Santayana's Neglect of
In his article, "Santayana's Doctrine of Essence," published in the Library
of Living Philosophers volume on the philosophy of George Santayana,1
and in a subsequent reappraisal, 'Santayana's Defiant Eclecticism,'2
appearing twenty-four years later, Charles Hartshorne reviews and rejects
Santayana's doctrine of Essence. A principal fault in it, he thinks, is its
failure to take due account of what Hartshorne calls the "neglected
alternative," the alternative, that is, first stated by Whitehead, and
subsequently logicized by Hartshorne, which professes to account for the
realm of essence (here understood as being synonymous with Whitehead's
eternal objects) by locating it in the primordial nature of God.
Contrariwise, the present piece argues, first, that Santayana did not, as he
himself insists that he did not, neglect this alternative, and second, that
his view of essence, considered in the context of his "system,"3 remains a
viable alternative to the doctrine of eternal objects.
In the chorus of misunderstanding and rejection consequent upon
Santayana's presentation of his Realms of Being, Hartshorne's critique
commands attention, not so much for the logical rigour of his argument
(although that is evident) as for the critic's importance in the enterprise
of process theology. Hartshorne's first article, "this notable and elaborate
essay," as Santayana calls it, is, as our philosopher himself recognizes,
"nominally about my essences but really about his system of cosmology...
He remembers at the beginning of various paragraphs that he is supposed
to be talking about my theory, and quotes something of mine; but
immediately he reverts to what he calls the Neglected Alternative." (PGS
This Neglected Alternative, as Hartshorne envisages it, arises out of
the possible division of Santayana's statement of the doctrine of essence
into three propositions, the first of which he assumes is capable of being
understood as not implying the other two. "If I am wrong in this," he
adds, "if the doctrine (of essence) is really all of a piece and must be
accepted or rejected as a whole, then my attempt will have failed." (PGS
This paper was read to the Society for Philosophy of Religion on March 7, 1986.
1 The Philosophy of George Santayana, 2nd Edition. Edited by Paul Arthur Schilpp (LaSalle,
Illinois: Open Court, 1971), 137-182. Hereafter cited as PGS.
Charles, Hartshorne, "Santayana's Defiant Eclecticism," fournal of Philosophy, 61(1964),
35-44. Reprinted in John Lachs, Animal Faith and Spiritual Life (New York: Appleton-Century-
Crofts, 1967), 33-43. Hereafter cited as SDE (Lachs).
"My system...is no system of the universe. The Realms of Being of which I speak are not
parts of a cosmos, nor one great cosmos together; they are only kinds of categories of things
which I find conspicuously different and worth distinguishing." Santayana, Scepticism and
Animal Faith (New York: Dover, 1955)