Last modified on 8 September 2014, at 16:24

George Santayana

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana (16 December 1863 in Madrid, Spain26 September 1952 in Rome, Italy) was a philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist.

QuotesEdit

The Sense of Beauty (1896)Edit

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  • In fact, the whole machinery of our intelligence, our general ideas and laws, fixed and external objects, principles, persons, and gods, are so many symbolic, algebraic expressions. They stand for experience; experience which we are incapable of retaining and surveying in its multitudinous immediacy. We should flounder hopelessly, like the animals, did we not keep ourselves afloat and direct our course by these intellectual devices. Theory helps us to bear our ignorance of fact.
    • Pt. III, Form; § 30: "The average modified in the direction of pleasure.", p. 125
  • Beauty as we feel it is something indescribable: what it is or what it means can never be said.
    • Pt. IV, Expression; § 67: "Conclusion.", p. 267
  • Beauty is a pledge of the possible conformity between the soul and nature, and consequently a ground of faith in the supremacy of the good.
    • Pt. IV, Expression; § 67: "Conclusion.", p. 270

The Life of Reason (1905-1906)Edit

Vol. I, Reason in Common SenseEdit

  • Even the most inspired verse, which boasts not without a relative justification to be immortal, becomes in the course of ages a scarcely legible hieroglyphic; the language it was written in dies, a learned education and an imaginative effort are requisite to catch even a vestige of its original force. Nothing is so irrevocable as mind.
  • Happiness is the only sanction of life; where happiness fails, existence remains a mad and lamentable experiment.
  • That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions and, were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions.
  • Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.
  • Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
    • This famous statement has produced many paraphrases and variants:
      • Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
      • Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.
      • Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.
      • Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.
      • Those who do not know history's mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
    • There is a similar quote by Edmund Burke that often leads to misattribution, "People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors."

Vol. II, Reason in SocietyEdit

  • The human race, in its intellectual life, is organized like the bees: the masculine soul is a worker, sexually atrophied, and essentially dedicated to impersonal and universal arts; the feminine is a queen, infinitely fertile, omnipresent in its brooding industry, but passive and abounding in intuitions without method and passions without justice.
  • To call war the soil of courage and virtue is like calling debauchery the soil of love.
    • Ch. III: Industry, Government, and War
  • It is not society's fault that most men seem to miss their vocation. Most men have no vocation.
    • Ch. IV: The Aristocratic Ideal
  • Injustice in this world is not something comparative; the wrong is deep, clear, and absolute in each private fate.
    • Ch. IV: The Aristocratic Ideal

Vol. III, Reason in ReligionEdit

  • Experience has repeatedly confirmed that well-known maxim of Bacon's that "a little philosophy inclineth a man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." At the same time, when Bacon penned that sage epigram... he forgot to add that the God to whom depth in philosophy brings back men's minds is far from being the same from whom a little philosophy estranges them.
    • Ch. I
  • Matters of religion should never be matters of controversy. We neither argue with a lover about his taste, nor condemn him, if we are just, for knowing so human a passion.
    • Ch. VI
  • Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit.
    • Ch. VII
  • Every moment celebrates obsequies over the virtues of its predecessor.
    • Ch. XIV

Vol.IV, Reason in ArtEdit

  • Art like life should be free, since both are experimental.

Vol. V, Reason in ScienceEdit

  • History is nothing but assisted and recorded memory. It might almost be said to be no science at all, if memory and faith in memory were not what science necessarily rest on. In order to sift evidence we must rely on some witness, and we must trust experience before we proceed to expand it. The line between what is known scientifically and what has to be assumed in order to support knowledge is impossible to draw. Memory itself is an internal rumour; and when to this hearsay within the mind we add the falsified echoes that reach us from others, we have but a shifting and unseizable basis to build upon. The picture we frame of the past changes continually and grows every day less similar to the original experience which it purports to describe.
    • Ch. 2 "History"
  • When Socrates and his two great disciples composed a system of rational ethics they were hardly proposing practical legislation for mankind...They were merely writing an eloquent epitaph for their country.
  • Oblivious of Democritus, the unwilling materialists of our day have generally been awkwardly intellectual and quite incapable of laughter. If they have felt anything, they have felt melancholy. Their allegiance and affection were still fixed on those mythical sentimental worlds which they saw to be illusory. The mechanical world they believed in could not please them, in spite of its extent and fertility. Giving rhetorical vent to their spleen and prejudice, they exaggerated nature's meagreness and mathematical dryness. When their imagination was chilled they spoke of nature, most unwarrantably, as dead, and when their judgment was heated they took the next step and called it unreal.
    • Ch. 3 "Mechanism"

Introduction to The Ethics of Spinoza (1910)Edit

  • Let a man once overcome his selfish terror at his own finitude, and his finitude is, in one sense, overcome.
  • Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself.
  • Miracles are propitious accidents, the natural causes of which are too complicated to be readily understood.

The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy (1911)Edit

By their mind, its scope, quality, and temper, we estimate men, for by the mind only do we exist as men, and are more than so many storage-batteries for material energy. Let us therefore be frankly human.
  • Professional philosophers are usually only apologists: that is, they are absorbed in defending some vested illusion or some eloquent idea. Like lawyers or detectives, they study the case for which they are retained.
    • pp. 48-49
  • In Walt Whitman democracy is carried into psychology and morals. The various sights, moods, and emotions are given each one vote; they are declared to be all free and equal, and the innumerable commonplace moments of life are suffered to speak like the others. Those moments formerly reputed great are not excluded, but they are made to march in the ranks with their companions—plain foot-soldiers and servants of the hour.
    • p. 53
  • The pint would call the quart a dualist, if you tried to pour the quart into him.
    • p. 60
  • Because the peculiarity of man is that his machinery for reaction on external things has involved an imaginative transcript of these things, which is preserved and suspended in his fancy; and the interest and beauty of this inward landscape, rather than any fortunes that may await his body in the outer world, constitute his proper happiness. By their mind, its scope, quality, and temper, we estimate men, for by the mind only do we exist as men, and are more than so many storage-batteries for material energy. Let us therefore be frankly human. Let us be content to live in the mind.
    • p. 64

Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (1922)Edit

  • England is the paradise of individuality, eccentricity, heresy, anomalies, hobbies, and humors.
    • "The British Character"
  • The world is a perpetual caricature of itself; at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be.
    • "Dickens"
  • There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.
    • "War Shrines"
  • I like to walk about amidst the beautiful things that adorn the world; but private wealth I should decline, or any sort of personal possessions, because they would take away my liberty.
    • "The Irony of Liberalism"
  • Only the dead have seen the end of war.
    • "Tipperary"
  • My atheism, like that of Spinoza, is true piety towards the universe and denies only gods fashioned by men in their own image, to be servants of their human interests.
    • "On My Friendly Critics"
  • The living have never shown me how to live.
    • "On My Friendly Critics"
  • Profound skepticism is favorable to conventions, because it doubts that the criticism of conventions is any truer than they are.
    • "On My Friendly Critics"

Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923)Edit

  • [The empiricist] thinks he believes only what he sees, but he is much better at believing than at seeing.
    • "Objections to Belief in Substance", p. 201

Dialogues in Limbo (1926)Edit

  • All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible.
  • The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the older man who will not laugh is a fool.
    • Ch. 3
  • Philosophers are as jealous as women. Each wants a monopoly of praise.
  • Religion in its humility restores man to his only dignity, the courage to live by grace.
    • Ch. 4

Character and Opinion in the United States (1920)Edit

  • American life is a powerful solvent. As it stamps the immigrant, almost before he can speak English, with an unmistakable muscular tension, cheery self-confidence and habitual challenge in the voice and eyes, so it seems to neutralize every intellectual element, however tough and alien it may be, and to fuse it in the native good-will, complacency, thoughtlessness, and optimism.
  • All his life he [the American] jumps into the train after it has started and jumps out before it has stopped; and he never once gets left behind, or breaks a leg.

Other worksEdit

  • O world, thou choosest not the better part!
    It is not wisdom to be only wise,
    And on the inward vision close the eyes,
    But it is wisdom to believe the heart.
    Columbus found a world, and had no chart,
    Save one that faith deciphered in the skies;
    To trust the soul’s invincible surmise
    Was all his science and his only art.
  • In the Gospels, for instance, we sometimes find the kingdom of heaven illustrated by principles drawn from observation of this world rather than from an ideal conception of justice; ... They remind us that the God we are seeking is present and active, that he is the living God; they are doubtless necessary if we are to keep religion from passing into a mere idealism and God into the vanishing point of our thought and endeavour.
  • There is nothing impossible in the existence of the supernatural: its existence seems to me decidedly probable.
    • The Genteel Tradition at Bay (1931)
  • They [the wise spirits of antiquity in the first circle of Dante's Inferno] are condemned, Dante tells us, to no other penalty than to live in desire without hope, a fate appropriate to noble souls with a clear vision of life.
    • Obiter Scripta (1936)
  • Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.
    • George Santayana, as quoted in Quotations for Our Time (1977) edited by Laurence J. Peter
  • I leave you but the sound of many a word
    In mocking echoes haply overheard,
    I sang to heaven. My exile made me free,
    from world to world, from all worlds carried me.
  • The idea of Christ is much older than Christianity.
    • The Idea of Christ in the Gospels (1946)
  • A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.


DisputedEdit

  • Religions are not true or false, but better or worse.
    • This statement is presented in quotes in The Philosophy of Religion and Advaita Vedanta (2008) by Arvind Sharma, p. 216, as a "Santayanan point", but earlier publications by the same author, such as in A Primal Perspective on the Philosophy of Religion‎ (2006), p. 161, state it to be a stance of Santayana without actually indicating or in any ways implying that it is a direct quotation.
  • The earth has music for those who listen.
    • This statement is commonly associated with Santayana, but no source or attribution can be found in his works or correspondence. *UPDATE: This quote is appropriately attributed to Reginald Vincent Holmes (1955, Fireside Fancies, Edwards Brothers Inc.)

Quotes about SantayanaEdit

  • But what a perfection of rottenness in a philosophy!
    • William James, of Santayana's doctoral thesis, in a letter to George H. Palmer (1900), as quoted in George Santayana : A Biography (2003) by John McCormick
  • "There is no God, and Mary is his mother." Often, almost certainly incorrectly, attributed to Santayana himself. More plausibly attributed to Robert Lowell, as a sardonic description of Santayana's philosophy.
    • Paul Mariani, "Lost Puritan: A Life of Robert Lowell" (1994), p. 159
  • Santayana, indeed, is the Moses of the new naturalism, who discerned the promised land from afar but still wanders himself in the desert realms of being.
    • John Herman Randall, "The Nature of Naturalism", epilogue to Naturalism and the Human Spirit (1944)
  • "In America literary reputations come and go so swiftly," I complained, fatuously. [Santayana's] answer was swift. "It would be insufferable if they did not."

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