A George Santayana Home Page

Miscellaneous Quotations

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

Arts include science

The arts are evidences of wisdom, and sources of it; they include science.

Scepticism at 102-103 (The Watershed of Criticism) [#107 1918]

Arts include science

Poetry should be made the standard of science, not vice-versa.

Letters 8:447 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Rome, May 30, 1952) [#108 1952]


For the barbarian is the man who regards his passions as their own excuse for being: who does not domesticate them either by understanding their cause or by conceiving their ideal goal. He is the man who does not know his derivations nor perceive his tendencies, but who merely feels and acts, valuing in his life its force and its filling, but being careless of its purpose and its form. His delight is in abundance and vehemence; his art, like his life, shows an exclusive respect for quantity and splendour of materials. His scorn for what is poorer and weaker than himself is only surpassed by his ignorance of what is higher.

Poetry & Religion at 108-109 (The Poetry of Barbarism) [#109 1900]


By barbarian I understand undisciplined, rebellious against the nature of things . . . . When people despise that which exists, in language, vocabulary, or morals, and set up the sufficiency of their unchastened impulses, they are barbarians.

Letters 4:45 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Rome, May 29, 1928) [#110 1928]

Cosmic unity

What I have yearned for all my life is not so much cosmic unity—like Whitehead, but simply 'completion'. If I see a circle half-drawn, I yearn to complete it.

Cory's Life of Reason at vi (Preface) [#790 1954]

Craving, fear, curiosity, and jealousy

It is matter, impatient of form, that fills form with a forward tension, and realises one essence after another; and this tension in matter is ultimately expressed and rendered conscious in spirit; so that spirit is normally filled with craving, fear, curiosity, and jealousy, clasping to its bosom something precious and unintelligible, only too apt to slip away.

Matter at 94-95 (The Flux of Existence) [#369 1930]

Direct intuition necessary for meaning

[This expression you have chosen] is a verbal picturesqueness without real intuitions behind it. . . . [And your notion of "human experience" is another] case where direct intuition is needed. One must see what one is talking about.

Letters 4:77 to 4:78 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Rome, January 20, 1934) [#111 1934]

Distraction of success

Success and failure in the world are equally distracting, equally devastating.

Persons and Places at 13-14 (My Father) [#112 1944]

Egotism learned and mistaken

Indeed, nothing beside his own purpose will have any value in his eyes, or even any existence. He will therefore inevitably act without consideration for others, without courtesy, without understanding. When he chooses to observe anything external—and he is studious—his very attentions will be an insult; for he will assume that his idea of that external thing is the reality of it, and that other people can have only such rights and only such a character as he is willing to assign to them. It follows from his egotistical principles that in judging others he should be officious and rude, learned and mistaken.

Egotism at 164 (Egotism in Practice) [#114 1915]


[T]o discover what we truly love is the whole of ethics.

Soliloquies at 158 (The Censor and the Poet) [#115 1922]

European philosophy

[A]nd as I am content to write in English, although it was not my mother-tongue, and although in speculative matters I have not much sympathy with the English mind, so I am content to follow the European tradition in philosophy, little as I respect its rhetorical metaphysics, its humanism, and its worldliness.

Scepticism at ix (Preface) [#751 1923]


Edwin Edman is a sour-sweet friend of my philosophy, but was (before last week) much offended at my Toryism which he felt to be Fascist. . . .

. . . .

I don't think I have moved, ever, either to the Right or to the Left. I have radiated, and now feel more at home than in my callow youth in both camps: but I don’t agree at all with the Left about the Right or with the Right about the Left. It is only where they love that they are intelligent, both of them, in regard to what is good in their object . . . .

Letters 8:202 (To Rimsa Michel, Rome, September 22, 1949) [#116 1949]


Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitations without benefit. It marks very clearly that margin of irresponsible variation in manners and thoughts which among a people artificially civilised may so easily be larger than the solid core. It is characteristic of occidental society in mediæval and modern times, because this society is led by people who, being educated in a foreign culture, remain barbarians at heart.

Religion at 113-114 (Pagan Custom and Barbarian Genius Infused Into Christianity) [#117 1905]


Whereas the images in the eye or the thoughts of the heart can agree but loosely . . . with material things, they may agree exactly with the images in another eye, and the thoughts of another heart. This free unanimity was called friendship by the Greeks, who alone among all nations have understood the nature of friendship. Barbarians of course may fight faithfully in bands, and may live in tribes and in cities, hugging their wives and children to their bosom; but such instinctive love, which all animals manifest, is not friendship. . . [F]riendship is agreement in madness, when the same free thoughts and the same fraternal joys visit two kindred spirits. It was not for fighting loyally side by side that the Spartan phalanx or the Theban band were incomparable in the annals of war, but for fighting side by side for the sake of the beautiful, and in order that the liberal madness of their friendship might not end, unless it ended in death.

Dialogues at 49 (Normal Madness) [#124 1925]


In reality I have never been either [an atheist or a pessimist]. Early Christians were called atheists and Buddhists are called pessimists: that only means that they reject the kind of God or the kind of happiness that the critic is accustomed to conceive. But I believe in the reality of Truth, the denial of which by Nietzsche, James, Dewey and a lot of Evangelicals and Idealists is, according to Lutoslawski, genuine atheism. And I believe in the possibility of happiness, if one cultivates intuition and outlives the grosser passions, including optimism. But this play of dialectic with concepts may seem to you forced. God and happiness seem to you proper names for distinct facts. God either exists or He doesn't exist. A man is either happy or unhappy. But can you seriously maintain that? The idea of God has infinite shades: even in the Hebrew tradition it is most ambiguous as an idea. It is only as a verbal idol, as a formula in a ritual, that the object is distinct. Would the God of Aristotle be God? Would the God of Royce be God, although avowedly not a power? And how about Brahma, or the God of Spinoza? These things are not so simple, if you stop to think a little.

Letters 6:231 to 6:232 (To William Lyon Phelps, Rome, April 16, 1939) [#118 1939]

Good and evil as spiritual

A myth is an inverted image of things, wherein their moral effects are turned into their dramatic antecedents—as when the wind’s rudeness is turned into his anger. . . . So the good, which in itself is spiritual only, is transposed [in myth] into a natural power.

Religion at 141 (Conflict of Mythology with Moral Truth) [#128 1905]

Good and evil as spiritual

The existence of any evil—and if evil is felt it exists, for experience is its locus . . . .

Common Sense at 143 (Conflict of Mythology with Moral Truth) [#789 1905]

Good and evil as spiritual

Spirit is not the pursuit of this good or that beauty, but of the beautiful and the good.

Winds (New) at vi (Preface) [#788 1926]

Hierarchy of goods

This privilege, native to every creature, of arranging different perfections imagined by it in a scale of ascending values, relieves the naturalist of the charge of indifference and anarchy in morals; for the naturalist has a nature of its own, and if he learns to know himself, he will have a clear and dogmatic system of ethics.

Buchler's Obiter at 73 (Plotinus and the Nature of Evil) [#121 1913]

Human scale

Socrates defends human morality against religion no less than against naturalism (which are not fundamentally enemies) and he is right politically: but both science and religion, in their profound unison, make this political humanism and anti-morality seem rather small and accidental. Both science and religion, not being on the human scale, do violence to the human point of view, which at the same time they show to be excusable and inevitable in spirit expressing an animal life and generated by it.

Letters 3:256 to 3:257 (To Robert Seymour Bridges, Paris, August 8, 1925) [#120 1925]

Illustrating the Life of Reason

Illustrations might have been sought in some fictitious world, if imagination had not seemed so much less interesting than reality, which besides enforces with unapproachable eloquence the main principle in view, namely, that nature carries its ideal with it and that the progressive organisation of irrational impulses makes a rational life.

Common Sense at 290-291 (Flux and Constancy in Human Nature) [#123 1905]


He will therefore study it conscientiously, yet with a certain irritation and haste to be done with it, somewhat as a Jesuit might study Protestant theology.

Winds at 34 (The Philosophy of M. Henri Bergson) [#125 1913]


[L]ife has now become an experiment[,] not the old old story that it used to be.

Letters 8:113 (To Peter Robert Edwin Viereck, Rome, October 30, 1948) [#126 1948]


Peoples cannot love one another unless they love the same ideas.

Scepticism at 251 (Evidences of Animation in Nature) [#127 1923]

Man as end-in-itself

Man, however, is not one of these purely instrumental animals. He is a selfish or, as he calls it, a rational creature, and nothing offends him more than to feel himself a slave.

Dominations at 71 (Natural Selfishness and Unselfishness) [#129 1951]

Man as end-in-itself

Nothing living is a means: all is automatic, spontaneous, justified by whatever it tends to and loves.

Persons and Places at 495 (Oxford Friends) [#130 1953]


Existence comes in pulses, in strokes. I see no reason for not stopping, or for stopping, anywhere in that flux. Existence has as many centres as it happens to have, as many moments, feelings, assumptions, questions—all in the air and with no power over one another. But if we have time and patience to study a natural world, posited as the source and common continuum in all this existence, we assume that it has dynamic unity: otherwise from one point in it we could never justly infer or posit any other point in it. This is my argument for materialism.

Letters 7:4 (To Ezra Loomis Pound, Rome, January 4, 1941) [#132 1941]


The remedy, which it will take centuries to make thoroughly efficacious, but which every one may apply in a measure for himself, is simply to deepen practical life, to make it express all its possible affinities, all its latent demands. Were that done, we should find ourselves in unexpected and spontaneous harmony with the traditions which we might seem to have disregarded. . . . . All traditions have been founded on practice: in practice the most ideal of them regain their authority, when practice really deals with reality, and faces the world squarely, in the interest of the whole soul. To bring the whole soul to expression is what all civilization is after.

Lyon's Santayana on America at 34-35 (Tradition and Practice) [#134 1904]


Thus materialism also, by its very hopelessness, opens the way to metanoia. For it, as for the Indian sages, the endless succession of catastrophes and paradises is an old story. Redemption is not to be sought horizontally, but vertically. Life would be a predicament in any paradise; the point is to make a fine art of it, whatever it may chance to be. Claim possession of nothing that you are not ready to surrender. Then you may live a reasonable life—free, as Lucretius says, from care and from fear, with judicious abstention here, with smiling participation there, with perhaps some small achievement on your own part, and above all with a little of that philosophy which the ancients preached and sometimes even practiced. Then, neither boastfully nor mournfully, you might say to yourself daily: I have lived.

Lach's Animal Faith at 123-124 (Some Developments of Materialism) [#133 1949]

Moral science compared to natural science

It is the tendency to make our experience of love rational, as scientific thinking is a tendency to make rational our experience of the outer world. The theories of natural science are creations of human reason; they change with the growth of reason, and express the intellectual impulses of each nation and age. Theories about the highest good do the same; only being less applicable in practice, less controllable by experiment, they seldom attain the same distinctness and articulation. . . . Natural science is persuasive because it embodies the momentum of common sense and of the practical arts . . . . Moral science is persuasive under the same conditions . . . .

Poetry & Religion at 87 (Platonic Love in Some Italian Poets) [#135 1896]

Morality and holiness

[Y]ou would understand that fidelity to the good or the beautiful is like health, not a regimen to be imposed, by the same masters, upon men of different constitutions, but a perfection to be jealously guarded at home, and in one's own arts: and you will never have any arts that are not pitiful until you have an integrated and exclusive life.

Letters 4:85 to 4:86 (To Thomas Munro, Rome, December 13, 1928) [#137 1928]

Morality and holiness

This unhappy method [of the Socratic philosophers] not only verbalised natural science but represented morality and holiness as hanging on imaginary physical sanctions, and not on the inherent vocation of human life and mind.

Idea of Christ at 237 (Self-Transcendence) [#138 1946]

Morality and holiness

Yet it was a true scandal, born of their mixed moral education, Christian and pagan, to confuse the natural history of politics with rational government. It is an old trick. Nurses sometimes say: Little boys never do that; and the tempter will whisper: Have a cigarette. All the boys smoke. Both assertions are falsely generalised; but the subtle poison lies in the suggestion that what is done is right, and what is not done is wrong. This is a double non sequitur : and apart from logical scruples it is false morality, since much that is done is certainly wrong for its purposes, and much that is purposed is heartless or foolish in itself.

Dominations at 209 (Realpolitik) [#139 1951]

Morality and nature

What you say, for instance, about the value of the good lying in its existence, and about the continuity of the world of values with that of fact, is not different from what I should admit. Ideals would be irrelevant if they were not natural entelechies, if they were not called for by something that exists and if consequently their realization would not be a present and actual good.

Letters 1:212 (To William James, Cambridge, Easter 1900) [#140 1900]

Morality and nature

[T]he natural roots of things moral should not be overlooked . . . .

Letters 2:419 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Toledo, December 10, 1920) [#142 1920]

Morals and the individual

When a rational morality finds itself face to face with this great field of irrepressible conflicts, in which it is impotent, it has generally taken refuge in retrenchment. . . . I need hardly say that this is not the spirit of Mr. Holt's ethics; but I do not think he has altogether appreciated the difficulty of transferring his principle of "discrimination" from an organic body into the world at large.

Lach's Animal Faith at 358 (Two Rational Moralists) [#143 1916]

Morals and the individual

The only natural unit in morals is the individual man, because no other natural unit is synthesised by nature herself into a living spirit.

Genteel Tradition at Bay at 54 (Moral Adequacy of Naturalism) [#144 1931]

Morals and the individual

My brother, too, once observed that there was nothing that I should hesitate to do, if I thought I could avoid unpleasant consequences. This was true, if he meant nothing that I wished to do: but the essence of morality, at least of the Greek constitutional sort, is not to wish to do what is unbecoming in one’s station.

Letters 6:137 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Rome, May 25, 1938) [#145 1938]

Morals and the individual

It has occurred to me that the most radical way of describing my ethics is to say that its principle is not Duty but Virtue. It is only when a particular duty is an exercise of natural virtue that it can be binding morally.

Letters 8:459 (To Bruno Lind, Rome, July 18, 1952) [#146 1952]

Morals of materialism is democratic and aristocratic

Would a materialism free from all admixture of idealism or militancy involve any particular code of politics or morals? Essentially and directly, it would not. . . . Moreover, materialism traces, and traces sympathetically, the whole generative movement of nature; it feels the equal right of every animal to strive to live, and in that sense its sympathies might be called democratic. A moral ideal in this system must be omnimodal or, if you prefer, non-existent. But at the same time materialism records, at every step, the ruin of everything that is inopportune, the agony of crime, the ignominy of vice, the madness of passion. Thus the picture it paints of existence is full of silent warnings and monitions, yet also full of glorious and lovely models. In this sense the tragic but stimulating lesson it teaches is aristocratic, severe, hard-hearted, yet always leaving a tempting vista open to the bold, to the artistic, and to the thinker. It invites all nations and all arts to try their luck: but it discloses a past covered with ruins, and a future in which little that we can care for or understand may be expected to exist.

Lach's Animal Faith at 121-122 (Some Developments of Materialism) [#147 1949]

Mythology / subjectivity

An age of mythology yields to an age of subjectivity; reason being equally neglected and exceeded in both.

Common Sense at 129 (Nature Unified and Mind Discerned) [#149 1905]

Naturalism in Schopenhauer, Spinoza, and Lucretius

The "Will" in Schopenhauer was a transparent mythological symbol for the flux of matter. There was an absolute equivalence between such a system, in its purport and sense for reality, and the systems of Spinoza and Lucretius. This was the element of ancient sanity that kept me awake and conscious of the points of the compass in the subsequent wreck of psychologism.

Persons and Places at 239 (College Studies) [#150 1944]

Nature as animal

When nature was still regarded as a single animal, this confusion [of literary with scientific psychology] extended to science as a whole . . . .

Scepticism at 252 (Literary Psychology) [#151 1923]

No right or wrong?

The art of mysticism is to be mystical in spots and to aim the heavy guns of your transcendental philosophy against those realities or those ideas which you find particularly galling. Planted on your dearest dogma, on your most precious postulate, you may then transcend everything else to your heart's content. You may say with an air of enlightened profundity that nothing is "really" right or wrong, because in Nature all things are regular and necessary, and God cannot act for purposes as if his will were not already accomplished; your mysticism in religion and morals is kept standing, as it were, by the stiff backing which is furnished by your materialistic cosmology.

Poetry & Religion at 15 (Understanding, Imagination, and Mysticism) [#152 1900]


Only an orthodoxy can possibly be right, as against the bevy of its heresies, which represent wayward exclusions, or a fundamental disloyalty. But no orthodoxy is right as against another orthodoxy, if this expresses an equal sensitiveness to the facts within its purview and an equal intellectual power.

Essence at 106-107 (The Basis of Dialectic) [#153 1927]

Physics about becoming, not being

But I have no metaphysics: essence, truth and spirit are indeed non-physical; but for that very reason they are not to be invoked at all in physics or cosmology, which deals with common sense facts—assumed to exist by themselves—and studies their factual relations without pretending to explain or understand them.

Letters 7:345 (To Thomas N. Munson, Rome, June 15, 1947) [#796 1947]

Pleasure and happiness

A string of excited, fugitive, miscellaneous pleasures is not happiness; happiness resides in imaginative reflection and judgment, when the picture of one's life, or of human life, as it truly has been or is, satisfies the will, and is gladly accepted. Epicurus had a different notion of happiness from that of Solon, but it was just as much a form of wisdom, a choice among possible lives; in neither sage was it a calculus of quantitative pleasures and pains. Epicurus renounced most of the things called pleasures, for the sake of peace, equanimity, and intelligence, and Solon's heroes renounced life itself for the sake of a beautiful moment or a beautiful death. The extreme of classical heroism becomes romantic; because the romantic career, if deliberately chosen and accepted without illusion, would be a form of happiness: something in which a living will recongised its fulfilment and found its peace.

Persons and Places at 259 (Germany) [#154 1945]

Realms of being for primitive apperception

[Nature] is thought to lie between two [worlds], both now called mental, but in their original quality altogether disparate: the world of spiritual forces and that of sensuous appearance. The notions of permanence and independence by which [nature is conceived] apply also, of course, to everything spiritual; and while the dominion exercised by spirits may be somewhat precarious, they are as remote as possible from immediacy and sensation. They come and go; they govern nature . . . ; they visit man . . .; and they dwell in him, constituting his powers of conscience and invention. Sense . . . is a mere effect, either of body or spirit or both in conjunction. It gives a vitiated personal view of these realities. Its pleasures are dangerous and unintelligent, and it perishes as it goes.

Such are, for primitive apperception, the three great realms of being: nature, sense, and spirit. Their frontiers, however, always remain uncertain.

Common Sense at 132 (Nature Unified and Mind Discerned) [#156 1905]

Spirit in man

[S]pirit is the specifically human faculty in man, through which alone he can be victoriously reconciled with nature . . . .

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 582 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#201 1940]

Spirit unobservable

The essence thought of once may of course be thought of again, and the fact that it has been thought of before may be thought of later. But attention itself doesn't offer an objective to contemplation. If people chose to deny that attention existed or was diverted from one object to another, the only experimental evidence we could offer would be indirect. We might point out the way in which the eyes are turned or the brow knit; or we might point out that objects sometimes come into view at intervals and with such a variable intensity as can hardly be attributed to their own nature. But these arguments could be eluded by saying that neither of these facts is what we mean by attention. Attention is interpolated by us into our view of those facts in what we conceive to be their natural relations and their way of hanging together: but attention is not to be found among the observable facts themselves.

Letters 2:325 (To Robert Seymour Bridges, Oxford, July 18, 1918) [#157 1918]

Spirit unobservable

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.

Letters 3:13 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Paris, March 28, 1921) [#797 1921]

Spirit unobservable

Mechanism is one habit in matter, and life is another habit of matter; the first we can measure mathematically and forecast accurately, the second we can only express in moral terms, and anticipate vaguely . . . .

Soliloquies at 220 (The Psyche) [#158 1922]

Spirit unobservable

Yet in this superlative existence proper to intuition there is something ironical. While it exists so positively that some philosophers admit no other reality, it is indiscoverable in the context of nature where existence must lie. Moreover, a chief characteristic of existence is flux . . . ; but intuition (though externally considered it has a date and duration) is a synthesis, and therefore no flux.

Buchler's Obiter at 208 (Some Meanings of the Word "Is") [#159 1924]

Spirit unobservable

For a naturalist nothing can be substantial or efficacious in thought except its organs and instruments, such as brains, training, words, and books. Actual thought, being invisible and imponderable, eludes this sort of chase. . . . The actuality of spirit, mystically momentary, does not fall within the purview of this empirical inventory any more than the realm of truth, invisibly eternal.

Buchler's Obiter at 219 (Dewey’s Naturalistic Metaphysics) [#160 1925]

Spirit unobservable

[T]hey are, by hypothesis, spiritual facts, unobservable, and not to be moored in nature at all save by inner relevance to particular natural predicaments, a relevance to be discovered only sympathetically, not empirically, by evoking similar appearance in our own fancy.

Letters 3:274 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Rome, February 2, 1926) [#161 1926]

Spirit unobservable

Experience cannot be in itself an object of science, because it is essentially invisible, immeasurable, fugitive, and private . . . .

Turns of Thought at 46 (Locke and the Frontiers of Common Sense) [#769 1933]


[M]en became superstitious not because they had too much imagination, but because they were not aware that they had any.

Poetry & Religion at 68 (The Poetry of Christian Dogma) [#162 1900]

Teleology and mechanism

Mechanism, if we value the issue, may always be called teleology. The teleology that is impossible is only that which represents the result as a cause.

Letters 3:245 (To Curt John Ducasse, Rome, May 2, 1925) [#163 1925]


[W]e have learned to look for a symbolic meaning in detached episodes, and to accept the incidental emotions they cause, because of their violence and our absorption in them, as in some sense sacramental and representative of the whole. Thus the picture of an unmeaning passion, of a crime without an issue, does not appear to our romantic apprehension as the sorry farce it is, but rather as a true tragedy. Some have lost even the capacity to conceive of a true tragedy, because they have no idea of a cosmic order, or general laws of life, or of an impersonal religion. They measure the profundity of feeling by its intensity, not by its justifying relations; and in the radical disintegration of their spirit, the more they are devoured the more they fancy themselves fed.

Poetry & Religion at 168 (The Elements and Function of Poetry) [#164 1900]

Vice and nature

But I don't think [this "novel"] makes one wish to live in the world it represents, which is very artificial and decadent, and not healthy naturalistic. Vice is common, but not a spontaneous expression of nature: rather a deviation caused by suppressing nature or overworking it. For genuine naturalism, which has a tragic side, I should look to Homer rather than to Petronius; or on the social side, with town life, to Terence, whom I have been reading lately with great pleasure. His old men are so savoury, each with his private philosophy, and his young men so young, so helplessly in love, and so loyal. And the outlook is truly (not sentimentally) naturalistic: contented with limitations, bourgeois life, fixed principles, a fixed income, and parents who were just like their children and children who expect to be just like their parents, and respect them and themselves all the more on that account.

Letters 7:235 (To David Page, Rome, March 28, 1946) [#165 1946]

Wise and lovely and witty

Some letters from strangers, however, are fresher and more genuine. For instance, a man named Hamilton Basso writes from North Carolina that he "has never read so wise and lovely and witty a book." I like the choice of those three adjectives: the fun, especially seems to have been missed by most readers. For me it is everything, or at least the sauce without which the rest wouldn't go down.

Letters 5:302 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Rome, February 24, 1936) [#166 1936]

World today

If there were more intellectual retreats there would be more intellectual power. The mediocrity of everything in the great world of today is simply appalling. We live in intellectual slums.

Letters 5:148 (To Victor Wolfgang von Hagen, Rome, November 6, 1934) [#167 1934]

Number of quotations (including supressed): 77

This page gathers quotations of philosophical interest that do not fit cleanly on an existing page of this web site and do not contribute to the introduction to any of the existing pages.