The science and history of philosopher George Santayana

02 Dec 2019

PPE student presents summer research at international conference

Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) student Juan Facundo’s independent student summer research project gained an international audience this fall. The fourth-year student was invited to present at an international philosophy conference at Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University in October.

JuanFacundo_PhilresearchFacundo was the only undergraduate student to present at the conference, showing the links between different figures and ideas in the history of philosophy. His presentation, An unexpected perspective: T.G. Henderson’s and Winthrop Bell’s Understanding of Santayana’s Treatment of the Concept of Essence, was based on his summer research project, supported through Mount Allison’s Independent Student Research Grant program and supervised by philosophy professor Dr. Robbie Moser.

“This was my first summer doing research. I had completed an independent study around philosopher George Santayana’s works and interpretation of them, this was an extension of work that I had started as an exchange student at Vanderbilt last year through the Killam exchange program with Fulbright Canada,” says Facundo. “I wanted to continue my studies when I came back to Mount A and was able to through the summer program with Dr. Moser.”

Moser says Facundo’s work brought together some interesting perspectives and philosophical connections.

“Juan’s summer work started with the question of how to reconcile scientific reliance on determinism and causes with cultural reliance on freedom and reasons. His research took him deeply into pioneering work by some early- and mid-twentieth century philosophers such as Alfred North Whitehead, Wilfrid Sellars and George Santayana,” says Moser. “The social and intellectual connections Juan unearthed in his archival and textual work are generative and quite interesting, and he continues to uncover new material and he contributes to productive discussion with philosophical researchers.”

Facundo’s research soon led him to the writings of Mount Allison graduate Dr. Winthrop Pickard Bell (Class of 1904), Canadian scholar and historian, who is also said to have served as spy following the Second World War. Bell had written extensively on the work of Santayana; his papers are housed in the Mount Allison University Archives.

“I ended up working with [University Archivist] David Mawhinney for a big part of my project, it was awesome,” says Facundo. “He helped me source and transcribe Winthrop Bell’s notes. I also got a hold of T.G. Henderson’s original PhD thesis supervised by Alfred Whitehead while at Harvard. I noticed that Bell’s and Henderson’s writings seemed to have similar observations on philosopher Santayana’s work. It was a bit surreal to have this kind of access — looking at Dr. Bell’s handwritten notes – for my project right on campus.”

Facundo is currently looking at different options following Mount Allison including law and graduate studies. A mature student, he started his career in aviation, earning a certificate in aviation management from Algonquin College and working as a pilot with an airline in Colombia, Avianca, and as a flight instructor with the Moncton Flight College. He has lived in Colombia, Spain, and Ontario and says he came to Mount Allison in part because of the PPE program.

Outside of his studies, Facundo volunteers with Big Brothers of Moncton, Sackville’s Lettuce Eat program, and Mount Allison’s Amnesty International Chapter, which he helped revive on campus three years ago. He is also a familiar sight in Sackville walking his two dogs, Prudence and Chester.

Photo caption: Facundo right, with Dr. Michael Hodges at the conference held at Vanderbilt this fall.

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