Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

By Pat Duffy Hutcheon | Go to book overview
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George Santayana on a Unified Social Theory

Ye whose lost voices echoing in this rhyme,
My tongue usurps, forgive if I have erred.
Not as yet uttered, but as I have heard,
I spell your meanings in an evil time.

-- George Santayana, "Invocation"

J ohn Dewey once claimed that George Santayana's commitment to naturalistic premises was half-hearted, and Santayana used the same epithet in criticizing Dewey's position. Neither claim was justified; indeed the two philosophies were very similar in their thoroughgoing naturalism. However, unlike Dewey, Santayana ploughed a lonely road and sometimes found the going difficult. Although solidly grounded in the world view of naturalism, he clung to the terminology of neo-Platonism and to literary metaphor; for his habits of thought and technique were not those of the methodical empiricist, but of the poetic genius. And his aspirations were profoundly religious rather than scientific. He shared Dewey's reverence for truth -- insofar as human scientific knowledge can approximate it -- but he yearned for yet one further step. From the vantage point of science, he dared to hope for the sense of an eternal harmony resounding from within the flux of existence. This was, for Santayana, the ultimate good.

Such a temperament, if undisciplined, might conceivably have found the mysticism of transcendentalism or romantic idealism more congenial than naturalism. Or, if disciplined in ritual and tradition, it might have been expected to pursue Catholicism. But Santayana's early experience was unique in the effective inoculation it provided against all forms of romanticism on the one hand, and theology on the other. It did something else as well. It made him the epitome of the permanent alien, or the "marginal man" of sociology: a sympathetic but detached observer of the fads and foibles of his fellow humans as they peered and postured from the security of their entrapment within group-

References for this chapter are on p. 292.


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