By MIAN AKHLAQ-UR-RAHMAN
In the realm of human thought when we come across ideas and conceptions, we tend to associate them with those persons who either propounded or encountered them, and there is nothing wrong in it. However, what we usually miss are the geographical and temporal settings that subtly seep in the patterns forming the transactional matrices in which these ideas took shape and developed. If the United States is indebted to its thinkers for its unparalleled progress, these thinkers are also in debt to the spatial and temporal settings that provided them with adequate nurturing grounds for their thoughts.
Geographically one country, America is intellectually divided into two mindsets, the European and the American. The Anglo-Saxon, New England, mentality resides in the Eastern states, and restless innovative spirit resides in the western states. The New England mindset is a synthesis of two ways, one that looks back and likes to adhere to the values and notions of its forefathers, this we see in the arts, literature, and aesthetics, the other, the immigrant’s outlook, looks with nostalgia towards their native traditions, and values. The mindset of the western states is rooted in the soil, it is pure American product, rugged direct and simple. The east produced, Washington, Irving, and Santyana. The West produced Lincoln, Whitman, Dewey, and James.
Of all the strangest characters to adorn the horizon of human thought in the last quarter of the nineteenth and the first quarter of the twentieth century, the best in words, poetic and meaningful, before Russell, was George Santyana. Born in Spain and brought to America at an unknown age, he became the center of two distinct outlooks, one represented in his person by the poet, the aristocrat, and the clerical catholic, and the other by the matter of the fact materialist, the intrepid philosopher and the critical political scientist. His temperament gentle and aesthete, his intellect sensible, and materialist, a grand reconstruction of Plato and Aristotle’s “the life of Reason”. After having spent most of the period of his life in the United States, in his later years, he withdrew to his native sod to die as a European and not as an American thinker. With birth in Madrid and death in Rome, Santayana seems to have been on a stint in America, bidding adieu to his beloved to retire and die silently on his native sod. Santyana’s philosophy is European thought in American setting.
In his bid to provide the humans with a guide to help them in the proper conduct of their daily affairs he subjected all the aspects of human life to the scrutiny of reason. No doubt he say that every thing exists in the mind, but for all practical purposes the world as it has been shown to us by our collective perception over the centuries as an objective material realty and should be regarded as such. For Santyana the moment of experience is the reality to be encountered and mainly considered, and has to pass through a rigorous reasonable sifting, the world comes to us dripping in the quality of perception, which is aberrated and often distorted, while, the past is treacherously colored by memory, therefore reasoning on the moment that we live gives in the truth to be considered. The moment we live in is the concrete reality. He terms this as animal faith, and consciousness as merely an incidental occurrence without any causal efficacy. Like Lagman who surveyed the stars and skies with his telescope and nowhere found God, look for the mind with a microscope in the brain and you will not find any trace of it says Santyana. Mechanism is superior, a priori, and universal, and consciousness is merely the reflection of the material activity going on inside and outside the human body. He is a follower of Socrates in that an unexamined life is not worth living. He is impressed by the materialism of the atomist Democrites and the unruffled sanity of Aristotle.
Santyana lays down the main lines of his philosophy in his book,” Skepticism and Animal Faith”. In this he discusses the nature, origin, and application of reason. But before, he delineates his theory on reason, he takes up the task of freeing philosophy of the cobwebs of epistemology that have enmeshed it and arrested its progress. For this he uses the tools and paraphernalia dear to an epistemologist. No doubt we know of the world through ideas, and these are components of our conceptions of the world. But as, for thousands of years, the world has invoked similar conception or ideas, it is a sufficient pragmatic sanction to allow it the right of an objective existence for all practical purposes. Having thus settled the epistemological issue he proceeds with his philosophy, the materialistic philosophy of the moment, the animal faith by which we live from day to day.
In ethics, praising Aristotle for this endeavor to bring rationality in ethics, he proposes to establish a rational ethical system to be followed irrespective of the supervision of supernatural hopes and fears.
Applying reason to religion, Santyana, declares that religion is just human experience and nothing more than that, and it began with the fear of mortality, though it does not provide any immortality in the real sense, and there is no hereafter, family is the institution of human immortality. His is not a religious person; still the poet in him loves Catholicism and adorns his dwelling with the pictures of the Virgin and the saints.
Subjecting the society to reasonable scrutiny, agreeing with Neitzsche that state is evil, he asserts that despite all that it is better than so many tyrannies around each seeking its toll of the human being, however as the functions and the rights of the institution of the family have been appropriated by the state the state should take the responsibilities and deliver to the people what is expected of a family. Universal ethics and universal brotherhood that eliminates war from human life can be achieved through a universal state or the rule of the world by a group of Nations. He doubts democratic setup can deliver the goods, and proposes a rule of the aristocrats akin to the rule of the philosopher kings of Plato. He believes that the elite and the aristocratic classes have the right to rule and take charge of human affairs; on the basis of this he discourages non-pedigreed inter-managers.
Reason is the only truth and criterion of it. When we apply it in religion, science, and society, we come to know the truths and facts from myths and superstitions, and if we take it as the sole guide for the conduct of our affairs we are likely to succeed, though we may have a heavy heart on the pains related with existence to which we do not have any answer. Evolution too and its processes are not unreasonable and follow certain reasonable lines. Theories too are not unemotional and passionless things, but dynamic entities following reasonable lines of evolution.
No doubt, a sad man Santyana is, sad over his own lot, sad over the lot of humanity, who hopefully endeavors for something which is miserably hopeless. True wisdom he says should be withdrawn yet it should provide solution to day to day human activities. Philosophy should not be the end; rather the end of philosophy should be life. The harsh materialism that pervades everything disturbs him, though he cannot but believe in it, and he knows that it will dash ones beliefs in ethereal providences and the romantic adventure of the next life, yet he yearns for something that can provide some romantic relief from all this misery of doom and mortality and meaninglessness. His despair unbearably shadows his psyche as the loneliness that he experiences and envisions as the inevitable lot of man drives deep and deep into every pore of his person.
Ghalib, (Gham-i-hasty ka Asad kis say ho juz marg ilaj, Shama har rang may jalty hai sahr honay tak); Of the pain of existence Asad!except death what treatment one can offer. In any case, the lamp has to burn till the Dawn is not there.
Note: The author, an ex-government officer, writes on all aspects of the social milieu. He has written three books on social philosophy and three books carrying his English poetry have been published. He is presently the President of SACC (South Asian Columnists’ Council).