Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

George Santayana

Spanish-born American Philosopher, Essayist, Poet, Novelist, Critic, Philosophy Professor at Harvard University

"A body seriously out of equilibrium, either with itself or with its environment, perishes outright. Not so a mind. Madness and suffering can set themselves no limit; they lapse only when the corporeal frame that sustains them yields to circumstances and changes its habit."

"Asceticism is something forced, and therefore insecure, unless it be a refuge and happy relief from indulgences that are insatiable, always oppressive and remorseful."

"A friend’s only gift is himself, and friendship is not friendship, it is not a form of free or liberal society, if it does not terminate in an ideal possession, in an object loved for its own sake. Such objects can be ideas only, not forces, for forces are subterranean and instrumental things, having only such value as they borrow from their ulterior effects and manifestations... We are not to look now for what makes friendship useful, but for whatever may be found in friendship that may lend utility to life."

"Assurance is contemptible and fatal unless it is self-knowledge."

"Beauty is a pledge of the possible conformity between the soul and nature, and consequently a ground of faith in the supremacy of the good."

"Character is the basis of happiness and happiness the sanction of character."

"Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim."

"Dogmas are at their best when nobody denies them, for then their falsehood sleeps, like that of an unconscious metaphor, and their moral function is discharged instinctively."

"Even under the most favourable circumstances no mortal can be asked to seize the truth in its wholeness or at its centre."

"Every real object must cease to be what it seemed, and none could ever be what the whole soul desired."

"Friends must desire to live as much as possible together and to share their work, thoughts, and pleasures. Good-fellowship and sensuous affinity are indispensable to give spiritual communion a personal accent; otherwise men would be indifferent vehicles for such thoughts and powers as emanated from them, and attention would not be in any way arrested or refracted by the human medium through which it beheld the good."

"Habit is stronger than reason."

"In the heat of speculation or of love there may come moments of equal perfection, but they are very unstable. The reason and the heart remain deeply unsatisfied. But the eye finds in nature, and in some supreme achievements of art, constant and fuller satisfaction. For the eye is quick and seems to have been more docile to the education of life than the heart or the reason of man, and able sooner to adapt itself to the reality. Beauty therefore seems to be the clearest manifestation of perfection, and the best evidence of its possibility."

"Friendship may indeed come to exist without sensuous liking or comradeship to pave the way; but unless intellectual sympathy and moral appreciation are powerful enough to react on natural instinct and to produce in the end the personal affection which at first was wanting, friendship does not arise."

"If perfection is, as it should be, the ultimate justification of being, we may understand the ground of the moral dignity of beauty."

"Intuition represents the free life of the mind, the poetry native to it, which I am far from despising; but this is the subjective or ideal element in thought which we must discount if we are anxious to possess true knowledge."

"Intolerance is a form of egoism, and to condemn egoism intolerantly is to share it."

"It is indeed from the experience of beauty and happiness, from the occasional harmony between our nature and our environment, that we draw our conception of the divine life."

"It is a new road to happiness, if you have strength enough to castigate a little the various impulses that sway you in turn."

"Knowledge is not eating, and we cannot expect to devour and possess what we mean. Knowledge is recognition of something absent; it is a salutation, not an embrace. It is an advance on sensation precisely because it is representative."

"Life imposes selfish interests and subjective views on every inhabitant of earth: and in hugging these interests and these views the man hugs what he initially assumes to be the truth, a sort of antecedent hatred of it as contrary to presumption, is interwoven into the very fabric of thought."

"Man is as full of potentiality as he is of impotence."

"Knowledge is not truth, but a view or expression of the truth; a glimpse of it secured by some animal with special organs under special circumstances."

"Matters of religion should never be matters of controversy. We neither argue with a love about his taste, nor condemn him, if we are just, for knowing so human a passion."

"Love is but a prelude to life, an overture in which the theme of the impending work is exquisitely hinted at, but which remains nevertheless only a symbol and a promise. What is to follow, if all goes well, begins presently to appear. Passion settles down into possession, courtship into partnership, pleasure into habit. A child, half mystery and half plaything, comes to show us what we have done and to make its consequences perpetual. We see that by indulging our inclination we have woven about us a net from which we cannot escape: our choices, bearing fruit, begin to manifest our destiny. That life which once seemed to spread out infinitely before us is narrowed to one mortal career. We learn that in morals the infinite is a chimera, and that in accomplishing anything definite a man renounces everything else. He sails henceforth for one point of the compass."

"Mortality has its compensations: one is that all evils are transitory, another that better times may come."

"Men almost universally have acknowledged a Providence, but that fact has had no force to destroy natural aversions and fears in the presence of events."

"Real unselfishness consists in sharing the interests of others."

"Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself."

"Reason and happiness are like other flowers - they wither when plucked."

"Recognition given to a man’s talent or virtue is not properly friendship."

"Our dignity is not in what we do, but what we understand."

"Nothing can be meaner than the anxiety to live on, to live on anyhow and in any shape; a spirit with any honor is not willing to live except in its own way, and a spirit with any wisdom is not over-eager to live at all."

"Reason in my philosophy is only a harmony among irrational impulses."

"Rejection is a form of self-assertion. You have only to look back upon yourself as a person who hates this or that to discover what it is that you secretly love."

"Religion is the love of life in the consciousness of impotence."

"Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through a long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness."

"That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions and, were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions."

"The highest form of vanity is love of fame."

"The love of truth is often mentioned, the hatred of truth hardly ever, yet the latter is the commoner. People say they love the truth when they pursue it, and they pursue it when unknown: not therefore because of any felt affinity to it in their souls."

"The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool."

"There is a snare, however, in the very essence of knowledge in that it has to be a form of faith, and faith is something psychic rather than spiritual."

"Theory helps us to bear our ignorance of facts."

"The notion that there is and can be but one time, and that half of it is always intrinsically past and the other half always intrinsically future, belongs to the normal pathology of an animal mind: it marks the egoistical outlook of an active being endowed with imagination. Such a being will project the moral contrast produced by his momentary absorption in action upon the conditions and history of that action, and upon the universe at large. A perspective of hope and one of reminiscence divide for him a specious eternity; and for him the dramatic centre of existence, though always a different point in physical time, will always be precisely in himself."

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

"There is nothing sweeter than to be sympathized with."

"To call war the soil of courage and virtue is like calling debauchery the soil of love."

"To delight in war is a merit in the soldier, a dangerous quality in the captain, and a positive crime in the statesman."

"To feel beauty is a better thing than to understand how we come to feel it. To have imagination and taste, to love the best, to be carried by the contemplation of nature to a vivid faith in the ideal, all this is more, a great deal more, than any science can hope to be."

"Trust in memory, in expectation, in mutual communication of many minds might have issued in a system like modern psychologism: the view that all we see, say, and think is false, but that the only truth is that we see, say and think it. If nothing be real except experience, nothing can be true except biography."