George Santayana

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Santayana, George

(säntäyä`nä), 1863–1952, American philosopher and poet, b. Madrid, Spain.


Santayana emigrated to the United States in 1872. A graduate of Harvard (1886), he taught in the department of philosophy from 1889 until 1912. After resigning from Harvard he returned to Europe, eventually settling in Italy where he lived in a convent after the outbreak of World War II until his death. He detached himself from the social turmoil of the 20th cent., secluding himself from relationships with either people or events.


Santayana's philosophic stance has been given the apparently opposite descriptions of materialism and Platonism. The contradiction is partly understandable as resulting from his view of the mind as being firmly placed in and responsive to a physical, biological context, and his simultaneous emphasis on and high evaluation of the mind's rational and imaginative vision of physical reality. In an important early work, The Sense of Beauty (1896), he enunciated a qualified hedonism that placed high value on aesthetic pleasure; it was a pleasure that was understood to be an irrational expression of vital interests but was distinguished from direct, sensual pleasures.

The Life of Reason (1905–6) investigates the mind's evolving attempts to define its relationship to its natural context. In that work he saw the relationship of thought and reality as one of ideal correspondence. Santayana's earlier work is marked by a psychological approach to the life of the mind. With the publication of Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923) and The Realms of Being, a four-volume work (The Realm of Essence, 1927; The Realm of Matter, 1930; The Realm of Truth, 1937; The Realm of Spirit, 1940; 1-vol. ed. 1942), he adopted a more classical philosophic approach, making ontological distinctions between the objects of mental activity. Against Cartesian skepticism and idealism he advanced the notion of "animal faith" as the basis of the life of reason.

Religion he viewed as an imaginative creation of real value but without absolute significance. Although he continued to value imaginative and rational consciousness he warned against the mind's tendency to confer substantial reality and causal efficacy on its own creations. His personal withdrawal from active life was paralleled in his philosophy by a decided moral detachment. The whole of Santayana's philosophic writing displays a characteristic richness of style; he also wrote poetry, a volume of which appeared in 1923. His only novel, The Last Puritan (1935), had great popular success. His Dominations and Powers, on political philosophy, was published in 1951.


See The Works of George Santayana (15 vol., 1936–40) and The Philosophy of Santayana, ed. by I. Edman (rev. ed. 1953, repr. 1973); his letters (ed. by D. Cory, 1955; repr. 1973); his memoirs, Persons and Places (3 vol., 1944–53). See also B. J. Singer, The Rational Society (1970); T. N. Munson, The Essential Wisdom of George Santayana (1962, repr. 1983); W. E. Arnett, Santayana and the Sense of Beaury (1955, repr. 1984).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Santayana, George


Born Dec. 16, 1863, in Madrid; died Sept. 26, 1952, in Rome. American idealist philosopher and writer (the popular novel The Last Puritan, 1935).

A Spaniard by birth, Santayana lived in the USA from 1872 to 1912. From 1907 to 1912 he was a professor at Harvard University. Santayana interpreted critical realism, of which he was one of the chief representatives, in the tradition of Platonism. Adopting the standpoint of critical realism, he divided Being into two spheres: the phenomena of consciousness and material objects. According to Santayana, the evidence for the existence of the external world is a conviction of its objective reality, an “animal faith.” Santayana believed that only “experiential data,” or the phenomena of consciousness, are absolutely indubitable. According to Santayana, who adhered to a position of skepticism, knowledge of the external world is always subjectively interpreted and symbolic, and the only form of Weltanschauung is myth.

In Realms of Being (vols. 1–4, 1927–40), which purportedly combines realism and idealism, Santayana created a system of Being that includes four modes, or independent, unrelated “realities”: the realms of essence, matter, truth, and spirit. The central point in Santayana’s system is the concept of ideal essences, developed along the lines of the ideas of E. Husserl and A. N. Whitehead. The essences, which determine Being qualitatively, are diverse ideal qualities or spiritual formations. In Santayana’s system, matter is illusory—an entity devoid of content or qualities.

In ethics, Santayana developed a concept of “aesthetic morality.” In his social views, social phenomena typically dissolve into natural ones, giving rise to a biologism that is combined with a “moral-aesthetic” approach. Politically, Santayana opposed democracy and advocated rule by an “elite.”


Interpretations of Poetry and Religion. New York, 1900.
Scepticism and Animal Faith. London, 1923.
The Background of My Life. New York, 1944.
Dominations and Powers. New York, 1951.
The Life of Reason, vols. 1–5. New York, 1962.


Endovitskii, V. D. Kritika filosofii amerikanskogo kriticheskogo realizma. Moscow, 1968.
Bogomolov, A. S. Burzhuaznaia filosofiía SShA XX veka. Moscow, 1974. Chapter 6.
The Philosophy of George Santayana. Evanston, Ill.-Chicago, 1940.
Butler, R. The Mind of Santayana. Chicago, 1955.
Munson, T. N. The Essential Wisdom of George Santayana. New York-London, 1962.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Santayana, George (b. Jorge Agustín Nicolás)

(1863–1952) philosopher, writer; born in Madrid, Spain. Immigrating to Boston as a boy, he studied with William James and Josiah Royce at Harvard, where he himself taught philosophy (1889–1912); among his students were T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, and Felix Frankfurter. Hating academic life and American commercialism and Puritanism, he took advantage of a modest inheritance to retire in 1912; he left the U.S.A. to live a solitary life in Oxford, Paris, and after 1925 in Rome. He wrote 18 volumes of philosophy, chief among them The Life of Reason (5 vols. 1905–06) and The Realms of Being (4 vols. 1927–40); his philosophical works are distinguished by their lucid, literary style. In addition he published poetry, literary, and cultural criticism; a novel, The Last Puritan (1935), an unexpected best-seller about Cambridge (Mass.) society; and a three-volume autobiography.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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