Those who forget…

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

So said the American philosopher George Santayana about 100 years ago. But hang on – did he? Actually, this is one of those oft-misquoted sayings – a Google search will turn up several versions, in particular using “…are doomed to repeat it”.

In The Life of Reason (1905-1906), the actual quote is:

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

which is an interesting but subtle difference; the ‘forget’ version implies a careless abandon whereas ‘not to remember’ implies, perhaps, an unfortunate mistake. Of course, he may not have intended any such distinction and he may also have used several versions himself, but it does prompt me to write my own little homage to Santayana:

Those who forget the quote are condemned to reword it!


Quite! Martin Porter has written an excellent analysis of a frequent Internet mis-quote, and his essay contains sage advice for anyone who intends to quote; see:

You misspelled philosopher

Thanks for correcting me on this. This is my “quote” to live by!!!!

ye and btw, “quote” is a commonly misused word. it is a verb yet you use it as a noun. really the word you use should be “quotation”. sorry to be pedantic, just thought i’d mention it

Grant – thanks – typo fixed. It only took me two and a half years!

Simon – Yes, you’re quite right, and I have corrected this myself in the past, but have started to wonder whether it isn’t a sufficiently common ‘abbreviation’ that it’s OK for informal use – such as in a blog!

But I don’t mind grammatical pedantry. I still wince at split infinitives, and at the announcements on British trains that ‘this train will terminate here’…

The actual Qoute is “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” in “CHAPTER XII—FLUX AND CONSTANCY IN HUMAN NATURE” Paragraph 18 of “The Reason of Life”

John –

You’re quite right… ironic that after all that, I should get it wrong 🙂

Many thanks,

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