On the 4th of April 2017, at the Instituto Cervantes at Harvard University, the Observatorio de la lengua española y las culturas hispánicas en los Estados Unidos , a panel met to discuss Santayana’s affiliation with the Observatorio. This conversation was moderated by Sean Kelly of Harvard’s Department of Philosophy. The occasion of this gathering couldn’t have been more propitious: to celebrate the completion of the critical edition of The Life of Reason (2011-2016), the five-volumes of Santayana’s work that have most influenced American naturalism.
Francisco Moreno Fernández, Director of the Observatorio, opened the event by quoting some of Santayana’s memories about Harvard (that are collected in Persons and Places). Then he introduced the participants of the round table.
The first speaker, Daniel Moreno, of the Instituto de Enseñanza Secundaria Miguel Servet, Zaragoza, Spain, remembered that Santayana finished The Life of Reason in 1906 and that the Santayana Edition finished its edition in 2016, 110 years later. Moreno spoke about Santayana as a classical philosopher who had made the conscious choice to live as a philosopher, and claimed that Santayana’s description of himself “as a thinker. . . born at the wrong time and bred in the wrong way”: a thinker who liked “to hope that someone may later revive parts of [his] philosophy in more favorable circumstances” had come true.
Professor Martin Coleman, Director and Editor of The Santayana Edition, spoke about The Life of Reason, its origin, relevance, and scope. For him, “Santayana thought ideas have symptomatic and expressive value, becoming rational as they harmonize with each other and as they adjust to facts.” Coleman explained the importance of the five volumes of the book: Reason in Common Sense, Reason in Society, Reason in Religion, Reason in Art, and Reason in Science, and explained that the chief value of the Critical Edition lies “in the stability and integrity of the text established through historical research and critical editing procedures.”
Professor John Lachs, Centennial Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University, expressed his appreciation of the general view of The Life of Reason outlined by Coleman and decided not to deal with this book but to add to a fuller understanding of Santayana’s philosophy as a whole by speaking about Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923). For Lachs, this is one of the most important books of philosophy published during the last century. His comments about it captivated the attendees and the questions generated by Lach’s comments provided the opportunity to go in-depth into several aspects of Santayana’s philosophy.
The main conclusion of the dinner was that the next international congress about Santayana should be organized at Harvard, his “home” and the site of his teaching for so many years.
Professor Kelly closed the event by inviting the participants to visit the Department of Philosophy of Harvard, upon whose walls hang the famous pictures of its first members, including George Santayana.
~ Daniel Moreno
May 2017. Zaragoza, Spain