Hermes the Interpreter
I. Santayana: Pilgrim or Traveler
Paul Kuntz suggests that Santayana's ontology harbors a Platonic
hierarchical correspondence between the levels of soul and the levels of
being. Santayana is a "Catholic philosopher working with a Neo-Platonic
hierarchical scheme of Jacob's ladder" ("Categories and Orders" 10), and
his four realms (matter, essence, truth, and spirit) adumbrate stages of a
pilgrimage culminating in the spiritual life. This interpretation of
Santayana's mature philosophy runs counter to the usual naturalistic
assessment which contains no categorical obligations or goals for either
humans or for the universe. The naturalistic Santayana assumes, as far as
possible, a neutral moral stance and defends only contingent orders of the
world, not hierarchical ones associated with ultimate or final goals. If
Paul Kuntz is correct, scholars need to closely re-examine the works of
Santayana to capture a new, more traditional, and religious aspect of one
of the twentieth centuries best-known atheists.
Though I disagree with Kuntz's interpretation, I appreciate his insight
into Santayana's realms of being and their integral relationship to
spiritual values, and my remarks should not be read as a critique of
Kuntz's positiop but rather as an alternative approach to the philosophy
of Santayana. We are indebted to Kuntz who, by calling attention to
Santayana's metaphors (pilgrimage, ascent, hunting, adventure), forces
examination of significant aspects of Santayana's thought that have been
overlooked. He also highlights Santayana's respect for Indian philosophy
and underscores the Catholic-Protestant tension that often is more than
in the shadows of Santayana's thought and friendships. This tension is not
merely a difference between conventional religions, but it is a conflict
between forms of life: the Catholic tendency of celebrating life artistically
in contrast to the Protestant tendency of valuing workmanlike moralities.
Kuntz's discussion of the Protestant heritage of James, Royce, and Russell
decidedly contributes to our understanding of Santayana and his
sometimes strained relationships with his teachers, colleagues, and friends.
Kuntz's understanding of Santayana as a philosopher working within a
Neo-Platonic hierarchical scheme is supported by textual evidence.
Santayana does use Neo-Platonic metaphors, and he characterizes the
spiritual life as the culmination of human existence. But this evidence, I
believe, should be understood in the context of (1) the development of
Santayana's materialism or naturalism, (2) his application of ontology in
historical analyses, and (3) his view of himself as a traveler, not a pilgrim.
Within this context, Santayana's decided view is naturalistic (or
materialistic), and whatever ties to Platonism exist, they are more
biographical than an endorsement of a Neo-Platonic hierarchy or a
Jacob's ladder pilgrimage.