Santayana’s epiphenomenalism reconsidered

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Philosophy Department

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Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy

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The present essay argues against the view that Santayana’s philosophy can unproblematically be classified as epiphenomenalist. To this end, it examines the central tenets that provide the foundation for his position on metal causation as developed in Scepticism and Animal Faith. This analysis shows that a range of positions are available to Santayana that are compatible with his prohibition on invoking ideas as motor causes, perhaps even demanded by it. While Santayana is consistent in denying that ideas are causes, taken in the usual sense of efficient or motor causes, he does not clearly deny that they are necessary conditions for some behavioral effects. The essay then responds to the objection that we should sooner reject the claim that essences are necessary conditions for action than attempt to argue for the compatibility of this claim with the claim that essences are causally inert. It is argued that Santayana is not alone in considering these assertions compatible, and therefore his position should be classed alongside those of contemporary philosophers who also assert their compatibility. The essay closes by examining some similarities between Santayana’s view and those of contemporary compatibilists.

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