No philosophical writer has happier apercus - or expresses them more incisively - than the author of this brilliant book. Once heard, his phrases - and they are found on every page - are not forgotten: but he has arrived ex errore per veritatem ad errorem; the epigram is as true of him as it is of Sohm. For few writers are so inconclusive and so unsystematic; his is a critical, not a constructive, mind. Latin thought is fundamentally skeptical; seldom does it get beyond the question, Chi lo sa? Whereas German thought is dogmatic. It replaces systems by systems: "an Amurath an Amurath succeeds." Professor Santayana represents the Latin genius; and this has now a unique opportunity. In its lower forms, it connects the present world-war with the Reformation - this is the contention of the clerical press; in its higher, with that German philosophy which, in pre-Tractarian Oxford, a University preacher is said to have wished at the bottom of the German Ocean. Professor Santayana, it seems, echoes the wish.
"I am not going to lay hands on my father Parmenides." In the province of ideas we owe too much to Germany to dismiss her speculative constructions so summarily. "The whole transcendental philosophy, if made ultimate, is false, and nothing but a private perspective." But what if there is no such thing as an ultimate in speculation, and no finality in thought? In this case the "transcendental" philosophy may be a milestone, momentous and inevitable, on the path of mind. For of thought, as of life, it may be said "Here we have no abiding city." Our shelters, serviceable as they are, are temporary; we "seek one to come." Philosophers and pietists alike, while they deny this in words, recognize it in fact; indeed without such recognition neither philosophy nor piety could subsist among men. Each system, as it comes, "thinks itself true, and final; but, in spite of itself, it suggests some next thing."
Protestantism is uncongenial to the Latin temperament. Professor Santayana has more understanding of, than sympathy with, it; like Balaam he blesses, even while he comes to curse.
"Protestantism was not a reformation by accident, because it happened to find the Church corrupt; it is a reformation essentially, in that every individual must reinterpret the Bible and the practices of the Church in his own spirit. If he accepted them without renewing them in the light of his personal religious experience, he could never have what Protestantism thinks living religion. German Philosophy has inherited this characteristic; it is not accumulative science that can be transmitted ready made."
This is to say that the one is religion and the other thought. Neither can be vicarious; we must live and think "on our own." And when we are told that, "favourable as Protestantism is to investigation and learning, it is almost incompatible with clearness of thought and fundamental freedom of attitude," we can only reconcile the two statements by remembering that to the classic thought of Greece Reason was a Limit; and that "they see not clearliest who see all things clear." But this is not the Professor's meaning, though it is perhaps the lesson of his very suggestive but somewhat irritating book.
-International Journal of Ethics, Volume 27 show more