George Santayana and John Dewey Meet

Rubin, Richard M.
June 2010
Teorema;2010, Vol. 30, p31
Academic Journal
Literary Criticism
Santayana's divergence from pragmatism became increasingly clear in the years surrounding his departure from the United States in 1912. The seeds of this divergence can be seen after his encounter with Dewey at Columbia University in February 1910, when he gave a series of lectures that later became the book Three Philosophical Poets. Dewey arranged for Santayana to come to Columbia. The extant correspondence and an article by Santayana make it clear they discussed philosophic issues. Afterwards, Dewey remained puzzled as to what Santayana meant by the term 'essence' and why Santayana thought empirical philosophy was solipsistic. When Santayana published a series of essays, one of which described a "realm of essence" and another, entitled "Critique of Pragmatism", which mentioned Dewey explicitly, Dewey wrote for clarification. Santayana responded with questions that puzzled him further. Dewey's review of Scepticism and Animal Faith in 1923 showed that, even then, he believed Santayana needed to develop his ideas more. Dewey regarded the word 'essence' as signifying the gist of something, and he regarded the existence of the natural world as a given but not the focus of philosophic inquiry. When they met in 1910, Santayana had already sketched out a draft of the system that he would later elaborate in the Realms of Being. In this system, Santayana used 'essence' to mean a term of discourse, which could either be the contents of a moment of experience or an idea which might or might not be exemplified in the actual world, i.e., in the realms of matter and spirit. The source of the confusion between the two men now becomes clear. Santayana was developing a complex notion of essence that was at odds with Dewey's own philosophical instincts, and for each the purpose of philosophy was radically different.


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