Santayana begins by admitting that a truly rational morality never has existed and never can exist. But this does not mean, he argues, that it isn’t an ideal to be pursued:
A truly rational morality, or social regimen, has never existed in the world and is hardly to be looked for. What guides men and nations in their practice is always some partial interest or some partial disillusion. A rational morality would imply perfect self-knowledge, so that no congenial good should be needlessly missed--least of all practical reason or justice itself; so that no good congenial to other creatures would be needlessly taken from them. The total value which everything had from the agent's point of view would need to be determined and felt efficaciously; and, among other things, the total value which this point of view, with the conduct it justified, would have for every foreign interest which it affected. Such knowledge, such definition of purpose, and such perfection of sympathy are clearly beyond man's reach. All that can be hoped for is that the advance of science and commerce, by fostering peace and a rational development of character, may bring some part of mankind nearer to that goal; but the goal lies, as every ultimate ideal should, at the limit of what is possible, and must serve rather to measure achievements than to prophesy them.
When Santayana claims that the knowledge necessary to achieve a fully rational ethics is “beyond man’s reach,” he is factually correct, as psychological studies have proven. Rational ethics, then, must be a goal to be aimed at rather than a goal to be achieved. This contrasts with Rand’s conviction that a rational ethics is not only possible, but necessary. Santayana continues:
In lieu of a rational morality, however, we have rational ethics; and this mere idea of a rational morality is something valuable... As founded by Socrates, glorified by Plato, and sobered and solidified by Aristotle, it sets forth the method of judgment and estimation which a rational morality would apply universally and express in practice. The method, being very simple, can be discovered and largely illustrated in advance, while the complete self-knowledge and sympathy are still wanting which might avail to embody that method in the concrete and to discover unequivocally where absolute duty and ultimate happiness may lie.
This method, the Socratic method, consists in accepting any estimation which any man may sincerely make, and in applying dialectic to it, so as to let the man see what he really esteems. What he really esteems is what ought to guide his conduct; for to suggest that a rational being ought to do what he feels to be wrong, or ought to pursue what he genuinely thinks is worthless, would be to impugn that man's rationality and to discredit one's own. With what face could any man or god say to another: Your duty is to do what you cannot know you ought to do; your function is to suffer what you cannot recognise to be worth suffering? Such an attitude amounts to imposture and excludes society; it is the attitude of a detestable tyrant, and any one who mistakes it for moral authority has not yet felt the first heart-throb of philosophy.
Santayana here equates rational ethics with the Socratic method, which means: with applying a searching, questioning, critical self-examination of our own wants or needs. There are both strengths and weaknesses in this position. The best that can be said of it is that it truly is the only fully rational method for achieving ethical science. Unfortunately, it may not be a very fruitful method. Despite Santayana’s caveats about the difficulties of realizing a rational ethic, they may turn out worse than he expected. Psychological experiments are beginning to demonstrate that conscious deliberate reasoning cannot tell us what we really want. If that turns out to be true, than Santayana’s Socratic method simply will not do.
Would Rand have regarded the Socratic method as the cornerstone of a rational ethics? Not in the sense advocated by Santayana. Rand’s and Santayana’s ethics aim at somewhat different things. Rand holds life as the ultimate value. Santayana, on the other hand, holds that values can only be determined by consulting what a man really and truly esteems. These Santayana takes as givens. They are based on natural dispositions. Rand could not have accepted a morality based merely on natural dispositions, because she wanted her morality based solely on reason. However, by rejecting natural dispositions, Rand runs right smack into Hume’s is-ought fallacy. By taking natural disposition as moral givens, Santayana triumphantly surmounts the logical problem of reasoning from is to ought. Here’s why.
Consider the following syllogisms.
One ought not to eat human beings.
Socrates is a human being.
One ought not to eat Socrates.
Eating human beings is not in a person’s self-interest.
Socrates is a human being.
Therefore, One ought not to eat Socrates.
Hume’s argument against arguing from is to ought only applies to the second syllogism; the first syllogism is entirely valid. In other words, it is logically valid to argue from one ought premise to an ought conclusion; what is invalid is to argue from is premises to an ought conclusion.
As Patrick O’Neil has argued, Rand’s ethics can be summed up in the following syllogism:
The adoption of value system x is necessary for the survival of any human being.
You are a human being.
Therefore, you should adopt value system x.
This is an invalid syllogism. Rand’s ethical argument, therefore, at its very foundation, is logically invalid. Her ethics, for this reason, can hardly be regarded as rational.
Another area of divergence between Rand and Santayana involves the whole notion of moralizing. By adopting the individual’s natural dispositions as the source of value in ethics, Santayana has embraced a relativist morality in which the unit of ethics is the individual person. This relativism is what allows Santayana to avoid Hume’s is-ought problem. It enjoys the further advantage of placing Santayana squarely against all forms of moralizing. As Santayana explains:
In moral reprobation there is often a fanatical element, I mean that hatred which an animal may sometimes feel for other animals on account of their strange aspect, or because their habits put him to serious inconvenience, or because these habits, if he himself adopted them, might be vicious in him. Such aversion, however, is not a rational sentiment...
Ethics, if it is to be a science and not a piece of arbitrary legislation, cannot pronounce it sinful in a serpent to be a serpent; it cannot even accuse a barbarian of loving a wrong life, except in so far as the barbarian is supposed capable of accusing himself of barbarism. If he is a perfect barbarian he will be inwardly, and therefore morally, justified. The notion of a barbarian will then be accepted by him as that of a true man, and will form the basis of whatever rational judgments or policy he attains. It may still seem dreadful to him to be a serpent, as to be a barbarian might seem dreadful to a man imbued with liberal interests. But the degree to which moral science, or the dialectic of will, can condemn any type of life depends on the amount of disruptive contradiction which, at any reflective moment, that life brings under the unity of apperception. The discordant impulses therein confronted will challenge and condemn one another; and the court of reason in which their quarrel is ventilated will have authority to pronounce between them.
Reprobation, or Randian moralizing, is not based, Santayana tells us, on a rational sentiment. In any truly rational system of ethics, values must be based on natural dispositions. Otherwise, any attempt to rationalize morality in the Randian fashion will inevitably lead to Hume’s is-ought fallacy.
There is another critical point in this passage that also raises problems for the Objectivist Ethics. Santayana writes about “the amount of disruptive contradiction” that life brings before human sentience. What he means is that people have contrary impulses, and in order for them to achieve the maximum of satisfaction (i.e., happiness), they must seek to satisfy only those impulses that are consistent with each other, thus creating a kind of harmony between the dispositions of the psyche. Now Rand also sought a harmony of sorts——a psychological concord where “no inner conflicts” disturb the soul, where the emotions are “integrated” and “consciousness is in perfect harmony.” But Rand believed that this could be established outside of the human emotional system, in the absence of motives, feelings, or any sort of emotive foundation. Feelings could be programmed into man’s emotional mechanism by an emotionless, rational mind in such a way that they never conflicted.
Rand’s ideal of the perfectly integrated man is based on a false psychology. Man’s affective system is a product of evolution; it is not, as Rand gratuitously assumed, a product of man’s conclusions. Emotions are not only prior to thinking, they are a prerequisite of thought. So any harmony of emotions that takes place in the psyche can only be imposed on impulses already clamoring for satisfaction. For Santayana, the role of reason is to select those impulses which can attain a consistent satisfaction and discard those that imperil not merely the organism’s life, but the satisfaction of the rest of the organism’s impulses. As Santayana puts it:
The direct aim of reason is harmony; yet harmony, when made to rule in life, gives reason a noble satisfaction which we call happiness. Happiness is impossible and even inconceivable to a mind without scope and without pause, a mind driven by craving, pleasure, and fear. The moralists who speak disparagingly of happiness are less sublime than they think. In truth their philosophy is too lightly ballasted, too much fed on prejudice and quibbles, for happiness to fall within its range. Happiness implies resource and security; it can be achieved only by discipline. Your intuitive moralist rejects discipline, at least discipline of the conscience; and he is punished by having no lien on wisdom. He trusts to the clash of blind forces in collision, being one of them himself. He demands that virtue should be partisan and unjust; and he dreams of crushing the adversary in some physical cataclysm.
Such groping enthusiasm is often innocent and romantic; it captivates us with its youthful spell. But it has no structure with which to resist the shocks of fortune, which it goes out so jauntily to meet. It turns only too often into vulgarity and worldliness... Happiness is hidden from a free and casual will; it belongs rather to one chastened by a long education and unfolded in an atmosphere of sacred and perfected institutions. It is discipline that renders men rational and capable of happiness, by suppressing without hatred what needs to be suppressed to attain a beautiful naturalness. Discipline discredits the random pleasures of illusion, hope, and triumph, and substitutes those which are self-reproductive, perennial, and serene, because they express an equilibrium maintained with reality. So long as the result of endeavour is partly unforeseen and unintentional, so long as the will is partly blind, the Life of Reason is still swaddled in ignominy and the animal barks in the midst of human discourse. Wisdom and happiness consist in having recast natural energies in the furnace of experience. Nor is this experience merely a repressive force. It enshrines the successful expressions of spirit as well as the shocks and vetoes of circumstance; it enables a man to know himself in knowing the world and to discover his ideal by the very ring, true or false, of fortune's coin.
The moral ideals implied in this passage are not fully consistent with Randian ideals. The major difference stems from different view of rationality. For Rand, the rational is a disembodied force (disembodied because free from emotion) that is directed solely toward determining the facts of reailty, which she believes (in defiance of Hume) includes moral precepts. For Santayana, reason and emotion are intertwined from the start. Indeed, reason is merely an impulse for harmony allied with intelligence, a fusion of emotion and reflection, of instinct and ideation. This conception of reason anticipates the discoveries of Antonio Damasio and other denizens of the Cognitive Revolution who have found that emotion is necessary to rational thought. Santayana’s rational ethics, whatever its shortcomings in terms of vagueness and lack of a detailed “technology,” at least can claim that in its broad outlines it does not clash with cognitive science. Rand’s attempt at a rational ethics, on the other hand, on the account of its false psychology and its philosophical illiteracy, stumbles headlong into error and contradiction. Rand reasons from is to ought in defiance of Hume and divorces reason from emotion in defiance of cognitive science.