George Santayana Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Arnett, Willard E. George Santayana. New York: Twayne, 1968. This brief yet clear introduction concentrates on the basic themes in Santayana’s thought, especially his aesthetics and his view of spirituality. It also contains a short biography and a bibliography of his works.

Cory, Daniel L. Santayana: The Later Years: A Portrait with Letter. New York: George Braziller, 1963. Using letters and personal anecdotes, Cory gives a biographical and intellectual description of the man who was his friend and colleague from 1928 until Santayana’s death.

Hodges, Michael, and John Lachs. Thinking in the Ruins: Wittgenstein and Santayana on Contingency. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2000. A comparison of the two quite different philosophers.

Kirby-Smith, H. T. A Philosophical Novelist: George Santayana and the Last Puritan. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997. This work looks at Santayana’s philosophy in literature. Includes index.

Levinson, Henry Samuel. Santayana, Pragmatism, and the Spiritual Life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. This book situates Santayana as a pragmatist who differs from John Dewey and the mainline pragmatists in that he takes the religious life seriously. Levinson criticizes some contemporary...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

George Santayana (sant-uh-YAHN-uh), whose fame derives from his role as an urbane and skeptical philosopher endowed with an excellent literary style, was born of nominally Catholic parents, Augustín Ruiz de Santayana and Josefine Borráis. He was christened Jorge Augustín Nicholas Ruiz de Santayana y Borráis. Until he was nine years of age, he knew no English, for his parents, although well-educated in the arts, spoke Spanish in the home. In 1872 Santayana’s mother returned to the United States to fulfill an agreement with her former husband, George Sturgis, to educate the three Sturgis children in the United States. In 1872 George Santayana, then nine, joined her and the Sturgis children in Boston. Santayana was educated at the Brimmer School, the Boston Latin School, and Harvard University. In 1883 he returned to Spain to visit his father. Then, since neither military nor diplomatic service seemed advisable, he decided to continue his work at Harvard, where in 1886 he received his B.A. After spending the following two years at the University of Berlin on a fellowship, he then returned to Harvard and in 1889 received the M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy.{$S[A]Borráis, Jorge Augustín Nicholas Ruiz de Santayana y;Santayana, George}

At that time Harvard University was enjoying its greatest philosophical period; on the faculty were William James, Josiah Royce, and George H. Palmer. Although Santayana became a member of the faculty in 1889 and was to some extent naturally influenced by the ideas about him, he remained for the most part solitary and independent in his work. Santayana ascribed his preference for isolation and his inability to feel at home in America to his Spanish-Catholic background. During his twenty-five years of teaching, he had as students a number of individuals who later achieved their own kinds of fame,...

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(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Combining a deep sense of the enduring and ideal nature of classic Greek culture with a learned sense for the immediate and natural, Santayana produced a series of philosophical and literary works as well as personal commentaries on the life and cultures of his times. He has been deemed the “Mona Lisa” of philosophy.

Early Life

George Santayana was born December 16, 1863, in Madrid, Spain. His mother, Spanish by birth, was first married to a member of the Sturgis family of Boston, an American merchant in the Philippines, where, until her husband’s death in 1857, she lived and reared three children. Santayana’s father was a friend of the Sturgis family, having served as a civil servant in the Philippines and authored a book on the natives of the Island of Mindanao. In 1862, the couple returned to Spain and were married in Madrid. Shortly thereafter, Santayana’s mother returned to Boston with her older children while Santayana remained with his father in Spain. In 1872, he was brought by his father to Boston.

When Santayana arrived in Boston, he knew no English. Only Spanish was spoken in his home, but he soon picked up English outside the home and from his reading and was able to speak it without a marked accent. He attended Brimmer School, Boston Latin School and Harvard College, where he was graduated summa cum laude in 1886. In 1883, after his freshman year at Harvard, he returned to Spain to see his father. There, he considered a career in either the Spanish army or as a diplomat but decided instead to return to the United States and pursue a career as a writer. His attachment to Europe, however, remained strong.

At Harvard, Santayana had studied with philosphers Josiah Royce and William James. Having already published since 1880 in The Boston Latin School Register, he became a regular contributor of cartoons and literary pieces to the Harvard Lampoon. He helped found The Harvard Monthly and provided it with a continuous flow of poetry and articles.

In physical appearance, Santayana was a gentle-looking man of medium size. He had lively eyes, was bald, and for a while wore a handsome beard; later, he wore a mustache. He was fastidious about his clothes, often wearing black.

Life’s Work

Santayana’s first major philosophical work, The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outline of Aesthetic Theory, was published in 1896 when he was thirty-three. A book of sonnets and a series of pieces of literary criticism were also published that year. This was also the year that Santayana went to study with Henry Jackson at Trinity College, Cambridge. He undertook careful examination of the works of classical Greece, particularly those of Plato and Aristotle. This experience led to the production of one of Santayana’s major philosophical works, the five-volume The Life of Reason: Or, the Phases of Human Progress. In it, Santayana attempted to present a summary history of the human imagination, a panorama of the whole life of reason and of human ideas as they are generated out of and controlled by humanity’s animal life and nature. This was Santayana’s first major effort at combining a skeptical naturalism and humanism with a Platonic idealism. A variety of pieces of literary philosophical criticism followed, and in 1914 his famous piece “The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy” appeared.

In that year, Santayana received news of a legacy. He promptly retired from Harvard at the age of fifty, and in January, 1912, he left the United States for Europe, never to return. Santayana had been an extremely gifted teacher, and his sudden departure for Europe astonished his colleagues. Yet, although he was interested in his students, he disliked academic life and wished to devote himself to his writing. Also, his dual Spanish American heritage, although contributing extraordinary range and perspective to his thinking, awoke in him conflicts from which he was thankful to escape. He went to France, Spain, and England, and finally to Rome, Italy, where he lived for eleven years in the monastery of the Blue Sisters. From there, Santayana produced a number of penetrating...

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(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

A materialist and a gentle skeptic, George Santayana expressed himself as sensitively in his extensive formal and philosophical writings as he did in his poetry and novels. Pushing doubt as far as he could, he ended his explorations believing that everything could be doubted except, possibly, faith. Such “animal faith” sprang, he explained, from humankind’s survival instincts. Santayana’s somewhat Platonic ideal world arose from primitive magic and science and took a higher form in religion. The ethics that he derived from his philosophizing were explained as the results of a three-phase historical evolution. Early, or prerational, morality, although culturally rich, was crude and without...

(The entire section is 671 words.)