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Definition: Ortega y Gasset from Collins English Dictionary


1 José (xoˈse). 1883–1955, Spanish essayist and philosopher. His best-known work is The Revolt of the Masses (1930)

Summary Article: Ortega y Gasset, José (1883–1955)
from World Literature in Spanish: An Encyclopedia

Considered one of the most influential philosophers in the Hispanic world, this Spaniard is also internationally recognized for his worthy contributions to 20th-century philosophy. However, like the philosophers that preceded him, he had many detractors who questioned the originality of his philosophical thoughts and his status as a philosopher; several critics considered Ortega y Gasset an excellent intellectual and essayist but not a philosopher per se.

Ortega was born into a liberal, educated bourgeois family in Madrid. His mother owned El Imparcial newspaper, and from an early age, journalism conditioned Ortega's life as a writer, journalist, and editor. In fact, he chose the newspaper El Sol when he published two of his most well-known works: España invertebrada (1937; Invertebrate Spain, 1974) and La rebelión de las masas (1929; The Revolt of the Masses, 1994). In 1923, Ortega founded Revista de Occidente, a magazine in which he made available the Spanish translations of several works by European intellectuals and philosophers (Edmund Husserl, Georg Simmel, Franz Brentano, among others).

The philosophical foundation of Ortega y Gasset's thought lies in Greek and Western European philosophies, from Decartes to the Neo-Kantians from Marburg (Hermann Cohen and Paul Natorp). Later on, he was also influenced by such exemplary philosophers as Friedrich Nietzsche, Husserl, Wilhelm Dilthey, Max Scheler and, ultimately, Martin Heidegger. His philosophical thought progressed through three distinct stages. Like many contemporary Spanish intellectuals, Ortega acknowledged a cultural and technical deviation that detached Spain from the rest of Europe. Between 1902 and 1914, to address this disparity, Ortega y Gasset approached reality from an objectivist philosophical point of view in which ideas and objects rule over the individual. Upon publishing Meditaciones del Quijote (1914; Meditations on Quixote, 2000) he developed his concept of circunstancialidad of the individual. From then on, his aphorism Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia (I am myself and my circumstance) would condition his philosophical thought. Working off this idea, the philosopher adopted the doctrine of “perspectivism,” which states that reality is constituted by multiple perspectives that must be unified since all of them are valid and all contribute, from the standpoint of individuals and their circumstances, to the understanding of existence. The philosophical maturity of Ortega y Gasset's thought is exemplified by the doctrine of raciovitalismo, a combination of two radical perspectives: the perspective of life and the perspective of reason. Ortega claims that all reason is vital since reason is at the service of life. But this dialectic between life and reason also involves a dialectic between reason and history, since razón vital (vital reason) takes form in and through history.

La rebelión de las masas represents his most internationally known work. In it, Ortega warned readers about the influence and power of the masses (the mass-man)—a product of the technological advance and political system of the period—in the public sphere of European society. Ortega distinguished two types of people, regardless of their class or social status: the mass (the mass-man) and the elite minority. For him, mass-man represents the stereotype of men driven by consumerism and individual well-being, without personal aspirations or desires to change their trivial lives. The mass-man is restricted by self-imposed limitations within a conformist collectivity. The elite minority, on the other hand, refers to dynamic individuals with continuous aspirations to improve their personal conditions. For Ortega, the elite minority's function consists of guiding the masses socially, culturally, and politically. The Revolt of the Masses was misunderstood by many, to the point that in Spain he gained the reputation of being elitist and antidemocratic. However, The Revolt of the Masses represented and represents today a valid, interesting philosophical proposal for discussing political, social, and cultural issues in a contemporary society still driven by a culture of masses, as anticipated by Ortega.

Work By:
  • The Dehumanization of Art and Other Writings on Art and Culture. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Doubleday Garden City, NY, 1956.
  • Invertebrate Spain. Trans. Mildred Adams. Norton New York, 1974.
  • The Revolt of the Masses. No translator. W. W. Norton New York, 1994.
  • Work About:
  • Cleveland, Basil. “The Concept of Reading in Ortega's Meditations on Quixote.” CLIO: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History 34.1-2 (Fall 2004-Winter 2005): 83-98.
  • Revista de Occidente 324 (May 2008). Special issue devoted to Ortega.
  • Statham, E. Robert, Jr. “Ortega y Gasset's ‘Revolt' and the Problem of Mass Rule.” Modern Age: A Quarterly Review 46.3 (Summer 2004): 219-26.
  • Martín, Juan Carlos
    Copyright 2011 by Maureen Ihrie and Salvador A. Oropesa

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