History Repeats Itself: An intriguing glimpse into the past of an obscure philosopher

Like so many times before at the dinner table, my wife brings up an intriguing  subject, the quote, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” I asked if she knew who is credited with saying it. We all struggled for an answer. I think I said that it was someone in the 20th century – Franklin Roosevelt or maybe Winston Churchill. One of the things I love about her are our intellectual conversations like that.

Well, the subject quickly faded when we finished dinner and went our separate ways to do whatever we do after dinner, but I held on to the thought, “who said that.”

The next morning, after doing my usual quick research on Wikipedia and Google, I found that George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” on page 284 in his book Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, published by Scribner’s, 1905.

Reading for context, that sentence is the clearest one in the paragraph. I think he was giving a metaphor of sudden change is bad. He was talking about three stages of life: baby, manhood, seniority. But, he also seemed to be writing about changes in society or government or even economy. Anyway, I took away from this quote – and its context – that if change is too sudden we loose sight of what we used to know and blindly go through the present re-experiencing what we once knew.

In my research I was looking for more background information about Santayana and the political climate he knew or the social culture he experienced. I found a lot of interesting information, but none of it seemed to fit the context of this quote.