American Philosophy

George Herbert Mead

What was George Santayana’s ontology?

He rejected the kind of philosophical skepticism about physical reality that had led to idealism. But he thought one positive effect of that skepticism was to show that “essence” is what is ultimately real. However, people can’t experience pure essences. Our “animal faith” posits a world beyond our immediate experience. That world is made up of essence and matter, and also truth and spirit. Matter is constantly changing, but it has a continuity, which renders it a “substance.” Truth is about matter and what exists, whereas spirit is pure transcendental consciousness. Spirit intuits. Santayana described intuition as “the direct and obvious possession of the apparent without commitments of any sort about its truth, significance, or material existence.”


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