Man and His Circumstances: Ortega as Educator
by Robbie McClintock
Chapter XI — The Critic's Power
"Un rasgo de la vida alemana," 1935, Obras V, p. 191.
Ah! It is clear! To propose that life is "principally" this or that is supremely dangerous, for in an instant it will be "exclusively" either this or that. Then terrible things happen . ... It would be an easy job to exist if we could do things unilaterally. But—and here is the problem!—to live is to travel at one time in every direction of the horizon; to live is to have to do with both this and that.
XI — The Critic's Power
La rebelión de las masas, 1930, Obras IV, p. 242.
Men choose to create communities. The forms of reasoning that made these communities possible were not built into men; on the contrary, the forms of reasoning were acquired, they were learned, they were not necessary, they could be rejected. In the past, by and large, men had not rejected sound means of political calculation because they had direct experience, day-to-day, of the dangers in their environment. As a consequence of their prudence, men entered into relationships of leader and follower, exemplar and connoisseur. With these relationships, there arose the function of ruling and obeying; and "the function of ruling and obeying is decisive in every society." The crisis of Europe brought on by the pedagogy of abundance involved the breakdown of this function; Ortega's second voyage was an attempt to reconstruct it.
As we might expect from Ortega's interest in vital politics, ruling did not mean holding high office. Rather, to rule meant to exercise initiative with respect to man's communal life; to rule meant to have an effect on life, an effect that made it better or worse and that could be attributed to the ruler's actions. Since the breakdown in the function of ruling and obeying in Europe, the result was not decline, but stasis, stasis interrupted by catastrophic attempts at desperate departures from the reigning norm. In the twentieth-century West, the acts that made life better or worse could be attributed to a responsible actor only with difficulty, while the acts that could be easily attributed to responsible actors seemed to have little effect on the overall quality of life.
For a more recent version of such thoughts, see Jacques Ellul, The Political Illusion, passim.
Another way to describe this situation was to observe that the traditional offices of practical command had ceased to be positions from which men could effectively rule or shape the whole. To be sure, the men occupying powerful offices could mobilize fantastic armies, organize extensive systems of men and materiel, and draw up budgets of which Midas could not have dreamed. But these men were unable to act; they were constrained by the vast scale of their power, they were exhausting themselves in the desperate, distracting effort to keep the system going; and they had neither the time, the inclination, nor the energy to introduce unexpected initiatives and to change the course of development. The debasing, crushing powerlessness of the powerful was easily overlooked, however, for within their immediate sphere the established offices were still effective; the financier, for instance, was still capable of productive, profitable finance, but he was no longer the creative ruler that he had been during the dynamic phases of the industrial revolution: rather than underwriting revolutionary change, he now served at most to perpetuate a going pattern of life. Ortega perceived great potential power in certain practical offices such as the engineer and the industrial executive; but even with these, their potential power was not latent in their traditional functions, but in new functions that were being thrust upon these offices by the default of others. One had to begin by recognizing these defaults: throughout the West, men who wielded practical power were no longer able to rule.
As a practical matter, the pedagogy of abundance and the revolt of the masses challenged men to rebuild an effective system of power in post-industrial life, a system of power through which individuals could exert significant initiative affecting the quality of life in the community. The first step in discovering the possibility of such power was in learning how the debilitating effects of the pedagogy of abundance might be counteracted. One might expect that under conditions of abundance, the critic's function would gain in public significance. The alertness formerly engendered by scarcity had now to be called forth by human activity; and the ability to rule, to direct and channel the effort of the whole, passed largely to critics who could spread concern among their peers for significant matters.
To say that the ability to rule passed to the critics was not to say either that they were necessarily exercising the ability or that, if they did, they would exercise it well. In contrast, it was to say something at once more limited and more significant: the critic now must rise to the responsibilities he formerly foisted on others, to responsibility for the course of events. The present danger to humane relations among men is that intellectuals and students are becoming aware of this responsibility and of their present inability to fulfill it; thus frustrated, they resort, in well-meaning desperation, typical of novice rulers who expect great things of themselves, to a cold, sanctimonious extremism. But the errors of the righteous radicals do not change the realities: intelligent criticism has become one of the major forms of power, for good or ill, in our time.
Much of the power left in public life is that of the critic. Members of the "power elite" will find this position quixotic, but the office of critic need not be defended from those who secretly fear its renascent significance. With an instinctive appreciation of the things that matter, let us concentrate on the revival of criticism itself. So far critics have not begun to use their present power fully, let alone to use it well. To do so, for Ortega, the first step would be to rebuild the clerisy's confidence in its office. Ortega had personally felt the irresistible attraction of practical politics; this siren song played upon the suspicion that when all was said and done words were of little significance. But as soon as critics understood the crisis of leadership in Europe, they would not be swayed by this doubt. No one would advise a physical return to poverty and instability as a desirable means of inducing aptness in the masses. But how, without giving up the benefits of abundance, could the populace develop its strength of character? The most promising alternative that might be tried was criticism.
And this alternative was not a mere measure of desperation. As good teachers know, criticism can give more effective discipline and inspiration than can punishment or failure. When looked at with care, anxiety turns out to be a rather dull goad: it continually prompts men to flee imagined evils. In contrast, criticism inspires men to strive for something. Criticism, to Ortega, was more constructive than a carping exposure of disagreeable traits in others; in essence, good criticism was an affirmation of worth, a revelation of potentialities. The critics' task in Europe was to set against achieved realities a great potential project, one so stirring that complacent pride in the actualities would diminish in comparison with the possibilities it revealed; then men would again exert effort. Thus, throughout his second voyage, Ortega's aspiration was to erect a vast critical structure that would inspire the masses with the will to lead themselves out of themselves.
An example of this critical power has become manifest on a small scale in recent years: the reluctance of many talented college graduates to consider business careers. This reluctance can be traced back to critical assessments of corporate culture such as The Organization Man by William H. Whyte, Jr. The antipathy for business may turn out to be simply the leading edge of a much deeper shift in aspirations and expectations, one on a par with the Renaissance and Reformation or the democratic revolution.
There is need for a truly "critical" history of modern Europe, that is, a history that shows the constructive effects of criticism over time. Such a history would be neither an account of political development nor of ideological development; rather it would lay bare the underlying systems of expectation that sustain politics and inform ideology. So far, the closest to such critical history is the Weltanschauung analysis initiated by Wilhelm Dilthey. His fullest effort is his Weltanschauung und Analyse des Menschen seit Renaissance und Reformation, in Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 2, but this work is hard to differentiate from an intellectual history of the period. What is needed, as Dilthey suggested in his Pädagogik: Geschichte und Grundlinien des Systems, in Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 9, is a means of showing the effect of a world view on historical development; one place to look for this is in the history of education. A major effort influenced by Dilthey's historiography was Hermann Leser's Das pädagogische Problem, which tries to show how, from the Renaissance through Romanticism, changes in world views affected people's conceptions of pedagogical aims and methods. It is a history that has been unduly ignored by American historians of education.
Such a statement, however, can easily be read without experiencing its intended meaning. Criticism, like the words in which it is couched, can often be ineffectual. At its best, the criticism Ortega had in mind was a powerful form of public action. To appreciate what Ortega was aiming at, one should not go to famed critical works, but to deep historic transformations. Thus, the sixteenth-century effect of humanist criticism is not to be found in Erasmus' Praise of Folly and other books, but in the historic transformation of standards, which over several generations destroyed the authority of medieval dogmas, opening the way to both the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. In this manner, one will find that most significant developments in Western history occurred when a group of critics truly altered one or another basic element in the view of life that people shared. The Renaissance, the Reformation, the spread of nationalism, the revolutionary affirmation of equality before the law, the steady universalization of material well-being were vast events set in motion largely by the action of critics who, bit by bit, actually changed fundamental ideas about man, God, and nature. Ortega aspired to such criticism, which is criticism that can truly claim to be a mode of action; but in contrast, most putative criticism usually falls without effect.
An interesting subject for historical inquiry would be a study of how criticism has been presented to the public at different times in history, for the current commercialization of criticism may be a unique, portentous phenomenon. What connection is there between the present penchant for socio-political criticism and the taste for sermons in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries? Perhaps a zeal to be reproved is the harbinger indicating that the concerns in question will soon be considered irrelevant, for to maintain their waning place, people must remind themselves daily that doom is nigh.
To have effect1 critics need, among other things, both a cause and a canon. The cause is most important and the one that moved Ortega, Europe, will occupy us throughout later chapters. In addition to the cause, however, the canon is also significant, for if the canon is faulty, the cause is likely to die without effect. By a canon, one means a conception of how criticism can and should influence those criticized. Today, critics easily find an audience for their views, for people seem to believe that on listening to exposes of their faults, those faults will disappear effortlessly, as if by magic. This belief creates the paradox that makes a canon important: the more people listen to criticism, the less critical they seem to become. This paradox is a serious phenomenon, for it means that people are building up a strong resistance to one of the more significant forms of power presently available. To counteract this resistance, the competent clerc needs a means to make his hearers inwardly critical of themselves and their world, rather than mere consumers of criticism. Ortega sought a canon of criticism that would explain how people become critical of their own situation, for he understood that the significant achievements of criticism had been wrought when an altered view of the world was internalized by many men: then they began to sing lustily "give me ten stout-hearted men and I'll soon give you ten thousand more."
Commonly, people think that the object of criticism is to demonstrate the error of a belief or practice. In doing so, the critic is expected to demonstrate the wrongness of one position and the rightness of another; and thus the critic is drawn into absolute judgments that consign some to heaven and others to hell. All this is a misunderstanding that stems, in part, from the ubiquity of bad criticism and, in part, from a misreading of the sting that is properly present in the prose of a good critical stylist. Rightly understood, criticism necessarily ceases to be criticism as soon as it begins to propound imperative judgments, positive or negative; criticism concerns the possible relation between an object outside itself and people other than the critic, and to influence this relation, the critic should respect the autonomy of both the object and the audience of his criticism. In keeping with such restraints, Ortega's conception of criticism had little to do with passing judgment.
La rebelión de las masas, 1930, Obras IV, p. 210.
Instead, Ortega's critical canon began with the problem of perception. "Human life has arisen and progressed only when the means that it could count on were in equilibrium with the problems it perceived." At first, this proposition seems to be a dull restatement of the enduring truism that the best environment is a temperate one in which a being's needs and means strike a healthy balance. But that reading misses the significant point. Ortega spoke quite intentionally of human life, not of the human being, and he said that progress depended on an equilibrium, not between the powers of a being and the absolute problems it encountered, but between the means for living and the problems that were perceived (sentía) by "it," by human life. These points are central to contemporary humanism.
On the basis of the name, life should be the central concern of biology, but life is a difficult substance to work with scientifically. At the edge, with certain viral bodies, it is difficult to distinguish a living system from certain inanimate molecules; hence vitalists have been hard put to give an adequate operational definition of life. At the same time, despite some progress towards the synthesis of living substance, the chemist is still a long way from the creation of complicated living forms.
Philosophers such as Ernest Nagel have condemned vitalism for scientific infertility—a fatal flaw according to those who account for truth by its cash value; see Nagel's "Mechanistic Explanation and Organismic Biology," in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. II, 1951, p. 327. Basically, Nagel's argument is that vitalism is dead because it has given rise to no significant research. It is not dear, however, whether such a conclusion is founded on an observed lack of research or whether the observed lack of research is founded on the conclusion. This alternative should be considered seriously because there have been a number of vitalistically inclined researchers whose work has not been considered in a spirit of "sweetness and light" by members of the dominant schools. In Modern Science and the Nature of Life, pp. 291–2, William S. Beck scornfully dismisses vitalistic dissenters from his materialistic interpretation of the nature of life. His method is not scientific. Thus Beck responds to the work of Edmund W. Sinnott: "The author presents 'scientific' evidence for the existence of the soul...." A pair of well-placed quotation marks thus substitutes for an argument, and Beck goes on to exclaim at Sinnott's imbecility for considering a vitalistic position as possibly scientific: "This from within our scientific ranks. This in a discussion of the very subject upon which our ultimate understanding of cancer must depend, the nature of the organism." A soul, indeed!
Despite the hostile response vitalism has received in twentieth-century biology, it has not died out. There is no adequate survey of early twentieth-century vitalism. H. S. Jennings' article "Doctrines Held as Vitalism," The American Naturalist, Vol. XLVIII, No. 559, July 1913, pp. 385–417, is a useful survey. During the 1920's the Italian magazine Scientia carried over thirty articles about different aspects of vitalistic thought; see Vols. 33–40. Three fairly recent books written from a non-mechanistic point of view are E. S. Russell, The Directiveness of Organic Activities, 1945; Raymond Ruyer, Néo-finalisme, 1952; and Edmund W. Sinnott, Cell and Psyche: The Biology of Purpose, 1950. These synthesize a good deal of twentieth-century vitalism, but they do not agree on what is important in it. The work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, especially as reflected in Modern Theories of Development: An Introduction to Theoretical Biology, carries on Uexküll's tradition of inquiry.
In recent times, scientists have disagreed about the place of life in the so-called life sciences. A number of twentieth-century philosophers, Ortega among them, have been influenced by the vitalism of certain biologists, particularly the German morphologist Jacob von Uexküll. The issue for the vitalists was whether the biologist should assume, at the outset, that the basic stuff with which he worked was matter, the physical substances studied in physics and chemistry, or life, the mysterious quality that made certain systems self-maintaining. The vitalists predicted precisely what has since happened in the breakup of biology into biophysics and biochemistry: if matter was taken as the basis of biology, scientists would learn a great deal about the physical structure by which various living creatures developed and supported themselves, but little would be learned about life itself. To do so, biologists like Uexküll based their research on assumptions that the creatures they studied were alive, that life was the phenomenon with which biology was concerned, and that, at most, biologists, students of life, could use chemistry and physics as ancillary sciences to help explain how the creature in question lived its life.
A vitalistic view of biology accorded well with several important post-Kantian philosophical developments. Kant's critique of the ontological proof that God exists works equally well with respect to any substance1 material or spiritual; as we shall see in more detail later, both inductive and deductive knowledge was transformed by this critique into a phenomenalism. In the late nineteenth century, the ontological curiosity, which Kant had seemed to destroy, began to stir again; but this time, rather than following Aristotle in saying that being was the ground of all else and that being was a substance, they said that reality was not a being, not a substance: it was life, existing, acting. Since this proposition entails a great departure from ingrained habits of thought, we shall keep returning to the matter. Suffice it to say here that from several sources Ortega had learned to mean exactly what he said when he spoke of human life; he had in mind the characteristically human pattern of living, of being concerned consciously and unconsciously with all the judgments, speculations, and actions that comprise a human life. He was not thinking of the physical being, the material body, and the conditions under which it multiplies most rapidly or survives for the longest time; he was thinking of the human life, the ongoing activity, and the situation in which this life can rise to its fullest, most significant potential. This life, Ortega thought, was the ground, the occasion of all possible, phenomenal reality: all phenomena existed, not in a world, but in one or another life.
This distinction between absolute "problems'' and perceived or vital problems explains much about the humor of animated cartoons, which usually depends on the audience's perception of the ridiculous irrelevance of the disasters that the protagonists unwittingly encounter. It is significant that these cartoon disasters are never final; after having been squashed by a falling safe or overrun by a speeding steamroller, Puddycat can always peel himself off the pavement and return to the vital drama of chasing Tweety. To go from the ridiculous to the sublime, one should consult Book I, Chapter I, of Arrian's Discourses by Epictetus, "On things which are under our control and not under our control." Both comic humor and stoic sobriety remind us that the important things in life are things of which the living being is aware.
Human life flourished when the means at hand for acting were in equilibrium with the problems perceived. Kant had shown that the mind works with phenomena rather than things-in-themselves. In keeping with his Kantian background, Ortega asserted that optimum vital development occurred when the perceived problems were in balance with the capacity to act that a man had acquired. Absolute needs were beyond our ken. A person was inert with respect to influences that he could not, in some way, perceive. To be sure, unperceived forces could decisively determine the outcome of activities initiated by living creatures1 but there was nothing vital about these influences. A living creature could initiate its activities only with reference to the things it perceived. Improvement in life depended on the quality of the initiative that humans took, and men could take initiative only on matters they perceived; therefore, rather than human problems in the absolute, the problems actually perceived were to be in temperate equilibrium with the means at hand. If the problems of which men were aware were not difficult enough to put their abilities to the test, their abilities would decline from disuse; if the perceived problems were too difficult, their capacities would be over-strained and perhaps destroyed. The contemporary situation was dangerous because comfortable surroundings encouraged Europeans to perceive only easy problems, which would neither challenge the existing means of action nor keep them in good condition.
A man lived in the world of which he was aware. He subsisted within an objective reality, but he lived among the things his attention took hold of on one or another level. To live is to be alert, alert to everything, to the viral body entering one's bloodstream, to the person behind one on the street., to economic and military decisions being made in far-off places, to an artistic form shaped by an unknown hand that fell still before there was a history.
Respectively: "El origen deportivo del estado," 1924, Obras II, p. 607; "Los 'nuevos' Estados Unidos," 1931, Obras IV, p. 358; and La rebelión de las masas, 1930, Obras IV, p. 171.
Respectively: La rebelión de las masas, 1930, Obras IV, p. 243; "Pidiendo un Goethe desde dentro;' 1937, Obras IV, p. 400; Ibid., p. 400; La rebelión de las masas, 1930, Obras IV, p. 208; Las Atlántidas, 1924, Obras III, p. 291.
One gave a definition of life by saying that it occurred within a sphere of awareness. One cannot read Ortega long without meeting an aphorism beginning "Life is . .. ," or "to live is to . ... " These aphorisms conveyed the connection of life with awareness. "To live is to deal with the world, to direct ourselves in it, to take a stand in it, to occupy ourselves with it." "There is no life without interpretation of things." "To live is to feel oneself fatally forced to exercise liberty, to decide what we are going to be in this world." These were more than fine turns of phrase. Ortega's aphorisms restated an important tradition of philosophic and scientific theory, namely the investigation of life as a teleological phenomenon. "To live is to shoot towards something, to move towards a goal." "Life is constitutionally a drama because it is the frantic struggle with things and even with one's character in order to make actual what we are in potential." 11To live is to be outside oneself—to realize oneself." "All life is struggle, the effort to be itself." "Life is essentially a dialogue with its surroundings; it is that as much in its simplest physiological functions as in its most sublime psychic functions. To live is to live with, and the other with which we live is the world around us."
The most concise statement of Uexküll's work is his Die Lebenslehre, 1930. A translation of his major book, Theoretical Biology, is the only one available in English. Ortega published an article by Uexküll, "La Biología de la ostrea jacobea," Revista de Occidente, March 1924, pp. 297–331, in which Uexküll's fundamental ideas were presented. Uexküll's major research findings were summarized in his Umwelt und Innenwelt des Tiers, 1909.
Commentators who were not familiar with the particular theories that Ortega drew from have misunderstood his use of biological thought. Thus, in his Ortega y Gasset, pp. 32–33, José Ferrater Mora was embarrassed by Ortega's predilection for biological theories "of the von Uexküll-Driesch brand." In "Ni vitalismo, ni racionalismo" (1924, Obras III, pp. 271–280) Ortega denied that Driesch had influenced him. He said nothing about Uexküll, whose influence he warmly acknowledged elsewhere. We can conclude that Ortega was influenced by Uexküll and that he did not consider Uexküll to be a vitalist of the Driesch brand. Writers such as Ferrater Mora think that Ortega's use of Uexküll's ideas needs to be defended because it seems inconsistent that an anti–positivist philosopher like Ortega would use biological science to support his philosophy. The inconsistency is an appearance that arises with the erroneous assumption that Uexküll's biology was positivistic. It was not. Uexküll was a neo–Kantian transcendental idealist who began his biological theory with a meditation on the Critique of Pure Reason. Uexküll's idealistic conception of science, rather than his vitalism, seems to have been the major difficulty that other biologists encountered in his work, for most of them were positivists. Even vitalistic writers, such as Raymond Ruyer (Néo–finalisme, p. 217, fn. 1) criticized Uexküll's conception of science. The following quotation from Uexküll's Theoretical Biology, (Mackinnon, trans., p. x) gives a sense of his anti–positivism and of his agreement with Ortega's idea of science: "In Nature everything is certain; in science everything is problematical. Science can fulfill its purpose only if it is built up like a scaffolding against the wall of a house. Its purpose is to ensure the workman of a firm support everywhere, so that he may get to any point without losing a general survey of the whole. Accordingly, it is of first importance that the structure of the scaffolding be built in such a way as to afford this comprehensive view, and it must never be forgotten that the scaffolding does not itself pertain to Nature, but is always something extraneous." Surely, there was no inconsistency in an anti–positivist drawing on Uexküll's theories.
Thus far, Uexküll's thought has not had great influence on biology, except perhaps on the speculations of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, who is laconic, however, about his sources. Uexküll did influence a number of twentieth–century humanists besides Ortega, in particular Ernst Cassirer. For the influence of Uexküll on Cassirer see the latter's The Logic of the Humanities, Clarence Smith Howe, trans., pp. 71–77, especially pp. 72–3: "This task for modern biology, which is set forth with great originality and carried out with extraordinary fruitfulness in Uexküll's writings, also affords us a path that can lead to a clear and definite delineation of the boundary between 'life' and 'spirit', between the world of organic forms and the world of cultural forms." Besides Cassirer and Ortega, it is altogether probable that Henri Bergson knew of Uexküll's work when he wrote The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. But Bergson's reticence about his sources makes it hard to trace influences. Further, Josef Pieper made use of Uexküll's work in "The Philosophical Act," in Leisure, The Basis of Culture, pp. 83–7.
"Prólogo a 'Ideas para una concepción biológica del mundo,' de J. von Uexküll," 1922, Obras VI, p. 308.
In these thoughts Ortega drew on the biology of Uexküll. In 1922 Ortega closed an introduction to one of Uexküll's books with a warm declaration: "I should explain that since 1913 his biological meditations have exercised great influence on me. This influence has not been merely scientific, but also heartening: I know of no suggestions that are more effective than his at putting order, serenity, and hope into the confusion of the contemporary spirit."
Uexküll gave what amounted to a phenomenology of life, one that showed life to be peculiarly teleological. His experiments and theories were based on careful observation of how various animals actually went about living their lives. On the one hand, he studied what kind of perceptual world an animal's sense organs defined; the vital universes of a mollusk and of a man appeared quite different to each because each had extremely different perceptual capacities. On the other hand, he observed the world of action of different creatures; the organs of some gave rise to an extremely limited repertory of acts, those of others to a fascinating variety. With any living creature, Uexküll found, its perceptual world and its world of action were linked by various internal feedback systems, which he called steering mechanisms. Here his theory anticipated the scientific aspects of cybernetics; but, more important for Ortega, his conception of the steering mechanism was useful in working out a canon of criticism.
Uexküll's most important work available in English is his Theoretical Biology, D. L. Mackinnon, trans. I have discussed Uexküll's work and its place in current thought at greater length in "Machines and Vitalists: Reflections on the Ideology of Cybernetics," The American Scholar, Spring 1966, pp. 249–257.
In Uexküll' s theory the function of a steering mechanism was to allow a living creature to direct its perception so that the information needed for a particular act would actually be gathered. Of course, the precise way in which the steering mechanism worked varied greatly with the characteristic organs of perception and action of different species. All the same, selective response always entailed a capacity, in some way or another, to control the pattern of perception in order to initiate, sustain, or alter a pattern of, action. In human life, the steering mechanisms that mediated between man's complicated perceptual capacities and his powers of action were extremely complicated, and Uexküll did not try to describe them fully. He did indicate, however, that much in both man's perceptual and active world was of man's own making; the human realm was largely cultural rather than natural. Here, in the cultural sphere, the most important steering mechanisms were public functions, in particular, the critic's function.
Uexküll' s theories lent themselves well to describing the function of criticism. As an animal had a natural capacity to perceive and to act and had various steering mechanisms that linked these capacities purposefully, so a people had a cultural capacity to perceive and to act and a variety of steering mechanisms, in the form of teachers and critics who sought to stimulate the people's perception so that they could carry through desirable actions. Men learned particular skills, tastes, and standards from a larger repertory, the whole culture; and each man chose to act in any real situation on the basis of the skills, tastes, and standards he had acquired: thus he participated in the common way of life. No matter how original, a particular man could not stand completely apart from these common characteristics; they were intrinsic elements of moving, eating, dressing, speaking. But within this basic cycle of shared cultural perceptions and actions, critics, writers, teachers, and public leaders could try to interest men in important but ignored possibilities. Purposeful action always takes place within the limits established by the constraints of our capacities and surroundings. Public progress depends not on being free from a constraining cultural heritage, but on being able to act within those constraints by channeling attention and ability towards the pursuit of unfulfilled possibilities. The critics who so directed our attention were the civic pedagogues, the cultural steering mechanisms.
Las Atlántidas, 1924, Obras III p. 291.
Ortega perceived the function of criticism in this way. A community of men had vital needs and abilities; its members might or might not perceive their common needs; they might or might not use their powers: whether they would do so depended on how the masses perceived life and whom they chose to make their leaders. In one sense, civic pedagogy was the unselfconscious way in which all the people of a community perceived their needs and on the basis of this perception selected their leading minorities. The civic results would be good or bad depending on the accuracy of their perception, depending on the degree to which the problems they perceived were in equilibrium with the means they had at hand. The decisive deeds for the community developed ultimately out of this great aggregation of the perceptions and choices that each man made. Thus, Ortega observed, "the new biology recognizes that in order to study an animal it is first necessary to reconstruct its world, to define what elements of the world exist vitally for it; in sum, to make an inventory of the objects that it perceives. Each species has its natural stage upon which each individual or group cuts out a reduced &!age. Thus, the human world is the result of a selection from the infinite realities of the universe, and we understand only a part of these. No man lives the entire panorama of his species. Each people, each epoch makes new selections from the general repertory of 'human' objects, and inside of each epoch and each people, the individual exercises the final modulation." This vast process was the basic cycle of civic pedagogy, the process in which a community acquired its abilities and limitations.
In this fundamental sense, civic pedagogy was beyond the control of particular persons; as Ortega put it, each person exercised a final modulation. His effort, however, was to understand the nature of the critic's power. The critic's power could not be direct, complete, and authoritative; what happened would depend on many wills other than that of the critic. Nevertheless, this limitation did not preclude the critic's significance: the basic cycle of civic pedagogy provided room for many involutions, many steering mechanisms. No one person, no one group could directly control the whole system, but any person and any group could try to influence it by criticizing prevalent patterns of perception, by trying to help people improve the choices they made, and by stimulating men to modulate their lives more effectively. The man who exercised this real but limited influence would be the critic, the civic pedagogue.
Improve? Modulate effectively? These were fine impulses. But if each person's world was the result of a selection from an infinite variety, how could one person improve and modulate the selection made by another? If a man lived in the world of which he was aware, how could another, who lived in a different world, criticize the first? These questions point to difficulties with the theory of criticism that has so far unfolded: they lead to a study of Ortega's epistemological point of view. To clarify the function of the critic as a steering mechanism in the system of civic pedagogy, Ortega had to avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of absolutism and relativism, for with an absolutist epistemology the critic would begin to seek direct, authoritative power and with a relativistic one he would become either completely powerless or willfully arbitrary. Instead, Ortega searched for a middle ground, for an epistemology that would enable the critic to make significant suggestions without being tempted to assert command.
Epistemological reflection has been greatly stimulated by the desire to define accurately the actual relation between a substance and its symbol. In day-to-day matters, each of us has an adequate, working conception of this relation; it has become hard to sell the Brooklyn Bridge and even children intuitively grasp the difference between the symbol $10 and the greenish bill it stands for. But relations such as this one, which we operationally understand in simple cases, prove very difficult to clarify rigorously. It would not be surprising, for instance, if the next advance in sub-atomic physics comes from an epistemological critique of the seeming relation between the signs of various particles, as these signs appear in the form of decay paths recorded on film, and the actual entities these signs supposedly symbolize. Our lives are filled with cases like this one, albeit simpler, in which we take the sign as evidence of the thing; and the urge of the epistemologist is to criticize this practice, showing us when it is likely to deceive and when it will inform us well.
Protagoras, Fragment 1, Freeman, trans., Ancilla, p. 125.
Epistemologists have arrived at no agreement in their critique of the relation between knowledge and reality. There are advantages and drawbacks to the different positions, and the consensus changes as the optimization of these pluses and minuses is made under shifting circumstances. But despite this lack of agreement, the disagreement itself has a form that has been surprisingly consistent over centuries. At one pole is an absolutist epistemology, which holds that signs are true indicators of an absolute reality, of a system of substances as they exist in themselves. There are obvious difficulties with this position, which were manifest in the beginning with Parmenides: we cannot maintain our image of the absolute and still save the phenomena, the whirl of changing objects all around us. At the other pole is a relativist epistemology that holds with Protagoras that "of all things the measure is Man, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not." The problem here, of course, is not to save the phenomena, but to save ourselves from the phenomena. Which man is to be the measure when one finds that certain things are, and another finds that they are not? Most philosophers, Ortega included, have tried to find ways to integrate the best parts of both these basic positions into a single, consistent system.
During 1913, the year that Uexküll's biology began to influence Ortega, the Spaniard first explained his theory of "perspectivism." It was a simple but significant epistemological contention: knowledge was such that it had to include a point of view. The world was real, he held, but it was knowable only through the partial perspective of men: there was no ultimate or absolute perspective from which truth could be seen. This assertion was not meant to make man the measure of the thing; on the contrary, each thing had a real, absolute configuration for each man, and each man had to measure himself against the truth of these things. Ortega's contention was not, however, a traditional absolutism, for there was no single, universal truth of things set apart from men; the truth of things was integral to each man's unique relation to the things, and the truth varied with each person.
For each person the world had a particular configuration; each man could know this configuration and it was the absolute for him; this configuration was his absolute, for another person a different configuration was the absolute. Knowledge was man's means for making over the chaos of things-in-themselves into a habitable cosmos, one that possessed form and substance; things became absolute for a man as he became aware that he had a definite, unique relation to everything by virtue of his having a particular location in the world.
This epistemology, which suggested that the absolute was each being's particular relation to everything else, was a thorough humanism in which knowledge was conceived to correspond to a fundamentally anthropomorphic universe. Ortega's was a radical anthropomorphism: he did not think that men should naively depict nature in their own image; he held that no matter what precautions were taken to avoid a human bias, knowledge could only concern things as they existed in a definite, absolute relation to the knowing man. The universe was anthropomorphic; and to know was to make manifest the real relations between oneself and the world.
Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom, No. 112, Thomas Common, trans.
This position was not original. Nietzsche had already exclaimed, "How could we ever explain! We operate only with things which do not exist, with lines, surfaces, bodies, atoms, divisible times, divisible spaces—how can explanation ever be possible when we first make everything a conception, our conception! It is sufficient to regard science as the exactest humanising of things that is possible .... " Furthermore, the importance of perspective had been dwelt on by several previous philosophers, most notably by Leibniz and, again, Nietzsche. Ortega was careful to deny that his views were similar to theirs, and in the case of Leibniz the difference is rather marked. But for our purposes, it is more important to note the similarities, despite the differences, between the three conceptions.
Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics, No. 14, George Montgomery and A. R. Chandler, trans.
Leibniz presented an absolutist metaphysics in which all was derived from a perfect God. The universe was an absolute spiritual reality made up of innumerable parts, each of which was, in the eyes of God, perfect, fixed, and unchanging. Each one of these parts, however, did not have the eyes of God; each saw the universe from a perspective that made things appear imperfect, transitory, and volatile. All the same, this perspective was the best men could attain; and if properly respected, it would serve men well, for God had, through a pre-established harmony, provided for the reconciliation of every partial perspective with all the rest. "It is God alone (from whom all individuals emanate continually, and who sees the universe not only as they see it, but besides in a very different way from them) who is the cause of this correspondence in their phenomena and who brings it about that that which is particular to one, is also common to all, otherwise there would be no relation."
Nietzsche's conception of perspective was in many ways antithetical to Leibniz', for Nietzsche would accept neither Leibniz' reference to an absolute God nor to autonomous, substantial subjects. The way in which grammar imposed upon our thoughts could perhaps have become clear only to a master stylist like Nietzsche; he realized that reason gave no warrant to believe that either subjects or predicates could be anything more than linguistic conveniences. Phenomenal evidence concerned neither the subject nor the object, it concerned the perspective, a perspective that, for convenience, men described as a subject seeing an object; but in truth, this perspective was simply the perspective, the particular seeing without the inferred subject and object introduced as independent entities.
Nietzsche, The Will to Power, No. 636, Walter Kaufmann, trans. Punctuation is Nietzsche's.
Nietzsche's theory is difficult and obscure, but in a certain way, it is quite close to Leibniz'. The phenomenal universe for Nietzsche consisted in a heterogeneous mass of particular seeings, feelings, tastings, valuings, wantings, and doings; these perspectives were like Leibniz' monads. For both Nietzsche and Leibniz, all the separate perspectives and all the separate monads existed by themselves intermixed but unrelated. The problem was to find a tertium quid through which they could become related. For Leibniz, the monads became related through God and his pre-established harmony. For Nietzsche, such a doctrine was untenable, for it required one to believe that the existing harmony was a perfect harmony. Instead, at this point, Nietzsche discovered a will to power at work among the unrelated perspectives; this will sought to work out and establish a potential harmony among the perspectives. In every case, the will to power posited itself as subject and sought to gain power over everything else present in what it now recognized as "its" perspectives. "Perspectivism is only a complex form of specificity. My idea is that every specific body strives to become master over all space and to extend its force (—its will to power): and to thrust back all that resists its extension. But it continually encounters similar efforts on the part of other bodies and ends by coming to an arrangement (union) with those of them that are sufficiently related to it: thus they then conspire together for power. And the process goes on—."
Two problems were of central importance to both Nietzsche and Leibniz: the problem of apparent differences and the problem of harmony. By calling attention to the presence of perspectives in all phenomenal knowledge, both broke apart the homogeneous universe and made it possible for differing views to be equally true. Furthermore, both men, especially Leibniz, felt called upon to reconstruct from the perspectival pieces the homogeneous universe. In doing this, both were providing for common standards by which a person could discriminate between various perspectives, saying that, although the perspectives are, as far as they go, equally true, one has significant! y greater value than another and the more valuable should have precedence. God's pre-established harmony and the will to power of the life force were rather different standards for making such discriminations; but with respect to the function each performed in the perspectival systems of Leibniz and Nietzsche, they were almost identical. In like manner, Ortega's theory of perspective differed from those of his predecessors in the way that it dealt with the problem of difference and the problem of harmony; but the function of his theory, like theirs, was to deal with these two problems.
El tema de nuestro tiempo, 1923, Obras III, pp. 199, 232, 202–3.
Whereas most theories of perspective postulated that a homogeneous reality seen from different points of view would appear different, Ortega renounced the homogeneous reality: from different points of view, reality was different. One erred by thinking that truth should appear the same to different men; "a reality that was always identical from whatever point it is seen is an absurd conception." One equally erred by thinking that because truths varied with different observer> truth did not exist; this thought was a consequence of an unfounded belief in a homogeneous reality, but now "the concrete determinations, which before appeared relative in the bad sense of the word, change into the sole expression of reality when they are freed from comparison with the universal absolute." Leibniz' Godly point from which all could be perceived at once did not exist, for if there was a God, His knowledge was nevertheless anthropomorphic: "God is also a point of view.... God sees through men: men are the visual organs of the Divine."
By recognizing that reality itself was not simple, that it was an infinitely complicated system of overlapping perspectives between this and that, the twin demands of the one and the many, the subject and the object, the knower and the known could be met. Prior to the twentieth century, philosophers had persistently fallen into the error of absolutism or scepticism by not accounting for perspective as a feature of reality. Both rationalists and relativists erred in thinking that reality ought to be some homogeneous object that would, given true knowledge, look the same to different subjects: because of this belief, the rationalist sought to suppress differences in the name of truth and the relativist tried to dissipate truth for the sake of differences. But reality was not some object out there that various subjects could disinterestedly observe; both object and subject were equally a part of reality and the perspectival relation between them could not be transcended. If one accepted the fact that the point of view of the observer was a part of the reality he observed, the differences that men authentically perceived would cease to be difficulties for reason; on the contrary, these differences then become the occasion of reasons From different points of view there were different, real involvements with a single object; it would be futile to insist that only one of these involvements was correct, all the others straying from the path of truth, or that any observer could see just what he wanted to see, there being no real object to correlate with the different reports of the various viewers.
Since reality was heterogeneous, the function of reason was not to suppress differences, but to account for them and thus to preserve them, to make it possible for the different realities to co-exist. This function gave no one unlimited license to think as he pleased; on the contrary, it imposed immense responsibilities on each person to think truthfully. The way of truth still differed from the way of opinion; but reality ceased to be a continuous, homogeneous One: it broke apart into a multitude of real relations between the whole and each of its parts. The perspective of each man was his particular, unique, absolute relation to everything else; to live, each man had to maintain his relation to the world; and to maintain his unique place in the whole, a man was drawn into thinking, into accounting to himself for the differences between himself and others so that together they could preserve themselves by preserving these differences.
With this conception of perspective, Ortega took care of the problem of differences; and he used a correlative conception, that of destiny, to deal with the problem of standards. A man's destiny was his inalienable program of life; it was living the optimum, most human life that was open to him to live. Ortega's conception of destiny was related to the classical conception of fate; it took human effort to fulfill both. But the necessity characteristic of destiny differed from that of fate; destiny was a necessary potential, not a necessary actuality. A person could not change his destiny, but he could easily, all-too-easily, rebel against it and refuse to fulfill it. Thus, the European crisis was a rebellion of the masses because part of the destiny of men who put no special demands upon themselves was to be apt before those that did, and mass men were refusing to fulfill this part of their destiny, this condition of achieving their optimum, personal potential. The fact that men could reject their destiny distinguished Ortega's conception from that of Spengler and other potentially authoritarian philosophers. Because every man could inauthenticate himself, each was free and responsible; and because each man was responsible for freely fulfilling his personal destiny, his best possible self, it followed that his contribution to humanity would be, no matter how humble, as much a personal achievement, as vitally dramatic, and as publicly significant as that of the greatest personality.
"No ser hombre de partido," 1930, Obras IV, p. 77.
Potentiality is a function of constraint; freedom is not a mere absence of limitation. A destiny, an optimum potential resulted because reality had a particular configuration for each person; this configuration put definite limits on how a man could perceive his life and how he could act within it. His real options were defined by these limits, and his freedom consisted in the necessity of choosing irrevocably between these particular options. Since the activities that a man could initiate were a correlate of his perception, his ability to perform the optimum activities that were among his real options depended in large part on his perceiving the world as fully and accurately as his perspective allowed. For each man his highest potentiality was fixed; it was a function of his perspective, of his particular relation to everything else: hence——"! am I and my circumstances." But it was not fixed that a man would initiate or fulfill his highest potentiality; to do so, he had to see himself and his world truthfully in all its perspectival uniqueness. By thus perceiving his destiny, each man could measure his deeds against his destiny and give form to his life. "What happens to us, then, depends for its vital effects, which are the decisive ones, on who each one of us is. Our radical being, the project of existence that we constitute, qualifies and gives one or another value to all that surrounds us. The result is that our true Destiny is our very being."
El tema de nuestro tiempo, 1923, Obras Ill, pp. 199–200, italics in parts of the quotation omitted.
By accepting a multi-faced world, perspectivism provided a place for truth and a place for differences: that was the essential point. "Perspective Is one of the components of reality. Far from being a deformation, it is reality's organization . ... The inveterate error is to suppose that reality has, in itself and independent of the point of view from which it is grasped, an inherent physiognomy .... For it is the case that, like a countryside, reality has an infinity of perspectives, all of which are equally true and authentic. The one false perspective is the one that pretends to be universal."
See Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, passim, and especially pp. 237–280. The paternalistic side of Mannheim's thought comes out most clearly in his Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction.
Here was a basis for criticism: a critic could not tell men how truth should appear from their points of view, but he could identify and expose falsified perspectives by their pretensions to substantive universality. In this, Ortega's conception of the perspectivist critic was closely paralleled by Karl Mannheim' s conception of the sociologist of knowledge. An important difference, however, was in their different modes of exposing falsifications. Mannheim assigned a rather paternalistic, positive power to the sociologist, who in the end would know better than the untutored person what that person's real ideas should be. Thus, in Mannheim's system the sociologist would work out, rather authoritatively, the objective, substantive criteria by which ideological thinking could be unmasked; the upshot would be a contention that such and such a proposition was not what it purported to be because it was, in fact, the rationalization of this or that social interest. In contrast, Ortega held that no such substantive criteria could be propagated; the Ortegan critic could expose illusion and dissimulation only with formal criteria that did not lay down what a person's point of view should be, but pointed out simply that a professed perspective could not be what it was professed to be. According to these formal criteria, there were two important sources of illusion and dissimulation: the absolutism and the nihilism to which traditional thinkers were susceptible.
El tema de nuestro tiempo, 1923, Obras III, p. 199.
First, rationalism posed a straightforward problem: rationalists believed they knew universal truths. Ortega inveighed against rationalistic absolutism through most of his writings. Abstractions gave only abstractions; reality could not be grasped in a universal truth. He did not bother with the dogmatic anti-metaphysics so popular among some twentieth-century philosophers; to him the case had long been closed and to pursue it would be to beat a dead horse: there could be no knowledge of universal absolutes. But Ortega went much further than the anti-metaphysicians, who were overly impressed with the achievements of science; Ortega did not accept scientific rationalism. As he saw it, positivists had given up the search for a universal absolute and limited themselves to a search for universal truths in secondary areas. Positivism, the presumption that the facts and laws of nature could be positively established, was another dangerous form of rationalism: it left uncultivated the profound problems of life in order to pursue inauthentic truths about less important questions. Scientists could tell us nothing about the laws of nature; they could only establish the laws of science, which would stand until later scientists inscribed better ones in their books. To be sure, Ortega granted that there was an "instrumental utility" to rationalistic thought, both positivist and absolutist; "but it is necessary not to forget that with it one will not know reality." Revolutionary and Utopian demonism arose when men confused their conception of a universal with a potential reality. The critic's task was to indicate the limits of rationalistic knowledge: the universality of rationalism was a fiction that was justified only to the degree that it enabled us to understand particulars more fully.
"No ser hombre de partido," 1930, Obras IV, p. 81.
Second, relativism posed a more subtle problem than rationalism, for at first glance the relativist did not pretend to universal knowledge. His disbelief in truth, however, itself a negative universal, led to a dangerous outlook. The relativist believed that there was no reality beyond appearance and that whatever men believed was true for them. It was a short step from this position to an ominous extension, usually made in the name of the common good; namely, if each man's opinion was as good as another's, why not proclaim the opinion of the strongest (or the neediest or the greatest number) as the universal? Being strongest, we will call our will the truth. Ortega observed that direct action and blind partisanship resulted from such relativism. Relativists were the men who asserted the right to have opinions but renounced the duty to have reasons. "Every man would be the member of some party, and his ideas and sentiments would be partisan. No one would reconcile himself to the truth, to good sense, to justice, or to prudence. There would be neither a truth nor a justice; there would be only the party consensus; it would be their truth and justice." To a certain degree, every man had to adopt "partisan facts" and the ideas of others because each person could not think through his own beliefs on every possible subject; but this necessity gave men no warrant to partake in a drive to make their beliefs dominant without more ado. The duty of the critic was to remind men that borrowed facts and theories were not their own; before taking ideas not their own so seriously, seeking to impose them on others, they should make the ideas their own by thinking the matters through and forming intelligible reasons for their views. Then, if still convinced of their rectitude, they might try to persuade others, not compel them, to perceive the truer point of view.
See En torno a Galileo, 1933, Obras V, pp. 295–315; El hombre y Ia gente, 1949, 1957, Obras VIII, pp. 99–196; and 1Que es filosofía?, 1929, 1957, Obras VII, pp. 277–438. Ortega's critique of rationalism and relativism has similarities to positions Immanuel Kant adopted in "Criticism of the Fourth Paralogism of Transcendental Psychology." Both the rationalists and the relativists were transcendental realists who therefore had to treat phenomena with either a dogmatic, or a skeptical empirical idealism. In contrast, Ortega was a transcendental idealist whose doctrine of perspectivism elaborated the fact that all knowledge was of phenomena. With reference to phenomena Ortega could maintain an empirical realism that was neither dogmatic nor skeptical. Also, in "Considerations on the whole of Pure Psychology" Kant showed that dogmatic and skeptical criticism both claimed to have enough knowledge about an object to assert or deny anything about it. Critical criticism, much like Ortega's canon, claimed no knowledge of the object but examined the adequacy of the claims made by others. Critical objections established no doctrine, they simply indicated where others erred. See The Critique of Pure Reason, first edition, Chapter I of Book II of the Second Division, "Transcendental Dialectic." Ortega differed from Kant on the possibility of an ontology; see below. It is interesting that at about the same time, Walter Lippmann contended that the complications of public policy had become so great that voters should no longer attempt to judge the rightness or wrongness of various policies. Instead, they should try to evaluate whether or not the policy was arrived at by means of proper procedure. See Public Opinion, 1922, Part VII, pp. 369–418.
In short, the critic should provoke each person to live his own life1 to make his own decisions, to form his own ideas, to recognize his perspective and to accept his destiny; in the Platonic phrase, the critic was to help each man keep to his proper business. The critic could not tell men how to live, choose, or think; but he could note whether men were doing these things for themselves or whether they were relying excessively on the ideas of others. For determining the vital effects, or rather the anti-vital effects, it did not matter whether the ideas men mouthed were rationalistic or relativistic; either way, men would falsify themselves as they attached themselves to an idea without absorbing it and understanding it, without making it part of their view of life. The critic could identify these intellectual perversions, and then he could show how such distorted ideas were put to destructive uses.
Ibid., pp. 78–9.
When a man adopted counterfeit ideas he falsified himself; he rejected his own perspective and ignored the destiny that was his. He who lost himself in the images that others offered would not come to terms with himself; he would not find his real needs; he would remain unaware of things that were essential to his destined life. "Whoever refuses to be what he must be kills himself while living; he is the walking suicide. His existence consists in a perpetual flight from the one authentic reality that he could be. Nothing that he does results directly from the sincere inspiration of his vital program; on the contrary, everything is an effort to compensate, by means of adjectival, purely tactical, mechanical, and vacant acts, for his lack of an authentic destiny."
Self-deception and the resultant self-destruction occurred when men accepted falsely universalized opinions. With these, men could blur their own true perspectives and avoid the perception of the particular problems that their destiny was to surmount. Depersonalized opinion permitted men to embark on an easier but futile course: to occupy themselves by reacting to conventional occasions in the accepted way. Men filled their vacancy with dead dogmas, some absolute and others arbitrary. By criticizing these compensatory universals, the civic pedagogue could propel men towards the examination of their true destiny. In turning men towards their authentic lives, the critic would gain an indirect influence over the education of the public.
Recall: on the basic level, civic pedagogy was the aggregate pattern of spontaneous obedience and considered resistance that a people manifested as they surveyed their circumstances and pursued their possibilities; this system worked best, it allowed life to optimize its possibilities, when the problems that people perceived were those that would extend but not overwhelm their powers. No man could control this system. Yet the critic who followed Ortega's disciplined canon would indirectly improve the whole process, for he would undercut certain compensations by which men avoided confronting their significant, truly taxing difficulties. Ortega did not claim to have a positive knowledge of the destiny of other persons, for his point of view was not theirs; nevertheless, he did claim to be able to indicate when people were substituting ideas that had been mindlessly derived from others, putting these in the place of those that were proper to their destiny: a derivation could be identified because it had lost its integral connection with any particular man's perspective. If the critic could insure that men were preoccupied with their authentic lives and not with some fake derivative, the dispensation of social power would be in a better balance with the actual problems and potentials of the community. Thus, to begin with, the civic pedagogue exercised his power not by propounding truths, but by criticizing errors in intellectual procedure. But this negative beginning was simply the beginning.
Criticism is the form of indirect action, par excellence; it is indirect because both the object and the audience of criticism have perspectives that differ from that of the critic. The critic respects the autonomy of those he criticizes when he limits himself to exposing false pretensions to generality; the critic cannot categorically proscribe or prescribe anything. Instead, he gains his true power by exposing inauthentic views that he encounters in himself and others. But in doing so, the critic performs only part of his task. The exposure of the inauthentic is a largely negative endeavor, which is significant as it helps men discover their personal destiny; but there is also a positive side to criticism, which is necessary to realize its full indirect power. Criticism would not yield cumulative civic effects without positive principles that could guide its use. With these principles, the critic becomes able to inspire men to a common hope; and by sharing aspirations men become able to concert their powers spontaneously. Ortega's canon included such positive principles; with these, he made room in it for his cause.
Each man had a unique perspective and destiny; this fact gave rise to the negative power of criticism, for the universal was inauthentic whenever it conflicted with this uniqueness. But if the particularity of perspectival isolation exhausted critical possibilities, if critics confined themselves to insisting that the inner isolation of each should always be respected, then the community would soon be torn asunder by an exaggerated sense of independence in its members. Here is the most paradoxical universal of all: the universal by which one insists that every thing is utterly unique, particular, and dissimilar. To fulfill his canon, Ortega had to subject the canon to its own strictures; with a perfect solipsism one encourages men to inauthenticate themselves, thinking of themselves as isolated absolutes devoid of real bonds to others. The critic could avoid such absurdity by realizing that common, but not identical, features existed in the perspectives and destinies of other men. Because the destinies of different men included elements in common, the civic pedagogue could inform his criticism, his efforts to influence the public's self-education, with positive principles.
Let us not confuse this point, for confusion could lead to the very absolutism Ortega wanted to avoid. A common destiny did not arise because the destinies, the lives, of different men were in part the same, but because, in pursuing their different destinies/ each had to deal in his own way with certain common problems. Communities and institutions were possible because analogous difficulties and desires arose in the lives of men; each had to feed himself, not in the same way, nor with the same food, but since each needed nourishment, all shared a problem of nourishment. Thus there were many common, shared problems with respect to which institutions arose; but all the same, each man still had to find his own, authentic relation to each common problem. If many men fulfilled in their personal lives the possibilities they had towards a common problem, then an integral community would form around it, a community that would appear cohesive and unified, and yet voluntary, variegated, and diverse. As a critic, Ortega frequently wrote about common destinies.
El tema de nuestro tiempo, 1923, Obras III, p. 152.
In doing so, he did not try to tell others how to live, saying that to be a good patriot one must think this and do that; instead, he observed that in the course of their distinct lives, each member of a group would probably take up, independently and in his own way, a problem common to all. In speaking of a common destiny, Ortega did not seek to impose one view on many men; rather, he hoped to make many men diversely conscious of a particular want, a particular absence in life, so that they could in their different ways shower the problem with a variety of potential solutions. Consequently, when he said that "the destiny of our generation is not to be liberal or reactionary, but precisely to disengage ourselves from this antiquated dilemma," he was not trying to foist a third orthodoxy on his peers, but to suggest that as each lived his life the occasion would probably arise in which the particular destiny of each called him to go beyond the comfortable opposition of the liberal and the reactionary. In his view, members of his generation would each meet separately a common problem of transcending a political distinction that had become sterile; Ortega did not propose to make the leap for each person; he merely observed that the challenge seemed to be common, but each solution to it would have to be personal.
Thus, civic pedagogues could call attention to problems that they thought were of common concern. In doing so, they were not advancing false universals or imposing their view of life on others; they left it up to each man, first, to ratify the critics' concern by finding the problem significant in his own life, and second, to project as a program of personal action his own solution to the difficulty. Hence, the positive element in criticism comprised invitations, not commands. In this way, Ortega's writings frequently allured readers towards an interest in certain difficulties. With his stirring presentment, he invited others to join in considering the problem and their personal possibilities with respect to it. For instance, he wrote about Spain as a possibility, Spain as a political problem, the mission of the university, the idea of the theater, the theme of our time, the revolt of the masses; and in each case Ortega asked his readers to consider how they stood with respect to the problems that he suspected were confronting the groups in question. He invited each reader to help solve the problem by taking it into account in deciding on the way to conduct his life.
Nietzsche, The Will to Power, No. 981, Walter Kaufmann, trans.
There was a solid rationale for this idea of action by invitation. The liberal tradition includes an ongoing skepticism about the power of the teacher to edify the pupil; following Socrates we confine ourselves to helping the pupil edify himself. A modern statement of the maieutic is in a note from Nietzsche's Will to Power: "Not to make men 'better,' not to preach morality to them in any form, as if 'morality in itself,' or any ideal kind of man were given; but to create conditions that require stronger men who for their part need, and consequently will have, a morality (more clearly: a physical-spiritual discipline) that makes them strong!" With Ortega's Uexküllian conception of environment, to create the conditions that Nietzsche sought one would try to create an awareness of more demanding challenges, challenges that would call forth stronger men. Ortega's invitations were intended to elicit the perception of greater possibilities; he believed that if r.>en perceived more taxing potentialities, they might give themselves a stronger physical-spiritual discipline and spontaneously act with greater mastery.
In sum, each man lived in the world of which he was aware. Far from making criticism impossible, this fact became the basis of a carefully conceived canon of criticism, a theory of civic pedagogy.
The education of the public took place on two levels: the one was fundamental and inexorable, the other was secondary and voluntary. On the basic level, a community formed and acquired its characteristic virtues and vices as its members each gave social power to one or another exemplary person. Civic pedagogy created a community because innumerable choices, each made by an individual, aggregated into the selection of the group's leading traits. The prevailing conditions—scarcity or abundance, for instance—could influence the aggregate quality of these choices. But on closer examination, it became apparent that the conditions themselves were not the actual determinant of the character of the community. What mattered was the way men perceived their conditions. In a healthy community people encountered, in the course of living, problems and possibilities that would require them to develop their abilities fully; whereas in an unhealthy community people perceived only deadening difficulties, problems that would either coddle or overwhelm them. Men who lived in a sparse environment found serious, demanding efforts thrust upon them; but men who lived in the midst of luxury had to make a special effort to become alert to inspiring possibilities, for they could be comfortable taking things as they were. Therefore, with the development of a stable environment throughout the industrial democracies, the basic process of civic pedagogy should be augmented by the purposeful provocation of awareness throughout the community. To provoke the people: that was the task of civic pedagogues, critics, men who cared for the secondary, voluntary education of the public.
A critic could not work directly on a community. The common character formed according to the quality of the choices each person made; there was no choosing for them. Nonetheless, the civic pedagogue was not powerless; he could try to ensure that the members did not falsify their opinions about important questions and that they would have sufficient intellectual resources to form their own opinions. Such criticism would help the community arrive at a better definition of its possibilities, its destiny, by making its members meditate on their destinies. Furthermore, the critic could invite others to examine certain common problems to see if these were significant elements of their personal destinies. Thus, within the basic cycle of civic pedagogy, which occurred when the masses gave social power to particular elites, a civic pedagogue could do important things: explain and interpret a problem that he thought confronted many persons; build up the intellectual capacities that people might use to resolve the common difficulty; criticize seeming universals by means of which men avoided facing their personal destiny directly; and incite men to search themselves so that they would discover how common problems appeared from their particular perspectives.
These critical activities were similar to the procedures followed in Socratic discourse. Socrates began his discussions with a question of significance in the lives of his interlocutors. Through his concern for proper definition he attempted to build up intellectual tools suitable for resolving the problem. With his persistent effort to make others recognize the contradictions in their opinions, while himself claiming not to know, he practiced the kind of criticism Ortega advocated; with it, he provoked men to examine what they intimately, personally believed. Finally, Socrates' effort to secure the assent of his interlocutors had the effect of Ortega's incitement of others to search themselves; in both cases, the critic called on men to take a stand without the comfort of joining a dogmatic movement. Socrates, however, was more of a personal pedagogue than Ortega; but the smaller size of Athens, in comparison to contemporary Europe, lessened the gap between personal and civic pedagogy. Thus Plato observed that Socrates was the only true statesman of Athens, and the Athenians attested to Socrates' public influence when they executed him as an enemy of the city. Whenever the official powers feel compelled to use their command of force to suppress the voices of defenseless individuals they unwillingly exemplify how substantial a public power the lone critic actually wields when he effectively acts on the secondary, voluntary level of civic pedagogy. Efforts at thought control are self-defeating: they are the most conclusive witness to the power of unfettered thought.
Ortega's critical canon provided a humanistic alternative to materialistic theories of change. By giving due weight to the importance of perception, he broke the fatalism that results when the ideologists postulate that thought is a function of man's material conditions. If it was sometimes true that a man's character was a function of his environment, it was also frequently true that a man's environment was a function of his character. All depended on the man's ability to perceive his conditions differently: the same surplus, which, when perceived as comfort, induces complacency, will occasion great cultural striving, if perceived instead as a bracing leisure.
The literature that might be mentioned with respect to this point is vast. In contemporary public affairs there are a number of visionary strands interwoven in current reform and protest movements; these are not all based on the same values and procedures. The problem for all is to work out a program and locus of action. On this question, many are proving unable to develop any vision; their program of action is negative, self-pitying, and potentially very destructive. At this stage, any program of visionary reform that makes the state and the economy the central locus of action—whether the action be negative or positive—is futile, destructive, and intrinsically insignificant. Our Kinderland lies in creating a more inclusive arena of action than the nation-state.
To create such an arena, however, one needs more than a good will. One needs first to define the issues that will be at stake within it, and one needs second to locate the institutions by means of which men can make effective decisions about the issues at stake. To me., it seems increasingly clear: the issues will be those that might be denoted as the problems affecting the humane quality of life in this world; the institutions will be the cultural and educational institutions, with the university developing in the future a place in public affairs somewhat like that which the state now holds, except that the university will not be national. Somewhere in the current academic turmoil, the foundations for such developments may be building up.
Ortega's work was an element in the ongoing effort to define the issues affecting the humane quality of life in this world. This effort, of course, has a rich history. But in the twentieth century, it has become the central concern in a great number of works, some good, some bad, and each with its unique bent. Among those pertinent to reading Ortega, I would include the following: Albert Camus, L'Homme revolté, 1957, as well as most of his other writings; M. Merleau-Ponty, Sens et non-sens, Cinquième édition, 1965; Jacques Maritain, Humanisme integral, Nouvelle édition, 1936; Karl Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age, Eden and Cedar Paul, trans., 1931, Philosophy and the World, 1963, and The Future of Mankind, E. B. Ashton, trans., 1961; Nicolas Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man, Natalie Duddington, trans., 1960; and so on. From such studies—and many more might be listed—agreement about the quality of life is not to be expected; rather what is happening is that the issues are being sharpened, our awareness of the connection between seemingly separate concerns is building up, and out of this awareness new issues for concerted action may emerge.
Here, Ortega put himself in the ranks of twentieth-century visionaries who looked beyond a politics of power to one of character; instead of relying on force, education was to be their means to reform. They did not deny that human life could be ordered by conditions, force, and manipulation; they merely added that it could also be ordered by choice and aspiration. Furthermore, given a choice between the two sources of order, aspiration was more desirable than force. To make that choice, one needed to understand how force might operate so that one could anticipate how to foil it. Thus, Ortega opposed those absurd revolutionaries who breathlessly pride themselves on their ignorance of the past; he knew that in the past Europeans had shown an ingenious ability to alter their established forms of community, and he believed that anyone who understood the history of that ability would not conclude that the power to change was a dead attribute of the past. Reader—be prepared: when Ortega spoke of Europe, the crisis of intellect, and the reform of reason, he was not trying to cloak old orders in new sets of verbal clothes. He was serious about the critic's power.
Vieja y nueva política, 19141 Obras I, p. 290.
"El poder social," 1927, Obras III, p. 500.
As a young man, Ortega wrote that "there is no theory besides a theory of practice, a theory that is not practiced is not a theory, it is merely an ineptitude." Ortega practiced his theory of civic pedagogy. Through much of his writing he examined the major problem confronting Europeans in common, namely the possibility of unifying Europe. He repeatedly proposed changes in the cultural institutions in order to nurture the capacities that Europeans would need if a Europe, at once unified and diversified, was ever to be achieved. Further, by arguing for reforms in our conceptions of technology and reason, he sought to undermine two powerful misconceptions about science and history, for these errors eased the way for men to ignore the problem of European unity. Finally, by regarding philosophy as a way of life, as the living of an examined life, Ortega incited men to search within themselves for their European destiny. Throughout ail, Ortega's goal was to unleash the historic power of critical thinking. "At this height of the times, when we live in old, completed societies, we cannot make history by mere proposals. We need a technique of invention; we need to 'cultivate our garden,' the school, the preparation of the intellect."
Criticism might counter the pedagogy of abundance because the effects that vital conditions had on human character were mediated by man's powers of perception. As Wolfgang Köhler and other gestalt psychologists had shown, particular conditions could be perceived in various ways depending on the frame of mind of the perceiver. In particular, the sense of power, security, and well-being that the pedagogy of abundance insinuated in the average man might become the basis, not of complacency, but of a new, unprecedented striving if the expectations of the average European could be inspired with a great new vision, a vision that would make the achieved actualities look tawdry. A possible vision, Ortega thought, was a vision of a united Europe. Europe was the common problem: if each man could perceive it in his separate way, the masses might again become apt before the exemplar.
Paul Valéry, letter to Ortega, in Revista de Occidente, 19Z4, No. 11, p. Z59.
Count Hermann Keyserling, Europe, Maurice Samuel, trans., p. 93.
During the 1920's, when Ortega was occupied with the renovation of Spain, he nonetheless won widespread repute as one of the better "good Europeans." He achieved this reputation by the impression he made on leading Europeans while introducing them to Spain, for in addition to wide correspondence as editor of Revista de Occidente, he was host and sponsor of lecture tours through Spain by men such as Albert Einstein, Paul Valery, and Count Keyserling. Afterwards, Valery wrote that Ortega and his friends had made Madrid "one of the most precious spots in my memory." And in his book on Europe, Keyserling wrote that "it is a remarkable effect which ... Ortega produces against the background of his homeland: he is one of the finest and most universal of Europeans; he will someday be acknowledged as one of the leaders of this age."
It is hard to fight against impulse; whatever it wishes, it buys at the expense of the soul.