George Santayana: Wikis


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Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás

George Santayana
Full name Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás
Born December 16, 1863(1863-12-16)
Madrid, Spain
Died September 26, 1952 (aged 88)
Era 20th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Pragmatism, Naturalism
Notable ideas Lucretian materialism, Skepticism, natural aristocracy, Realms of Being

George Santayana (December 16, 1863, Madrid, Spain – September 26, 1952, Rome, Italy), was a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist. A lifelong Spanish citizen, Santayana was raised and educated in the United States, wrote in English and is generally considered an American man of letters. Of his nearly 89 years, he spent 39 in the U.S. Santayana is perhaps best known as an aphorist, most famously for his oft-misquoted remark "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."[1] Similarly, a quote of Santayana's: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."[2] is often falsely attributed to Plato.[citation needed]


Early life

Born Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás on 16 December 1863, he spent his early childhood in Ávila, Spain. His mother, Josefina Borrás, was the daughter of a Spanish official in the Philippines. He was the only child of his mother's second marriage. She had previously been the widow of George Sturgis, a Boston merchant with whom she had five children, two of whom died in infancy. She lived in Boston following her husband's death in 1857, but in 1861 went with her three surviving children to live in Madrid. There she encountered Agustín Ruiz de Santayana, an old friend from her years in the Philippines, and married him in 1862. Ruiz de Santayana was a colonial civil servant, painter, and minor intellectual.

The family lived in Madrid and Ávila until 1869, when Santayana's mother returned to Boston with her three Sturgis children, leaving Jorge, then five, with his father in Spain. Jorge and his father followed her in 1872, but his father, finding neither Boston nor his wife's attitude to his liking, soon returned alone to Ávila, where he remained for the rest of his life. Jorge did not see him again until summer vacations while he was a student at Harvard. Thus from the time he was five, Jorge's parents lived apart. Sometime during this period, Jorge's first name became George, the English equivalent.


He attended Boston Latin School and Harvard University, studying under William James and Josiah Royce, whose colleague he subsequently became. After graduating from Harvard, Phi Beta Kappa[3] in 1886, he studied for two years in Berlin, returning to Harvard to write a thesis on Rudolf Hermann Lotze and teach philosophy, thus becoming part of the Golden Age of the Harvard philosophy department. Some of his Harvard students became famous in their own right, including T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Walter Lippmann, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Harry Austryn Wolfson. Wallace Stevens was not among his students, but one of his friends. From 1896 to 1897, he studied at King's College, Cambridge.[4]


In 1912, his careful savings added to a legacy from his mother allowed him to resign his Harvard position and spend the rest of his life in Europe. After some years in Ávila, Paris and Oxford, he began, after 1920, to winter in Rome, eventually living there year-round until his death. During his 40 years in Europe, he wrote nineteen books and declined several prestigious academic positions. Many of his visitors and correspondents were Americans, including his assistant and eventual literary executor, Daniel Cory. In later life, Santayana was financially comfortable, in part because his 1935 novel, The Last Puritan, had become an unexpected best-seller. In turn, he financially assisted a number of writers including Bertrand Russell, with whom he was in fundamental disagreement, philosophically and politically. Santayana never married.


Santayana's main philosophical work consists of The Sense of Beauty (1896), his first book-length monograph and perhaps the first major work on aesthetics written in the United States; The Life of Reason five volumes, 1905–6, the high point of his Harvard career; Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923); and The Realms of Being (4 vols., 1927–40). Although Santayana was not a pragmatist in the mold of William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, Josiah Royce, or John Dewey, The Life of Reason arguably is the first extended treatment of pragmatism ever written.

Like many of the classical pragmatists, and because he was also well-versed in evolutionary theory, Santayana was committed to a naturalist metaphysics, in which human cognition, cultural practices, and social institutions have evolved so as to harmonize with the conditions present in their environment. Their value may then be adjudged by the extent to which they facilitate human happiness. The alternate title to The Life of Reason, "the Phases of Human Progress", is indicative of this metaphysical stance.

Santayana was an early adherent of epiphenomenalism, but also admired the classical materialism of Democritus and Lucretius (of the three authors on whom he wrote in Three Philosophical Poets, Santayana speaks most favorably of Lucretius). He held Spinoza's writings in high regard, without subscribing to the latter's rationalism or pantheism.

Although an agnostic, he held a fairly benign view of religion in contrast to atheists like Bertrand Russell who held that religion was harmful in addition to being false. His views on religion are outlined in his books Reason in Religion, The Idea of Christ in the Gospels, and Interpretations of Poetry and Religion. Santayana described himself as an "aesthetic Catholic", and spent the last decade of his life at the Convent of the Blue Nuns of the Little Company of Mary on the Celian (Caelius) Hill at 6 Via Santo Stefano Rotondo in Rome, cared for by the Irish sisters there.

Man of letters

Santayana's one novel, The Last Puritan, is a Bildungsroman, that is, a novel that centers on the personal growth of the protagonist. His Persons and Places is an autobiography. These works also contain many of his tarter opinions and bons mots. He wrote books and essays on a wide range of subjects, including philosophy of a less technical sort, literary criticism, the history of ideas, politics, human nature, morals, the subtle influence of religion on culture and social psychology, all with considerable wit and humor. While his writings on technical philosophy can be difficult, his other writings are far more readable, and all of his books contain quotable passages. He wrote poems and a few plays, and left an ample correspondence, much of it published only since 2000.

In his temperament, judgments and prejudices, many of which do not sit well with present-day fashions, Santayana was very much the Castilian Platonist, cold, aristocratic and elitist, a curious blend of Mediterranean conservative (similar to Paul Valéry) and cultivated Anglo-Saxon, aloof and ironically detached. Russell Kirk discussed Santayana in his The Conservative Mind from Edmund Burke to T. S. Eliot. Like Alexis de Tocqueville, Santayana observed American culture and character from a foreigner's point of view. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, he wrote philosophy in a literary way. Even though he declined to become an American citizen and happily resided in fascist Italy for decades, he is usually considered an American writer by Americans. He himself admitted to being most comfortable, intellectually and aesthetically, at Oxford.

His materialistic, skeptical philosophy was never in tune with the Spanish world of his time. In the post-Franco era he is gradually being recognized and translated. Ezra Pound includes Santayana among the many cultural references in The Cantos, notably in Canto LXXXI and Canto XCV. Chuck Jones used Santayana's description of fanaticism as "redoubling your effort after you've forgotten your aim" to describe his cartoons starring Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner.[5]


Santayana is remembered in large part for his aphorisms, many of which are so common as to have become clichéd. His philosophy has not fared quite as well; though he is regarded by most as an excellent prose stylist, Professor John Lachs (who is sympathetic with much of Santayana's philosophy) writes in his book 'On Santayana' that the latter's eloquence may ultimately be the cause of this neglect.

Nonetheless, Santayana influenced those around him, like Bertrand Russell, who in his critical essay admits that Santayana single-handedly steered him away from the ethics of G.E. Moore. He also influenced many of his prominent students, perhaps most notably the eminent poet Wallace Stevens. And, no doubt, any who study the philosophies of naturalism or materialism in the 20th Century come inevitably to Santayana, whose mark upon them has been great.

Santayana is quoted by Canadian-American sociologist Erving Goffman as a central influence in the thesis of his famous 1959 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.



Works by Santayana

  • 2009. The Essential Santayana. Selected Writings Edited by the Santayana Edition, Compiled and with an introduction by Martin A. Coleman. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

The Santayana Edition:

  • 1979. The Complete Poems of George Santayana: A Critical Edition. Edited, with an introduction, by W. G. Holzberger. Bucknell University Press.

The balance of this edition is published by the MIT Press.

  • 1986. Persons and Places. Santayana's autobiography, incorporating Persons and Places, 1944; The Middle Span, 1945; and My Host the World, 1953.
  • 1988 (1896). The Sense of Beauty.
  • 1990 (1900). Interpretations of Poetry and Religion.
  • 1994 (1935). The Last Puritan: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel.
  • The Letters of George Santayana. Edited by Daniel Cory. Charles Scribner's Sons. New York. 1955. (296 letters)
  • The Letters of George Santayana. Containing over 3,000 of his letters, many discovered posthumously, to more than 350 recipients.
    • 2001. Book One, 1868–1909.
    • 2001. Book Two, 1910–1920.
    • 2002. Book Three, 1921–1927.
    • 2003. Book Four, 1928–1932.
    • 2003. Book Five, 1933–1936.
    • 2004. Book Six, 1937–1940.
    • 2005. Book Seven, 1941–1947.
    • 2006. Book Eight, 1948–1952.

Other works:

  • 1905–1906. The Life of Reason: Or, The Phases of Human Progress, 5 vols. Available free online from Project Gutenberg. 1998. 1 vol. abridgement by the author and Daniel Cory. Prometheus Books.
  • 1910. Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe.
  • 1913. Winds of Doctrine: Studies in Contemporary Opinion.
  • 1915. Egotism in German Philosophy.
  • 1920. Character and Opinion in the United States: With Reminiscences of William James and Josiah Royce and Academic Life in America.
  • 1920. Little Essays, Drawn From the Writings of George Santayana by Logan Pearsall Smith, With the Collaboration of the Author.
  • 1922. Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies.
  • 1923. Scepticism and Animal Faith: Introduction to a System of Philosophy.
  • 1927. Platonism and the Spiritual Life.
  • 1927–40. The Realms of Being, 4 vols. 1942. 1 vol. abridgement.
  • 1931. The Genteel Tradition at Bay.
  • 1933. Some Turns of Thought in Modern Philosophy: Five Essays.
  • 1936. Obiter Scripta: Lectures, Essays and Reviews. Justus Buchler and Benjamin Schwartz, eds.
  • 1946. The Idea of Christ in the Gospels; or, God in Man: A Critical Essay.
  • 1948. Dialogues in Limbo, With Three New Dialogues.
  • 1951. Dominations and Powers: Reflections on Liberty, Society, and Government.
  • 1956. Essays in Literary Criticism of George Santayana. Irving Singer, ed.
  • 1957. The Idler and His Works, and Other Essays. Daniel Cory, ed.
  • 1967. The Genteel Tradition: Nine Essays by George Santayana. Douglas L. Wilson, ed.
  • 1967. George Santayana's America: Essays on Literature and Culture. James Ballowe, ed.
  • 1967. Animal Faith and Spiritual Life: Previously Unpublished and Uncollected Writings by George Santayana With Critical Essays on His Thought. John Lachs, ed.
  • 1968. Santayana on America: Essays, Notes, and Letters on American Life, Literature, and Philosophy. Richard Colton Lyon, ed.
  • 1968. Selected Critical Writings of George Santayana, 2 vols. Norman Henfrey, ed.
  • 1969. Physical Order and Moral Liberty: Previously Unpublished Essays of George Santayana. John and Shirley Lachs, eds.
  • 1995. The Birth of Reason and Other Essays. Daniel Cory, ed., with an Introduction by Herman J. Saatkamp, Jr. Columbia Univ. Press.

See also


  1. ^ George Santayana (1905) Reason in Common Sense, volume 1 of The Life of Reason
  2. ^ George Santayana (1922) Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, number 25
  3. ^ Who Belongs To Phi Beta Kappa, ’Phi Beta Kappa website’’, accessed Oct 4, 2009
  4. ^ Santayana, George in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  5. ^ See the sixth paragraph, That's Not All, Folks! "Of course you know this means war." Who said it?,by Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2003, (Archived at WebCite).

Further reading

  • H.T. Kirby-Smith, 1997. A Philosophical Novelist: George Santayana and the Last Puritan. Southern Illinois University Press.
  • Jeffers, Thomas L., 2005. Apprenticeships: The Bildungsroman from Goethe to Santayana. New York: Palgrave: 159-84.
  • McCormick, John, 1987. George Santayana: A Biography. Alfred A. Knopf. The biography.
  • Singer, Irving, 2000. George Santayana, Literary Philosopher. Yale University Press.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana (16 December 1863 in Madrid, Spain – 26 September 1952 in Rome, Italy), was a philosopher, essayist poet and novelist.



  • O world, thou choosest not the better part!
    It is not wisdom to be only wise,
    And on the inward vision close the eyes,
    But it is wisdom to believe the heart.
    Columbus found a world, and had no chart,
    Save one that faith deciphered in the skies;
    To trust the soul’s invincible surmise
    Was all his science and his only art.
  • In the Gospels, for instance, we sometimes find the kingdom of heaven illustrated by principles drawn from observation of this world rather than from an ideal conception of justice; as when we hear that to him that hath shall be given and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. Such characterizations appeal to our sense of fact. They remind us that the God we are seeking is present and active, that he is the living God; they are doubtless necessary if we are to keep religion from passing into a mere idealism and God into the vanishing point of our thought and endeavour. For we naturally seek to express his awful actuality, his unchallengeable power, no less than his holiness and his beauty.
    • Interpretations of Poetry and Religion (1900)
  • American life is a powerful solvent. It seems to neutralize every intellectual element, however tough and alien it may be, and to fuse it in the native good will, complacency, thoughtlessness, and optimism.
  • All his life he [the American] jumps into the train after it has started and jumps out before it has stopped; and he never once gets left behind, or breaks a leg.
    • Character and Opinion in the United States
  • There is nothing impossible in the existence of the supernatural: its existence seems to me decidedly probable.
    • The Genteel Tradition at Bay (1931)
  • They [the wise spirits of antiquity in the first circle of Dante's Inferno] are condemned, Dante tells us, to no other penalty than to live in desire without hope, a fate appropriate to noble souls with a clear vision of life.
    • Obiter Scripta (1936)
  • I leave you but the sound of many a word
    In mocking echoes haply overheard,
    I sang to heaven. My exile made me free,
    from world to world, from all worlds carried me.

The Sense of Beauty (1896)

  • The whole machinery of our intelligence, our general ideas and laws, fixed and external objects, principles, persons, and gods, are so many symbolic, algebraic expressions. They stand for experience; experience which we are incapable of retaining and surveying in its multitudinous immediacy. We should flounder hopelessly, like the animals, did we not keep ourselves afloat and direct our course by these intellectual devices. Theory helps us to bear our ignorance of fact.
    • Pt. III, Form
  • Beauty as we feel it is something indescribable: what it is or what it means can never be said.
    • Pt. IV, Expression
  • Beauty is a pledge of the possible conformity between the soul and nature, and consequently a ground of faith in the supremacy of the good.
    • Pt. IV, Expression

The Life of Reason (1905-1906)

Vol. I, Reason in Common Sense

  • Even the most inspired verse, which boasts not without a relative justification to be immortal, becomes in the course of ages a scarcely legible hieroglyphic; the language it was written in dies, a learned education and an imaginative effort are requisite to catch even a vestige of its original force. Nothing is so irrevocable as mind.
  • Happiness is the only sanction of life; where happiness fails, existence remains a mad and lamentable experiment.
  • That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions and, were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions.
  • Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.
  • Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
    • This famous statement has produced many paraphrases and variants:
      Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
      Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.
      Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.
      Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.

Vol. II, Reason in Society

  • The highest form of vanity is love of fame.
  • The human race, in its intellectual life, is organized like the bees: the masculine soul is a worker, sexually atrophied, and essentially dedicated to impersonal and universal arts; the feminine is a queen, infinitely fertile, omnipresent in its brooding industry, but passive and abounding in intuitions without method and passions without justice.
  • To call war the soil of courage and virtue is like calling debauchery the soil of love.
    • Ch. III: Industry, Government, and War
  • It is not society's fault that most men seem to miss their vocation. Most men have no vocation.
    • Ch. IV: The Aristocratic Ideal
  • Injustice in this world is not something comparative; the wrong is deep, clear, and absolute in each private fate.
    • Ch. IV: The Aristocratic Ideal
  • What renders man an imaginative and moral being is that in society he gives new aims to his life which could not have existed in solitude: the aims of friendship, religion, science, and art.
    • Ch. V: Democracy

Vol. III, Reason in Religion

  • The God to whom depth in philosophy bring back men’s minds is far from being the same from whom a little philosophy estranges them.
    • Santayana's response to Francis Bacon's statement that "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion."
  • Matters of religion should never be matters of controversy. We neither argue with a lover about his taste, nor condemn him, if we are just, for knowing so human a passion.
  • Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit.
  • Happiness is the only sanction of life; where happiness fails, existence remains a mad and lamentable experiment.

Vol.IV,Reason in Art

  • Art like life should be free, since both are experimental

Vol. V, Reason in Science

  • History is nothing but assisted and recorded memory. It might almost be said to be no science at all, if memory and faith in memory were not what science necessarily rest on. In order to sift evidence we must rely on some witness, and we must trust experience before we proceed to expand it. The line between what is known scientifically and what has to be assumed in order to support knowledge is impossible to draw. Memory itself is an internal rumour; and when to this hearsay within the mind we add the falsified echoes that reach us from others, we have but a shifting and unseizable basis to build upon. The picture we frame of the past changes continually and grows every day less similar to the original experience which it purports to describe.
    • Ch. 2 "History"
  • When Socrates and his two great disciples composed a system of rational ethics they were hardly proposing practical legislation for mankind...They were merely writing an eloquent epitaph for their country.

Introduction to The Ethics of Spinoza (1910)

  • Let a man once overcome his selfish terror at his own finitude, and his finitude is, in one sense, overcome.
  • Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself.
  • Miracles are propitious accidents, the natural causes of which are too complicated to be readily understood.
  • The Bible is literature, not dogma.

Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (1922)

  • England is the paradise of individuality, eccentricity, heresy, anomalies, hobbies, and humors.
    • The British Character
  • The world is a perpetual caricature of itself; at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be.
    • Dickens
  • There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.
    • War Shrines
  • I like to walk about amidst the beautiful things that adorn the world; but private wealth I should decline, or any sort of personal possessions, because they would take away my liberty.
    • The Irony of Liberalism
  • Only the dead have seen the end of war.
    • Tipperary
  • My atheism, like that of Spinoza, is true piety towards the universe and denies only gods fashioned by men in their own image, to be servants of their human interests.
    • On My Friendly Critics
  • The living have never shown me how to live.
    • On My Friendly Critics
  • Profound skepticism is favorable to conventions, because it doubts that the criticism of conventions is any truer than they are.
    • On My Friendly Critics

Dialogues in Limbo (1926)

  • All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible.
  • The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the older man who will not laugh is a fool.
    • Ch. 3
  • Philosophers are as jealous as women. Each wants a monopoly of praise.
  • Religion in its humility restores man to his only dignity, the courage to live by grace.
    • Ch. 4


  • Religions are not true or false, but better or worse.
    • This is statement is presented in quotes in The Philosophy of Religion and Advaita Vedanta (2008) by Arvind Sharma, p. 216, as a "Santayanan point", but earlier publications by the same author, such as in A Primal Perspective on the Philosophy of Religion‎ (2006), p. 161, state it to be a stance of Santayana without actually indicating or in any ways implying that it is a direct quotation.

Quotes about Santayana

  • "In America literary reputations come and go so swiftly," I complained, fatuously. [Santayana's] answer was swift. "It would be insufferable if they did not."

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