José Ortega y Gasset is considered to be Spain’s most rele-vant twentieth century philosopher, possibly even the most relevant of all time. Far from fitting the stereotypical image of a philosopher, sat in an ivory tower, Ortega y Gasset was engaged with his society and its troubles. In his greatest works, including Meditations on Quixote, Invertebrate Spain, and The Revolt of the Masses, philosophical ideas are applied directly to understanding the issues Spanish and European society faced at the time.
Born on the 9th May 1883 to a wealthy family in Madrid, Ortega’s parents had many connections in Spanish culture and politics. His father, José Ortega Munilla, was the director of Spain’s prestigious liberal newspaper El Imparcial (founded in 1867 by his maternal grandfather). Thanks to these connections, important Spanish cultural and political icons were regular guests at the family home. José’s parents were more than happy to allow him and his siblings to join in with their discussions, so the young philosopher’s mind was cultivated from an early age.
An early tutor was the first to notice Ortega’s genius, reportedly saying he was his most intelligent pupil and claiming that “sometimes I get the impression that he knows the answer before I’ve stated the question.” Ortega went on to attend a Jesuit school in Malaga, which seems to have had a significant impact on his thought, as the experience highlighted the tight grip held by the Catholic Church over Spanish society. Ortega soon became convinced that the radical conservatism of Spain at the time was holding the country back both socially and culturally. This concern is visible throughout Ortega’s career in his work for a social and cultural reformation.
After completing his doctorate in Madrid, Ortega left Spain in 1905, on the first of many trips to Germany. He spent the year in Leipzig, where he decidedly committed himself to philosophy, thoroughly investigating the work of Immanuel Kant. In 1907 he visited the country again, this time staying in Marburg. He returned to the same city in 1911 as a Professor of Metaphysics while expecting the first of his four children with Rosa Spottorno, to whom he had been married a year earlier.
His eldest son’s name, Miguel Germán, is an indication of the important influence the country had on Ortega. German science and culture, apparently offering a rational, objective attitude both in the individual and in society, seemed to be just what Spain needed to move forwards. But Ortega also believed that ‘Mediterranean vitality’ was an important quality of the people of Spain which they ought not to lose.
The impact of Germany on Ortega’s thoughts about his own country can be seen in his first major publication, Meditations on Quixote (1914), a book which, far from merely being a commentary on the famous Spanish novel, serves as a summary of Orteguian thought. Influenced by the biologist Jacob Von Uekull’s idea that a living organism must be studied within its environment in order to be understood, Ortega argued that human life must also be understood through its circumstances: “Circumstantial reality makes up the other half of me as a person: I need it to imagine myself and to be my true self,” he wrote. Social status, historical period, nationality, geographic location, and economic situation are all relevant when it comes to understanding how one sees the world and oneself, since they determine our perspective. This idea is summarized in Ortega’s most famous quote: ‘‘I am I and my circumstance, and if I do not save it, I do not save myself.’’ In just the same way that Ortega ventures out into the world down the Guadarrama river near his hometown, or that the Ancient Egyptians would have ventured out down the Nile, we also venture out into the world from our own places of origin. Regardless of how many new ideas you may open yourself to, and no matter how much they change your way of thinking, it will always be you perceiving them; your past experiences, your childhood, your economic and social status, your nationality, your historical period are vital in defining you as a person.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
The Not So Benign World of Photography
Atika Qasim questions her own, and others’, motives for taking photos.
The Moore the Merrier
Gary Cox opens up G.E. Moore’s ethics, and his open question argument.
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)
Hilarius Bogbinder thinks about a political theorist who saw action as good thought.
M.G. Piety quickly considers condensed contemplation.
Art & Morality A Bittersweet Symphony
Jessica Logue conducts an investigation into their relationship.
A Philosophical Autobiography
Robin Wynyard reflects on his philosophical journey, and how this has influenced his thoughts about ageing.
Sci Fi & The Meaning Of Life
Shai Tubali sees how non-human minds mirror our condition back to us. [CONTAINS SPOILERS!]
Thinking About Thinking
Raymond Tallis reflexes his mind muscle.
Camus, The Plague And Us
Ray Boisvert on Albert Camus, Thomas Merton and a call to be a healer in a crisis.
From Conceptual Art To Social Art
Peter Benson watches this ‘art movement’ with raised eyebrows.
AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
The usurper has come
Luxury Summer Hideaways and Boltholes in Europe
Venture out in Vienna, a city of opulence and grace.
COUNTRIES URGE DRUG COMPANIES TO SHARE VACCINE KNOW-HOW
In an industrial neighborhood on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s largest city lies a factory with gleaming new equipment imported from Germany, its immaculate hallways lined with hermetically sealed rooms. It is operating at just a quarter of its capacity.
EPIC GAMES FILES EU ANTITRUST COMPLAINT AGAINST APPLE
Epic Games said it filed an antitrust complaint against Apple with European Union regulators, opening a new front in its war with the tech giant over app store payments.
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER WITH LEAPY LEE
On vacation on the Costa del Sol in Spain, I happened across an English language newspaper named The Euro Weekly News. There was an article signed by Leapy Lee. I wondered, “How many Leapy Lees can there be in this world?” An email address was attached. I contacted him and indeed, it was the British singer of “Little Arrows” fame. “Little Arrows,” an international country rock hit in 1968, made it to No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold three million copies worldwide. I set out to find what Leapy Lee has been doing since 1968.
APPLE TO CRACK DOWN ON TRACKING iPHONE USERS IN EARLY SPRING
Apple says it will roll out a new privacy control in the spring to prevent iPhone apps from secretly shadowing people. The delay in its anticipated rollout aims to placate Facebook and other digital services that depend on such data surveillance to help sell ads.
Dinosauriana Imagined 13
Dinosauriana Iberiana (A Spain-ful Endeavor)
Reports of aggressive killer whales
Orcas have reportedly attacked sailboats recently off Spain and
Volkswagen Triples Electric Car Sales Ahead Of Climate Rules
Europe’s push into electric cars is gathering speed — despite the pandemic.