Caso, Antonio (1883–1946)

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Antonio Caso, a Mexican philosopher and diplomat, was born in Mexico City in 1883 and died there in 1946. He was a professor of philosophy at the National University of Mexico, rector of that institution, lecturer at the Colegio Nacional, and ambassador to several South American nations. He wrote voluminously over a period of three decades and had great influence as a teacher. For his sources he turned especially to Henri Bergson but also to Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Edmund Husserl.

The metaphysics of Caso emphasizes process, freedom, life, and spirit. He conceived of reality as a fluent dynamism whose operations and forms are unified organically. The subject-predicate bias of traditional logic distorts reality by its apparatus of static terms related as in a closed machine. Modern science has more insight with its realization that even the physical world eludes a rigorous determinism. The individual particle has a factor of spontaneity; law is only statistical, applying to groups by virtue of the mutual compensation of individual irregularities. By the same token, living process has a unique character that cannot be reduced to the terms of physics and chemistry but stimulates and directs the material vehicle. A conscious living being discovers its own freedom in the simple act of willing a bodily movement: freedom coincides with causation from within. Consciousness is not passively derived from more primitive conditions by laws of association and evolution. On the contrary, the pure ego projects its own structures upon the data of raw feeling, thus supplying the objects of mature experience and the principles underlying those of association and evolution.

The ethics of Caso is concerned with two triads: that of things, individuals, and persons, and that of economy, disinterest, and love. Things are merely physical, are deficient in unity, are divisible, and are not subjects of value. Individuals are living beings that are indivisible but can be substituted for each other. The value of the merely biological is economy, found in egocentricity and utility and illustrated in nutrition, growth, reproduction, tool making, and death. Beyond individuals are persons, which add the character of spirit to life. Persons are capable of both disinterest and love. Disinterest suspends the mechanisms of selfishness and usefulness in the act of contemplation; love identifies the self with another in sympathy and service and is at its noblest in self-sacrifice. Persons are unique; they play a role as creators of values in society, and in them freedom is most advanced and responsible. Their interplay defines human culture, the enemies of which are individualism and totalitarianism; both are forms of egoism and of economic value. The error of totalitarian philosophy is to transfer the notion of the absolute from a universal principle of existence, where it is justified, to the state, where it does not exist. This philosophy has its source in Thomas Hobbes; it should not be imputed to G. W. F. Hegel, who placed art, religion, and philosophy above the state.

Caso's aesthetics begins with the concept of a surplus of energy, or vital excess, that is the basis of play, art, and the spirit of sacrifice. Art is distinguished from play and from the spirit of sacrifice by disinterest. In addition to the suspension of selfishness and usefulness, disinterest implies abstraction from questions of reality and goodness of the object contemplated. Disinterest preserves art from any possibility of immorality, which requires an interested attitude. It is associated with the intuitive nature of the aesthetic experience, since absorption in the object as an end favors appreciation of its full individuality. The nonconceptual nature of the experience is reconciled with the claim of universality, after the manner of Kant. The experience, however, does not terminate with an image within the mind. The conative tendency of psychic states leads to empathy, or projection of the state upon the outer world. Aesthetic empathy differs from the projection mentioned earlier in that it is emotional and concrete rather than logical and formal, and from that empathy and religious empathy in that it is disinterested. But natural objects do not readily satisfy the aesthetic need. Aesthetic empathy therefore leads to expression, or the creation of works of art, in which are consummated the empathic tendency and disinterested intuition. In his account of intuition and expression, Caso claimed to follow Benedetto Croce, but he did not do so without wavering.

See also Bergson, Henri; Croce, Benedetto; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Husserl, Edmund; Kant, Immanuel; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Sympathy and Empathy.


main works by caso

La filosofia de la intuición (The philosophy of intuition). Mexico City, 1914.

La existencia como economía, como desinterés y como caridad (Existence as economy, as disinterest, and as love). Mexico City, 1919.

Discursos á la nación mexicana (Discourses to the Mexican Nation). Mexico City: Porrua huos., 1922.

El concepto de la historia universal (The concept of universal history). Mexico City: Ediciones Botas, 1923.

Principios de estética (Principles of aesthetics). Mexico City: Publicaciones de la Sria. de Edvcacion, 1925.

La Persona humana y el estado totalitario (The human person and the totalitarian state). Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma, 1941.

works on caso

Berndtson, Arthur. "Mexican Philosophy: The Aesthetics of Antonio Caso." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 9 (4) (June 1951): 323329.

Romanell, Patrick. Making of the Mexican Mind. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1952. Ch. 3.

Arthur Berndtson (1967)