191: The Philosophy of Santayana by George Santayana

by Gerard


191: Santayana, George. The Philosophy of Santayana: Selections from the Works of George Santayana. US: Modern Library, 1936. 595 pp.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 190: Modern Philosophy
  • 191: Modern Western philosophy of the United States and Canada

Let’s start with the basics: George Santayana was born in Madrid in 1863, but was reared in the United States. He was educated at Harvard and eventually taught there. Among his students were the writers T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Gertrude Stein. The great American poet Wallace Stevens counted Santayana among his friends. Much of Santayana’s philosophy pervades modern culture in the form of aphorisms and quick bon-mots. The Philosophy of George Santayana is a dense book filled to the brim with the life’s work of one of the twentieth century’s most prodigious thinkers.

First, a few excerpts:

  • Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
  • When men and women agree, it is only in their conclusions; their reasons are always different.
  • Eternal vigilance is the price of knowledge.

It would neither befit the breadth and scope of Santayana’s work to try and sum it all up here. His writing flows well and goes into the philosophies of religion, war, art, beauty, fashion, society, and love. He did not adhere to any particular religion, but generally considered it to be a benign entity (it was the deeds of the believers that caused him consternation). His philosophical stances take pieces from but still question the pragmatic, the metaphysical, and the epiphenomenal. This, quite frankly, is what I believe should be the proper stance of philosophy—to synthesize, to grow, and to ask. Santayana does all these things particularly well. I don’t recommend reading this one straight through like I did. It’s best for small consumption over a long period of time. A heady but enlightening book.