Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Santayana, George. the Life of Reason: Reason in Science

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Santayana, George. the Life of Reason: Reason in Science

Article excerpt

SANTAYANA, George. The Life of Reason: Reason in Science. The Works of George Santayana, Vol. 7. Edited by M. S. Wokeck and M. A. Coleman. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2016. lvi + 426 pp. Cloth, $68.00-Reaso n in Science is volume 5 of The Life of Reason, a series by George Santayana that Scribner's first published in 1905-06. Other volumes bore the titles Reason in Common Sense, Reason in Society, Reason in Religion, and Reason in Art. This is a carefully prepared critical edition of volume 5, with ample footnotes for those new to Santayana or to the period in which he was writing.

In the opening pages of this volume, Santayana declares, "Science has flourished only twice in recorded times, once for three hundred years in ancient Greece and again for the same period in modern Christendom. In antiquity, men of science were philosophers: each began not where his predecessors had ended but at the beginning." Authority in scientific matters, he finds, clung chiefly to Plato and Aristotle.

At its birth, Santayana tells the reader, science discovered the earth's roundness, the motion of the sun, the laws of mechanics, the development and application of algebra, the invention of calculus. It made a hundred steps forward in various disciplines.

Plato taught that all science is of the universal. Following Plato's lead, Santayana comments, "Laws formulated by science, i.e. the relation of fact and fact, are more real than the facts themselves, because they are more permanent, trustworthy and pervasive. Gravitation and natural selection, for example, are schemes of relationships and possess only a Platonic sort of reality."

A hypothetical explanation of fact is a discursive device that gains its validity when its discursive value is established. It is nothing in itself; it merely applies. What is hypothetical and abstract is in fact servile and provisional. Many who today dwell in the world of quantum physics and string theory would agree.

The least artificial extension of common knowledge is history. History is nothing but assisted and recorded memory. There would be no science at all if memory and faith in memory failed. We must trust experience, present and past, before we proceed to expand upon it. Most facts known to men are reached by inference. The profit in studying history lies in understanding what has happened, in perceiving the principles and laws that govern social interaction. But there are no historical laws that are not at bottom physical.

To observe a recurrence is to divine a mechanism. To analyze a phenomenon is to distinguish its form from its material existence. …

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