George Santayana Biography
(1863–1952), The Life of Reason, Scepticism and Animal Faith, The Realms of Being
Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: William Sansom (William Norman Trevor Sansom) Biography to Dr Seuss [Theodor Giesel] Biography
Spanish-American philosopher, born in Madrid, educated at Harvard. Christened Jorge Ruiz de Santayana y Borrais, he used the English form of his name after he was taken to the USA in 1872. Santayana is now best remembered for his cultural analyses of the American character. He formulated a materialist philosophy in his major early work, The Life of Reason (5 volumes, 1905–6), in which he argued that matter was the only reality. Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923), the prolegomena to a new theory of philosophy, was intended to modify and supplement his materialist ideas, which appeared under the collective title of The Realms of Being (1927–40). In these books, Santayana investigated what he called the realms of essence, matter, truth, and spirit, and argued that knowledge consists of faith in the unknowable, which is symbolically manifest to us through essences. His first publications were literary and aesthetic, beginning with Sonnets and Other Verses (1894); a treatise on aesthetics, The Sense of Beauty (1896); a verse play, Lucifer: A Theological Tragedy (1899); Interpretations of Poetry and Religion (1900); the poems A Hermit of Carmel (1901), and the collected Poems (1923). His other publications include Three Philosophical Poets (1910), studies of Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe; Philosophical Opinion in America (1918); Character and Opinion in the United States (1920), which addresses the conflict of materialism and idealism in American life; and The Genteel Tradition at Bay (1931), an analysis of Calvinism and Transcendentalism. His only novel, The Last Puritan, appeared in 1935. His lectures, essays, and reviews were collected in Obiter Scripta (1936), and his collected Works appeared in fourteen volumes (1936–7). Santayana made a major contribution to American intellectual life throughout the first half of the twentieth century. He was also the subject of a tribute from Wallace Stevens, whose poem ‘To an Old Philosopher in Rome’ is one of the few poems Stevens openly addressed to an identifiable figure.