Ortega y Gasset, José

Ortega y Gasset, José
b. 1883, Madrid; d. 1955, Madrid
   After taking his degree at the Central University of Madrid in 1904, Ortega undertook postgraduate study in Marburg with the neo-Kantian Hermann Cohen. In 1910, he became professor of Meta-physics at Madrid, and in the same year married Rosa Spottorno-Topete. A prolific writer (his complete works fill eleven volumes), he published his first major work Meditations on the Quixote (Meditaciones del Quijote) in 1914. His widely read and influential study of the lack of direction and leadership in Spanish political life, Invertebrate Spain (España invertebrada) appeared in 1922, followed in 1925 by his equally important contributions to aesthetics and the theory of the novel, The Dehumanization of Art (La deshumanización del arte), and Notes on the Novel (Ideas sobre la novela).
   In 1931, Ortega became a member of the Cortes (parliament) of the Second Republic, but his mixture of radicalism and authoritarian élitism made him unpopular with both right and left, and he was advised to leave Spain at the beginning of the Civil War in 1936. He did not return until 1948, after spending periods in France, the Netherlands, South America and Portugal. Ortega's philosophy is far from systematic, but it had considerable appeal in a country with no strong tradition of rigorous speculative thought. Ortega's concept of "vital reason" (razón vital) is an attempt to occupy a position midway between positivist empiricism and abstract idealism. Reality, in Ortega's view, cannot be defined in terms either of external phenomena or of abstract laws, but is a complex interaction between objective facts and their perception by the observer, which is determined by the total ambient situation in which the observer is placed. Ortega's lasting contribution to Spanish culture does not, however, consist in his philosophical system, such as it is, but in his encouragement of intellectual debate, and his dissemination of the work of European philosophers and scientists. In 1923, he founded the Revista de Occidente, which provided a forum for political and philosophical discussion. Publication was suspended at the outbreak of the Civil War, but the journal was relaunched in 1963, devoting itself thereafter mainly to the discussion of Ortega's work. He was also the General Editor, from 1922, of the Library of Twentieth-Century Ideas, published by Espasa-Calpe, which helped to familiarize the Spanish reading public with the works of Hegel, Husserl, Spengler and Freud. Ortega, nevertheless, was no populist, and his view of culture had a strong element of élitism. Only a minority, he claims, are gifted with sufficient aesthetic sensibility to appreciate works of art for their own sake. The majority are interested in works of art or literature only insofar as they are relevant to their own lives. Ortega's definition of "culture, therefore, excluded mass culture, though he did not necessarily equate this solely with working-class culture. In The Revolt of the Masses (La rebelión de las masas, 1930) his targets were the unthinking consumers of culture (including scientific culture), who took for granted their right to the benefits of progress, without recognizing the effort expended by various educational, artistic and professional élites to achieve the current level of civilization. This undercurrent of élitism also appears in Ortega's political thinking, which is marked by an ambivalence characteristic of many intellectuals of his generation. By the early 1920s, he had become disillusioned with the ineffectual politics of nineteenth-century liberal parliamentarianism, and did not initially oppose the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923–30). But he was outraged by what he regarded as Primo's attack on intellectual freedom through his imposition of censorship, and resigned his chair in 1929 as a protest against the enforced exile of Miguel de Unamuno. Though he travelled widely in Germany during the early years of the Hitler regime, his writings contain little criticism of Nazism, despite the fact that by 1934 its violent and repressive character was clear to most observers.
   Conservative Spain had a similarly ambivalent attitude towards Ortega. On the one hand, he was looked at askance for his championship of intellectual enquiry, and his attempts to popularize non-Spanish philosophical movements. On the other, his undoubted distinction, particularly the reputation he enjoyed in Germany, was regarded, however reluctantly, by the right as enhancing the international prestige of Spain. In the last few years of his life, Ortega travelled and lectured widely in Germany, became a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, and received honorary degrees from the Universities of Marburg and Glasgow. Despite his lifelong stance as a religious sceptic and free-thinker, he was granted a Catholic funeral. The conservative newspaper ABC, together with other organs of the controlled press, gave extensive coverage to his life and work, but within a few months of his death, he was being attacked in the Catholic media for his alleged materialism and atheism.
   Major works
   - Ortega y Gasset, J. (1937) Invertebrate Spain, trans. M.Adams, New York: W.W.Norton.
   —— (1968) The Dehumanization of Art; and Other Essays on Art, Culture, and Literature, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
   —— (1985) The Revolt of the Masses, trans. A. Kerrigan, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
   —— (1992) The Mission of the University, trans. H.L. Nostrand, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
   Further reading
   - Dobson, A. (1989) An Introduction to the Politics and Philosophy of José Ortega y Gasset, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (a good general overview of Ortega's work).
   - Donoso, A. and Raley, H.C. (1986) José Ortega y Gasset: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources, Bowling Green, OH: Philosophy Documentation Center, Bowling Green State University (an essential source for Ortega scholarship).
   - Marías, J. (1983–4) Ortega, 2 vols, Madrid: Alianza (a fundamental study of Ortega by one of his most prominent pupils).
   - Orringer, N.R. (1979) Ortega y sus fuentes germánicas, Madrid: Gredos (an important study of the German sources of Ortega's thought by a leading Ortega scholar).
   - Ouimette, V. (1982) José Ortega y Gasset, Boston, MA: Twayne (an accessible introduction to Ortega's life and most important works).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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  • Ortega y Gasset, José — Ortega y Gas·set (ēgä sĕtʹ), José. 1883 1955. Spanish philosopher. His most famous work, The Revolt of the Masses (1929), argues that humans are essentially unequal and that an intellectual elite is necessary. * * * born May 9, 1883, Madrid,… …   Universalium

  • Ortega y Gasset, José — (1883–1955) Spanish philosopher and essayist. Ortega y Gasset was born in Madrid, and educated by Jesuits, before studying in Germany. He taught metaphysics in Madrid from 1910 until 1936, when his republican activities compelled him to leave for …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Ortega y Gasset, José — ► (1883 1955) Filósofo y ensayista español. Su influencia en todos los órdenes de la vida espiritual española, esp. el literario, ha sido enorme. En el plano filosófico ha abierto a las generaciones nuevas todos los horizontes del pensamiento… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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