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Ortega y Gasset, José

Ortega y Gasset, José

works by ortega y gasset

supplementary bibliography

José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), Spanish writer and philosopher, was born and died in Madrid, where both sides of his family were closely connected with the worlds of politics and journalism. Ortega attended various Jesuit schools and studied at the University of Madrid, where he received his PH.D. in 1904. His postgraduate work was done in Leipzig, Berlin, and Marburg, during which time he was greatly influenced by the ideas of Georg Simmel, Hermann Cohen, and Paul Gerhard Natorp. Between the years 1910 and 1936, Ortega was professor of metaphysics at the University of Madrid.

Ortega began writing for Spanish and South American newspapers and journals in 1902. In 1923 he founded the Revista de occidente, which he directed until its activities were interrupted in 1936. As a liberal interested in social problems, Ortega opposed the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera, which lasted from 1923 to 1930, and in 1931 he founded, together with G. Maranon and Ramon Perez de Ayala, the Agrupacion al Servicio de la Republica, a political group. Soon afterward, he was elected a deputy in the Constituent Assembly, a position he held from 1931 to 1933. At the outbreak of the civil war in 1936, Ortega, unable to support either side in the conflict, chose instead to live abroad—in France, Holland, Argentina, and Portugal. Upon his return to Spain in 1945 he kept aloof from both the government and the University of Madrid. In 1948, with Julian Marias, Ortega founded the Instituto de Humanidades in Madrid.

For forty years Ortega was one of Spain’s leading intellectual figures and the center of a broad intellectual movement that has been called the “school of Madrid.” As a writer, lecturer, educator, political guide, philosopher, and creative sociologist, he made a deep mark on twentieth-century Spanish thought and literature.

Although influenced at first by Neo-Kantianism and phenomenology, Ortega soon criticized these doctrines and evolved a metaphysics according to vital reason that went beyond philosophical idealism without slipping into realism. This metaphysics states that the ultimate or radical reality from which every other reality draws its roots cannot be reduced to any idea or theory but is “my life” in the biographical, not the biological, sense. To Ortega, “Life is what we do and what happens to us.” “To live is to deal with the world, aim at it, act in it, be occupied with it.” “I am myself and my circumstance, and if I do not save my circumstance, I do not save myself” (Meditations on Quixote1914). Things and the ego are only abstract elements in the primary reality—my life—which consists in activity. My life is given to me, not made for me: I have to make it with things. The ego is a vital project and the circumstance is a repertory of possibilities that require choice and the justification of choice. In order to live, I must imagine, think, and reason. Reason is a condition of human life, a requisite for living, and it is life itself that makes it possible to understand whatever has a function in life. Insofar as life apprehends reality it is reason (vital reason); in its concrete form, it is historical reason, since individual life includes its own past and all of history. Ortega had to re-elaborate the categories and forms of philosophical thought in order to arrive at a form of circumstantial thought according to which each individual life (as well as each society) is a point of view on the universe—a perspective that is an ingredient in, and an organizing principle of, reality.

In a strict sense, human life is individual; when several lives interrelate, the inter-individual is formed. The collective, or social, individual (no longer an inter-individual) is impersonal, unspontaneous, and without responsibility.

Society consists of those usages or customs to which the entire “people” is subject. Customs are what is done, thought, believed, and said. By means of customs, society exerts pressure on individuals, regulates conduct, and automates a large part of life. At the same time, customs transmit the heritage of the past and create progress and history. Customs put man in a position to discover what is properly his and make it possible for him to deal with the unknown. Language, beliefs, manners, and laws are diverse forms of customs. By far the strongest are law and the state. Authority is necessary for society to exist, since man’s social impulse fights with his drive toward disassociation and insociability. Authority’s goal, however, is to permit each individual freely to live his personal and irreplaceable life.

Society is composed of the masses and the minority—not in the sense of social classes, but of categories of men, or social functions. The masses consist of an unqualified majority and a minority composed of qualified men with leadership ability (who may, in most aspects and activities of their lives, be part of the unqualified masses). The revolt of the masses is not a positive attempt to gain access to superior forms of life, but the pathological striving of the unqualified to act as if they were qualified. Unlike the man of responsibility and effort, the mass-minded man demands nothing of himself at the same time that he attempts to judge and evaluate everything around him.

Historical variation takes place within each society according to the rhythm of 15-year generations which create, even though it may be small, a totalchange. Those who belong to a generation are the men born within a “region of dates,” who have to meet the same problems, in the same world, at the same level. At each moment there coexist at least three active generations, partially overlapping and producing historical change.

The enormous wealth of themes in Ortega’s thought can only be indicated in this extreme abbreviation of his theories of human, individual, historical, and social life.

JuliÁn MarÍas

[For the historical context of Ortega’s work, seeHistory, article onthe philosophy of history; and the biographies ofBurckhardt; Dilthey; Simmel; for discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeCreativity, article onsocial aspects; Generations; Mass society.]

works by ortega y gasset

(1914) 1963 Meditations on Quixote. With an introduction and notes by Julián Marias. New York: Norton.

(1916-1934) 1943 El espectador de José Ortega y Gasset. Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva.

(1921a) 1951 España invertebrada: Bosquejo de algunos pensamientos históricos. 7th ed. Madrid: Revista de Occidente.

(1921b) 1937 Invertebrate Spain. New York: Norton. → The first three essays were first published in Ortega 1921a.

(1923) 1933 The Modem Theme. New York: Norton. →A paperback edition was published in 1961 by Harper.

(1924-1939) 1961 History as a System, and Other Essays Toward a Philosophy of History. New York: Norton.

(1925) 1956 The Dehumanization of Art, and Other Writings on Art and Culture. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

(1930a) 1963 Mission of the University. London: Routledge.

(1930b) 1961 The Revolt of the Masses. London: Allen & Unwin.

(1933) 1962 Man and Crisis. New York: Norton. → First published as En torno a Galileo.

(1939) 1961 Man the Technician. Pages 85-161 in José Ortega y Gasset, History as a System, and Other Essays Toward a Philosophy of History. New York: Norton. → First published as Meditatión de la técnica.

(1940a) 1963 Concord and Liberty. New York: Norton. → First published as Del imperio romano.

(1940b) 1959 . . . Ideas y creencias. 6th ed. Madrid: Revista de Occidente.

(1940c) 1960 On Love: Aspects of a Single Theme. New York: Meridian.

1950 Papeles sobre Velázquez y Goya. Madrid: Revista de Occidente.

(1957) 1963 Man and People. New York: Norton.

1958a La idea de principio en Leibniz y la evolution de la teoria deductiva. Buenos Aires: Emece.

(1958b) 1964 What is Philosophy? New York: Norton.

1959 Una interpretatión de la historia universal, en torno a Toynbee. Madrid: Revista de Occidente.

1960a Meditation de Europa. Madrid: Revista de Occidente.

1960b Origen y epilogo de la filosofia. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Economica.

Obras completas. 9 vols. 4th ed. Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1957-1962.

supplementary bibliography

Borel, Jean Paul 1959 Raison et vie chez Ortega y Gasset. Neuchatel (Switzerland): Baconniere.

Ceplecha, Christian 1958 The Historical Thought of Jose Ortega y Gasset. Washington: Catholic Univ. of America Press.

Ferrater Mora, JosÉ (1957) 1963 Ortega y Gasset: An Outline of His Philosophy. New rev. ed. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → A bibliography appears on pages 95-102.

Hierro, JosÉ 1965 El derecho en Ortega. Madrid: Revista de Occidente.

MÁrias, Julian 1950 Ortega y tres antipodas. Buenos Aires: Revista de Occidente Argentina.

Marias, Julian 1959 La Escuela de Madrid. Buenos Aires: Emece.

Marias, Julian 1960 Ortega. Volume 1: Circunstancia y vocation. Madrid: Revista de Occidente.

Torre, Guillermo de et al. 1956 Homenaje a Ortega y Gasset. Atenea 124:1-106.

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José Ortega Y Gasset

José Ortega Y Gasset

The Spanish philosopher and essayist José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) is best known for his analyses of history and modern culture, especially his penetrating examination of the uniquely modern phenomenon "mass man."

José Ortega y Gasset was born in Madrid on May 9, 1883. He studied with the Jesuits at the Colegio de Jesuítas de Miraflores del Palo, near Málaga, and from 1898 to 1902 he studied at the University of Madrid, from which he received the degree of licenciado en filosofía y letras. In 1904 Ortega earned a doctor's degree at Madrid for a dissertation in philosophy. From 1905 to 1907 he did postgraduate studies at the universities of Leipzig, Berlin, and Marburg in Germany. Deeply influenced by German philosophy, especially the thought of Hermann Cohen, Wilhelm Dilthey, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Heidegger, as well as by the French philosopher Henri Bergson, Ortega sought to overcome the traditional provincialism and isolation of philosophical study in his native Spain.

From 1910 to 1936 Ortega taught philosophy at the University of Madrid. Early in his career he gained a reputation through his numerous philosophical and cultural essays, not only in literary journals but also in newspapers, which were a peculiar and important medium of education and culture in pre-Civil War Spain. Ortega's most famous book, The Revolt of the Masses (1930), first appeared in the form of newspaper articles. Throughout his career he was generally active in the cultural and political life of his country, both in monarchist and in republican Spain. In 1923 Ortega founded the journal Revista de Occidente, which flourished until 1936.

After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Ortega left Spain and lived abroad, dwelling in France, Holland, Argentina, and Portugal until the end of World War II. He returned to Spain in 1945, living there and in Portugal, with frequent trips and stays abroad, until his death. In 1948, together with Julián Marías, Ortega founded the Instituto de Humanidades, a cultural and scholarly institution, in Madrid. In 1949 Ortega lectured in the United States, followed by lectures in Germany and in Switzerland in 1950 and 1951. He received various honorary degrees, including a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Glasgow. Ortega died in Madrid on Oct. 18, 1955.

Ortega's numerous and varied writings, in addition to The Revolt of the Masses, include The Modern Theme (1923), The Mission of the University (1930), On Love (1940), History as System (1941), Man and People (1957), Man and Crisis (1958), and What Is Philosophy? (1958). Often mentioned, as is Miguel de Unamuno, with the existentialists, Ortega expounded a philosophy that has been called "ratiovitalism" or "vital reason," in which he sought to do justice to both the intellectual and passional dimensions of man as manifestations of the fundamental reality, "human life."

Ortega's philosophy is closest to that of Heidegger. He described human life as the "radical reality" to which everything else in the universe appears, in terms of which everything else has meaning, and which is therefore the central preoccupation of philosophy. Man is related to the world in terms of the "concerns" to which he attends. The individual human being is decisively free in his inner self, and his life and destiny are what he makes of them within the "given" of his heredity, environment, society, and culture. Thus man does not so much have a history; he is his history, since history is uniquely the manifestation of human freedom.

Further Reading

Two studies of Ortega's thought which include biographical material are José Sánchez Villaseñor, Ortega y Gasset, Existentialist: A Critical Study of His Thought and Its Sources (1949), and José Ferrater Mora, Ortega y Gasset: An Outline of His Philosophy (1957; rev. ed. 1963). Excellent discussions of Ortega's literary theories are in Joseph Frank, The Widening Gyre: Crisis and Mastery in Modern Literature (1963), and William H. Gass, Fiction and the Figures of Life (1970).

Additional Sources

Gray, Rockwell. The imperative of modernity: an intellectual biography of José Ortega y Gasset, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Ouimette, Victor. José Ortega y Gasset, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982. □

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Ortega y Gasset, José

José Ortega y Gasset (hōsā´ ôrtā´gä ē gäsĕt´), 1883–1955, Spanish essayist and philosopher. He studied in Germany and was influenced by neo-Kantian thought. He called his philosophy the metaphysics of vital reason, and he sought to establish the ultimate reality in which all else was rooted. In 1910 he became a professor of metaphysics at the Univ. of Madrid. In Meditaciones del Quijote (1914) and España invertebrada (1921) he compared Germanic and Mediterranean cultures. The Modern Theme (1923, tr. 1931) is one of his best philosophical books. Many of the essays in El Espectador (8 vol., 1916–34) first appeared in the Revista de Occidente, a review he founded (1923) and directed. But it was with The Revolt of the Masses (1929, tr. 1932) that Ortega gained international fame. He held that unless the masses can be directed by an intellectual minority, chaos will result. Although he supported the republic, he fled at the outbreak (1936) of the civil war, first to France and then to Argentina. After World War II he returned to Madrid, where he founded the Institute of Humanities. His other collections translated into English include Toward a Philosophy of History (1941), The Mission of the University (1944), Concord and Liberty (1946), The Dehumanization of Art (1948), Man and People (1957), and Man and Crisis (1958).

See biographies by H. Raley (1971) and F. Niedermayer (1973).

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