Ortega y Gasset on "Being" in Aristotle as "Sustaining in Existence"

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Reply Wed 21 Oct, 2009 07:39 pm
It turns out that the quote that I used from Ortega to start the thread "On Being in Heidegger and Aristotle" was not the one I meant to use as it bears on the idea of "Sustainability." And so I'm starting this new thread in the hope that it will make clear how "Sustainability," or rather "Sustaining in Existence," can become the new "Being".

Here's the new quote as it appears in Philip W. Silver's book, Ortega as Phenomenologist: The Genesis of Meditations on Quixote (Columbia University Press, 1978), on page 104 , the page following the one in which the other quote appeared:
He [Aristotle] felt he was seeing Being from within. The Being of things may seen static. The changes and movements of bodies seem to end in stability. But in the reality "thinking," "Being" is not something static, not a quiet figure, but Being making itself, a continual self-creation; in sum, the word "Being" acquires the value of an active verb, of executivity, of making effective. This man, born on the rim of Hellas, substituted a dynamic concept for the static one of the pure Greeks. No longer will Being be exemplified by a geometrical figure that is pure aspect or spectacle; "Being" will henceforth be a thing's effort to sustain itself in existence. . . . The other examples Aristotle adduces in addition to thinking are seeing, being happy, loving, living. These too are movements with their "ending" in themselves. They all belong to the human realm and are "envisioned from within." . . . The notion of an energetic Being triumphs over the notion of static Being. (VI, 415, n. 1)
[This quote is from a footnote to Ortega's Preface to the Spanish translation of History of Philosophy Obras completas ("Complete works").]

This passage revealed to me not only the difference between Aristotle's understanding of Being and that of the "pure Greeks," but also an awareness of the origin of Ortega's emphasis on the need for a shift from a static notion of "Being" to "a thing's efforts to sustain itself in existence." This passage, not the one previously quoted, is what actually triggered in me the connection of this concept of "Being" with the idea of "Sustainability," although the point I was trying to make is revealed in the previous quote as well. I'll repeat here, with some slight changes, some of the paragraphs that appeared in the previous thread:

Ortega uses the idea of, if not the word, "sustainability" throughout his work as a key concept in his thinking. For instance. at the beginning of his essay, "History as a System," from 1935 he says:
[Quote]The most trivial and at the same time the most important note in human life is that man has no choice but to be always doing something to sustain himself in existence.[/Quote]
And in another essay from 1940, entitled "Ideas and Beliefs," he says:
[Quote]In effect, . . . we hold and sustain on occurrence [i.e., an idea]. Byt a belief is what holds and sustains us.[/Quote]
Now if the "physical world" as physicists currently understand it, and every "thing" in it, is made up of energy, then we must hearken back to the Heraclitean idea of "flux" to represent that world, and the question for metaphysicians, as they understand the current work of physicists, chemists, biologists and ecologists, becomes: "How are 'physical things' 'sustained in existence'?" For the physicist it's "balancing forces;" for the chemist it's "forming bonds;" for the biologist it's "maintaining homeostasis;" and for the ecologist it's "sustaining ecosystems." What I am proposing is that "Sustainability" can be the generic term for all of these processes, and that "Sustaining in Existence" is the new "Being." "Sustainology" instead of "Ontology?"

"The Rockies are tumbling, Gibraltar is crumbling, but . . .," is our life, let alone our love, "here to stay;" i. e., will it continue to be "sustained in being"?
Reply Thu 22 Oct, 2009 07:51 am
I am reminded of a saying 'to be is to be related'. I think this is Buddhist in essence. Buddhism rejects the idea of substance, of anything which is self-existent, that is, existing in its own right or independently of causes and conditions.

Also this 'classical Greek' understanding you are referring to - actually I think this refers to Democritus, does it not? 'All that exists are atoms and the void' In this ontology, atoms are truly existent and all that changes is due to the changing relationships of elementary particles. Of course, this has been and continues to be an immensely influential idea.

But I agree that this ontology you are proposing is more like Heraclitus, a dynamic becoming rather than being.
Reply Fri 23 Oct, 2009 11:05 pm
jeeprs;99211 wrote:
I am reminded of a saying 'to be is to be related'. I think this is Buddhist in essence. Buddhism rejects the idea of substance, of anything which is self-existent, that is, existing in its own right or independently of causes and conditions.
Obras completas ("Complete Works").]:
But what is a thing? A piece of the universe, there is nothing alone, there is nothing solitary nor walled off. Each thing is a piece of a larger one, it refers to the rest, it is what it is due to the limitations and confines that these place on it. Each thing is a relation among several. (I, 474-75)
There is an everyday reality formed by a system of loose, approximate, vague relations, which are sufficient for daily life. There is a scientific reality forged from a system of exact relations imposed by the necessity of exactitude. (I, 475)
And what is the being of a thing? An example will make it clear. The planetary system is a system of things, in this case of planets: before the planetary system was thought of there were no planets. It is a system of movements; that is, of relations. like determining a point in a quadrant. Without the other planets, the planet Earth is not possible, and viceversa; each element in the system needs all the rest: it is mutual relation among the others. According to this, the essence of each thing resolves itself in pure relations.

There is no deeper meaning in the evolution of human thought from the Renaissance to now [1910]: the dissolution of the category of substance into the category of relation. And since the relation is not a res, but rather an idea, modern philosophy is called idealism. and medieval philosophy, which begins with Aristotle, realism. (I, 480-81)
Each concrete thing is constituted by an infinity of relations. The sciences proceed discursively, they look for those relations one by one, and, therefore, they need an infinite time to fix them all. This is the original tragedy of science: to work for a result that it will never fully achieve.(I, 483)
Life is change of substance; therefore, co-living, coexisting, weaving itself into a network of relations, leaning one on the other, mutually nurturing one another, involving itself, potentiating itself. (I, 491)

I want to thank you for bringing attention to the concept of "relation". I had forgotten how important it is in Ortega's metaphysics and I can see it fitting right in to the concept of "sustainability". We must understand how a thing is sustained by the relations of its components (e.g., atom to atom, molecule to molecule, cell to cell, etc.), but we must also understand how the thing is sustained by its relations to the rest of the universe.

I'll comment on the rest of the posting separately.

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