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Santayena’ Theories of Aesthetics: A Study

Author: ZhangHua
Tutor: ZhouJunPing
School: Shandong Normal University
Course: Literature and Art
Keywords: Santayana aesthetic thought naturalism pleasure objectified doctrine of Essence
CLC: B83-069
Type: PhD thesis
Year: 2008
Downloads: 256
Quote: 0
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George Santayana (1863-1952) was a philosopher of Spanish descent. As his upbringing and development phases of philosophy were mainly in America, and his academic ideas were first valued in America, he was generally classified as an American scholar both in the history of philosophy and aesthetics. Naturalism that he put forward was an important branch in the history of aesthetics in the world, especially in that of American aesthetics. The development of Santayana’s aesthetic ideas can be divided into two stages. Both his unique naturalism in his early stage and the aesthetic doctrine of essences in his later stage were an enrichment of the treasure-house of the world aesthetics. Much study of him has been carried out abroad and a rich harvest has been reaped. While in China the research of him is not in full swing, and achievements made are entirely of aesthetics. On the basis of original English materials and in understanding and analyzing his important works, this dissertation will have a thorough study of his many research fields, especially his aesthetic ideas. This dissertation main aims in doing so are to present a clearer picture of his aesthetic ideas, have a grasp of the values and importance and historical status of his thoughts, and conduct a dialectic analysis of them as well. We hope such dissertation will further our understanding of the Western aesthetic ideas and be of help to the research of aesthetics in China.Combining the methods of theoretical analysis and testimony of objective materials, this dissertation add firsthand materials like the biography of Santayana and his letters to the research work formerly done only through theoretical deduction. And this will make the frame of his whole ideas more distinct. By the means of the intensive research and multi-dimensional analysis, this dissertation also has an analysis of his art theories and literary creation at a new level, thus providing rich sensible materials in understanding his aesthetic ideas. Besides, the approaches of vertical research and lateral comparison are necessary. Many problems, such as the division of stages of his thoughts and his position in history can be studied in these ways. So the dissertation accord great importance to synthesizing the philosophical discourse situations and analyzing the relations between him and many other thinkers and theoreticians.The dissertation is composed of seven parts. The first one is introduction. It gives a survey of the values of Santayana’s ideas and great importance attached to them in the West. While in China the study of him is very limited, and the current situation of the research is also described. Constrained by lack of studying materials and being short of attention have a demand of new thinking in studying Santayana. In the third section of the chapter, the aims, approaches, new ideas and the structure of the dissertation are given. As it points out, it is the first time to have an over-all study of Santayana in a doctoral dissertation and there are many bigger breakthroughs in utilizing relative English materials as well.Chapter one deals with the origins of Santayana’s aesthetic ideas. First, the influence of the social and cultural environments on him: American tradition, the then social environment and his background. As a Spanish immigrant, he was dissatisfied with the Puritanism and attached to Catholicism. In the course of the study of philosophy, he showed dislike of the academic atmosphere in America and was in favor of European traditions. He held his Spanish nationality to his death and treated American religion and academy in the attitudes of an outsider. Second, the philosophical origins of Santayana’s aesthetics. The dissertation holds the view that he drew his ideas from British empirical philosophy and skeptical tendencies and anti-reason philosophical thinking. Third, the discourse environment of American philosophy. It is in this realistic discourse environment that he developed his ideas. The dissertation will also distinguish clearly the relations of him to American pragmatism and his role in the dispute with realism: It was in the gold times of American philosophy that Santayana put forth his naturalistic points of view and they exerted great influence.Chapter Two explores the problem of how to divide the stages of Santayana’s philosophical aesthetic ideas and the aesthetic ideas in early stage. As the first problem has seldom been addressed in China, the section one develops itself mainly in employing original English materials. Santayana delivered important speeches to the issue of changes of ideas. It suggested that he thought there existed differences between ideas in different time. Many researchers, represented by Singer, McCormick, paid much attention to the problem of division of stages. On the foundation of the analysis of the materials, I put forward that Santayana’s aesthetics should be divided into two stages: the early stage and the later stage, with 1912 being the dividing line. In light of the bisection, I classify his works and analyze the limitations of the research of it both at home and abroad. Focusing on Santayana’s aesthetic ideas in early stage, I points out that they are based on naturalistic philosophy. From his summit realistic work The Life of Reason, we can find that he took the development of human’s reasons as the object of research and retold its history. It showed his core idea of nature’s supremacy. Later he developed his ideas of sense of beauty. He defined beauty as“pleasure objectified”. He took empirical cognitive object and method as a reference and attached great importance to man’s intuitional experiences. His school of thought was, under the influence of anti-reason, a return to realism and a restoration of basic understanding the material world. His early aesthetics touched the basic category—nature and the three elements of content, form and manifestation as well. In discussing the relationship between beauty and its utility, he put forth the thought of utility of beauty, a deviation from Kant’s idea that“aesthetic disinterestedness”.Chapter Three focuses on Santayana’s later aesthetic ideas. And they are lacking sufficient and thorough study in China as well. After investigating the changes of his philosophical thinking, the dissertation concludes that his philosophy can be summed up in two aspects: The first one is that his philosophy in later stage manifested sharp-cut skeptic tendencies, thus making him turn to the doctrine of Essence; and he brought up the concept of“the One”as the highest form integrating beauty and good; the second one is that through the criticism of high esteem of Platonism and empiricism he clarified his new mind’s tendency. As the alteration of his philosophical thinking was accompanied by the change of his aesthetic views,“The One”had become his knowledge of the essence of beauty in his later aesthetics. Taking it as the core, he elucidated such categories as essences, imagination, harmony and myth. Among them his views of essences were most striking in his later aesthetics and they were topics of research for many Western scholars. His views of essences provided new settings for former philosophical concept of“essence.”Santayana stated that universals are collective of matter’s particular characteristics. What man really feels isn’t the matter itself, but universals, that is, the essence. Beauty lies in matter’s special properties. These peculiar universals were named essences by Santayana. By setting the essences he made beauty as a special being linking subjects and objects. It is existent, but it’s not a real existence, turning itself a“third dimension.”The formulation of the theory shows his determination of constructing a new philosophical system. But we still can see the essentials of it are idealistic. Viewing the contents and basic categories of his later aesthetics, we say his change of direction was characteristic and meaningful. We can approach it in four ways. First, his emphasis on“physical”man in early stage shifted to“spiritual”man in later stage. Then, humanism lacking in the early stage became manifest in later stage, and showed a tinge of tragedy. Third, in his later aesthetics he attempted to reconcile various different, even conflicting philosophical views and it was an attempt to harmonize multi-elements. And lastly, the diversity and fuzziness, etc. manifest in his later aesthetics showed elements of postmodernism.Chapter Four concentrates on Santayana’s art theories. They are also lacking study in China. Based on currently available materials, the dissertation will mainly study his naturalistic views of art in his early stage. In Reason in Art he defined“Any operation which thus humanizes and rationalizes objects is called art”, revealing the principle of supremacy of impulses in naturalism. Basing on it, he viewed art and craft as one, believing the two are identical, and art, like nature, has a development process and dynamic loop. As to the criteria of taste, he highly esteemed the classical tendency and Greek simplicity. In art criticism and reflection on it, he showed a high sense of responsibility as a scholar. He stated that art should be valued and he cautioned the harmful tendencies in the development of art. In his views, Homeric art is a paradigm. He doubted the effectiveness of art criticism and thought the effect of it was limited. People should pay much attention to the cultivation and education of the artists and boost art in a fundamental way. Regarding specific art categories, he also had incisive views. He thought the essence of literature is imagination and it should be the main content of every individual and homologous to religion and philosophy, and the three possess intrinsic coherence. Santayana also analyzed various forms of literature like poetry, novel, prose and drama one by one. Besides, in the views of naturalistic art, he also summed up the laws intrinsic in painting, music, architecture and sculpture. He felt that each of them is closely linked with man’s perception and adds scenery to the hall of beauty in their own way.Proceeding from the analysis of Santayana’s aesthetic creation, Chapter Five explores his aesthetic ideas further from the angle of art practice. His poems are widely appreciated and they reflect his penchant for classic taste. And the autobiographic novel The Last Puritan was his only novel. It displayed his sense of tragic beauty and ideas of aesthetic education. He contrasted the characters Oliver and Mario. The former was representative of the youths under strict influence of Puritanism, the latter the youths brought up in liberal environment. Santayana made Oliver a tragic figure full of frustrations by his death and the novel acquired tragic beauty. On the other hand, from the respect of beauty education, Santayana thought Oliver-like lifelong moral pursuit was the road to the realization of human worth. The combination of beauty and good as the highest life goal is just the core of Santayana’s ideas of beauty education.Chapter Six is the summary of the dissertation. First, Santayana’s influence. From his impact on Dewey, Ducase, Munro and Eliot, etc. we can see the utter importance of his ideas. Second, overall assessment. The dissertation gives a general evaluation of the status of his ideas in history, their worth and limitations. In terms of position in history, his functionalism of beauty breaks the rule of Kant’s idea that“aesthetic disinterestedness”.He holds an important position in the circle of American thought. The naturalism which he put forward later developed into an important branch of American thought and he was also a pioneer of American aesthetics. His aesthetic ideas possess unique value and they are a revolt against the authority of the then reigning rationalism. And his skepticism in his later stage had an effect on the reflection and construction of existing philosophy and aesthetics. Though there are certain limitations inherent in his aesthetics, on the whole, he has made his own contributions to the development of aesthetics in the world. The ideas that he put forth, such as the significant position of nature, physical pleasure and the relations of the sense of beauty to both nature and physical pleasure, are still hot topics of research of aesthetics today. The doctrine of essences proposed in his later stage reflects his transcendental consciousness of self and history. So, it is worth for us to learn and use as a source of reference the value of Santayana’s thoughts and the spirit of his tireless pursuit as a scholar.

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