Sociology Index

Jose Ortega y Gasset

Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883 – 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 Gustav Albrecht Husserl, his proto-existentialism, and his realist historicism, which has been compared to both Wilhelm Dilthey and Benedetto Croce."

Jose Ortega y Gasset 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). He founded the Revista de Occidente [es] in 1923, remaining its director until 1936. He promoted translation of 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 Pfander, and Bertrand Russell.

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

According to Ortega y Gasset, philosophy has a critical duty to lay siege to beliefs in order to promote new ideas and to explain reality. 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 and ancient-medieval realism 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" cannot be detached from "my circumstance." Ortega y Gasset's pronounced his famous maxim "Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia"—"I am I and my circumstance"—which he always put at the core of his philosophy.