A Pyrrhonian Sceptic of Our Time
Those of us who are committed to Santayana's philosophy may not be especially
troubled by the fact that we constitute a rather small group amongst academic
philosophers today. There is after all something attractive about being
associated with the esoteric and exclusive, and it is no mark of distinction to think that
Plato, Aristotle, Hume, and Kant are some of the greatest thinkers in our tradition.
And yet there is something disturbing about the fact that so few recognise the greatness
of one's own favourite, and one is led to speculate about the reason why it is so. We
know that Santayana was widely read and highly respected as a philosopher in his own
time, and yet his philosophy has come to be almost entirely eclipsed by other currents
of thought since the Second War, and his name has receded into considerable obscurity.
There is of course nothing unusual about this: fads and fashions change, and so do the
fortunes of great thinkers. But there is frequently something of considerable
importance entailed by a radical change of fortune, and I believe that this is so in the
case of Santayana. His waning fame is frequently attributed to the fact that he is
old-fashioned, that his prose style is excessively florid, that his philosophical writings
are lacking in the type of argumentation requisite for philosophical respectability, and
that his philosophy itself is merely eclectic. AH of this points in the right direction but
does not really capture the truth of the matter, and I think that this is largely because
we have not so far been very clear about what kind of philosopher Santayana was. I
will therefore address the basic question: how is Santayana*s philosophy to be situated
both historically and geographically? and I will seek to answer it not so much in terms
of influences as in terms of affinities.
Santayana addresses this question to some extent himself in his "Apologia Pro
Mente Sua,**1 where he responds to the suggestion that he is an American. He
concludes his brief discussion by saying that "it is as an American writer that I must
be counted, if I am counted at all.** As a prediction this has certainly been borne out,
for he is almost universally classified as an American philosopher, even by the Spanish
I believe, and it is certainly to the American intellectual community that we owe our
gratitude for die fact that his name has been kept alive at all. But as a characterisation
of his philosophy it is rejected by Santayana, and I believe correctly so. Much could
be said about the influence of America and Americans upon Santayana* s thought, but
I leave that for others to spell out What he says Mmself is sufficient for my purposes.
What he addresses is the suggestion that his naturalism is American. This he dismisses
by pointing out that his cosmological naturalism derives from Democritus, Lucretius,
and Spinoza, and that his critical naturalism — "the habit of reducing ideas to their
human origin ... rather than to truths or errors to be tested by logic or by external facts**
— is something that he claims to have seen no signs of in American philosophy. He
1 The Philosophy of George Santayana, Paul Arthur Schilpp, ed. Tudor Publishing
Company, New York, 1940, pp. 600-604. Herein referred to simply as the Apologia.