Jose Ortega y Gasset - A Brief Introduction

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Reply Tue 15 Jul, 2008 03:59 pm

May 9, 1883 - October 18, 1955, Spanish philosopher.

Jose Ortega y Gasset was a Spanish philosopher and essayist. Ortega y Gasset's writings range over a diverse set of topics including history, politics, aesthetics and art criticism, as well as the history of philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. In 1929, Ortega published one of his best known works, The Revolt of the Masses, where he characterized the 20th-century society as dominated by masses of mediocre and indistinguishable individuals.


Ortega's father directed the newspaper El Imparcial, which the Gasset family own (mother's family). The family was a part of Spain's liberal and educate bourgeoisie at the end of the 19th century. Ortega y Gasset family's liberal tradition and journalistic engagement had a major influence on his involvement in Spanish politics.

Ortega received his doctorate in Philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid in 1904. Afterwards he continued his studies in Germany in which he was influenced by the neo-Kantianism of Hermann Cohen and Paul Natorp in Marburg, Germany.

In 1917, Ortega began contributing to the newspaper El Sol where he published his two principal works as a series of essays (Invertebrate Spain and The Revolt of the Masses). In 1923, Ortega founded the Revista de occidente, a review of books that was instrumental in bringing Spain in touch with Western, and specifically German thought. Ortega's work as editor and publisher helped end Spain's isolation from contemporary western culture.


On Philosophy

According to Ortega y Gasset, philosophy has a critical duty to lay siege to beliefs in order to promote new ideas and to explain reality. In order to accomplish such tasks the philosopher must leave behind prejudices and previously existing beliefs and investigate the essential reality of the universe.

[quote=]Philosophy cannot be read, it must be be-read - that is, one must re-think each phrase, and this assumes that you break it into the words which form its ingredients; you then take each one of them, and instead of resting content with surveying its agreeable surface, you must throw yourself headlong into it, submerge yourself in it, go down into the depths of its meaning, look well to its anatomy and its boundaries in order to emerge again into the free air as master of its secret heart. When one does this with all the words of a sentence, they stay united not side by side, but subterraneously, joined by the very roots of their ideas; only then do they truly compose a philosophic phrase. For horizontal reading, the kind that slips along, for simple mental skating down the page, one must substitute vertical reading, immersion in the small abyss which is each word, a fruitful dive without a diving bell." (What Is Philosophy? 75-76)[/quote]

[quote=]The philosopher who is prepared for the maximum degree of intellectual danger, who expounds his whole thought, is under an obligation to exercise full liberty - to free himself from everything, including that rustic suspicion in the face of a possible metaphysics. So we do not renounce any critical strictness; on the contrary, we carry it to the necessary extreme but we do it simply, giving ourselves no air of importance on this account, declining to act the critic. Like all our contemporaries, we detest the vain and exaggerated attitude, the piling-up of useless gestures. Above all, one must be what one is, without display, in sober honesty, evading all temptation to parade oneself as an exaggerated figurehead. (What Is Philosophy? 90)[/quote]

According to Ortega, Philosophy must overcome both the lack of idealism and ancient-medieval realism in order to focus in the only truthful reality-life. Ortega proposes that humans cannot be detached from their circumstances within the world. Ortega's most famous maxim states "I am myself and my circumstance", which is always at the center of his philosophy. Ortega y Gasset observes that circumstance is oppressive; therefore, a continual dialectical exchange of forces between the person and their circumstances. Thus, life is a drama that exists between necessity and freedom.

In History as a System, Ortega argues that:
[quote=]Because man is not identical with his circumstance, but only embedded in it, he is able to rid himself of it in certain moments and retire into his inner self. In these intervals of extra- and supernatural existence, in which he withdraws from attending to his natural needs, he invents and carries out the second set of actions. He lights a fire, he builds a house, he cultivates the field, he designs an automobile." (94) [/quote]

In this sense, Ortega wrote that life is at the same time fate and freedom, and that "freedom is being free inside of a given fate. Fate gives us an inexorable repertory of determinate possibilities, that is, it gives us different destinies. We accept fate and within it we choose one destiny." In this tied down fate we must therefore be active, decide and create a "project of life"-thus not be like those who live a conventional life of customs and given structures who prefer an unconcerned and imperturbable life because they are afraid of the duty of choosing a project.

Ortega's philosophy centers on life so he essentially flips Descartes "I think therefore I am" in favor of "I live therefore I think." This choice highlights Ortega's belief that absolute truth does exist which would be obtains by the summation of all perspectives of all lives, because each human has its own unique perspective and reality which accounts for a miniscule portion of absolute truth.

Ortega y Gasset argues vital reason is also historical reason because individuals and societies are not detached from their past. According to Ortega, humans have no nature, but history and reason should not focus on what is (static) but what becomes (dynamic).

Selected Works

Meditations on Quixote (1914)
Invertebrate Spain (1921)
The Modern Theme (1923)
What is Philosophy? (1928-1929)
The Revolt of the Masses (1929)
Mission of the University (1930)
History as a System and Other Essays Toward a Philosophy of History (1939)
Man and People (1957)
Man and Crisis (1958)
The Origin of Philosophy (1960)
Reply Tue 9 Sep, 2008 04:24 pm
I did not know this man, but I think I like him. Have you read 'What is Philosophy?' and can you recommend it or not?
Reply Tue 9 Sep, 2008 04:34 pm
I read excerpts of What is Philosophy? for a couple of classes I took at my former school. I have extensive notes on all of Ortega's work provided by the former professor so I could easily recall main points. I also have the book on my shelf so maybe this is a sign. From what I can tell glancing at the notes, it is definately worth the read. Ortega's writing is very vivid, fluid, and clear. As one of my philo profs said when I introduced her to Ortega in my paraphrase, you can pick up a piece of his work and begin at any paragraph and know what Ortega is talking about.

One of these days I am going to go through this introduction and start categorizing more quotes from other works based on subjects. I started, but like many other projects life impedes.
Reply Tue 9 Sep, 2008 05:33 pm
Just a thought. Since Ortega did all of his work in the 20th Century, shouldn't Ortega be listed as a 20th century philosopher? This probably holds as well for Bertrand Russell since he was much too young to be a 19th century philosopher.
Reply Wed 10 Sep, 2008 12:19 am
Thanks for the information. On the moving of the subforum: I'd give Justin a pm. I bet he'll have it fixed in a minute.


Good eye on Russel btw. I had not noticed it yet. He was born in the nineteenth century though, so maybe that is the reason why he was classified there.

Reply Wed 10 Sep, 2008 06:17 am
What is Philosophy?, a series of popular lectures in the best sense, seems a good summary of his thought and in a surprisingly contemporary way, speaks to important issues in today's world. He begins by remarking:
"Every intellectual effort sets us apart from the commonplace, and leads us by hidden and difficult paths to secluded sports where we find ourselves amid unaccustomed thoughts. These are the results of our meditation."
[PS.Oddly enough, I have the book in a shelf right by my computer on which I keep useful reference books and others I use frequently.]

It might be best to ignore the actual dates of a life as a criteria and use a philosopher's floruit instead. Russell may very well have been born in the reign of Victoria, but didn't publish until 1900, and the Principia came out in 1910-1913.
Reply Sun 14 Dec, 2008 01:15 pm
I sent Justin a pm about this as well. He replied that he will work on it.
Reply Tue 10 Feb, 2009 09:17 pm
Finally done. Thanks to Justin.
Reply Sun 27 Sep, 2009 10:47 pm
Regarding Ortega's ideas about "What Do You Exactly Call Philosophy?" see my latest post, "Philosophy as the Science of Love, as Comprehension, and as Salvation," at:
Reply Sat 7 Nov, 2009 08:59 pm
See my latest thread: "My Life" or "Living as the "Radical Reality" in Jose Ortega y Gasset .

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