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Scepticism and Animal Faith Paperback – June 1, 1955

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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About the Author

George Santayana (1863--1952) was a philosopher, poet, critic, and novelist. He is the author of "The Last Puritan" (MIT Press) and many other works.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (June 1, 1955)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486202364
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486202365
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #920,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This book is the most distinguished work of philosophy to emerge out of the critical realist tradition. Santayana defends the duality between ideas in the mind and the things these ideas represent in the natural world. Using this epistemological dualism, Santayana explains why all forms of idealism are unwarranted and absurd. Since human knowledge is merely symbolic (rather than literal), all the skeptical arguments claiming that, unless we can prove that our ideas are in some sense "identical" to the things they represent, then it follows that things the ideas allegedly represent must be consider as "unknowable." But Santayana shrewdly reminds us that knowledge consists in "thinking aptly about things, not in becoming like them." External reality, before it can be grasped by the mind, must be reduced to the human level.
"Skepticism and Animal Faith," along with David Stove's "The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies," represents the most effective and withering criticism that has ever been directed against the idealist creed. Where Stove attacks the positive argument for idealism, Santayana focuses his polemical guns on the negative argument--i.e., on the idealist argument against realism. Santayana shows how idealist skepticism of the existence of an external reality, if followed consistently, would deprive all our ideas of their cognitive meaning. If idealism is taken to its logical extreme, we would all find ourselves trapped in a solipsism of the passing moment, unable to understand the significance of any idea, image, or feeling experienced by the mind.
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Santayana will probably never be popular among people who make their living as epistemologists, because he offers a devastating and ultimately unanswerable critique of their enterprise. The problem is that they do not take their own skepticism seriously, and so end up in "incidental sophistries," an endless, pointless verbal parlor game. His answer to Hume's backgammon comment is that one "should be ashamed to countenance opinons which, when not arguing, I did not believe." Doing that renders the whole enterprise unserious, a "limping skepticism." A worthy theory of knowledge must treat "of what I believe in my active moments, as a living animal, when I am really believing something." In other words, when it matters.

Descartes could not bring himself to be profoundly skeptical, which would have meant doubting his own principles of explanation. For example, he suggested that a malign demon might be the causing him to be deluded. "He thus assumed the principle of sufficient reason, for which there is no reason at all. If any idea or axiom were really a priori or spontaneous in the human mind, it would be infinitely improbable that it should apply to the facts of nature. Every genius, in this respect, is his own malign demon." The rest of Descartes is similarly exploded, after which Hume and Kant are taken to the woodshed for similar demolition.

What does Santayana himself offer? Starting from a truly profound skepticism in which nothing is given, he offers a sort of Platonic Darwinism in which all we have access to are intuitions of fleeting appearances, less than shadows on the wall, because no wall is given. In our struggle to survive, we learn to take some of those appearances ("essences") to signify things and events in a real world of substantial, enduring objects.
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[First and foremost, I'd like to express my gratitude to David G. Payne, whoever he may be, who took the time to correct and format a new Kindle version of this book. The previous Kindle version was atrocious; David's version leaves nothing to be desired.]

I've long suspected that I'd be fond of Santayana. He just has so many things going for him. For one, his background interesting: a Spanish citizen who did most of his work in Harvard, alongside William James and Josiah Royce. Like Nabokov, he learned English as a second language; and also like Nabokov, he was a fantastic writer. His philosophy is as unique as his background: less about the technical examination of problems than the thoughtful examination of life. And in addition to writing several influential philosophical works, he was also a man of letters, writing a best-selling novel and autobiography. He belonged to no country and no philosophical school. He was an individual.

Seeking an entry point into the writings of this half-forgotten sage, I picked up this book. Skepticism and Animal Faith is meant as a critical introduction to a longer work Santayana later wrote on epistemology and metaphysics, The Realms of Being. But Santayana manages to compress an entire epistemological argument and metaphysical system into just over 300 pages. It's a rewarding read.

The first thing the reader will notice is Santayana's writing style, which is literary, and often poetic:

"My endeavor is to think straight in such terms as are offered to me, to clear my mind of cant and free it from the cramp of artificial traditions; but I do not ask any one to think in my terms if he prefers others.
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