Jose Ortega Y Gasset

Jose Ortega Y Gasset

Born: 1883. Died: 1955.


- Human beings and their circumstances exist in a dynamic interplay.

- 'I am I and my circumstance' is the phrase that conveys this dynamic interplay.

- The individual can influence his circumstance but he cannot disregard it.

- How the individual influences his circumstance is his 'quehacer vital', or his creative action.

- Vital reason as opposed to pure reason is derived from history, which provides a story that leads to the reality of human life.

- Human beings create thir lives by exercising vital reason and exerting their will.

- The hero, or the excellent man, creates the noble life by exerting his will to go beyond the ordinary and the given.

- The opposite of the hero, the mass man, is content with his own mediocrity and relies on opinion rather than reason.

- Perspectivism means that although each individual sees truth from a unique perspective, truth itself is absolute.


The Spanish essayist and philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), was born in Madrid of a patrician family.

He was educated at a Jesuit college and the University of Madrid, where he received his doctorate in philosophy in 1904. Ortega spent the next five years at German universities in Berlin and Leipzig and at the University of Marburg. Appointed professor of metaphysics at the University of Madrid in 1910, he taught there until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war in 1936. He was also active as a journalist and as a politician.

In 1923 he 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.

Ortega led the republican intellectual opposition under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-1936), and he played a role in the overthrow of King Alfonso XIII in 1931. Elected deputy for the province of León in the constituent assembly of the second Spanish republic, he was the leader of a parliamentary group of intellectuals know as La Agrupación al servicio de la república ("In the service of the republic") and was named civil governor of Madrid. Such a commitment obliged him to leave Spain at the outbreak of the Civil War, and he spent years of exile in Argentina and Europe.

He settled in Portugal in 1945 and began to make visits to Spain. In 1948 he returned to Madrid and founded the Institute of Humanities, at which he lectured.

A prolific writer, Ortega was the head of the most productive school of thinkers Spain had known for more than three centuries and helped place philosophy beyond the reach of a centuries-old reproach that it was somehow un-Spanish, and therefore dangerous.

Major Books of Jose Ortega Y Gasset

- La deshumanizacion del Arte e Ideas sobre la novela (The Dehumanization of Art and Ideas about the Novel), 1925
- El Espectador (The Spectator), 8 volumes published 1916-1934
- El hombre y la gente (Man and the Populace, course given 1949-1950 at the Institute of the Humanities), 1957
- El tema de nuestro tiempo (The theme of our time), 1923
- Ensimismamiento y alteracion, Meditacion de la tecnica (Sameness-making and alteration:), or The making of sameness and difference: A meditation on technique, 1939
- Espana Invertebrada (Invertebrate Spain), 1921
- Espiritu de la letra (The Spirit of the Letter), 1927
- Goethe desde dentro (Goethe from Within), 1932
- Goya, 1958
- Historia Como Sistema (History as a System, 1935), 1941
- Idea del Teatro, Una abreviatura (The Idea of Theater, lecture given in Lisbon and in Madrid, 1946), 1958
- Ideas y Crencias (Ideas and Beliefs: on historical reason), a course taught in Buenos Aires, 1940), 1979
- Investigaciones psicologicas (Psychological Investigations, course given 1915-1916), 1982
- Kant, 1929-1931
- La caza y los toros (Hunting and Bullfighting), 1960
- La Idea de principio en Leibniz y la evolucion de la teoria deductiva (The Idea of Principle in Leibniz and the Evolution of Deductive Theory), 1947
- La rebelion de las masas (The Revolt of the Masses), 1930
- Las Atlantidas y del Imperio Romano (The Atlantis an the Roman Empire), 1924
- Man and Crisis, 1958
- Meditaciones del Quijote (Meditations on Quixote), 1914
- Meditacion de Europa (Meditation on Europe), lecture given in Berlin in 1949, 1960
- Meditations on Hunting, 1944
- Mirabeau o el politico (Mirabeau or Politics), 1928-1929
- Origen y Epilogo de la Filosofia (The Origin of Philosophy), 1960
- Papeles sobre Velazquez y Goya (Papers on Velazquez and Goya), 1950
- Pasado y porvenir para el hombre actual (Past and future for the man of today), 1962
- Personas, Obras, Cosas (People, Works, Things, articles and essays written 1904-1912) 1916
- ¿Que es Conocimiento? (What is knowledge? Three Courses Taught in 1929, 1930, and 1931), 1984
- ¿Que es filosofia? (What is philosophy? Courses Delivered in 1928-1929), 1957
- Sobre la Razon Historica (On historical reason), course given in Lisbon, 1944), 1979
- Teoria de Andalucia y otros ensayos: Guillermo Dilthey y la Idea de vida (The theory of Andalucia and other essays: Wilhelm Dilthey and the idea of life), 1942
- Una interpretacion de la Historia Universal, En torno a Toynbee (An interpretation of Universal History, On Toynbee), 1948
- Unas Lecciones de Metafisica (Some Lessons in Metaphysics, course given 1932-33), 1966
- Velazquez, 1959
- Vieja y Nueva Politica (Old and New Politics), 1914

Major Articles of Jose Ortega Y Gasset

- 1939, Collectivisme en Individualisme, Synthese
- 1957, The Nature of the Novel, with Evelyn Rugg and Diego Marin, The Hudson Review

Quotes from Jose Ortega Y Gasset

- "He who wishes to teach us a truth should not tell it to us, but simply suggest it with a brief gesture, a gesture which starts an ideal trajectory in the air along which we glide until we find ourselves at the feet of the new truth." (from "Meditations on Quixote", 1914)

- "I am I plus my surroundings; and if I do not preserve the latter, I do not preserve myself." (from "Meditations on Quixote", 1914)

- "Everyone sees the need of a new principle of life. But as always happens in similar crises-some people attempt to save the situation by an artificial intensification of the very principle which has led to decay. This is the meaning of the "nationalist" outburst of recent years. ... The last flare, the longest; the last sigh, the deepest. On the very eve of their disappearance there is an intensification of frontiers-military and economic." (from "The Revolt of the Masses", 1930)

- "The law of public opinion is the universal law of gravitation in political history." (from "The Revolt of the Masses", 1930)

- "The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated." (from "The Revolt of the Masses", 1930)

- "The privileges of nobility are not in their origin concessions or favors; on the contrary, they are conquests. And their maintenance supposes, in principle, that the privileged individual is capable of reconquering them, at any moment, if it were necessary, and anyone were to dispute them." (from "The Revolt of the Masses", 1930)

- "This is the gravest danger that today threatens civilization: State intervention; the absorption of all spontaneous social effort by the State, that is to say, of spontaneous historical action, which in the long run sustains, nourishes and impels human destinies." (from "The Revolt of the Masses", 1930)

- "To live is to feel oneself lost-he who accepts this has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look round for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce." (from "The Revolt of the Masses", 1930)

- "We are in the presence of the contradiction of a style of living which cultivates sincerity and is at the same time a fraud." (from "The Revolt of the Masses", 1930)

- "We live at a time when man believes himself fabulously capable of creation, but he does not know what to create. Lord of all things, he is not lord of himself. He feels lost amid his own abundance. With more means at its disposal, more knowledge, more techniques than ever, it turns out that the world today goes the same way as the worst of worlds that have been; it simply drifts." (from "The Revolt of the Masses", 1930)

- "It is not sufficient that man should be able to free himself from what he is already and take on a new form, as the serpent sloughs its skin and is left with another. Progress demands that this new form should rise above the old and to this end should preserve it and turn it to account, that it should take off from the old, climbing on its shoulders as a high temperature mounts on lower [temperatures]. To progress is to accumulate being, to store up reality." (from "Toward a Philosophy of History", 1941)


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