George Santayana

Newsletter of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy (2008)

Authors
Herman Saatkamp
Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis
Abstract
Philosopher, poet, literary and cultural critic, George Santayana is a principal figure in Classical American Philosophy. His naturalism and emphasis on creative imagination were harbingers of important intellectual turns on both sides of the Atlantic. He was a naturalist before naturalism grew popular; he appreciated multiple perfections before multiculturalism became an issue; he thought of philosophy as literature before it became a theme in American and European scholarly circles; and he managed to naturalize Platonism, update Aristotle, fight off idealisms, and provide a striking and sensitive account of the spiritual life without being a religious believer. His Hispanic heritage, shaded by his sense of being an outsider in America, captures many qualities of American life missed by insiders, and presents views equal to Tocqueville in quality and importance. Beyond philosophy, only Emerson may match his literary production. As a public figure, he appeared on the front cover of Time (3 February 1936), and his autobiography (Persons and Places, 1944) and only novel (The Last Puritan, 1936) were the best-selling books in the United States as Book-of-the-Month Club selections. The novel was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and Edmund Wilson ranked Persons and Places among the few first-rate autobiographies, comparing it favorably to Yeats's memoirs, The Education of Henry Adams, and Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Remarkably, Santayana achieved this stature in American thought without being an American citizen. He proudly retained his Spanish citizenship throughout his life. Yet, as he readily admitted, it is as an American that his philosophical and literary corpuses are to be judged. Using contemporary classifications, Santayana is the first and foremost Hispanic-American philosopher.
Keywords George Santayana  American philosophy  Naturalism
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DOI 10.5840/saap1989175312
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