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José Ortega y Gasset

José Ortega y Gasset
José Ortega y Gasset

José Ortega y Gasset (May 9, 1883 - October 18, 1955) was a Spanish philosopher.



Born in Madrid, he was first schooled by the Jesuit Fathers of San Estanislao in Miraflores del Palo , Málaga (1891-1897). He attended the University of Deusto, Bilbao (1897-98) and the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the Central University of Madrid (1898-1904), receiving a doctorate in Philosophy. From 1905 to 1907, he continued his studies in Germany at Leipzig, Nuremberg, Cologne, Berlin and, above all Marburg. At Marburg, he was influenced by the neo-Kantianism of Hermann Cohen and Paul Natorp , among others.

Upon his return to Spain (1909) he was named numerary professor of Psychology, Logic and Ethics at the Escuela Superior del Magisterio de Madrid ; in October 1910 he was granted the Chair (Cátedra) in Metaphysics of the Central University, empty since the death of Nicolás Salmerón .

In 1917 he became a contributor to the newspaper El Sol, where he published as a series of essays his two principle works: España invertebrada (Invertebrate Spain ) and La rebelión de las masas (The Revolt of the Masses ); the latter made him internationally famous. He founded the Revista de Occidente in 1923, remaining its director until 1936. This publication promoted translation of (and commentary upon) the most important figures and tendencies in philosophy, including Oswald Spengler, Johan Huizinga, Edmund Husserl, Georg Simmel, Jakob von Uexküll, Heinz Heimsoeth , Franz Brentano, Hans Driesch, Ernst Müller , Alexander Pfänder , and Bertrand Russell.



For Ortega y Gasset, philosophy has a critical duty to siege beliefs in order to promote new ideas and to explain reality. In order to accomplish such task the philosopher must, as Husserl proposed, leave behind prejudices and previously existing beliefs and investigate the essential reality of the universe. Ortega proposes that philosophy must, as Hegel proposed, overcome the lacks of both idealism (in which reality gravitated around the ego) and ancient-medieval realism (which is for him an undeveloped point of view in which the subject is located outside the world) in order to focus in the only truthful reality (i.e. life), in which there is no me without things and things are nothing without me, no me (human being) detached from my circumstances (world). This led Ortega to pronounce his famous maxim "Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia" ("I am myself and my circumstance") which he always situated in the core of his philosophy. For Ortega, as for Husserl, the Cartesian cogito is insufficient to explain reality—therefore the Spanish philosopher proposes a system where life is the sum of the ego and circumstance. This circunstancia is oppressive and, therefore, there is a continual dialectical exchange of forces between the person and his or hers circumstance and, as a result, life is a drama that exists between necessity and freedom. In this sense Ortega wrote that life is at the same time fate and freedom, “is being free inside of a given fate. Fate gives us an inexorable repertory of determinate possibilities, that is, it gives us different destinies. We accept fate and within it we choose one destiny.” In this tied down fate we must therefore be active, decide and create a “project of life”—thus not being like those who live a conventional life of customs and given structures who prefer an unconcerned and imperturbable life just because they are afraid of the duty of choosing a project.


With a philosophy system that center around life, Ortega y Gasset also stepped out of Descarte ’s cogito ergo sum and asserted “I live therefore I think”. This stood at the root of his Nietzsche inspired perspectivism—which he developed by adding a non-relativistic character in which absolute truth do exist and would be obtained by the sum of all perspectives of all lifes—since for each human being, life takes a concrete form and life itself is a true radical reality from which any philosophical system must derive. In this sense, Ortega coined the terms "razón vital " ("vital reason" or "reason with life as its foundation") to refer to a new type of reason that constantly defends the life from which it has surged and "raciovitalismo", a theory that based knowledge in the radical reality of life, one of whose essential components is reason itself. This system of though, which he introduces in “History as system”, escaped from Nietzsche’s vitalism in which life responded to impulses; for Ortega, reason is crucial to life to create and developed the above mentioned project of life.

Razón Histórica

For Ortega y Gasset, vital reason is also “historical reason”, for individuals and societies are not detached from their past. In order to understand a reality we must understand, as Dilthey pointed out, its history. In Ortega’s words humans have “no nature, but history” and reason should not focus in what is (static) but what becomes (dynamic).


Ortega y Gasset had not only a grand influence through the philosophical themes of his works, but also because his literary style made him accessible to the general public.

Among the philosophers strongly influenced by Ortega y Gasset were Manuel García Morente , Joaquín Xirau , Xavier Zubiri, José Gaos , Luis Recaséns Siches , Manuel Granell , Francisco Ayala , María Zambrano , Pedro Laín Entralgo , José Luis López-Aranguren , Julián Marías , and Paulino Garagorri .


Much of Ortega y Gasset's work consists of courses lectures published years after the fact, often posthumously. This list attempts to list works in chronological order by when they were written, rather than when they were published.

  • Meditaciones del Quijote (Meditations on Quixote, 1914)
  • Vieja y nueva política (Old and new politics, 1914)
  • Investigaciones psicológicas (Psychological Investigations, course given 1915-16 and published in 1982)
  • Personas, Obras, Cosas (People, Works, Things, articles and essays written 1904-1912: "Renan", "Adán en el Paraíso" -- "Adam in Paradise", "La pedagogía social como programa político" -- "Pedagogy as a political program", "Problemas culturales" -- "Cultural problems", etc., published 1916)
  • El Espectador (The Spectator, 8 volumes published 1916-1934)
  • España Invertebrada (Invertebrate Spain, 1921)
  • El tema de nuestro tiempo (The theme of our time, 1923)
  • Las Atlántidas (The Atlantides, 1924)
  • La deshumanización del Arte e Ideas sobre la novela (The Dehumanization of art and Ideas about the Novel, 1925)
  • Espíritu de la letra (The spirit of the letter 1927)
  • Mirabeau o el político (Mirabeau or politics, 1928-1929)
  • ¿Qué es filosofía? (What is philosophy? 1928-1929, course published posthumously in 1957)
  • Kant (1929-31)
  • ¿Qué es conocimiento? (What is knowledge? Published in 1984, covering three courses taught in 1929, 1930, and 1931, entitled, respectively: "Vida como ejecución (El ser ejecutivo)" -- "Life as execution (The Executive Being)", "Sobre la realidad radical" -- "On radical reality" and "¿Qué es la vida?" -- "What is life?")
  • La rebelión de las masas (The Revolt of the Masses, 1930)
  • Rectificación de la República; La redención de las provincias y la decencia nacional (Rectification of the Republic: Retention of the provinces and national decency, 1931)
  • Goethe desde dentro (Goethe from within, 1932)
  • Unas lecciones de metafísica (Some lessons in metaphysics, course given 1932-33, published 1966)
  • En torno a Galileo (About Galileo, course given 1933-34; portions were published in 1942 under the title "Esquema de las crisis" -- "Scheme of the Crisis")
  • Prólogo para alemanes (Prolog for Germans, prologue to the third German edition of El tema de nuestro tiempo. Ortega himself prevented its publication "because of the events of Munich in 1934". It was finally published, in Spanish, in 1958.)
  • History as a system (First published in English in 1935. the Spanish version, Historia como sistema, 1941, adds an essay "El Imperio romano" -- "The Roman Empire").
  • Ensimismamiento y alteración. Meditación de la técnica. (This title is not easily translate, because the title uses a neologism and there is a play on words. Literally, it is "Sameness-making and alteration", but it could also be read as "The making of sameness and difference." In either case, the subtitle means "A meditation on technique." 1939)
  • Ideas y Crencias (Ideas and Beliefs: on historical reason, a course taught in 1940 Buenos Aires, published 1979 along with Sobre la razón histórica)
  • Teoría de Andalucía 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)
  • Sobre la razón histórica (On historical reason, course given in Lisbon, 1944, published 1979 along with Ideas y Crencias)
  • Idea del Teatro. Una abreviatura (The idea of theater, a shortened version, lecture given in Lisbon April 1946, and in Madrid, May 1946; published in 1958, La Revista Nacional de educación num. 62 contained the version given in Madrid.)
  • La Idea de principio en Leibniz y la evolución de la teoría deductiva (The Idea of the Beginning in Leibniz and the evolution of deductive theory, 1947, published 1958)
  • Una interpretación de la Historia Universal. En torno a Toynbee (An interpretation of Universal History. On Arnold Toynbee, 1948, published in 1960)
  • Meditación de Europa (Meditation on Europe), lecture given in Berlin in 1949 with the Latin-language title De Europa meditatio quaedam. Published 1960 together with other previously unpublished works.
  • El hombre y la gente (Man and the populace, course given 1949-1950 at the Institute of the Humanities, published 1957)
  • Papeles sobre Velázquez y Goya (Papers on Velázquez and Goya, 1950)
  • Pasado y porvenir para el hombre actual (Past and future for the man of today, published 1962, brings together a series of lectures given in Germany, Switzerland, and England in the period 1951-1954, published together with a commentary on Plato's Symposium.)
  • Goya (1958)
  • Velázquez (1959)
  • Origen y epílogo de la Filosofía (Origin and epilog to Philosophy, 1960),
  • La caza y los toros (The hunt and the bulls, 1960)


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See also

External links

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Online English Edition: Revolt of the Masses by Jose Ortega y Gasset

Last updated: 05-10-2005 00:00:31
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