early productions, and conclude that there are "two Santayanas." Santayana objected to this treatment of his career "as a transformation of opinions" and defended the unity of his thought. For example, in one letter, he notices the same thesis in Interpretations of Poetry and Religion as in The Idea of Christ in the Gospels. Letters 8:219 (To John P. McKnight, Rome, December 22, 1949). In volume 7 of the Triton Edition, Santayana entitled his preface, On the Unity of My Earlier and Later Philosophy. In other words, although his later books devote much space to the spiritual life (e.g., Platonism and the Spiritual Life, The Realm of Spirit, and The Idea of Christ in the Gospels), this should not surprise the reader, since ontologically considered, spirit represents a fourth of Santayana's categorical vision; while conversely, many of his early works offer sympathetic criticism of traditional religious themes (e.g., Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, Reason in Religion, and Three Philosophical Poets), thus describing and at times explicitly referring to the spiritual life, even if such references arise only in the context of noticing the religious life as one form of civilization (that is, of the art of political life), rather than in elaborating the simple premise that mind is life supervening upon a natural animal psyche. Even in these earlier works, though, Santayana not only describes the spiritual life in the context of the political life and the various forms of moral progress, (see, e.g. Reason in Science (Post-Rational Morality)), but he also describes "spirituality, or life in the ideal" as "the fundamental and native type of all life" (Reason in Religion at 195 (Spirituality and Its Corruptions)). This seems to be one early reference, then, which recognizes mind as the second entelechy and thus foreshadows Santayana's ontological analysis.

This page offers those stray passages which directly contrast the lives of nature, reason, and spirit, as well as quotations separately describing the life of reason and the life of spirit.



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