True or False? Or Is There a Need
for Additional Clarification?
[The following collection of statements are taken, mainly verbatim, from George Santayana, by Newton P. Stallknecht, 1971. According to Stallknecht they represent Santayana’s views. Six of the statements are italicized. These can be found—also italicized—in their original context in the extended passage that follows the collection. The theme of this passage is “animal faith.” Instead of choosing one of the three options in the above question, you can pass judgment using a 7-point scale: 3 Completely Disagree; 2 Mostly Disagree; 1 Disagree Slightly; 0 Neutral, Can’t Decide, Not Sure What it Means; +1 Agree Slightly; +2 Mostly Agree; +3 Completely Agree.]
We have no evidence to support the belief that mind can exist apart from a material environment from which it draws its vitality.
[If you answered ‘True’ to this statement, would you also answer ‘True’ to the statement: ‘We have no evidence to support the belief that meaning can be produced by matter apart from mind.’]
The historical extrapolations of both liberals and Marxists were naive, if not dishonest.
Progress is not an accident but a necessity. What we call evil and immorality must disappear. It is certain that man must become perfect.
The dream of unlimited material progress, even if dignified by the myths of creative evolution and human perfectibility, offers no vision of enduring value.
[If you answered ‘True’ to this statement, give an example of a vision of enduring value.]
We should learn to accept human blindness and perversity without indignation.
A vulgar philosophy laments the wickedness of the world, but when we come to think of it we realise that the confusion of life, the doubt and turmoil and bewildering responsibility of life, largely arises from the enormous amount of good in the world.
G. K. Chesterton
The spirit is set free by the happy recognition of things worthwhile in themselves.
[If you answered ‘True,’ give an example of something worthwhile in itself.]
We should subordinate the aesthetic to the moral.
It makes no moral sense that beauty should erase sin. And yet, in this world at least, it does.
A “supreme fiction” can give meaning to our lives.
[Assuming that naturalism is true, would the belief that human life has value—as distinct from the personal conviction that my life has value to me—be an example of a “supreme fiction.” What about the importance of completing the standard model—i.e. confirming the existence of the Higgs boson.]
[Two atheists, George Santayana and A. E. Housman, answered ‘True’ to this statement.]
‘Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it,’ from Luke’s Gospel (17:33) is the most important truth that was ever uttered.
There is no such thing as a value that cannot be enjoyed.
The sense of beauty objectifies our pleasure.
The absence of a presiding religious or moral commitment in Shakespeare is a defect to be regretted.
Great literature must clarify our sense of ultimate values.
To perceive universal mutation, to feel the vanity of life, has always been the beginning of seriousness. It is the condition for any beautiful, measured, or tender philosophy.
Experience accepted as an end and a justification of life is a self-defeating ideal that can result in the restlessness and recurring ennui, the sense of frustration, with which the enthusiasm of the romantic so often ends.
Love must be happy, natural, and unreasoning.
(from Santayana’s novel The Last Puritan)
In the 1992 film Salt on Our Skin (aka Desire) Gavin, a Scottish fisherman and farmer’s son, proposes marriage to George, a beautiful, intellectual, well-to-do Parisian who vacations in Scotland because her Scottish father has family there. Despite great sex she rejects his proposal because she realizes their basic incompatibility and that “you can’t build a life on . . . just . . . sex.” In her post-rejection analysis she soliloquizes, “He never really understood my rejection. But there was one truth you did understand: that the one who speaks the language of reason is the one who loves the less.”
The results of scientific enquiry constitute our most trustworthy knowledge of the world.
Knowledge springs from belief and belief from something very like instinct.
The reasoning by which we live is not to be divorced from the common sense that presides over our daily behaviour.
Reason is to be defined as “instinct enlightened by reflection,” and the primitive beliefs that guide our conduct are instinctive in nature.
Without the initial aid of instinctive interpretation our awareness would lack the continuity even of a dream and conscious selfhood, as we come to know it, would be impossible.
The patterns of time and space, enduring substance and causal efficacy, about which our idea of nature is built may well be no more than useful rules of thumb, in themselves gross oversimplifications of reality.
One of the chief functions of philosophy is to remind us of the shallowness of our understanding of things and the massive background of our ignorance.
Absolute truth lies quite beyond our reach and the very idea of truth brings upon us a sense of humility.
A sense of direction is more satisfying than a knowledge of our origins.
The worth of an ideal lies in its drawing us out of our self-centred anxieties into a moment of disinterested admiration. Such admiration, if it resists inevitable distractions and disappointments, adds a new quality to our existence.
Strictly speaking, ideals do not exist [because] they are not features of the concrete world.
The ultimate justification of philosophy and the arts lies in the fact that they may help the individual toward a spiritual affirmation according to his own vocation. Their function is to enlighten, not to command.
[Can Santanyana’s view that ‘The results of scientific enquiry constitute our most trustworthy knowledge of the world’ be reconciled with his conception of “animal faith,” as articulated by Newton P. Stallknecht in the passage below?]
The reasoning by which we live is not to be divorced from the common sense that presides over our daily behaviour. As Santayana had insisted in his earlier writings, reason is to be defined as “instinct enlightened by reflection,” and the primitive beliefs that guide our conduct are instinctive in nature. These beliefs are as indispensable to our conscious life as breathing is to our bodily existence. Without them, we would be overwhelmed by the restless multiplicity of sensation and feeling that constitutes the raw material of our stream of consciousness. This flux of sheer sensibility does not yield us a picture of things and events until we subject many of its fleeting elements to a scheme of interpretation, until we recognize them as symbols indicating the presence of enduring objects in a world of objects spatially related to our own bodies. We do not derive this interpretation from experience, since without such interpretation we have no experience worth the name, only a whirl of sensation and feeling. Without the initial aid of instinctive interpretation our awareness would lack the continuity even of a dream and conscious selfhood, as we come to know it, would be impossible.
These primordial beliefs are practical in function rather than strictly representative. Their value lies in their contributing toward our survival, not in their grasping the nature or penetrating the structure of things. They support certain attitudes of alertness that further our safety and well-being, and in doing so they give our first dim sense of ourselves and of our world, compromising what Santayana has called the “original articles of the animal creed.” Here we find such effective, although inarticulate, beliefs as that things seen may be edible—or dangerous; things lost or sought may be found. These beliefs or attitudes involve others more fundamental: that there is a world or arena of possible action spread out in space wherein we as moving organisms may operate, that there is a future relevant to these operations that may offer us threats or attractive incentives, and that seeming accidents may have concealed causes. Such assumptions, made without deliberation, constitute what Santayana calls “animal faith,” about which our perception of things and our knowledge of the world has gradually taken shape. These assumptions are supported, even encouraged and reinforced, by experience, but they are by no means self-evident propositions in their own right or what Descartes would call “clear and distinct ideas.” They are taken for granted in action rather than established by argument or intuitive insight. Nature, or the “realm of matter,” in which as living organisms we find a place, enters our thinking as the realm of possible action. The patterns of time and space, enduring substance and causal efficacy, about which our idea of nature is built many well be no more than useful rules of thumb, in themselves gross oversimplifications of reality. Yet these schemes of interpretation, however imperfect, bring our thinking into a rough and ready contact with the world around us, and they contribute to our sense of our own existence. We think of ourselves as caught up in the goings-on of nature to which we must adapt our behaviour if we are to survive. Animal faith carries with it a sense of our dependence upon things that we can only partially control, that at once support and threaten our existence.
Such being its origin, our knowledge, even when refined by the mathematics of science, must remain tentative. One of the chief functions of philosophy is to remind us of the shallowness of our understanding of things and the massive background of our ignorance. Absolute truth lies quite beyond our reach and the very idea of truth brings upon us a sense of humility.
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