Santayana's thinking about the nature of love has never been adequately
studied. In the first volume of this trilogy I discussed shortcomings in his
concept of idealization. His ideas are richer than I could there indicate,
however, and they merit renewed investigation. Speaking of Santayana as
the greatest proponent of Platonism in the twentieth century, I tried to
show how he combined his Platonism with an antithetical materialism.
But it would have been equally valid to have started with his materialism
as the basis of his philosophy. In his speculations on love, scattered
through all his books, that is how Santayana usually begins his analysis. I
shall do likewise in this chapter. Over and beyond Santayana's
materialism and Platonism, I also detect a humanistic voice that differs
from both of them. I consider Santayana's "humanism" the most
promising element in his philosophy.
The implications of Santayana's materialism appear even in his earliest
statements about love. In The Sense of Beauty (1896) he introduces into a
section on "The Materials of Beauty" a discussion about* "the influence of
the passion of love." Though he is doing aesthetics in this place, he makes
remarks that are relevant to the philosophy of love. In effect, he argues
that the sexual instinct needed for purposes of reproduction underlies our
perception of beauty in another person as well as our ability to love that
particular individual. He tells us that there exists a "machinery"
(unspecified but presumably discoverable by empirical science) which
directs all animals to their proper object of sexual desire. He even
analyzes "lifelong fidelity to one mate" as a differentiation related to
successful reproduction of the species. But though the sexual instinct
cannot be satisfied unless an appropriate object is singled out, Santayana
believes this process operates only with "a great deal of groping and
waste." From this there arise the effects, which Santayana considers
secondary, of beauty and of love: "For it is precisely from the waste,
from the radiation of a sexual passion, that beauty borrows warmth ... .
The capacity to love gives our contemplation that glow without which it
might often fail to manifest beauty."1
In saying this, Santayana is consciously espousing a reductivistic thesis
about love as well as beauty. Like many other materialists and realists, he
does so with a sense of admiration, even reverence, for the creative
The following excerpts are taken from a chapter in Irving Singer's book The Nature of
Love: The Modern World, Volume 3 of his trilogy The Nature of Love, published by The
University of Chicago Press in Fail 1987. The editors are grateful to The University of
Chicago Press for permission to print this chapter, which was read to the Santayana Society on
December 29, 1986.
1 George Santayana, The Sense of Beauty (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936), p. 46.