FAQs

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1. Why is Santayana considered an American philosopher even though he was a Spanish citizen?

At a young age Santayana traveled, with his father, from Spain to the United States to join his mother and half siblings in Boston. Santayana was educated in the U.S. at the Boston Latin School and Harvard University and later became a professor of philosophy at Harvard. He wrote all of his philosophical works in English and the majority of his correspondence in English. His Spanish letters were to relatives in Spain who did not know English.

“He also makes an important statement in this letter regarding his ‘American-ness’: although he has always traveled with a Spanish passport and was never legally an American, he says that ‘socially and as a writer, I am an American in practice, and almost all my friends have been Americans.’” (William Holzberger’s “Preface” The Letters of George Santayana, Book 8)

2. Where does Santayana write “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?

The oft-quoted and commonly misunderstood line appears in Reason in Common Sense, the first volume of the five-volume Life of Reason. In the 1905 Charles Scribner’s Sons edition, it is found on page 284. In context, he is making a psychological point, that is, he is observing something about the development of human intelligence. But it is often employed (in various paraphrased forms) for sociological or political purposes, quite possibly in ways that are not consistent with Santayana’s views. In other words, he was often skeptical that a social or political group could learn or progress in the way implied or advocated by those who appropriate the quotation.

3. Did Santayana write “Only the dead have seen the end of war”?

Yes. See Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, “Tipperary” (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922).

4. Did Santayana write “The earth has music for those who listen”?

Despite widespread claims that Santayana authored the verse from which this line is taken, we found no evidence among his published and unpublished work to verify this. See The Complete Poems of George Santayana: A Critical Edition, edited by William G. Holzberger, (Bucknell University Press, 1979).

In 2014 a researcher named Randolph Wagner discovered that the line was authored by Reginald Holmes and is from the poem “The Magic of Sound” which appeared in Holmes’ book Fireside Fancies (Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, 1955).

5. Was Santayana a practicing Roman Catholic?

Different variations of this question, pertaining to his religious beliefs, preoccupied people when he was alive; but Catholics particularly seem to be interested in it, and he is still referred to occasionally as a “Catholic philosopher.” Santayana suggested to biographer Bruno Lind that he wanted to avoid “replacing Aristotle as the accepted pagan philosopher for Catholics” (The Letters of George Santayana: Book Eight, 3 October 1951). In 1930 Santayana wrote “Like my parents, I have always set myself down officially as a Catholic: but this is a matter of sympathy and traditional allegiance, not of philosophy” (“A Brief History of My Opinions” in Lyon 1968, Santayana on America, 7). He continues, “I have never had any unquestioning faith in any dogma, and have never been what is called a practicing Catholic.”