- The Life of Reason or the Phases of Human Progress: Reason in Science by George Santayana
The publication of the critical edition of Reason in Science (RS) marks a moment of significant progress in The Works of George Santayana project of The MIT Press, a project nearing its thirtieth year. The book series from which RS is derived, The Life of Reason (LR), is the most important philosophic work of Santayana's early career, and indeed is of essential importance for anyone interested in early twentieth-century American philosophy. As James Gouinlock puts it in his introduction, LR "proved to be a major stimulus to the revitalization of philosophy in America, and its value continues today" (xiii).
RS is the final book of the five-part LR. The four volumes preceding RS, thematically covering "reason in" common sense, society, religion, and art, were first published serially by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1905. RS appeared in 1906. In the period of the composition of RS, praise for LR was effusive, and the series earnestly inspired subsequent generations of philosophic naturalists, including those who emerged under the influence of John Dewey and Frederick Woodbridge at Columbia University, including Sidney Hook, Ernest Nagel, Horace Freiss, John Herman Randall, Jr., and Herbert Schneider.
A year or two before his death in 1952, Santayana revisited LR with the aid of his literary executor and assistant, Daniel Cory. They made significant editorial alterations with what Cory acknowledged in his introduction was an attempt to rid the revised text of earlier idealism incompatible with Santayana's philosophical realism. The result was a one-volume abridged edition of LR that turned out to be the final "authorized" version before Santayana's death. However, for many good reasons involving both the evolution of Santayana's shifting attitudes, and the publication history and reception of LR, the edition staff elected justifiably to use Scribner's original 1905–06 text as the model for the critical edition under review here. Of particular relevance is that the Cory-assisted, one-volume edition had deleted much material from the 1906 original of RS, including chapter 4, [End Page 742] "Hesitations in Method," and chapter 6, "The Nature of Intent." The new critical edition of RS restores the deleted material and offers various helpful notes of textual commentary following the text.
Gouinlock's extensive general introduction, retained in each volume of LR, is of value both as a suitably thorough aid to readers wishing to understand the historical importance of Santayana's LR series, and as providing a certain interpretation of key components of Santayana's naturalism. The introduction appropriately provides an extensive analysis of RS, the theoretical importance of which Santayana commented on at the time of its publication.
Santayana's efforts to complete RS entailed the sacrifice of much material, as his letters of the period attest. This is remarkable given the continuity of material found within RS. Of particular value is the chapter "Psychology"—a stunning example of Santayana's genius, the chapter holds up as a masterpiece of critical analysis and provides much explanation for his unique philosophic outlook. Those working in fields of philosophy connected not only with the classical American tradition, but philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, and most particularly those interested in the attempt to establish a sound basis for nonreductive naturalism, should consider RS an essential read.
The completion of this critical edition version of RS is encouragement to even the least familiar readers and students. The critical edition model for textual presentation includes extensive supplemental features that greatly enhance the reading experience of RS. A word of compliment to the RS editors and their staff is owed for the sheer thoroughness of supplemental materials—including in the appendixes extensive biographical chronology, bibliography, notes to the text, textual commentaries, discussions of adopted readings, and the not-to-be-overlooked list of emendations (disclosing...