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Food for Thought

Yes Virginia, There is a Santayana

Frank N. Churchless, aka Tim Madigan, on a vexed ontological issue.

“Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.”
George Santayana (1863-1952)

We take pleasure in answering at once the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratitude that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of Philosophy Now:

Dear Editors,

I am 7 years old (the age of reason). Some of my little friends say there is no Santayana: philosophers just made him up. Papa says, “If you read it in Philosophy Now, it’s so.”

Please tell me the truth: is there a Santayana?

Yours sincerely,

Virginia O’Hellion

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age – and that’s a good thing. They only believe what they see, not what they want to see. They think that nothing can be which is not compatible with their little minds.

All minds, Virginia, are little – some are just littler than others. In this great universe of ours, most humans are mere insects. But some possess an intellect which can grasp the boundless world around us, and appreciate the role which intelligence can play in grasping the whole of truth and knowledge. Such a man is George Santayana.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santayana. He exists as certainly as skepticism, humanism, and naturalism exist. Alas – how dreary would be philosophy if there were no Santayana! It would be as dreary as if there were no Philosophy Now! Without Santayana there would be no poetry, no moral philosophy, no ideals to make tolerable this life of reason. We should have no enjoyable philosophy to read, but only boring tomes with endless footnotes and pedantic observations.

Not believe in Santayana?! You might as well not believe in Dewey! You might get your papa to search all the libraries in all the universities to find a book by Santayana to prove that he exists; but even if he didn’t find one, what would that prove? No one reads him anymore, but that is no sign there is no Santayana. No one reads any philosophers anymore, except Slavoj Zizek – who shouldn’t exist. Did you ever see philosophers dancing on the lawn? I hope not, for it’s a horrible sight. But not seeing them is no proof that they can’t dance.

Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders unseen and unseeable in the world – but Santayana came close. His host was the world, and he welcomed us all to it. You may tear apart a baby’s rattle to see what makes the noise inside, but make sure the baby’s mother is far away when you do so. There is a veil covering the realms of being, but Santayana helps us pierce this veil with his animal faith, fancy, poetry, love and reasoning, which push aside that curtain and views the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is all that real? Ah, Virginia, who the hell knows?

No Santayana?! Thank God (metaphorically speaking) that he lived, and that he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia – nay, ten thousand years from now – he will continue to make glad the hearts of philosophers. Provided humanity is still around by then, of course.

© Dr Timothy J. Madigan 2009

Tim Madigan is a big fan of Ebenezer Scrooge, before he started hallucinating about ghosts.

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