Ortega y Gasset, José

views updated Jun 11 2018

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.

Ortega y Gasset, José

views updated May 17 2018


José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955) was born in Madrid on May 8 and became the most influential Spanish philosopher of the twentieth century, with a reputation and influence that extended from Spain to Latin America and beyond. Ortega was the first professional philosopher to make technology an explicit theme for critical reflection. He died in Madrid on October 18.

Ortega in His Circumstances

Ortega earned a doctorate at the University of Madrid in 1904, after which he did postdoctoral work in Germany. His course of study included not only philosophy but also comparative literature, law, biology, and psychology. Having been influenced by the Generation of 98 (1898, the year in which Spain lost the last of its colonies to the United States and a period in which Miguel de Unamuno [1864–1936], Pío Baroja [1872–1956], and other writers responded with new visions of the nation), Ortega became a leading figure of the Generation of 27 (1927, the year of the emergence of a literary and artistic avant garde that included Federico García Lorca [1898–1936] and Pablo Picasso [1881–1973]).

Outside the academic world Ortega worked as a journalist, publisher, and politician and served as a member of parliament between 1931 and 1933, during the Second Spanish Republic. After the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) he went into exile, initially in Argentina, but in 1945 he settled in Portugal and then returned to Spain in 1948 to found the Institute de Humanidades, where he lectured until his death.

The basic theme of Ortega's philosophy was announced in Medicaciones del Quijote [Meditations on Quixote] (1914), in which he argued for understanding human beings in relation to their circumstances. "Yo soy yo y mi circunstancias" [I am myself and my circumstances] was the formative statement with which he placed razón vital (living reason), a kind of existentialist vitalism, at the center of philosophical reflection. It was in an attempt to understand living reason at work in his own circumstances that Ortega, over the course of his philosophical career, analyzed the historical condition of Spain (Espan˜a invertebrada [1921]), the character of modern art (La deshumanización del arte [1925]), the transformation of politics (La rebelión de las masas [1930]), the dynamics of history (Historia como sistema [1936]), and the post–World War II destiny of Europe (Meditación de Europa [1949]).

Ethics and Technology

Ortega's philosophy is a critique of the rationalism that has been dominant since the eighteenth century. As an affirmation of life that nevertheless acknowledges the essential character of reason in human beings, his philosophy is fundamentally ethical in its orientation. The primordial reality is life, in which individuals find themselves as castaways struggling not to drown. This is the basic human activity: not contemplation or science but rather "staying alive," with one of the instruments in the struggle being technology.

It is this perspective that Ortega brought to bear on technology in a number of works but especially in a 1933 university course that appeared in book form under the title Meditacióndela técnica [Meditation on technics] (1939). More partial contributions to this analysis can be found in works as diverse as The Revolt of the Masses; En torno a Galileo [Around Galileo] (1933), translated as Man and Crisis; La idea principio en Leibniz [The idea of principle in Leibniz] (published posthumously in 1958); Una interpretación de la historia universal [An interpretation of universal history] (published posthumously in 1959); and lectures such as "Goethe sin Weimar" [Goethe minus Weimar] (1949) and "El mito del hombre allende la técnica" [The myth of humans outside technics] (1951).

Meditación de la técnica begins with a prophetic pronouncement about the future of philosophy and technology: "One of the themes that in the coming years is going to be debated with the most determination is the sense, advantages, dangers, and limits of technics" (Obras completas 1946–1983, Vol. V, p. 319). According to Ortega, technology does not so much help humans adapt to and be able to live in the natural world that surrounds them as it is an instrument that permits them to adapt nature to the satisfaction of their needs. Those needs include not only those of the primary type (food, shelter, etc.) but also those, which produce well-being, not just life but a vision of the good life. For example, the bow is an invention created both to hunt and to play music.

Whereas an animal can live only in a manner that is dependent on nature, humans are capable of distancing themselves from nature, becoming introspective, and, from the point of this self-absorbtion, performing the act of inventing. Technological innovation creates a "supernature" that becomes a mediator between humans and nature. In the historical development of this technology Ortega distinguishes three stages: accidental technology, crafted technology, and the technology of the technician.

In the first stage technology appears in limited and rudimentary forms; human beings view technological innovation as the result of chance, not of their capacity for invention. In the second stage craft techniques have a greater presence and complexity, although invention and production are not clearly distinguished. More important, humans do not realize their capacity for invention because the technical advances they produce are considered not innovations but variations within a craft tradition.

In the third stage humans finally recognize that technology is the fruit of their ability to invent. They dissociate the moment of invention, which belongs to the inventor or engineer, from the act of application, which belongs to the worker. In this stage humans begin to create not only instruments or tools but also machines that replace human work: the set of "invention factories" (as the inventor Thomas Edison [1847–1931] called his laboratory) and systems for research and development leading to new and imaginative technologies.

It is in this third stage, Ortega argues, that humans now find themselves and in which they discover a horizon of unlimited possibilities. Before the modern period most people were limited by the circumstances in which they both inherited a vision of how to live and adopted the apparently unchanging technical means to realize it. In the contemporary world, however, with the emergent ease of external technical invention, human attention is distracted by ever more superficial activity. In Ortega's words, in the modern world "before having some particular technics one has technics itself" (Obras Completas 1946–1983, p. 369).

However, at this point human beings must face two temptations. On the one hand, they tend to lose interest in the science on which technology depends because it seems so readily available that producing it does not seem to be required any longer. On the other hand, they specialize, thus abandoning any comprehensive view of reality that might provide a basis for orienting or focusing technological developments. Able to become anything they want, they cease to want to become anything at all.

Ortega presents a defense of technology as an element that makes human life human. However, he points out that the capacity, in principle unlimited, that technology now offers to humans may tempt them to believe that they live from technology and not with it, that they are merely forms of technological life, not creatures that use technology to live. Insofar as human beings allow themselves to give in to that temptation, human life eventually will become meaningless and living reason will wither and die.


More than other seminal philosophers of technology in the European tradition, such as Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), and Jacques Ellul (1912–1994), Ortega appreciated the positive aspect of technology, its intimate engagement with what it means to be human. At the same time, more than some people today who enthusiastically celebrate the achievements of technology, he recognized the dangers of what might be called "technology only technology." Whether and to what extent Ortega's thought can be brought to bear in specific discussions about science, technology, and ethics remains to be seen.


SEE ALSO Conservatism;Existentialism; Spanish-Language Perspectives.


Gray, Rockwell. (1989). The Imperative of Modernity: An Intellectual Biography of José Ortega y Gasset. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ortega y Gasset, José. (1946–1983). Obras completas, 12 volumes. Madrid: Alianza. Volume V contains Meditación de la técnica in Ensimismamiento y alteración (1939). An incomplete translation is available as "Thoughts on Technology" in Philosophy and Technology: Readings in the Philosophical Problems of Technology, ed. Carl Mitcham and Robert Mackey. New York: Free Press, 1972, pp. 290–313. Though Ortega's reflections on technology can be found in many of his writings, Meditación de la técnica gives a comprehensive vision of his thoughts on the matter.

Ortega y Gasset, José

views updated May 08 2018


Spanish philosopher; b. Madrid, May 9, 1883, d. there, Oct. 18, 1955. Ortega obtained his doctorate in philosophy and letters at the Central University, Madrid (1904), and subsequently attended the universities of Leipzig, Berlin, and Marburg. From 1910 to 1936 he was professor of metaphysics at the University of Madrid. He was a prolific writer; his complete works, including those published posthumously, fill nine volumes.

From his first writings, Ortega preferred the vitalistic philosophy of the turn of the century to the idealism of his professors at Marburg, and he focused his attention on the individual within a concrete "circumstance." The influence of F. W. nietzsche and W. dilthey is apparent in Ortega's writings, although he defends the originality and superiority of his philosophy over the empiricist thought of Dilthey. Several of his themes on human existence are also found in M. Heidegger, but Ortega is careful to point out the priority of his own publications.

In interpreting Ortega's thought, the chronology of his works (especially those published posthumously) must be kept in mind. The main ideas of his "metaphysics" and epistemology, substantially unchanged since about 1932, are the following. The radical reality is life, "my life." All other realities are rooted, in the sense that they must appear in one way or another, in my life. Life can be described as what "I" do with the "circumstance," or as the effort for "my" realization within a given "circumstance." The "I" or the ego is a project, a program. "Circumstance" means everything else, including my body and soul. Independently of my interpretations, the circumstance (i.e., things) consists in mere facilities and difficulties.

The "instrument" by which one can capture radical reality is the vital reason that, in the last analysis, is identical with life itself. My life, a continuous making and not something already made, must constantly consider and weigh the facilities and difficulties of the situation; it must choose"we are necessarily free"between the different possibilities or alternatives, and it must reason. This is the meaning of vital reason, and since life is essentially time or history, vital reason is also historical reason. Its method is narration. It does not use Eleatic, universal, and identical concepts, but concrete and "occasional" concepts of variable content.

Since every individual is a project, the circumstance or the facilities and difficulties each one faces are different. Hence each man has a different point of view vis-à-vis the universe. What one sees, another cannot see; what is true for one may not be true for another. All points of view are necessary for seeing the whole truth. The truth of ideas, as distinct from truth as authenticity, consists in their correspondence with one's idea of reality; it is "a matter of internal policy."

In spite of his perspectivism and his definition of truth, Ortega rejects relativism in the traditional sense of the term. A few texts in Ortega's earlier writings explicitly affirm the existence of a transcendent, absolute reality, whereas later expressions seem to preclude its truly transcendent and absolute character. The later position, which can hardly be interpreted from a purely phenomenological point of view, seems more in harmony with his final philosophy. Ortega wrote also, with genial insights, on philosophy of history, psychology, literature, art, sports, technology, and above all on social and political philosophy.

Ortega contributed immensely to the philosophical awakening of his countrymen; his writings, encompassing in masterful style all realms of culture, and the Revista de Occidente, which he founded and edited, introduced their readers to the whole of European and world thought. His own philosophy has influenced, in greater or less degree, contemporary Spanish laymen and thinkers in other lands. The deficiencies of his philosophy stem from his de-essentialized ideas concerning the "I" and life; his idealistic and, in spite of his protests, relativistic concept of truth; the inability of his vitalistic conception to reach transcendence; his radical historicism; and the exclusion of universal moral norms.

See Also: life philosophies.

Bibliography: Obras completas, 9 v. (4th ed. Madrid 195763). j. marÍas, aguilera, Ortega y la idea de la razón vital (2d ed. Madrid 1948); La escuela de Madrid (Buenos Aires 1959). j. ferrater mora, Ortega y Gasset: An Outline of His Philosophy (New Haven 1957). s. m. ramÍrez, La filosofía de Ortega y Gasset (Barcelona 1958). f. alluntis, "The Vital and Historical Reason of José Ortega y Gasset," Franciscan Studies 15 (1955): 6078.

[f. alluntis]

José Ortega Y Gasset

views updated May 23 2018

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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