Beyond Truth: Santayana
on the Functional Relations
of Art, Myth, and Religion
George Santayana's The Realm of Truth (1938), the third volume of his
second magnum opus, Realms of Being, ends with a short chapter arrestingly
entitled "Beyond Truth." It was intended, as he stated elsewhere,1 merely
to provide a connection with the prospective fourth volume, The Realm of
Spirit, and it is of no great consequence in itself. The idea broached in its
title, however, is of great importance not only in his philosophy broadly
considered but also in the relation of this philosophy to the perennially
engaging topic of the meeting for which this paper was originally
prepared, namely, "the functional relations of art, myth, and religion."
The idea that there is a kind of affirmation somehow superior to that of
truth gets to the heart of the synthesis which made his writing especially
appealing to the many readers of his time who felt themselves torn
between ideal interests on the one hand and the impersonal mechanisms
of science on the other. Indeed, in his own life he hadf discovered that it
was possible without strain or distress at the same time to be a declared
materialist and atheist2 and to believe that religion is "the head and front
of everything."3 He had learned early from his parents, both ardent
anticlericals, that religion is a work of imagination, and the thesis of one
of his earliest books was that religion and poetry are "identical in
essence,"4 differing only morally. This judgment, however, did not carry
for him the implication that such figments are bad. "No, I said to myself
even as a boy," he later recorded, "they are good, they alone are good."5
What these seeming paradoxes could mean and how they could be
justified will be the concern of this paper, starting with the truth which
he proposed to go beyond.
This truth was a nice blend of the correspondence and the pragmatic
theories. As a card-carrying member of the school of "critical realists" he
believed it unavoidable to assume, despite the powerful arguments of
scepticism and even of solipsism, that there is a coherent objective reality
existing independently of of our knowing it, and that, in his language,
1 Daniel Cory, Santayana: The Later Years, (New York, Braziller, 1963), p. 183.
2 " ... in respect to popular religion that thinks of God as the creator of the world and
the dispenser of fortune, my philosophy is atheistic." The Realm of Spirit, p. 838f. References
to Realms of Being and its component works are to be the one-volume edition, N.Y., Scribner,
3 "A Brief History of My Opinions," in The Philosophy of Santayana, ed. I. Edman (N.Y.:
Modern Library, 1942), p. 5. Originally in G.P. Adams and W.P. Montague, eds.,
Contemporary American Philosophy: Personal Statements (N.Y.: MacMillan, 1930).
4 On the view of his parents see "A Brief History of My Opinions." The quoted sentence
is from Interpretations of Poetry and Religion (N.Y.: Scribner, 1900), page v.
5 "A Brief History of My Opinions," pp. 5-6.