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George Santayana

(1863—1952) Spanish philosopher and writer


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(1863–1952)

Spanish-born US philosopher and poet.

Born in Madrid, Santayana was brought to Boston at the age of eight. He was educated at Harvard and remained there on the faculty until 1912, when, with the aid of a small inheritance, he left the USA for Europe. He spent some time in England but in 1924 settled in Rome, where he remained for the rest of his life.

A noted stylist, Santayana presented his earlier philosophical views in the four volumes of The Life of Reason (1905–06). He rejected the idealism current at the Harvard of his student days and presented instead a naturalistic account of reality, consciousness, and values. In later works, Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923) and the four volumes of The Realms of Being (1927–40), Santayana sought to develop his views. Adopting an initial position of doubt, he was led to conclude that while we could always doubt that anything exists we were still compelled to accept that we were aware of certain essences. On the basis of these essences it was possible to pass to the world of existents but, Santayana insisted, we could never be aware of this world in the same direct way in which we were aware of the world of essences. Santayana also wished to argue for the existence of the realm of spirit, although, unlike the realm of matter, he argued, it lacked all power.

Santayana was also known for his poetry and for his best-selling novel The Last Puritan (1935).

Subjects: literature — philosophy.