The Realms of Being

The Realms of Being

The Realms of Being (1942) is the last major work by Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana. Along with "Skepticism and Animal Faith" and "The Life of Reason", it is his most notable work; the first two works concentrate primarily on epistemology and ethics respectively, whereas "The Realms of Being" is mainly a work in the field of ontology.

The Realms of Being

Santayana builds on his "Skepticism and Animal Faith", which he described as a sort of precursor to "a new system of philosophy", that would be developed fully in the present work [Durant, Will. "The Story of Philosophy" Simon & Schuster, 1923.] . He defines four realms of being, as follows:

The Realm of Essence

The Realm of Essence, in Santayana's view, has a type of primacy over the other realms. To him, essence is anything that is or has a character-- this includes thoughts, imaginings, derivations of logic, and material objects. Nothing can be experienced but through these essences, and they "are the only things people ever see, and the last they notice." Essence is "awareness", it is different from knowledge or from "faith", which he defines later.

The Realm of Matter

Matter is the objective, material stuff of the universe. Staying true to his materialism, Santayana holds matter as the "primordial existential flux" and believes it can be, at least in some sense, known. His conception of matter is similar to Spinoza's substance; matter has no purpose, but constitutes the limitations of what can be. Humans can know matter only from a distance, symbolically:

Thus, while Santayana reveres and deeply respect science (and believes it useful for everyday experiences), he does not deify it in the way many other philosophers of the 20th century have, and limits it to a fallible approximation of truth.

The Realm of Truth

The Realm of Truth was thought of well after Santayana had thought of his other three realms; he envisions it as a sort of subdivision of the Realm of Essence. Truth is that part of the Realm of Essences instantiated by matter; indeed, he says: cquote|Truth is the furrow which matter must plow upon the face of essence.

As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Santayana says:

Santayana here departs from classical pragmatists, of whom he is often considered one, in that he believes truth has a strong element outside of experience, and must coincide with what actually is.

The Realm of Spirit

Spirit is, as used by Santayana, very much akin to consciousness; it is, according to John Lachs, "that part of a life constituted by its series of intuitions". Santayana believes that the mind is more accustomed to essence than it is to fact, and, as such, consciousness may at times manifest things that are not fact. Herein is to be found the Realm of Spirit; it is Santayana's attempt to reconcile the theories of Plato and the demands of reason. [Flamm, Matthew C. "The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: George Santayana" 2006 ]

ee also

*The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Entry on Santayana (written by Matthew C. Flamm), []


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