The The Xavier Zubiri Review, Vol. 3, 2000/2001, pp. 5-6


Pedro Laín Entralgo (1908-2001), In Memoriam


Nelson Orringer

University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT USA



On June 5, 2001 the great Aragonese thinker and historian Pedro Laín Entralgo passed away in his sleep in the ninety-third year of a fruitful life.  He considered himself an intimate friend and student of Xavier Zubiri, only ten years his senior.  The truth is that a fertile relationship of intellectual cross-pollinization early arose between the two and lasted until Zubiri’s death in 1983.

Laín Entralgo was born on 15 February 1908 in Urrea de Gaén, Teruel, a part of Aragón.  His father was a physician, and he attended the University of Zaragoza.  He continued his studies in chemistry and medicine in Valencia and Madrid, and subsequently completed his formation in psychiatry in Vienna (1932).  He returned to Spain and worked in public health in the Hydrographic Community of the Guadalquivir, and subsequently (1934) in the Provincial Psychiatric Institute of Valencia, where he settled with his new wife, Milagro Martínez.  At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, he was in Santander, and transferred his household to Pamplona.  He affiliated himself with the Falange party, and during the war collaborated on Arriba España and other publications.  Beginning in 1938 he directed a publishing house which later became the Editora Nacional, and which published Zubiri’s first book, Naturaleza, Historia, Dios in 1942.  Laín’s relationship with the Franco regime was not a smooth one, however, and he subsequently abandoned his political activities.  He obtained the chair of the History of Medicine at the University of Madrid, which he held from 1942-1978, and he was Rector of that university from 1951-1956.  He founded the Instituto Arnau de Vilanova of the History of Medicine in 1943, and was elected a member of the Royal National Academy of Medicine in 1946, of the Royal National Academy of History in 1956, and of the Royal Spanish Academy of Language in 1954, of which he was director between 1982 and 1987. 

Laín defined himself intellectually as “historian of medicine, anthropologist, essayist and Sunday dramatist, university professor of course, a man who offers to uncertain youth lectures about what he knows or ought to know, and who at times has the good fortune of arousing in the soul of some of his listeners the will to accompany him along the paths of his particular academic discipline.”  He received the Montaigne Prize in 1976, and the National Theatre Prize for his critical reviews during the period 1970-1971.  He also received the Aznar Journalism Prize in 1980.  His books are too many to list here; among the best known are: España como problema, (1949), Historia de la Medicina Moderna y Contemporánea (1954), Espera y la esperanza, (1957), and La relación medico-enfermo, historia y teoría, (1964).

He expressed his sentiments about life in these terms: “Work has a fundamental value in life.  Man realizes his life, changing the world in which he lives much or little.  Imagination and work fashion history, and the fundamental task of man is to contribute with his own toward the enterprise of humanity which will come after.”[1]

Laín assisted Zubiri in the crucial days after the Spanish Civil War.  Zubiri was under pressure in the early 1940s from the Church for having been laicized and for having married Carmen Castro, the daughter of the liberal intellectual Americo Castro, and was forced to abandon university life in 1942, It was the encouragement and aid of Laín, then highly placed as a member of the Falange in the Franco regime, that enabled Zubiri to live off the private courses he was to give from the 1940s to the end of his life.

While it is difficult to determine what ideas Zubiri owed to Laín, because like other contemporary philosophers Zubiri seldom cites his sources, Laín frequently cites Zubiri in publications from the early 1940s until his own death.  Zubiri’s influence spanned the four disciplines formally cultivated by Laín in more than fifty monographs and numerous articles: history of medicine, philosophical anthropology, medical anthropology, and history of Western (especially Spanish) culture.  In the history of medicine, Zubiri gave to Laín the basic idea that Semitic people and Indo-Europeans alike believed the sickness was a punishment of the gods, but whereas the Semites considered sickness a moral affliction (personalistic medicine), the Greeks held it a natural catastrophe (naturalistic medicine).  In philosophical anthropology, Laín learned from Zubiri the essential restlessness of the human being, oriented as an existential traveler toward the future.  In medical anthropology, Laín defined his own approach to this discipline as scientific and metaphysical, where the metaphysics stemmed straight from Zubiri.  Finally, in history of culture, Laín always sought historical modulations of the restlessness discovered by Zubiri in the essence of our species.


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In view of his great accomplishments, the Xavier Zubiri Foundation of North America respectfully dedicates this issue of The Xavier Zubiri Review to the memory of Pedro Laín Entralgo, collaborator and friend of Xavier Zubiri.

[1] Historical notes on Laín Entralgo’s life taken from “Pedro Laín Entralgo”,