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  • Expressivism, Projectivism and Santayana
  • Glenn Tiller

1. Santayana and Non-Cognitivism

There is a general consensus that Santayana's metaethical analysis of moral judgments falls under the category of non-cognitivism. For instance, Timothy Sprigge writes that "Santayana's position shares some features with those attitudinist theories of ethics or values for which value judgments express attitudes rather than beliefs."1 In another example, John Lachs states that "Santayana agrees with the emotivists that moral terms have no descriptive significance.2 And, in a similar vein, Thomas Munson writes that, for Santayana, "Ultimate Good is not an opinion hazarded."3 Each of these writers classifies Santayana as one who expounds the basic thesis of non-cognitivism that moral judgments are not descriptive, and hence neither true nor false.

Certainly there is a wealth of textual evidence which suggests this interpretation. While it is true, as Sprigge comments, that Santayana offers only a collection of "scattered observations" on metaethical questions such as the nature of moral judgments, those observations amount to a clear affirmation of non-cognitivism.4 Below is a small but representative sample of Santayana's statements on this metaethical issue:

Moral terms are caresses or insults and describe nothing.5

In order to understand why Santayana thinks that moral terms "describe nothing" and that to "esteem a thing good" is never to assert a truth, we must turn to Santayana's account of valuation. Santayana's account of valuation turns on two principle ideas which lie at the heart of his moral theory. These two ideas can be set out as follows. First, there is the origin of morality, which takes us into Santayana's notion of the psyche. Second, there is the phenomenology of moral experience, which centers on Santayana's epiphenomenalist theory of consciousness. We turn first to Santayana's analysis of the origins of morality.

2. The Psyche And The Origin Of Morality

Santayana vigorously rejects any Humean empiricist notion of the self as "nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions."8 Santayana objects that this phenomenalistic conception of the self leaves "no room for anything latent," and "in a living being, especially in a nice Englishman, what is latent is the chief thing."9 In Santayana's opinion, the assumptions of materialism must underlie any understanding we have of human nature. Thus, for Santayana the psyche is not some evanescent phenomenal self or passing datum, but rather "that habit in matter which forms the human body and the human mind."10 It is the principle of the long-term development of the individual, for contained within our psyche:

There is our whole past, as it were, knocking at the door; there are our silent hopes; there are our future discourses and decisions working away, like actors rehearsing their parts, at their several fantastic arguments. All this is the psyche's work.11

In sum, we can say that the psyche accounts for everything that is latent in the self; it embodies the potentiality of a human life from its beginning to its final development.

To say that the psyche embodies all that is potential within us and accounts for our material development is to view the psyche as the ultimate origin of animal interests. In other words, we can say that the psyche accounts for all the physical predispositions of an animal life. These predispositions, such as the [End Page 240] habit of the body to repair itself after being injured, may be considered "animal interests" insofar as they represent the (innate) physical course of development of some animal life. Of course, here we are taking the terms "animal interests" and "predispositions" in a purely materialistic way; we are noting, to repeat Santayana's phrase, the "habit of matter."

Accepting that the psyche accounts for all predispositions in animal life and that it is the source of animal interests has important implications. According to Santayana, this fact alone accounts for the origin of morality:

This predetermined, specific direction of animal life is the key to everything moral; without it no external circumstance could be favourable or unfavourable to us; and spirit within us would have no reason to welcome, to deplore, or...


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