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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 Encyclopedia of Philosophers on Religion

Born in Madrid, Ortega was reared in the Catholic faith. At the age of eight, he was enrolled in the Jesuit College of Miraflores del Pala in Málaga and remained there for the next six years. He would later, in his twenties, criticize the teaching methods of his Jesuit instructors on grounds that they were intellectually incapable and that they had taught him to look down on anyone other than "our people," and to sneer at all the great classical thinkers (Democritus, Descartes, Kant, and Darwin, among others). Partly on that account, he early on lost his Catholic faith. There is no evidence of an abrupt rupture with the faith of his childhood, but rather, as his disciple and biographer Julián Marías put it, a gradual "evaporation of an already outworn faith." His youthful writings, some of which were published before completing his studies at universities in Madrid, Leipzig, Berlin, and Marburg (under Hermann Cohen) and getting his doctorate in philosophy and literature at Madrid in 1904, show little if any positive attitude toward religion. The kind of Catholicism in which he had been educated apparently meant little to him at that time, striking him as something he had received, not chosen.

By the age of twenty-five he was counting himself (in a review of Fogazzaro’s Il Santo) among those "who are separated from any church." A year later he gave a lecture criticizing dogmatic Catholicism for turning religion into such a divisive, antisocial force, and explicitly stated, "I am not a Catholic, and since my youth I have tried to order my life in a non-Catholic way." In the same lecture, however, he also refused to subscribe to "an archaic anticlericalism," and already in the aforementioned book review he had given expression to a yearning for a more gentle and disciplined form of Catholicism to which he might adhere.

During the subsequent, more mature years of his political involvement and work as a philosophy professor and journalist, writing among many other masterful pieces his bestselling The Revolt of the Masses, his personal references to the Christian religion became, according to Marías, "progressively deeper, more profoundly felt and intimate." The world of religion, Ortega would assert in his latter years, cannot be renounced without pain and a serious undermining of one’s creative productivity. Ortega "can be seen," Marías concluded, "as one of those who were closest and most friendly to Catholicism, even at the times when he felt most distant from it." Disappointed in his hopes of reforming Spain, he died in 1955, with political parties on both the right and left claiming him as one of their own.

Ortega y Gasset on Religion. The reality which is called "my life" is basic because every other reality, including God, is made known by some modality of my own life. If God exists, He differs from humans to the extent of existing in the most absolute solitude, with nothing like the world to oppose Him. But in order to be God to me, He must reveal Himself to me. Homo faber that he is, man has generally interpreted such revelation to mean that god is a wrathful, loving, and mysterious Creator. But lacking any divine perspective on reality, man’s view of god, along with the religious conception of life various peoples necessarily built upon it, remained relative to the situation in which humans found themselves. In the century before Christ, for example, the situation of Mediterranean man was one of desperation. Although the Romans were one of the most religious people that ever existed, they and the Greeks were no longer sure about the existence of the gods whom they both had conceived as the superlative degree of natural reality. Like all Asiatic peoples, the Jews had always lived in a state of desperation, relying for direction upon Jehovah as the supernatural Lawgiver. But having despaired of complying with the law, they too were feeling desperate.

Hence, the appeal of Christianity, which, by completely inverting the perspective of desperation, promised salvation to all those who, rejecting this life as but a mask hiding the true reality of life in God, put all their hope and confidence in Him. Such theocentric belief remained at the heart of medieval life until the devotio moderna and modern science restored man’s confidence in himself, turning him back to the world and pushing God into the background. This anticipated the religious situation of modern man, wherein everyone, Christians and atheists alike, must willy-nilly play a double game of faith and reason. Where it will all lead, no one can say. For shipwrecked though he may currently be and without any moral compass, man remains as infinite in possibilities as God, if He exists, is infinite in actualities.

  • Ortega y Gasset, José. An Interpretation of Universal History. Translated by Mildred Adams. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1973.
  • Ortega y Gasset, José.. Man and Crisis. Translated by Mildred Adams. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1958.
  • Ortega y Gasset, José.. The Revolt of the Masses. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1932.
  • Ortega y Gasset, José.. What is Knowledge? Translated by Jorge Garcia-Gomez. New York: State University of New York Press, 2002.
  • Díaz, Janet Winecoff. The Major Themes of Existentialism in the Work of José Ortega y Gasset. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970.
  • Marías, Julián. José Ortega y Gasset: Circumstance and Vocation. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
  • McClintock, Robert. Man and His Circumstances: Ortega as Educator. New York: Columbia University Teachers College Press, 1971.
  • Niedermayer, Franz. José Ortega y Gasset. Translated by Peter Tirner. New York: Ungar, 1973.
  • Raley, Harold. José Ortega y Gasset: Philosopher of European Unity. University, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1971.
  • Raley, Harold. "Modes of Prediction in Ortega." In Ortega y Gasset Centennial. Madrid: Ediciones José Porrúa Turanzas, S.A., 1985. 69-73.
  • Weigert, Andrew J. Life and Society: A Meditation on the Social Thought of José Ortega y Gasset. New York: Irvington Publishers, Inc., 1983.
© 2008 McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers

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