Santayana, Pragmatism, and the Spiritual Life

Santayana, Pragmatism, and the Spiritual Life

Santayana, Pragmatism, and the Spiritual Life

Santayana, Pragmatism, and the Spiritual Life

Synopsis

Henry Levinson offers a major reinterpretation of the Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952), which highlights his relationship to the tradition of American pragmatism. He shows that Santayana's role in forming the pragmatist tradition was greater than has usually been recognized and that Santayana has much to offer contemporary pragmatists.

Levinson puts Santayana at the forefront of pragmatism by emphasizing his reflections on the cultural structures that shape human life and expression. He explores Santayana's interest in solitude and society, his poetic construals of religious thought and ritual, his institutional rendition of pragmatism, and his concern to distinguish spirituality and politics. In doing so, he gives attention to Santayana's precursors, like Ralph Waldo Emerson; to his teachers and colleagues, including William James and Josiah Royce; to other pragmatists of his time, such as John Dewey and Sidney Hook; and to contemporary writers, including Richard Rorty and Milan Kundera.

Levinson's book illuminates an area neglected in both American literary history and the history of pragmatism. No other book has so carefully and centrally focused on the development of Santayana's scholarship, and no other author captures the way in which Santayana's concern with spirituality connects his earlier and later works.

Excerpt

Hermes the interpreter does not figure in The Life of Reason, because Santayana is not ready to give up Platonic spiritualization or its background assumptions; he will not embrace Hermesan understanding as a spiritual ideal until the Great War. But "interpretation" is now Santayana's philosophical signature. The Life of Reason, indeed, is an effort to charter the idea that philosophy is interpretation; it is Santayana's bid to win people over to the startling assertion that opens up the five volume work: "The age of controversy is past, that of interpretation has succeeded" (lr, 1:32). What Santayana has in mind is a reprise of claims he has already made in his work on Lotze, the sense of beauty, and the essays constituting Interpretations of Poetry and Religion. Transcendental philosophy is a dead option. the philosopher's task, as Lotze had maintained, is "mediation" among a diversity of parties to cultural dispute, including common sense, social thought, religion, art, and science. But contrary to Lotze, Santayana argues that there should be genuine give-and-take among those communicants. No one of them holds veto power over all the others; nor does philosophy reveal any "special knowledge" authorizing this or that cultural hierarchy. On the contrary, diverse claims are authorized by the "representative" weight they carry, that is, by the extent to which they are "favorable to all other interests and [are] in turn supported by them all" (WA?, 35). in this vein, he says that "our task is not to construct but only to interpret ideals, confronting them with one another and with the conditions . . .

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