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Obituary: Juan David Garcia Bacca

Juan David Garcia Bacca, philosopher, born Pamplona 26 June 1901, died Quito Ecuador 5 August 1992.

IN THE LIMITED means of reference at my disposal during the vacation period, it was impossible to discover much about the venerable Spanish philosopher Garcia Bacca, who died on 5 August at the age of 91 in Quito, Ecuador. He does not appear in the Pleiade Historia de la Filsofia and he is not in the leading French, Spanish and English encyclopaedias. Even more surprising, he is not even mentioned in the Gran Enciclopedia Catalana published by the Generalitat de Catalunya in Barcelona in 1970 - but that was while Franco was still in power. As far as I could find out, Bacca's death was ignored by the European press, still in an effervescence of sports hysteria, with the honourable exception of El Pais, which belatedly devoted a whole page to him, including almost a whole column of the complete bibliography of his works in its issue of 13 August. The headline was: 'Death of Garcia Bacca, a Great Philosopher Forgotten in Spain'.

When one studies this substantial bibliography of Bacca's works, extending from 1936 with an Introduction to Modern Logic to a work on Don Quijote de la Mancha in 1991, one is astonished that he should be so little known in his native land.

Garcia Bacca was born in Pamplona in 1901. He was educated by the Claretines, an order he belonged to until the early Thirties. From 1928 he had begun working on mathematics, philosophy and biology at various European universities, before returning to take his doctorate at Barcelona with an Essay on the Logico-Genetic Structure of the Physical Sciences. He began teaching at the University of Barcelona, for the first time introducing Spanish students to mathematical logic. In June 1936, he abandoned the prospect of a chair at Santiago de Compostela with the outbreak of the Civil War, which forced him into exile in Latin America, along with such notable figures as Jorge Semprun, Arturo Barea and his near contemporaries Luis Carnuda and Rafael Alberti. He taught for many years at the universities of Mexico, Quito and Caracas.

Garcia Bacca's philosophical preoccupations included literature, with special reference to the decadent poet Antonio Machado in Invitacion a filosofar segun espiritu y letra de Antonio Machado (1984). In 1985 he produced a literary-philosophical study, Necesidad y azar ('Necessity and Chance'), on two other of his favourite authors, Parmenides and Mallarme: the title refers to the French poet's Un coup de des n'abolira jamais le hazard (1897). But Bacca's major works were translations of classical authors like Plotinus and Lucretius, and Newton. He translated the complete works of Plato in 12 volumes, which he presented to Queen Sofia when he had an audience with her in 1985. After the fall of Franco, he received many honours, including the Gold Medal of the University of Barcelona in 1985. The extraordinary breadth of his scientific, philosophical and literary interests also embraced music, the subject of one of his last great works, Filosofia de la musica (1990).