Concerning the Nature of Intent
6 t& f-uxflS AyaSct alpedurvog %&
8ei6x£pa atptexat- 6 8£ t& OKfjvso?
t& dvepcotrfjia. (Democritus: Fragment B37)
He who chooses the good of the soul chooses the more
divine things, and he who chooses those of the body
chooses human things.
Chapter Six of Santayanas Reason in Science,1 entitled "The Nature of Intent,"
may for some appear irrelevant to a text the theme of which is science.2 But
if one were to ask: 'What does intent have to do with science?1; and if one
were to keep up the inquiry, an answer would soon present itself. One would find that
this chapter marks both a culmination and a transition. In respect to the preceding
chapters of the text, intent acts both as a limiting factor to, and within this limit, a justification for physical science. If physics remains virtual, then physics is justified; that
is, it is justified on the ground that it would then offer a practical and sufficient
representation of "the conditions surrounding life" in which a "suitable attitude"
towards nature and the conditions of existence can be maintained (RS 168-169).
Further, in respect to the later chapters, it marks a transition to dialectic proper and to
Santayana's three moral categories: prerational morality; rational morality; post-rational
morality. This sets the groundwork and justification for morality in general; but in
particular, for rational ethics.
Further, if one were so inspired as to follow this inquiry through, one soon finds
that the influence of (if the term may be used) the doctrine of animal intent is central
to the life of reason, both as it is embodied and lived and as it works out its role in
Santayana's pentalogy, The Life of Reason.3 For it becomes clear that there is a strong
coincidence — if not a positive identification — between the doctrine of intent and the
motto of LoR: i\ y&p vov kvtg^Eta Zpyf\. The translation which Santayana
gives for this quotation from Aristotle is: "For...the act proper to the intellect is life."
(RS p.175) This of course is not a strict translation.4 As with many of his restatements
of passages quoted from other languages, Santayana renders them in a manner
appropriate to his desired usage in respect to the current context. In this case, the
context is that of intent, the doctrine of which he is putting forward in order to argue
that "the intellect's essence is practical." (RS 172) This argument further underlies his
attempt to show, as we shall later see, that physics should remain virtual and dialectic
Now, if his motto is to be taken seriously — as it ought probably to be, since it
1 Santayana, George. Reason in Science. Volume Five of "The life of Reason." Dover
Publications, Inc.: New York, 1983, pp. 168-169. Hereafter cited in the text as RS.
2 Science qua Wissenschaft.
3 The Life of Reason to be cited as LoR.
4 A stricter translation would perhaps be: "For the fevtpTeta of mind is life."
Substitute for fevfef/yeia action, operation, energy or whatever else would be appropriate.
This would take into account the use of the subjective genitive, which Santayana translates as a
species of dative. I have attempted unsuccesfully to find this quotation in Aristotle.