Life of Reason Vol. 5

Life of Reason Vol. 5
Catalog # SKU1341
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name George Santayana


The Life of Reason

Volume Five

Reason In Science

George Santayana

Science is so new a thing and so far from final, it seems to the layman so hopelessly accurate and extensive, that a moralist may well feel some diffidence in trying to estimate its achievements and promises at their human worth.


The morrow may bring some great revolution in science, and is sure to bring many a correction and many a surprise.

Religion and art have had their day; indeed a part of the faith they usually inspire is to believe that they have long ago revealed their secret. A critic may safely form a judgment concerning them; for even if he dissents from the orthodox opinion and ventures to hope that religion and art may assume in the future forms far nobler and more rational than any they have hitherto worn, still he must confess that art and religion have had several turns at the wheel; they have run their course through in various ages and climes with results which anybody is free to estimate if he has an open mind and sufficient interest in the subject.

Science, on the contrary, which apparently cannot exist where intellectual freedom is denied, has flourished only twice in recorded times: once for some three hundred years in ancient Greece, and again for about the same period in modern Christendom. Its fruits have scarcely begun to appear; the lands it is discovering have not yet been circumnavigated, and there is no telling what its ultimate influence will be on human practice and feeling.

Its miscarriage in Greece.

The first period in the life of science was brilliant but ineffectual. The Greeks' energy and liberty were too soon spent, and the very exuberance of their genius made its expression chaotic. Where every mind was so fresh and every tongue so clever no scientific tradition could arise, and no laborious applications could be made to test the value of rival notions and decide between them.

Men of science were mere philosophers.

Each began, not where his predecessor had ended, but at the very beginning. Another circumstance that impeded the growth of science was the forensic and rhetorical turn proper to Greek intelligence. This mental habit gave a tremendous advantage in philosophy to the moralist and poet over the naturalist or mathematician. Hence what survived in Greece after the heyday of theoretic achievement was chiefly philosophies of life, and these-at the death of liberty-grew daily more personal and ascetic. Authority in scientific matters clung chiefly to Plato and Aristotle, and this not for the sake of their incomparable moral philosophy-for in ethics that decadent age preferred the Stoics and Epicureans-but just for those rhetorical expedients which in the Socratic school took the place of natural science. Worse influences in this field could hardly be imagined, since Plato's physics ends in myth and apologue, while Aristotle's ends in nomenclature and teleology.

All that remained of Greek physics, therefore, was the conception of what physics should be-a great achievement due to the earlier thinkers-and certain hints and guesses in that field. The elements of geometry had also been formulated, while the Socratic school bequeathed to posterity a well-developed group of moral sciences, rational in principle, but destined to be soon overlaid with metaphysical and religious accretions, so that the dialectical nerve and reasonableness of them were obliterated, and there survived only miscellaneous conclusions, fragments of wisdom built topsy-turvy into the new mythical edifice.

It is the sad task reserved for historical criticism to detach those sculptured stones from the rough mass in which they have been embedded and to rearrange them in their pristine order, thus rediscovering the inner Socratic principle of moral philosophy, which is nothing but self-knowledge-a circumspect, systematic utterance of the speaker's mind, disclosing his implicit meaning and his ultimate preferences.

Its timid reappearance in modern times.

At its second birth science took a very different form. It left cosmic theories to pantheistic enthusiasts like Giordano Bruno, while in sober laborious circles it confined itself to specific discoveries-the earth's roundness and motion about the sun, the laws of mechanics, the development and application of algebra, the invention of the calculus, and a hundred other steps forward in various disciplines.

It was a patient siege laid to the truth, which was approached blindly and without a general, as by an army of ants; it was not stormed imaginatively as by the ancient Ionians, who had reached at once the notion of nature's dynamic unity, but had neglected to take possession in detail of the intervening tracts, whence resources might be drawn in order to maintain the main position.

250+ pages - 8 x 5 inches SoftCover