Zubiri, Xavier (1898–1983)
Xavier Zubiri, the Spanish Christian ontologist, was born in San Sebastián. He was professor of the history of philosophy in Madrid from 1926 to 1936 and in Barcelona from 1940 to 1942, after an absence abroad during the Spanish Civil War. He then left university teaching to give well-attended "private courses" in Madrid. His influence in Spain has been out of all proportion to the scanty amount of his published work.
Zubiri has been called a Christian existentialist, and indeed that is one aspect of his effort to synthesize neo-scholastic theology with certain contemporary philosophies (those of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and José Ortega y Gasset) and with modern science. To achieve this harmonizing of separate disciplines, Zubiri undertook studies in theology, philosophy, and natural science that could well have occupied three scholarly lives. He took a doctorate of theology in Rome and of philosophy in Madrid (where he studied under Ortega) before attending Heidegger's lectures in Freiburg and studying physics, biology, and Asian languages in various European centers. He translated into Spanish not only metaphysical works by Heidegger but also texts on quantum theory, atomic science, and mathematical physics generally.
From this extensive study Zubiri concluded that positive science and Catholic philosophy were separate points of view concerning the same reality. The philosopher-theologian cannot dispute, correct, or complete anything in science, but neither does he have to accept the philosophical opinions of scientists. The connection between these two parallel approaches to reality is simply that the sciences always leave us metaphysically hungry and with the feeling that they have not exhausted all the possibilities of knowledge, so they impel us to turn to philosophy. It is only when we come to philosophy in this way that it is really valuable; any philosophy that is undertaken without being forced upon us by scientific study is insipid.
What the sciences must get from philosophy, Zubiri claims, is an idea of nature, a theory of being to delimit their ontological horizons. They cannot themselves build such an idea out of positive facts, although they can criticize and reject unsuitable concepts of nature offered by philosophers. Aristotle provided an idea of nature adequate for the founding of physics, and Scholasticism did the same for modern science: Without John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, Galileo Galilei's work would have been impossible. Physics is again in crisis, facing problems that cannot be solved by physicists, logicians, or epistemologists but only by ontologists, who can supply a fresh idea of nature within which quantum physics can progress.
In his philosophy of existence, Zubiri accepts the "radical ontological nullity" of man, who is nothing apart from the tasks he has to wrestle with. It is in dealing with his tasks that man comes to be. His nature consists in the mission of being sent out into existence to realize himself as a person. These views Zubiri read into Heidegger and Ortega, but he added a doctrine of "religation." (Religation was coined by Zubiri from the Latin religare, "to tie," which may also be the root of "religion.") According to this doctrine, we are not simply thrown into existence, as atheistic existentialists say, but are impelled into it by something that we feel all the time as an obligation, a force imposing on us the task of choosing and realizing ourselves. That something is deity, to which we are bound, or tied. Religation, the relation to deity, is the "fundamental root of existence" and the "ontological structure of personality."
Zubiri's works include Ensayo de una teoría fenomenológica del juicio, a doctoral thesis on Husserl (Madrid, 1923); Naturaleza, historia, Dios (Madrid, 1944); Sobre la esencia (Madrid, 1962); and Cinco lecciones de filosofía (Madrid: Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1963).
For commentary on Zubiri, see Luis Diez del Corral et al., Homenaje a Xavier Zubiri (Madrid, 1963), and Julián Marías, "Xavier Zubiri," in La escuela de Madrid (Buenos Aires, 1959).
other works by zubiri
Inteligencia sentiente. Inteligencia y realidad. Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1980.
Inteligencia y Logos. Madrid Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1982.
Siete ensayos de Antropología filosófica. Bogotá: Ed. Universidad de Santo Tomás, 1982.
Inteligencia y Razón. Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicacione, 1983.
Sobre el hombre. Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicacione, 1986.
El problema filosófico de la historia de las religions. Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicacione, 1993.
Los problemas fundamentales de la metafísica occidental. Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicacione, 1994.
Espacio. Materia. Tiempo. Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Fundación Xavier Zubiri, 1996.
Sobre el problema de la filosofía. Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Fundación Xavier Zubiri, 1996.
El problema teologal del hombre: Cristianismo. Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Fundación Xavier Zubiri, 1997.
El hombre y la verdad. Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Fundación Xavier Zubiri, 1999.
Primeros escritos (1921-1926). Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Fundación Xavier Zubiri, 1999.
On Essence. Washington, DC: Xavier Zubiri Foundation of North America, 1980.
Nature, History, God. Washington, DC: Xavier Zubiri Foundation of North America, 1981.
Man and God. Washington, DC: Xavier Zubiri Foundation of North America, 1997.
The Philosophical Problem of the History of Religions. Washington, DC: Xavier Zubiri Foundation of North America, 1999.
Sentient Intelligence. Washington, DC: Xavier Zubiri Foundation of North America, 1999.
The Dynamic Structure of Reality. Champagne: University of Illinois Press, 2003.
A complete bibliography of Zubiri's writings, the English translations of those writings, and literature on Zubiri is maintained by the Xavier Zubiri Foundation of North America at www.zubiri.org.
Neil McInnes (1967)
Bibliography updated by Thomas Nenon (2005)