José Ortega y Gasset

Last updated

José Ortega y Gasset
Ortega y Gasset in the 1920s
Born9 May 1883
Died18 October 1955(1955-10-18) (aged 72)
Alma mater University of Deusto
Complutense University of Madrid
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Continental philosophy
Perspectivism [1]
Existentialism [1]
Existential phenomenology [1]
Lebensphilosophie (philosophy of life) [1]
Neo-Kantianism (early) [1]
Madrid School
Main interests
History, reason, politics
Notable ideas
Vital reason (ratiovitalism)
Historical reason
"I am I and my circumstance"
Ortega hypothesis

José Ortega y Gasset (Spanish:  [xoˈse oɾˈteɣa i ɣaˈset] ; 9 May 1883 – 18 October 1955) was a Spanish philosopher and essayist. He worked during the first half of the 20th century, while Spain oscillated between monarchy, republicanism, and dictatorship. His philosophy has been characterized as a "philosophy of life" that "comprised a long-hidden beginning in a pragmatist metaphysics inspired by William James, and with a general method from a realist phenomenology imitating Edmund Husserl, which served both his proto-existentialism (prior to Martin Heidegger's) [1] and his realist historicism, which has been compared to both Wilhelm Dilthey and Benedetto Croce." [4]



José Ortega y Gasset was born 9 May 1883 in Madrid. His father was director of the newspaper El Imparcial, which belonged to the family of his mother, Dolores Gasset. The family was definitively of Spain's end-of-the-century liberal and educated bourgeoisie. The liberal tradition and journalistic engagement of his family had a profound influence in Ortega y Gasset's activism in politics.

Ortega was first schooled by the Jesuit priests 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 (now Complutense 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.

On his return to Spain in 1908, he was appointed professor of Psychology, Logic and Ethics at the Escuela Superior del Magisterio de Madrid. [5] In 1910, he married Rosa Spottorno Topete, a Spanish translator and feminist, and was named full professor of Metaphysics at Complutense University of Madrid, a vacant seat previously held by Nicolás Salmerón. [6]

In 1917 he became a contributor to the newspaper El Sol , where he published, as a series of essays, his two principal 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  [ es ] 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.

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 known as Agrupación al Servicio de la República [7] ("The Grouping at the Service of the Republic"), which supported the platform of Socialist Republican candidates, [8] but he soon abandoned politics, disappointed.

Leaving Spain at the outbreak of the Civil War, he spent years of exile in Buenos Aires, Argentina until moving back to Europe in 1942. [5] He settled in Portugal by mid-1945 and slowly began to make short visits to Spain. In 1948 he returned to Madrid, where he founded the Institute of Humanities, at which he lectured. [9] Upon his return to Spain, he often privately expressed his hostility to the Franco regime, stating that the government did not deserve anyone's confidence and that his beliefs were "incompatible with Franco." [10]



The Revolt of the Masses is Ortega's best known work. In this book he defends the values of meritocratic liberalism reminiscent of John Stuart Mill against attacks from both communists and right-wing populists. [11] Ortega likewise shares Mill's fears of the "tyranny of the majority" and the "collective mediocrity" of the masses, which threaten individuality, free thought, and protections for minorities. [11] Ortega characterized liberalism as a politics of "magnanimity." [11]

Ortega's rejection of the Spanish Conservative Party under Antonio Cánovas del Castillo and his successors was unequivocal, as was his distrust of the Spanish monarchy and Catholic Church. [11] [12] However, again in a manner similar to Mill, Ortega was open-minded toward certain socialists and non-Marxist forms of socialism, and even complimented Pablo Iglesias Posse as a "lay saint." [13] Under the influence of German social democrats such as Paul Natorp and Hermann Cohen, he adopted a communitarian ontology and could be critical of capitalism, particularly the laissez-faire variant, declaring that "nineteenth-century capitalism has demoralized humanity" and that it had "impoverished the ethical consciousness of man." [14]

"Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia"

For Ortega y Gasset, philosophy has a critical duty to lay siege to beliefs in order to promote new ideas and to explain reality. To accomplish such tasks, the philosopher must—as Husserl proposed—leave behind prejudices and previously existing beliefs, and investigate the essential reality of the universe. Ortega y Gasset proposes that philosophy must overcome the limitations of both idealism (in which reality centers around the ego) and ancient-medieval realism (in which reality is outside the subject) to focus on the only truthful reality: "my life"—the life of each individual. He suggests that there is no "me" without things, and things are nothing without me: "I" (human being) cannot be detached from "my circumstance" (world). This led Ortega y Gasset to pronounce his famous maxim "Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia" ("I am I and my circumstance") (Meditaciones del Quijote, 1914) [15] [1] which he always put at the core of his philosophy.

For Ortega y Gasset, as for Husserl, the Cartesian 'cogito ergo sum' is insufficient to explain reality. Therefore, the Spanish philosopher proposes a system wherein the basic or "radical" reality is "my life" (the first yo), which consists of "I" (the second yo) and "my circumstance" (mi circunstancia). This circunstancia is oppressive; therefore, there is a continual dialectical interaction between the person and his or her circumstances and, as a result, life is a drama that exists between necessity and freedom.

In this sense Ortega y Gasset wrote that life is at the same time fate and freedom, and that 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 be like those who live a conventional life of customs and given structures who prefer an unconcerned and imperturbable life because they are afraid of the duty of choosing a project.


With a philosophical system that centered around life, Ortega y Gasset also stepped out of Descartes' cogito ergo sum and asserted "I live therefore I think". This stood at the root of his Kantian-inspired perspectivism, [1] which he developed by adding a non-relativistic character in which absolute truth does exist and would be obtained by the sum of all perspectives of all lives, 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 "vital reason" [1] (Spanish : razón vital, "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 "ratiovitalism" (Spanish : raciovitalismo), a theory that based knowledge in the radical reality of life, one of whose essential components is reason itself. This system of thought, which he introduces in History as System, escaped from Nietzsche's vitalism in which life responded to impulses; for Ortega, reason is crucial to create and develop the above-mentioned project of life.

Historical reason

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. [1]


Ortega y Gasset's influence was considerable, not only because many sympathized with his philosophical writings, but also because those writings did not require that the reader be well-versed in technical philosophy.

Among those strongly influenced by Ortega y Gasset were Luis Buñuel, Manuel García Morente  [ es ], Joaquín Xirau  [ es ], Xavier Zubiri, Ignacio Ellacuría, Emilio Komar, José Gaos, Luis Recasens, Manuel Granell  [ es ], Francisco Ayala, María Zambrano, Agustín Basave  [ es ], Máximo Etchecopar, Pedro Laín Entralgo, José Luis López-Aranguren  [ es ], Julián Marías, John Lukacs, Pierre Bourdieu, Paulino Garagorri  [ es ], Olavo de Carvalho, Vicente Ferreira da Silva, Vilém Flusser and Félix Martí-Ibáñez.

The Ortega hypothesis, based on a quote in The Revolt of the Masses , states that average or mediocre scientists contribute substantially to the advancement of science.

German grape breeder Hans Breider named the grape variety Ortega in his honor. [16]

The American philosopher Graham Harman has recognized Ortega y Gasset as a source of inspiration for his own object-oriented ontology.

La rebelión de las masas (The Revolt of the Masses) has been translated into English twice. The first, in 1932, is by a translator who wanted to remain anonymous, [17] generally accepted to be J.R. Carey. [18] The second translation was published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 1985, in association with W.W. Norton & Co. This translation was by Anthony Kerrigan (translator) and Kenneth Moore (editor), with an introduction by Saul Bellow.

Mildred Adams is the translator (into English) of the main body of Ortega's work, including Invertebrate Spain, Man and Crisis, What is Philosophy?, Some Lessons in Metaphysics, The Idea of Principle in Leibniz and the Evolution of Deductive Theory, and An Interpretation of Universal History.

Madrid School

The Madrid School (also School of Madrid; Spanish : Escuela de Madrid) was a group of philosophers, the members of which were students of Ortega y Gasset, who share an intellectual tradition of arguing against naturalism and positivism. [19] Members included José Gaos, Julián Marías, and Xavier Zubiri. [19]

Influence on the Generation of '27

Ortega y Gasset had considerable influence on writers of the Generation of '27, a group of poets that arose in Spanish literature in the 1920s.



Much of Ortega y Gasset's work consists of course 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.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Holmes, Oliver, "José Ortega y Gasset", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
  2. José Ortega y Gasset called Dilthey "the most important philosopher in the second half of the nineteenth century" in his Concord and Liberty (David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept, William B. Eerdmans, 2002, p. 82).
  3. Graham 1994 p. 159: "Since 1923 Ortega had probably written (at least edited) anonymous articles for Espasa-Calpe on James, Peirce, and Schiller."
  4. John T. Graham. A Pragmatist Philosophy of Life in Ortega y Gasset. (University of Missouri Press, 1994), p. vii.
  5. 1 2 Datos biográficos
  6. Holmes, Oliver (2017), "José Ortega y Gasset", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2 June 2019
  7. Encarta Encyclopedia Spanish Version: Agrupación_al_Servicio_de_la_República Microsoft Corporation Spanish Version . Archived 31 October 2009.
  8. Holmes, Oliver. "José Ortega y Gasset". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 11 September 2018.
  9. Philosophy Professor: Jose Ortega Y Gasset Archived 16 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Dobson, Andrew (19 November 2009). An Introduction to the Politics and Philosophy of José Ortega Y Gasset. Cambridge University Press. p. 38.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Dobson, Andrew (19 November 2009). An Introduction to the Politics and Philosophy of José Ortega Y Gasset. Cambridge University Press. pp. 60–72.
  12. Enkvist, Inger (2002). "José Ortega y Gasset – The Spanish philosopher who saw life as an intellectual adventure". CFE Working Paper Series. 18: 16.
  13. Dobson, Andrew (19 November 2009). An Introduction to the Politics and Philosophy of José Ortega Y Gasset. Cambridge University Press. pp. 46–47.
  14. Dobson, Andrew (19 November 2009). An Introduction to the Politics and Philosophy of José Ortega Y Gasset. Cambridge University Press. pp. 52–55.
  15. Ortega y Gasset, José. Obras Completas, Vol. I. Ed. Taurus/Fundación José Ortega y Gasset, Madrid, 2004, p. 757.
  16. Wein-Plus Glossar: Ortega, accessed 6 March 2013
  17. José Ortega y Gasset (1930/1950), The Revolt of the Masses, reprint, New York: New American Library, p. 4.
  18. as referenced by the Project Gutenberg eBook of U.S. Copyright Renewals, 1960 January – June.
  19. 1 2 A. Pablo Iannone, Dictionary of World Philosophy', Routledge, 2013, p. 328: "Madrid School".
  20. "José Dionisio Ortega y Zapata". Real Academia de la Historia.
  21. José Ortega y Gasset 1885–1955. Imágenes de una vida (in Spanish). Ministerio de Educación. 1983. ISBN   9788430095186.

Related Research Articles

Jaime Balmes Spanish philosopher

Jaime Luciano Balmes y Urpiá was a philosopher, theologian, Catholic apologist, sociologist and Spanish political writer. Familiar with the doctrine of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Balmes was an original philosopher who did not belong to any particular school or stream, to whom Pius XII qualified as the Prince of Modern Apologetics.

Pablo Iglesias Posse trade unionist

Paulino Iglesias Posse, better known as Pablo Iglesias, was a Spanish socialist and labour leader. He is regarded as the father of Spanish socialism, having founded the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) in 1879 and the Spanish General Workers' Union (UGT) in 1888.

Xavier Zubiri Spanish philosopher (1898–1983)

Xavier Zubiri was a Spanish philosopher.

Edmundo O'Gorman O'Gorman was a Mexican writer, historian and philosopher. He is considered as being among the earlier and most influential applicants of historical revisionism to commonly held narratives regarding the Spanish colonial period in Latin America.

José Gaos was a Spanish philosopher who obtained political asylum in Mexico during the Spanish Civil War and became one of the most important Mexican philosophers of the 20th century. He was a member of the Madrid School.

Julián Marías Spanish philosopher

Julián Marías Aguilera was a Spanish philosopher associated with the Generation of '36 movement. He was a pupil of the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset and member of the Madrid School.

Leonardo Polo Spanish philosophers

Leonardo Polo was a renowned Spanish philosopher best known for his philosophical method called abandonment of the mental limit and the profound philosophical implications and results of the application of this method.

The Revolt of the Masses is a book by José Ortega y Gasset. It was first published as a series of articles in the newspaper El Sol in 1929, and as a book in 1930; the English translation, first published two years later, was authorized by Ortega. While the published version notes that the translator requested to remain anonymous, more recent editions also record that its US copyright was renewed in 1960 by a Teresa Carey, and the US Copyright Office's published list of US copyright renewals for January 1960 gives the translator as J. R. Carey.

Francisco Giner de los Ríos Spanish philosopher

Francisco Giner de los Ríos was a philosopher, educator and one of the most influential Spanish intellectuals at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

María Zambrano Spanish philosopher

María Zambrano Alarcón was a Spanish essayist and philosopher associated with the Generation of '36 movement. Her extensive work between the civic engagement and the poetic reflection started to be recognised in Spain over the last quarter of the XX century after living many years in exile. She was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award (1981) and the Miguel de Cervantes Prize (1988).

Ramiro de Maeztu Spanish political theorist, journalist, and literary critic

Ramiro de Maeztu y Whitney was a prolific Spanish essayist, journalist and publicist. His early literary work adscribes him to the Generation of '98. Adept to nietzschean and social darwinist ideas in his youth, he became close to Fabian Socialism and, later, to Distributism and Social corporatism during his spell as correspondent in London, from where he chronicled the Great War. During the years of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship he served as Ambassador to Argentina. A staunch militarist, he became at the end of his ideological path as one of the most prominent Far-right theorists against the Second Republic, leading the reactionary voices calling for a military coup. Member of the cultural group Acción Española, he spread the concept of "Hispanidad". Imprisoned by Republican authorities after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, he was killed by leftist militiamen during a saca in the midst of the conflict.

José Luis Osvaldo Lira Pérez SS.CC. was a Chilean priest, philosopher and theologian. Author of more than 10 books on topics related to the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as Ortega y Gasset and Juan Vázquez de Mella. He devoted most of his life to teaching in different universities, and had as many followers as opponents.

José Ortega Spottorno was a Spanish journalist and publisher. Born in Madrid to famous philosopher José Ortega y Gasset and Rosa Spottorno Topete, José Ortega Spottorno was the founder of affordable paperback publishing firm Alianza Editorial and the Spanish daily newspaper El País, which quickly became the bestselling Spanish newspaper, a crown it holds to this day. He was survived by his wife, Simone Ortega, and three children, one of whom works as a journalist for El País.

Antonio Caso Andrade Mexican philosopher

Antonio Caso Andrade was a Mexican philosopher and rector of the former Universidad Nacional de México, nowadays known as the National Autonomous University of Mexico from December 1921 to August 1923. Along with José Vasconcelos, he founded the Ateneo de la Juventud, a humanist group against philosophical positivism. The Athenian generation opposed Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer’s philosophical views, giving credence to and expanding on the ideas of Henri Bergson, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and José Enrique Rodó. Caso opposed rationalism. His group the ateneistas believed in a moral, willing, and spiritual individual being. He was the older brother of archaeologist Alfonso Caso.

<i>Logical Investigations</i> (Husserl) 1900–1901 book by Edmund Husserl

The Logical Investigations are a two-volume work by the philosopher Edmund Husserl, in which the author discusses the philosophy of logic and criticizes psychologism, the view that logic is based on psychology.

Thomas Mermall, Uzhhorod July 25, 1937 – New York City, September 22, 2011, Hispanist and professor of Spanish literature. Mermall's studies focused primarily on modern Spanish literature and thought, primarily the developments after the Spanish Civil War, including analyses and commentaries on the works of José Ortega y Gasset, Unamuno, Pedro Laín Entralgo, Juan Rof Carballo and Francisco Ayala, as well as comments on the importance of the essay in Spanish literature.

José Luis Gómez Martínez is a Professor Emeritus of Spanish at the University of Georgia. Essayist and literary critic, his research into the theory of the essay, along with his work on Hispanic thought and Latin American fiction helped push literary boundaries and open up new lines of thinking within and outside of academia. During his professional career José Luis Gómez won several awards for his scholarly contributions, including the prestigious Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1984-1985), the Albert Christ-Janer Award (1988), named Professor of the Year by the AATSP-GA, the 1989 Sturgis Leavitt Prize. In 2000 he was elected Membro Correspondente da Academia Brasileira de Filosofia.

Pedro Cerezo Galán is a Spanish philosopher and university professor. His specialty is contemporary Western philosophy, including modern Spanish thinkers such as José Ortega y Gasset, Xavier Zubiri and Antonio Machado.

Stascha Rohmer German philosopher

Stascha Rohmer is a German philosopher. His main research topics are Metaphysics, Anthropology, Philosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Law. He is a specialist of the Metaphysics of Hegel and Alfred North Whitehead and since 2008 permanent member of the Whitehead Research Project in Claremont, California, United States. Currently, he is working as Mercator-Fellow at the Catholic-Theological Faculty of the Ruhr University Bochum. Rohmer has a daughter and a son. His life companion is Philosopher Ana Maria Rabe.

Eduardo Ortega y Gasset Spanish lawyer and politician (1882–1964)

Eduardo Ortega y Gasset (1882–1965) was a Spanish politician, journalist and lawyer.