Authors: George Santayana

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Spanish-born American philosopher

Author Works


The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outlines of Aesthetic Theory, 1896

Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, 1900

The Life of Reason: Or, The Phases of Human Progress, 1905-1906 (collective title for the following 5 works)

Reason in Common Sense, 1905

Reason in Society, 1905

Reason in Religion, 1905

Reason in Art, 1905

Reason in Science, 1906

Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe, 1910

Winds of Doctrine: Studies in Contemporary Opinion, 1913

Egotism in German Philosophy, 1916

Character and Opinion in the United States, 1920

Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, 1922

Scepticism and Animal Faith, 1923

The Realms of Being, 1927-1940 (collective title for the following 4 works)

The Realm of Essence, 1927

The Realm of Matter, 1930

The Realm of Truth, 1938

The Realm of Spirit, 1940

Persons and Places, 1944 (autobiography)

The Middle Span, 1945 (autobiography)

Dominations and Powers, 1951

My Host the World, 1953 (autobiography)

Long Fiction:

The Last Puritan: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel, 1935


Lucifer: A Theological Tragedy, pb. 1899


Sonnets and Other Verses, 1894

A Hermit of Carmel, and Other Poems, 1901

Poems, 1923


The Works of George Santayana, 1986-2001 (5 volumes)


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.{$I[AN]9810000280}{$I[A]Santayana, George}{$S[A]Borráis, Jorge Augustín Nicholas Ruiz de Santayana y;Santayana, George}{$I[geo]SPAIN;Santayana, George}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Santayana, George}{$I[tim]1863;Santayana, George}

George Santayana

(Library of Congress)

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, among them T. S. Eliot, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Frost, and Walter Lippmann. As a Catholic he never felt at home at Harvard, with its American Protestant roots and sensibilities. In fact, he was disenchanted with American life in general and American philosophy in particular, and he expressed his dismay in many of his critical writings.

In 1912, having received a legacy that made it possible for him to retire, Santayana left the faculty at Harvard and returned to Europe, where he spent the remainder of his life. He stayed for a brief time in Spain and France and spent five years in England. Later he settled in Rome, where he felt most at ease as a solitary and contemplative writer of philosophical works and critical essays. During World War II he found sanctuary at the convent of the Little Company of Mary in Rome. There during the last years of his life his work quietly proceeded, interrupted only occasionally by walks and brief talks with such visitors as his friends Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and Robert Lowell.

Santayana first achieved popular notice with his only novel, The Last Puritan, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and became a best-seller. Near the end of his life his 1944 autobiography, Persons and Places, became widely read as well. Perhaps his most controversial work was his Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, in which he expressed his conviction that religion is primarily a work of the imagination and of art.

Santayana became a prominent American thinker because he wrote about a wide range of topics in a variety of genres: philosophy, poetry, novels, essays, criticism, and drama. His main contribution, however, was in philosophy. He was interested not in narrow technical aspects of philosophy but, rather, in wider questions of life and death within the old speculative method of deliberation. He was a careful, original, and sometimes illuminating thinker whose primary virtue nevertheless consists in the fine poetic, literary expression of his ideas.

There are inconsistencies in Santayana’s attempt to bring together his materialism, naturalism, and Platonic idealism, inconsistencies sharpened by his personal conviction of being a Roman Catholic and an atheist at the same time. The foundation of his philosophy, however, lies in naturalism and critical realism, and in the view that knowledge is a human construction from the basic elements of experience–observation of the natural world through the senses. It is in this way that human beings are able to see the essence and character of the changeless universe. In his five-volume The Life of Reason and his The Realms of Being Santayana meticulously presents his philosophy of essence, matter, truth, and spirit within the contexts of religion and society.

BibliographyArnett, 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 interpretations of Santayana.McCormick, John. George Santayana: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1987. This biography traces Santayana from his birth in Madrid to his professorship of philosophy in the United States, and then back again to Europe. McCormick quotes extensively from Santayana’s public works and his private letters.Munson, Thomas N. The Essential Wisdom of George Santayana. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962. This critical examination of Santayana’s thought from a neo-Thomist point of view attempts to show that he failed at achieving true philosophy. The book is valuable for its bibliography of articles by and about Santayana and its letters from Santayana to the author questioning the book’s thesis.Singer, Irving. George Santayana, Literary Philosopher. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. Introduces the main currents of Santayana’s thought, connecting his biography to his intellectual development and tracing the recurrent theme of alienation in his life and work.Sprigge, Timothy L. S. Santayana: An Examination of His Philosophy. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 1995. This work clarifies the philosophical issues in Santayana’s rich prose to provide an introduction to his thought. The author focuses on Santayana’s treatment of skepticism, but also includes chapters on truth and ethics.Tejera, V. American Modern, the Path Not Taken: Aesthetics, Metaphysics, and Intellectual History in Classic American Philosophy. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996. This work examines several modern philosophers, including Santayana, Justus Buchler, C. H. Peirce, and John Dewey. Includes an index.
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