A George Santayana Home Page

Truth as a Category

Use of moral

Essence / existence
Truth as category

Spirit incarnate
Virtual knowledge
Mind function of body

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

British philosophy
False steps

©1996-2017 T. P. Davis

From The Letters of George Santayana

I am writing a brand new system of philosophy to be called "Three Realms of Being"—not the mineral vegetable and animal, but something far more metaphysical, namely Essence, Matter and Consciousness.

Letters 2:37 (To Susan Sturgis de Sastre, Cambridge, May 16, 1911) [#312 1911]

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

The truth, however nobly it may loom before the scientific intellect, is ontologically something secondary.

Scepticism at 227 (Sublimations of Animal Faith) [#313 1923]

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

[Man] seldom has leisure to dwell on essences . . . unless they are significant of facts in the realm of matter, controlling his destiny. I therefore give a special name to this tragic segment of the realm of essence and call it the Realm of Truth.

Essence at xv (Preface to Realms of Being) [#294 1927]

From The Letters of George Santayana

Of course, a materialist doesn't make any bones of a complex organ having a simple function, (a trope, or something in the realm of truth) and thinks it natural, that that function should be raised to an actual unity in sensation or consciousness. The point [in weighing your system] is whether this actual entelechy, consciousness, would be better understood if we supposed the organ to be composed sentient elements.

Letters 5:112 to 5:113 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Rome, June 3, 1934) [#314 1934]

From The Letters of George Santayana

[F]eeling for me is an instance of consciousness, not a basis for consciousness; the basis being large-scale biological processes, having a moral or dramatic character in material life that I make the ground of consciousness or spirit. Tropes, belonging to the Realm of Truth, intervene between unconscious organic processes and moral or intellectual awakenings . . . . In a word, my notion of the relation of mind to body remains Aristotelian, as it has always been. Spirit is the second (actualized) entelechy of natural organic life in an animal . . . .

Letters 5:238 to 5:239 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Venice, September 24, 1935) [#315 1935]

From The Letters of George Santayana

For the moment I have dropped back [from my work on the Realm of Spirit] to the Realm of Truth, finding that I needed to work out the relation of truth to determination of events, especially of futures, before I could make clear the sort of "freedom" that is inherent in spirit. Perhaps the two books will be finished together, if they are ever finished.

Letters 5:261 (To Daniel MacGhie Cory, Rome, November 25, 1935) [#316 1935]

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

We have seen that the truth, as I take the word, is subservient to existence: it is ontologically secondary and true of something else.

Truth at 39 (Radiation of Truth) [#330 1938]

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

Now as truth, although in itself only a field of essence . . . .

Truth at 40 (Radiation of Truth) [#331 1938]

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

Within the fanatical defence of vested illusions there may be a sacrificial respect for things beyond us, whatever those secret realities may be; and the martyr that on earth is ready to die for some false opinion may be judged in heaven to have died for the truth. The very absurdity of a tenet, or its groundlessness, at least proves that imagination is at work, and groping for an issue from animal darkness. At least the category of truth has been set up. Appearances, innocent and perfectly real in themselves, have begun to be questioned and discounted as deceptive; and this not merely against the blank background of a posited substance, known only as a force, but in contrast to a possible and more adequate description of that substance and of the manner in which it produces appearances. Intelligence has begun the pursuit of truth.

Truth at 109-110 (Love and Hatred of Truth) [#332 1938]

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

Matter in any one of its moments and in any one of its atoms offers no foothold for consciousness: but let certain tropes and cycles be established in the movement of matter, let certain kinds of matter cohere and pulse together in an organism, and behold, consciousness has arisen. Now tropes, cycles, organisms, and pulsations, with all the laws of nature, are units proper to the realm of truth; units that bridge the flux of existence and are suspended over it, as truth and spirit also are suspended.

Truth at 110-111 (Love and Hatred of Truth) [#333 1938]

From The Philosophy of George Santayana

Materialism by no means implies that nothing exists save matter. Democritus admitted the void to an equal reality, with all the relations and events that motion in the void would involve: he thereby admitted what I call the realm of truth.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 509 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#334 1940]

From The Philosophy of George Santayana

Under the form of truth change and motion become visible; in precipitation, in self-abolishing flux from instant to instant, they are perfectly invisible and unconscious of themselves.

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 575 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#335 1940]

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

This simple dissolution of superstition yields three of my realms of being: matter . . . ; essence . . . ; and spirit . . . . There remains the realm of truth . . . .

Spirit at 280 (General Review of Realms of Being) [#336 1940]

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

. . . . [M]y analysis transposes the doctrine of the Trinity into terms of pure ontology and moral dialectic.

. . . . [P]ower [the realm of matter] is signified by the First Person of the Trinity, the Father . . . .

. . . . Yet . . . power could not possibly produce anything unless it borrowed some form from the realm of essence . . . .

. . . . [B]y the intervention of irrational power . . . the infinity of essence is determined to a particular complex or series of forms . . . . This complex or series of forms exemplified in the universe composes the truth about it . . . . It is the Logos, comparable with the heaven of Platonic Ideas, with the God of Aristotle, and with νους, the second hypostasis in the trinity of Plotinus.

This Logos is just as much God as is the Father, since power or substance cannot exist without form. But form also cannot exist without substance and power to extricate it from infinity and render it actual; so that the Father and the Son are not two separable existents, but two incommensurable and equally original features of existence itself. . . .

Now love and pursuit of the Good . . . also arise on occasion . . . and this third dimension of reality is spirit. Christian theology has been much less curious and penetrating in regard to the Holy Ghost than in regard to the Father and the Son . . . .

Spirit at 291-294 (General Review of Realms of Being) [#338 1940]

From The Letters of George Santayana

But religions have always appealed to me as myths more or less expressing the fortunes of spirit in the world that generates it, as in theology the Holy Ghost "proceeds" from the Father (Matter) and from the Son (Form) but suffers a good deal (as Christ did by being incarnate).

Letters 8:448 (To Cyril Coniston Clemens, Rome, June 2, 1952) [#340 1952]

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

But nature is more than substance; it is a system of movements, forms, and transformations, which have their specific being in the realm of truth. This realm is non-natural in one respect; it is eternal.

Lachs' Physical Order at 157 (The Relations of Spirit to Time) [#342 1969]

Number of quotations (including supressed): 20

Letters dated as early as 1911 and as late as 1913 show that Santayana did not initially distinguish truth as a category in his contemplation of The Realms of Being. Letters 2:37 (To Susan Sturgis de Sastre, Cambridge, May 16, 1911); Letters 2:138 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Paris, July 25, 1913). Then in the Summer 1913, Santayana wrote to B. A. G. Fuller that "the three realms of being have increased to four, and the work of composition and revision has greatly advanced." Letters 2:142 (To Benjamin Apthorp Gould Fuller, Oxford, September 12, 1913).

The unusual status of The Realm of Truth—its status as a latecomer in Santayana's system—is confirmed in a short essay by Professor Strong written during World War II, which says:

The idea of discriminating clearly the chief Realms with which thought has to do, and making it more certain that thinkers will not be continually 'slipping into another genus,' is a great idea, which I heartily approve. I do not object to the inclusion, with the three others, of a fourth Realm—so important is Truth.

Phil. of G.S. '40 at 448 (Santayana's Philosophy).

What insights led Santayana to the expansion of his Three Realms of Being? Could it be that the abuse of the orthodox explication of the notion of truth at the hands of pragmatists was sufficient justification for Santayana to tack this additional volume onto his grand opus? Santayana does note this abuse, for instance, in an early letter to B. A. G. Fuller:

Some people say I am a pragmatist and some say I am not. On the whole, I agree with the latter, as pragmatism seems to involve a confusion between the test and the meaning of truth.

Letters 1:325 (To Benjamin Apthorp Gould Fuller, Ávila, October 5, 1905). See also Letters 1:316 (To William James, Box Hill, July 27, 1905) ("History, at least, must have a definite constitution, apart from the pragmatic value of knowing it"). In Winds of Doctrine, Santayana wrote on the same general theme:

It may seem strange that a definition of truth should have been based on the consideration of those ideas exclusively for which truth is not claimed by any critical person, such ideas, namely, as religious myths or the graphic and verbal machinery of science. Yet the fact is patent, and if we considered the matter historically it might not prove inexplicable. Theology has long applied the name truth pre-eminently to fiction. When the conviction first dawned upon pragmatists that there was no absolute or eternal truth, what they evidently were thinking of was that it is folly, in this changing world, to pledge oneself to any final and inflexible creed. The pursuit of truth, since nothing better was possible, was to be accepted instead of the possession of it. But it is characteristic of Protestantism that, when it gives up anything, it transfers to what remains the unction, and often the name, proper to what it has abandoned. So, if truth was no longer to be claimed or even hoped for, the value and the name of truth could be instinctively transferred to what was to take its place—spontaneous, honest, variable conviction. And the sanctions of this conviction were to be looked for, not in the objective reality, since it was an idle illusion to fancy we could get at that, but in the growth of this conviction itself, and in the prosperous adventure of the whole soul, so courageous in its self-trust, and so modest in its dogmas.

Winds '13 at 136-137 (The Philosophy of Mr. Bertrand Russell).

If not its abuse at the hands of pragmatists, was the situation as Professor Strong suggests—was it the general importance of Truth that coaxed Santayana into adding a book on this category and elevating it ontologically to the status of "realm"?

Santayana's categories, his realms, are developed in large part through comparison and contrast with each other. His development of the realms would be dismissed as unsuitable by any earnest analytic philosopher; for Jorge launches into talk about matter, spirit, truth, etc., without the expected definitions at all. Indeed, his starting point and guide is the scandalously imprecise common sense notion we all have of these categories. Clarification only comes gradually, and often it comes by contrast of changing matter vs. eternal essence, of objective matter vs. subjective spirit. There is something to be said for this approach. The definitions offered by analytic philosophers, and especially empiricists, seem often to lead further away from their definienda, in direct proportion to their complexity. There is something to be said for one who refuses to stray away from, for example, truth or spirit as commonly understood, towards things unrecognizable as such. Of course, Santayana does permit refinements and clarifications which are not envisaged in common sense speech. However, I find that he sticks to the subject at hand better than many others; a revision should be an improvement in a familiar way of seeing something, and not a divergence from this. His method consists largely of juxtaposing the various realms and other categories. In light of this, a category will be important and a candidate for the gang-of-four, if its contrastive interplay with the other three is significant in the development of those, and important to the philosophical life. This is amply true of truth, and I give one example, the contrast between the frenzied realm of changing existences and the placid realm of truth, where nothing ever changes. (This sort of contrast arises also with arbitrary essences, but in the case of an essence which is a truth, this is an essence of consequence.) Santayana likes to distinguish between carrying out an action and the contemplation of it. The former is an often unconscious performance by the psyche, whereas the latter is spiritual and the only source of ultimate spiritual good. If the contemplation of this essence attains a sufficiently detached viewpoint, it will approach the contemplation of truth. As Spinoza says, it is the truth about our actions and selves which alone will survive us, and which can give us our solace, that of tying ourselves to the only part of us which is eternal the truth. Small consolation for many, but its importance grows to the extent that one candidly discards as illusory other more personal candidates for survival.

--Dr. Angus Kerr-Lawson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Waterloo (1996-11-15)