Man and His Circumstances: Ortega as Educator
by Robbie McClintock
XIV — The Reform of Reason
"Historia como sistema," 1936, Obras VI, pp. 32 and 34.
Physico-mathematical reason, in its crass form of naturalism or its beatific form of spiritualism, was unable to confront human problems. By its very constitution, it could do no more than look for the nature of man. And clearly it did not find this nature because man has no nature. Man is not his body, which is a thing; nor is he his soul, psyche, conscience, or spirit, which is also a thing. Man is not a thing, but a drama, that is, his life-a pure and universal happening that happens to each one of us and in which each one, on his part, is always happening. All things, whatever they are, are ultimately mere interpretations that man exerts himself to give to whatever he encounters. Man does not encounter things; he assumes or supposes them. What he encounters are pure difficulties and pure facilities for existing.... To speak, then, of man's being, we need to elaborate a non-Eleatic concept of being, just as others have elaborated a non-Euclidean geometry. The time has come for the seed of Heraclitus to yield its mighty harvest.
XIV — The Reform of Reason
We have witnessed the fruition of Baconian aspirations. Reason has become the handmaiden of nearly all our acts. We have learned to side with nature, to uncover her laws, and to enlist her power in efforts to wreak our will. The Baconian program has been tried; and in its unquestioned success, it has been found wanting. For over three hundred years reason has been used to plumb the secrets of nature's causal powers. The resultant knowledge has enabled men to manipulate once unimagined forces. The frail, thinking reed has learned to wield the most secret energies of the universe; and the consequent increase of life—and of death, as well—is worthy of awe. Thus man trembles on a precarious balance between omnipotence and extinction.
Bacon, "The Great Instauration," in The New Organon and Related Writings, Fulton H. Anderson, ed., p. 15.
Yet man is limited. To progress in one direction a limited creature must forgo moving in other directions. Bacon understood this fact. He admonished men to accept their divine duties without insolently demanding reasons for these obligations, and he cautioned men to confine their inquiries to the manifest world of nature. In the paradise of Eden the inquisition of nature had not been forbidden. "It was not that pure and uncorrupted natural knowledge whereby Adam gave names to the creatures according to their propriety, which gave occasion to the fall. It was the ambitious and proud desire of moral knowledge to judge of good and evil, to the end that man may revolt from God and give laws to himself, which was the form and manner of the temptation." Here, in capsule, is naturalistic amoralism: seek the secrets of nature and let God define duty.
Since the great instauration, we have progressively empowered ourselves with more and more natural knowledge; and, without entirely suppressing the proud desire for moral knowledge, we have markedly curtailed it. Doubtless, the benefits from natural knowledge that Bacon promised have been forthcoming several times over; thus, the problem is not with the positive part of the Baconian program. Yet, the suspicion has spread: having been expelled from Eden, men are forced to judge alone, perhaps of good and evil, and surely of good and bad, of right and wrong. As Bacon said, knowledge is power. Therefore, men cannot make the neat dichotomy between science and duty; moral perplexity is not alone in perverting the paradise, for with our natural knowledge we also blight the garden as our man-made poisons perceptibly pollute both air and water. Thus, the fact is inescapable: natural knowledge has been misused. It has built bombs. It has spread poison gas. It has unleashed fires that have seared cities to ashes. If the world were Eden, we could, perhaps, accept the Baconian limitation, but then perhaps, too, we would have no interest in the secrets of nature. But these are idle speculations, for the world is not Eden. Consequently, the negative part of Bacon's vision is dangerous: since reason is the best tool of judgment that men have yet created, they are foolhardy to restrict it to harnessing nature's powers and to refrain from using it to improve the quality of human choice.
"Prólogo para franceses," 1937, Obras IV, p. 118.
On its own ground, the Baconian program has been a marvelous triumph, but its ground is a defile too narrow to traverse with stability. Hence, intellect has entered into crisis, a crisis of imbalance that arose not because we have lost our knack for natural knowledge, but because we have begun to feel a palpable lack of moral knowledge. Many have noticed this imbalance, Ortega included: "a good part of the contemporary confusion stems from the incongruence between the perfection of our ideas about physical phenomena and the scandalous backwardness of the 'moral sciences'."
One might like to blame this backwardness on Bacon and launch into an attempt to refute the naturalist's skepticism about moral knowledge. But one should not counter the Baconian amoralist in the same way that one does the hyper-conscious man. Skepticism about the capacity of reason to deal with ethical matters will not be refuted any more than Bacon refuted the scholastic1 s doubts about the power of reason to master natural matters. Skepticism is always irrefutable until one does the impossible, or what seems impossible according to the skeptic's dogmas. Sensing this situation, an increasing number of thinkers have taken up the effort to balance the sciences of nature with equally effective sciences of the spirit.
Recently an important contribution to the understanding of Vice's place in the history of thought has been made through the substantial volume Giambattista Vico: An International Symposium, edited by Giorgio Tagliacozzo. For Vico's works in English, see The New Science of Giambattista Vico, Thomas G. Bergin and Max H. Fisch, trans., and On the Study Methods of Our Time, Elio Gianturco, trans. In Immagine e parola nella formazione dell'uomo, M. T. Gentile indicates the pattern for a reinterpretation of the history of educational theory that assigns a very important place to Vico.
Die Geisteswissenschaften have consequently preoccupied recent European thinkers. In their critique of historical reason—that is, in their effort to clarify the foundations of the human sciences, the system of reason by which we make practical, vital decisions —the Geisteswissenschaftlers' problem was not simply to lay an epistemological foundation for the study and pursuit of the arts; the real problem, as Vico had perceived, was to create a program for l'esprit de finesse as powerful as the one Bacon had conceived of for l'esprit géométrique. Vico failed. But he did indicate the nature of the task: Bacon's crude conception of scientific methodology had not made his work so influential; rather his inspired understanding of the potential power to be gained through the application of scientific knowledge to the physical problems of man won him his followers. If the human sciences are to balance the natural adequately, the former need to harbor similar power, which will prove equally productive when applied to the spiritual problems of man. This condition is a large order.
Talk of applicable power in the moral sciences conjures up visions of the Inquisition and all sorts of prudish paternalisms. These visions result from our dangerously dull conceptions of application. To be applied productively, knowledge need not be applied programmatically. Serious students of the human sciences have not envisioned discovering the laws of moral behavior, nor have they contemplated promulgating a rule to which a][ must conform. Such intentions would run counter to the most fundamental element of the scientific view: respect for the phenomena one studies. Moral behavior is inwardly determined behavior, and any undertaking that entails the subjection of moral behavior to outwardly determined, objective rules or norms is unscientific in the most egregious manner possible. Hence, the first step in developing the moral sciences is to break away from the expectation that has seriously vitiated the social sciences, namely, the expectation that discovery of the laws of human behavior should permit the manipulation of men in the same way that the discovery of the laws of natural behavior permits the productive manipulation of natural phenomena.
Powerful application is essential to the human sciences, but slavish emulation of the applications typifying the natural sciences is to be avoided. Recognizing this condition, Wilhelm Dilthey and others of his time attributed the potential power of the human sciences to indirect action, to the fact that by occasioning, not causing, the enrichment of man's cultural, inner life, one indirectly but decisively influenced man's external, public achievements. Natural science gained power when men gave up the hopeless effort to make nature act as one or another man believed it should. The human sciences would likewise gain power when, through a seeming restriction, men gave up the arrogant attempt to make others act according to the rule that one or another man deemed proper. Instead, by means of a yet newer organon, students of the human sciences hoped to make available to each person a system of reasoning by which each could more effectively initiate and carry through significant moral acts in the community of men.
Count Yorck to Wilhelm Dilthey, June, 1884, in Dilthey, Briefwechsel, pp. 41–2.
Theorists had thus found that the power inherent in the human sciences differed from that in the natural sciences. From the latter, the scientist learned to manipulate the world around him; from the former, the scientist would learn to control the world within hims~f. In this sense, the power of the moral sciences was pedagogical, not mechanical. Rather than subject others, treated as objects, to causally necessary manipulations~ the human sciences would help a man judge what ideals were worth his personal effort and would help him learn how to bring his actual accomplishments to a more adequate realization of the goals he willed. Count Yorck made the distinction well when he exclaimed to his friend Dilthey: "the reproach is entered against us that we do not make good use of natural science! To be sure, presently the sole justification of all science is that it makes practice possible. But mathematical praxis is not the only one. From our standpoint, the practical aim is pedagogical in its widest and deepest sense. It is the soul of all real philosophy and the truth of Plato and Aristotle."
¿Qué es filosofía?, 1929, 1957, Obras VII, p. 436.
Ortega was acutely aware that through pedagogical application the human sciences could exert immense power; and this power would be of Platonic, not Machiavellian quality. The point was not to gain and keep office; the point was to clarify the character of reason in such a way that the disciplined rationality of every man would prove more educative in his personal life. Each man lives a life of emotion and thought, wondrous perplexities, stirring aspirations, and heroic actions i every man perceives himself as the central figure in an intense and fascinating drama. Reason does not directly affect this human world by subjecting the diverse, innumerable, integral personalities to a single mold, breaking each man apart and recombining the abstract fragments as norms labeled Economic Man, Political Man, Behavioral Man, and so on. Quite the contrary, reason becomes significant in the human world as each man finds it valuable in living his personal drama; and Ortega believed that certain reforms in reason would make it a more vital tool to each man. If this were so, qualitative improvements in man's powers of self-liberation would be won, and in the aggregate these would amount to a great historic development. "Imagine for a moment that each of us takes care of himself just a little bit more every hour of every day, that he requires of himself a little more presence and intensity; and, multiplying all these minimum perfectionings and invigorations of each life by the others, calculate the gigantic enrichment, the fabulous ennobling that the human community would share."
Nietzsche, Schopenhauer as Educator, Hillesheim and Simpson, trans., p. 18.
To have such effects, the reform of reason that Ortega envisaged would have to be more than an academic reform of reason. It was nice, perhaps, to perform before one's colleagues, to spin glorious paradoxes while the world worried and warred. But a real reform of reason had to occur somewhere outside of unread reviews. Here again we meet the impulse that turns systematic philosophy out into the community. Recall Nietzsche's dictum: "I judge a philosopher by whether he is able to serve as an example." Because we judge philosophers by their ability to serve as examples we treat Nietzsche with caution, knowing that for some he served as a bad example. Philosophy does not justify itself by its ability to erect hydroelectric dams or to organize, arm, and deploy grand armies; philosophy proves itself by its ability to educate. For Ortega, the philosopher's function was to exemplify to men how they could gain a better theoretical understanding and surer practical command of the lives they lived. This real reform of reason had to prove itself by helping every man to educate himself with more effect.
An effort to reshape reason by developing the human sciences carried with it certain serious doubts: the conception of reason propagated by the natural sciences was inadequate. We have touched on the character of these doubts, on the concern that progress in naturalistic knowledge needed to be balanced by progress in moral understanding; but we should notice, too, the very fact of the doubts, the fact that men question the established character of reason. To many persons, to question the adequacy of reason and to seek to reform it seems dangerous.
See for instance, George Lichtheim, The Concept of Ideology, pp. 16–7, 26–30. For criticism of Ortega as an irrationalist, see J. Roland Pennock, Liberal Democracy: Its Merits and Prospects. In "Ni vitalismo ni racionalismo," 1924, Obras III, pp. 270–280, Ortega protested that El tema de nuestro tiempo had not been meant as a defense of irrationalism. In the usage of the time, "vitalism" meant the irrational assertion of life against intellect, and not the philosophical-scientific question of whether or not there is a vital principle distinct from physical principles. Ortega contended that instead of irrationally asserting the claims of life against reason, men should reasonably assert the claims of life against rationalism, which he considered to be an unfounded, mystical, irrational belief in the power of reason to know objective reality. For Ortega, reason, reasonably conceived, was a function of life, not something in opposition to it.
Many who are quick to scorn faculty psychology still think of human rationality as a natural faculty, one that is fixed and unchanging, a part of man's necessary psychological make-up. As a result, they view a criticism of man's rational power as an attack on reason, as a diatribe against this power that is what it is and that cannot be anything else. Hence, they easily misunderstand an attempt to reshape reason; they view the attempt to reform reason as an effort to reject reason. Thus, Nietzsche, a thinker who was profoundly concerned for the future of reason, is still roundly condemned as an irrationalist because he tried to reform the reigning conception of reason. Nietzsche the man was not always rational, but his philosophic undertaking was, both in conception and execution. Yet those who believe that the nature of reason has been fixed forever can find in his efforts only a destructive attack on reason. Likewise, a critic committed to a static conception of reason will find Ortega's reflections on the human sciences, on historic reason, to be an attempt to deny and negate reason. Hence, one of the thought-cliches that has attached itself to Ortega's work is the belief that he was an irrationalist.
Several writers have taken Ortega to task on this point, usually for remarks he made in The Theme of Our Time, a book that was so susceptible to accusations of irrationalism that Ortega wrote an article to debunk such interpretations. But the stigma of irrationalism in the work of Ortega and his peers goes deeper than the misinterpretation of a single book. Contemporary European philosophers have indeed mounted a thorough attack on rationalism and its narrow idea of reason derived from the natural sciences. Both friend and foe alike have popularized these criticisms as a defense of the irrational and as an attack on man's aspiration to lead a reasoned life. Such assessments miss the point entirely: by setting up an opposition between the rational and the irrational, one polarizes the problem and diminishes the opportunity to reform reason. The whole purpose of attacking rationalism was to defend reason from its own excesses.
See William Barrett, Irrational Man, pp. 149–205, for the treatment of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Compare this with the brief mention of Husserl and no mention of Dilthey.
Failure to do justice to this point has been most serious among the friends of the reformers. For instance, in Irrational Man William Barrett sympathetically explained existential philosophy, including in it a bit of Ortega's work. But he dramatically overemphasized the discontinuity between contemporary thought and the philosophic heritage; as a result, a great work of reason was degraded, especially for readers not well acquainted with that heritage, into a willful assertion of unreason. The popularizer's purpose should not be to convey the mood, especially the demonic pose of certain existential thinkers; his purpose should be to impart the conceptual powers that will enable men to profit from the reform and to reason more effectively about all aspects of their lives. This purpose is not well served by dwelling on the dramatic achievements of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and passing lightly over the important but difficult contributions of the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and especially Kant, Hegel, Dilthey, and Husserl.
Origen y epílogo de la filosofía, 1943, 1960, Obras IX, p. 392.
Barrett left an erroneous impression: that contemporary European philosophers had tried to restrict the reign of reason by showing that the irrational is as authentically human as the rational. This interpretation leaves intact the static view of rationality; both the rational and the irrational seem to be primary qualities, twin ghosts locked disharmoniously in a machine. But instead of merely balancing a fixed rationality with an equally fixed irrationality, existential thinkers have subjected reason to a decisive reformation. Viewing reason not as a primary quality, but as a secondary characteristic, and locating it not within the realm of necessity, but within the sphere of freedom, contemporary thinkers have greatly widened the scope of reason. In doing so, they preserved the rationalistic tradition, not as the whole of reason, but still as an essential element; they challenged men, not to give license to irrational impulse1 but to live by a far more complete and exacting regimen of disciplined intelligence. Contemporary thinkers contended that rationalism had created irrationalism by basing reason on a too narrow/ yet absolute, foundation. By finding reason to be a freely formed attribute of the human person, rather than a necessary quality of some self-subsistent reality, material or spiritual, contemporary ontologists have freed men to make reason encompass all the phenomena that rationalists had rejected as irrational. As Ortega put it, the reform "will carry us, by a few steps, to dealing face-to-face with a future reason, one that is most distant from the venerable pure reason and that is nevertheless the exact opposite of vagueness, metaphors, utopias, and mysticisms. A reason, therefore, much more reasonable than the old, one from which 'pure reason' appears as an enchanting folly, and in addition, one for which many things will cease to be irrational that formerly suffered this pejorative qualification. . . . Historic reason, disposed to swallow reality without nausea, prudery, or scruples, will regulate it by bringing within the reach of rationality chance itself, that demon of the irrational and the ci-devant enemy of history." The upshot of this reform was to encourage standards of character and conduct antithetical to irrationalist license.
The book that most made me aware of this fact is Bruno Snell's The Discovery of Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought. An important study for the theme, one that does much to outline a history of moral reason, is Le progrès de la conscience dans la philosophie occidentale by Leon Brunschvicg. Also very valuable as a prelude to a history of reason is Ernst Cassirer's great work, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Enlightening as these studies are, the history of reason as such is still largely to be written. The key step in the undertaking would be, I think, correlating the developing forms of thinking rationally with the crucial problems of life at various historic periods. Thus, the modern tendency to dismiss the intellectual life of the middle ages as one dominated by blind belief, dogma, and superstition, may be due to a failure to grasp the connections between the formulaic, liturgic, symbolic modes of reasoning then common with the human difficulties that men authentically felt.
Ibid., pp. 366fn.
The reform of reason wrought in the development of the human sciences was a real re-forming of reason. As has been noted, those who still view reason as an inborn, natural faculty recoil at this effort, for if reason is to be re-formed, reason must be a cultural artifact developed through certain historic acts. Few have studied reason in this historical manner; and the limits of our historic awareness are indicated by the fact that we have innumerable histories of science, art, literature, and philosophy, but none of reason itself. Yet reason has a history; for the neo-Hegelian, reason even is history. Ortega did not go that far. But, deeply influenced by historicism, especially by the historicism of Dilthey, Ortega inverted the Hegelian position: "far from history being 'rational', it happens that reason itself, authentic reason, is historical." Reason was historically conditioned, not simply in the fact that the problems to which reason was applied at any particular time were historic problems, but more fundamentally in that the character of reason itself was conditioned by its development in history. To reform reason, one first examined its formative history in a search for alternative paths of development that might be pursued. Ortega was not the only twentieth-century ontologist to find that, on going back to the history of reason, Heraclitus offered a different possibility that merited pursuit.
In musing on its history, let us not hypostatize reason: reason is our name for a human activity, for a particular mode of thinking. Reason, consequently, is not a thing, but an action: that old, invidious distinction between action and contemplation does not hold, for contemplation is itself simply a form of action. By reason we mean true thinking, thinking that gives rise to knowledge as distinct from opinion, that puts us in touch with reality rather than mere appearances.
Metaphor, however, muddies our conception of reason, and it leads to confusion to say that reason "puts us in touch with11 reality. This phrase is an untechnical description of the correspondence theory of truth, which is essential to working out the form of thinking called reason. An effort in recent years to do away with this theory has had some success, for there are serious difficulties with the conception that reason gives rise to propositions that correspond to reality: my idea of the mountain obviously does not physically correspond to the mountain itself. But criticism of the correspondence theory has been misdirected, for the most part, because the concept of correspondence has been made to seem far too vulnerable by loose metaphors such as "puts us in touch with." Kant's ontological arguments undercut any such palpable correspondence; but that is not the end of the matter: correspondence is not the definitive term in the whole theory, for what we mean by a proposition corresponding to reality depends entirely on what we take reality to be.
To deny categorically the possibility of correspondence is to deny the possibility of reason, which is thinking disciplined by an ideal of thinking in accord with reality, whatever that may be. Men form reason by aspiring to think according to a definite regimen, a regimen of thinking thoughts that correspond to reality. Unless men aspire to this ideal, the distinction between truth and opinion breaks down by becoming arbitrary. Consequently, before dispensing with the theory of correspondence, men should reflect on what they consider reality to be.
Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man, Natalie Duddington, trans., p. 1.
Speculative ontology precedes a critical epistemology. Thus, Kantian epistemology can prove the impossibility of thinking in correspondence with the reality of dogmatic metaphysics, but it cannot preclude the possibility of reasoning in accord with a reality yet to be defined by a different metaphysics. Nicolas Berdyaev put the matter well: through epistemology "one cannot arrive at being—one can only start with it."
Galileo, Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, Crew and de Salvo, trans., p. 244.
By starting with being, men could invent reason. That is, men formed reason, a disciplined mode of thinking, as they asserted the existence of a reality, distinct from appearance, and postulated the possibility of thinking in accord with this reality rather than with the appearances encountered by undisciplined perception. At first this formulation may offend, for it makes man responsible for what many believe is the gift of either God or Nature. The offense might be lessened, however, by observing that many such intellectual inventions are well documented in the history of art and science. Mathematics is an exploration of the operations made possible through the assertion of certain axioms, and it is not offensive to say that men have invented their powers of mathematical reasoning. In the same way, Galileo invented the science of mechanics when he projected freely in the realm of thought certain ideal forms: "imagine any particle projected along a horizontal plane without friction . ... " So too, someone invented reason when he intuited the possibility o, true discourse, of thought that corresponded to a definite, unchanging reality. Imagine, he might have said, a reality that does not change continually as do the appearances we experience through our senses and emotions: seek always to speak in accord with that honest reality. From that time on it was open to men to accept freely the discipline of the rational ideal, using, as with the science of mechanics, a rather implausible set of postulates to anticipate and direct experience.
Origen y epílogo de la filosofía, 1943, 1960, Obras IX, p. 434. This is the final statement in an unfinished, unpolished work, one that is important yet difficult to use. Its parts were composed over a period of ten years. Although in conception the work is a book, in execution it is, as it stands, a series of fragments.
Ibid., p. 384, for philosophy beginning with Parmenides and Heraclitus. Ibid., pp. 399–412, for his discussion of them. Ibid., pp. 433–4 for his identification of Parmenides with Being.
Una interpretación de la historia universal, 1949, 1960, Obras IX, p. 212.
Ortega contended that in originating philosophy men followed precisely this procedure. "When one says that philosophy is a searching for Being, one understands that it is going to proceed by discovering the constitutive attributes of Being or of the entity. But this implies that one already has Being before one. How did it manage to be before the senses? Would it not seem more credible that men, having lost the fundamental principles of their life, inquired for some X that would have certain prior attributes—precisely those that would justify what they were seeking?" In the early moments of philosophy, two sets of attributes for that mysterious X were put forward, one by Heraclitus and another by Parmenides. Ortega believed that philosophy began with these two men, and in his unfinished work on The Origin of Philosophy he treated them together in analyzing the historic situation with which both grappled. But in the parts of the work available, Ortega did not dwell on their respective doctrines, except to connect Parmenides with the doctrine of Being that Ortega wanted to reject. We know from other references that Ortega identified Heraclitus with the doctrine he wanted to develop. "After twenty-five centuries of intellectual experience we find ourselves forced to abandon interpretations of reality as substance, and we are picking our brains to see if we can acknowledge ... that all reality ... is the contrary, is the deficient being, the indigent being that does not suffice for itself, that is deficient and that nevertheless is. The matter seems acrobatically paradoxical and ultra-difficult to understand, for our mental habits since the birth of the European nations have been formed with the ferule of Greek discipline, and the Greeks, excepting Heraclitus, thought the contrary: they thought, with one or another accent, that reality is the sufficient being, the substantial being."
Heraclitus, Fragment 1 (DK), Wheelwright, trans., Heraclitus, Fr. 1, p. 19.
Heraclitus, Fragment 30 (DK), Wheelwright, trans., Ibid., Fr. Z9, p. 37.
Heraclitus, Fragments 61 and 62 (W), Wheelwright, trans., Heraclitus, p. 68. The authenticity of Fragment 62 is contested by some scholars; Fr. 61 is Fr. 78 (DK); Diels did not include Fr. 62.
Heraclitus first stated explicitly the correspondence theory: "although this Logos is eternally valid, yet men are unable to understand it—not only before hearing it, but even after they have heard it for the first time. That is to say, although all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos, men seem to be quite without any experience of it...." Heraclitus here asserted the principle of the principle, of an eternally valid concept in accord with which all came to pass; and this principle, this Word or Logos, was the reality to which reason should correspond. The basic ideal of reason was implicit through all of Heraclitus' fragments. There was in the endless flux of appearances a valid, unchanging coherence, a reality that might be known: "this universe, which is the same for all, has not been made by any god or man, but it always has been, is, and will be—an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measures and going out by regular measures." In this fragment, as in many others, Heraclitus made an effort to suggest, with oracular reserve, the nature of the reality that gave reason, the Logos, its cogency; only in correspondence with that reality, which was the same for all, could truth be found by men, for "human nature has no real understanding; only the divine nature has it." and "man is not rational; only what encompasses him is intelligent.
Heraclitus, Fragment 92 (DK), Wheelwright, trans., Heraclitus, Fr. 79, p. 69.
The pre-Socratics present an interesting historiographical problem, for they make us confront the question whether history refers to the past or to the sources. The sources for the pre-Socratics are in such fragmentary condition that it is probable that any account that adheres strictly to the sources will falsely depict the past actuality to which it purportedly adheres. At the same time, without strict adherence to the sources, there ceases to be any way to evaluate the historical truth of an interpretation. Because of this problem, it seems most sound to distinguish two forms of scholarship with respect to the pre-Socratics, which, although distinct, should inform one another. The first is the well established tradition of the philological study of the sources; the second a speculative, synthetic return from the corpus of post-Socratic philosophy to imagining what might have come before it. With this endeavor, one should treat discussions of the pre-Socratics as as if constructions that can be put forward within limits set down by the philological reconstruction of the fragments. Although frankly speculative, such constructions can be very helpful in explicating the possible meaning of Plato and Aristotle, and one can distinguish between the value, if not the truth, of such constructions according to how well they help one explicate post-Socratic philosophy.
Although completely devoid oi technical expertise in philology, I have found that meditating on the possible meaning of the pre-Socratics to be a fruitful heuristic. With respect to all periods, the problem for the educational historian is to appreciate the eventual rationality of diverse, very strange modes of thinking. I do not believe that there are any conclusions, in a real sense, to this process; it is, if you will, a continuous entry. Yet, although no conclusions develop, there is real progress; layer after layer of possibility appears and unexpected systems of connections unfold.
My reflections on the pre-Socratics have been based on rather standard sources: Kathleen Freeman's Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers and her Companion to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers; John Burnet's Early Greek Philosophy; G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven's The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts; Philip Wheelwright's Heraclitus; Werner Jaeger's Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers; and W. K. C. Guthrie's History of Greek Philosophy, Vols. I and II.
Soon men began to call Heraclitus "the obscure," and for good reason: he was not exactly explicit about what the intelligent encompassing was. This obscurity is not necessarily a sign of weakness: the idea of reality permits the invention of reason not because the reality is perfectly known and absolutely clear, but because the idea allows us to aspire systematically, and perhaps confusingly, to perfect knowledge and absolute clarity. For the sake of the search, Heraclitus seems to have been intentionally obscure about the one, the divine Logos, for "the Sibyl with raving mouth utters solemn, unadorned, unlovely words, but she reaches out over a thousand years with her voice because of the god in her." Almost immediately his raving voice began to show its reach as Parmenides took up the effort to define more clearly the reality that might give rise to right reason.
Parmenides, Fragment 2, Freeman, trans., Ancilla, p. 42.
"Come/' Parmenides invited, "I will tell you—and you must accept my word when you have heard it—the ways of inquiry which alone are to be thought.... " Note that Parmenides is here striving for rigorous argumentation, for words that one must accept on having heard them; this cogency is an important feature of the system of thinking, that is reason, or the way of truth as Parmenides called it. Parmenides continued to make the great distinction between the two basic ways of inquiry: "the one that IT IS, and it is not possible for IT NOT TO BE, is the way of credibility, for it follows Truth; the other, that IT IS NOT, and that IT is bound NOT TO BE: this I tell you is a path that cannot be explored; for you could neither recognise that which IS NOT, nor express it." This passage at first seems far more obscure than any by Heraclitus; but, once one overcomes the archaic stiffness of the formulation, it is a rather rigorous statement of the correspondence theory of truth: true thinking must be in accord with Reality, that which is what it is and which does not change, whereas deceptive thinking is in accord with that which is not what it is, for this appearance yields no measure by which its actuality can be tested or articulated. To put it another way, one can have confidence in the results of thinking only if what one thinks about is a reality that in itself is stable and unchanging, for if what one thinks about is mere, volatile appearance, the most rigorous investigation will yield results that become untrue the instant the appearance changes. And, furthermore, only by postulating the stable, unchanging reality can we even recognize and express definite changes in appearance.
Parmenides, Fragment 3, Freeman, trans., Ancilla, p. 42, fn. 2, variant reading.
Here Parmenides went a long way towards linking the way of truth to reality and towards making this link differentiate reason from appearance. Parmenides went so far, in fact, that he verged on absolute idealism: "that which it is possible to think is identical with that which can Be." With this conviction, Parmenides proceeded, as philosophers have ever since, to reflect on what it is that has Being, real and absolute existence, and to deduce from the properties of this Being certain standards of cogent reasoning. If it were not for his follower Zeno, these deductions might have prompted men to call Parmenides the paradoxical, for in spite of obvious appearances, he held that reality, Being, was one, an unchanging, homogeneous whole that included everything and that was eternal.
Parmenides seemed to have postulated an impossible conception of reality, for superficially it contradicted the most common phenomena, those of change and differentiation. But, in keeping with Berdyaev's dictum, this conception of reality quickly became immensely fruitful for epistemology, and it is still a vital force in the history of reason. Thinkers soon freed themselves of the particular image of reality that Parmenides depicted, the image of a single, solid, unchanging, eternal sphere; but the criteria that Parmenides set forth as indicative of that-which-is have remained in force with minor adjustments until recent times. These criteria called for a finite, unchanging substance that was unified and universal. Reason was thinking that could claim to give rise to truth, to knowledge, because it told about being, about that which is, was, and ever will be, about that which met the criteria of reality, for only propositions about things that met these criteria would prove dependable: all others might be upset by a capricious change in their referents.
Unless reason corresponded to a finite, unchanging substance that was unified and universal, its results would be undependable: if not finite, it could not be wholly known; if not unchanging, today's opinions would not be dependable tomorrow; if not universal, opinions that are here true might be false there; and if not unified, opinions would concern arbitrary compounds that would hold only for those inclined to make the same grouping. Such criteria are still very much in force, for the contemporary scientist who might observe with Heraclitus that nature likes to hide~ must also agree with Parmenides that nature is not capricious, or else the whole fabric of reason loses its continuity and tears apart.
Reason has developed historically as certain men further elaborated on the reality to which it corresponded and as many others learned to use the mental discipline the few thus created. Parmenides' image of the universe, of absolute reality, was inconsistent, as we noted, with almost all experience; and his immediate followers, especially the atomises in one direction and Plato in another, worked hard to save the phenomena without departing from the way of truth that Parmenides sketched out. The atomises observed that many of Parmenides' difficulties could be avoided if, instead of there being only one One, there were many, each a unified, homogeneous whole, an atom. The dynamic, changing, sensible universe could then be built up as the innumerable atoms cohered according to regular principles. Plato tried to save the phenomena in a different way: he etherealized Parmenides' image of reality, attempting to divest it of any sensible features. The One was a pure principle, a Form, that was universal, eternal, and unchanging; and our dynamic, sensible surroundings were simply imperfect reflections of this perfect Form.
Both elaborations on Parmenides have made fruitful contributions in the history of reason; many of the Platonic ones are essential to this work. For the present argument, however, it is most convenient and sound to concentrate on Aristotle's great synthesis of his predecessor's metaphysical speculations. Heraclitus, Socrates, and Plato (presuming a non-Aristotelian interpretation) may not have thought of reality as something out there in the surrounding universe. The great tradition, however, has only recently come to a realization of this possibility, for Aristotle's synthesis has dominated reflection on the subject. Ortega intended to reform reason first by rejecting Aristotelian metaphysics and the conception of reason founded on its definition of Being and then by basing a new conception of reason on a new specification of reality.
For Aristotle, metaphysics was the study of Being qua Being, and it was the highest of all the speculative sciences (Metaphysics: IV, i; I, i–ii). Here Aristotle planted himself firmly in the tradition that developed from Parmenides: Knowledge must correspond to reality, to Being, and the study of Being is the study from which all standards of rationality ultimately follow. The Parmenidean conception of reality had already been considerably elaborated by the time Aristotle wrote; and instead of Parmenides' rather stiff IT IS, Aristotle dealt with the same concern under the much more familiar heading of "substance." With this concept Aristotle was able to reunite, by reasoning too involved to trace here, the two basic elaborations of Parmenides: the materialistic and the idealistic. There were two kinds of substance, Aristotle contended, the sensible and the immutable. Sensible substance was subject to change and consisted in matter; immutable substance did not change, for it was the unmoved mover whose necessity we could deduce, whose works we could observe, but whose presence we could not palpably sense. Aristotle's influence has been immense. With varying emphasis, first on immutable sub stance and then on sensible substance, the discipline of reason recognized in the West from then until recent times largely received its authority by virtue of its claim to yielding propositions that corresponded to substances as set forth by Aristotle.
Throughout our past, both body and spirit have been conceived of as real substances: bodies have been thought of as material things and spirits as immaterial things. In philosophic literature, the term substance was frequently denoted res, thing or entity, but in any case this res could be either material or spiritual. Thus there was a res extensa and a res cogitans, and the function of reason with respect to both was to give rise to truths that corresponded to these two forms of reality. Over the centuries, investigations into the res extensa produced our vast system of natural science, and inquiry into res cogitans led to considerable development of the deductive and theological sciences. Metaphysical controversy remained, until about 1800, within the Aristotelian boundaries with champions of sensible substance on the one hand and immutable substance on the other arguing that their favored reality was the one true one.
Aristotle, Metaphysics, VII, i, 5, Hugh Tredennick, trans.
Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, I, Pt. 2, Div. 2, Appendix, A677:B705; Norman Kemp Smith, trans.
About 1800, Kant decisively overturned this tradition by developing a critical epistemology that encompassed dogmatic ontology entirely within a system of ideas. Because Kant worked out his position in reply to professed skeptics and because he had every intention of providing a firm basis for reason, certain consequences of his critique of reason were slow in becoming apparent. Kant severed the relation between reason and reality, an act that at first seemed to be a convenient way of escaping difficulties such as those raised by Hume about causality. In making this break, Kant simply carried to a logical conclusion a trend that had begun with Descartes, which had seemed quite benign because thinkers had lost sight of the primacy of ontology over epistemology. Kant did away with traditional ontology. Reason could, after Kant, claim no link to things-in-themselves; and the category of substance, which for Aristotle was the one category that "is primarily, not in a qualified sense but absolutely ," became for Kant a mere conceptual category, one that could be said to exist only by virtue of our thinking it. He stated the conclusion clearly: "the concepts of reality, substance, causality, even that of necessity in existence, apart from their use in making possible the empirical knowledge of an object, have no meaning whatsoever, such as might serve to determine any object."
La idea de principia en Leibniz, 1947, 1958, Obras VIII, pp. 155–213, esp., p. 195.
In Leibniz's Idea of the Principle Ortega showed in some detail the flaw in Aristotle's metaphysical speculations. In Book IV of the Metaphysics Aristotle first used the actuality of substance to prove the law of contradiction, that a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time. Then a few chapters later Aristotle used this law to prove the necessary existence of substance. Because of this circular reasoning, Aristotle did not actually offer an ontology; he created instead a speculative rationalism that postulated a reality dependent on the accepted laws of thought. Parmenides' proposition—"that which it is possible to think is identical with that which can Be"—was turned around unwittingly —"that which can Be is identical with that which it is possible to think." Being became more and more dependent on thought and epistemology became more and more prominent in comparison to ontology.
As Ortega observed in his lectures on What Is Philosophy?, the transmutation of post-Aristotelian metaphysics into the epistemology of critical idealism began in earnest with Descartes. The legislative reason, which was at work surreptitiously in Aristotle, became explicit with Descartes. Starting with systematic doubt, Descartes used his famous cogito to establish, it seemed, an indubitable relationship between his thought and absolute reality. Descartes believed that "I think, therefore I am" assured man of his own existence as a res cogitans; and from this unquestionable example of res, of a substance, he assured himself of the absolute existence of both the spiritual and material universe. Descartes, like Aristotle, was unaware of the degree to which he had made reality dependent on reason rather than the other way around; or more precisely, as a rationalist convinced that reason was a necessary attribute of reality and not the creation of the human mind, Descartes saw no danger in grounding a theory of reality in the laws of thought.
¿Qué es filosofía?, 1929, 1957, Obras VII, p. 403
Leibniz, Ortega noted, began to make explicit the idealistic implications of Descartes' theorem by restating it as sum cogitans, "! exist as thinking," adding that many things are thought by me. With this statement, what seemed to be an ontological argument was perilously close to an epistemological one. Kant completed the idealization of the cogito by showing in the Transcendental Doctrine of Elements in his Critique of Pure Reason how we construct a vast phenomenal reality by means of the laws of disciplined thought. Strictly, the Cartesian cogito meant, "I think, therefore I perceive myself as existing"; and Kant went on to demonstrate that no proposition could inform us about things-in-themselves, be they material or spiritual. In doing so, Kant created the problem of contemporary ontology, not by his invalidation of traditional ontological arguments, but by his having locked reason in a purely phenomenal realm. Thus Ortega noted that "the tragedy of idealism results from its having alchemically transmuted the world into 'subject,' into the content of a subject, enclosing the world inside of it; and then there was no way left to explain why this [world] appears so completely distinct from me if it is only my image and a fragment of me."
A great deal of ensuing Continental philosophy turns on this point and the problems for reason that it gives rise to. The transcendental ideal is discussed by Kant in Critique of Pure Reason, I, Pt. 2, Oiv. 2, Ch. 3, Sec. 2; see especially pp. A576, A580 (Norman Kemp Smith, trans.):
But the concept of what thus possesses all reality is just the concept of a thing in itself as completely determined.... It is therefore a transcendental ideal which serves as basis for the complete determination that necessarily belongs to all that exists. This ideal is the supreme and complete material condition of the possibility of all that exists—the condition to which all thought of objects, so far as their content is concerned, has to be traced back....
If, in following up this idea of ours, we proceed to hypostatize it, we shall be able to determine the primordial being through the mere concept of the highest reality, as a being that is one, simple, all-sufficient, eternal, etc. In short, we shall be able to determine it, in its unconditioned completeness, through all predicaments. The concept of such a being is the concept of God, taken in the transcendental sense.... In any such use of the transcendental idea we should, however, be overstepping the limits of its purpose and validity. For reason, in employing it as a basis for the complete determination of things, has used it only as the concept of all reality, without requiring that all this reality be objectively given and be itself a thing. Such a thing is a mere fiction....
Kant offered a taxing discipline for the three major modes of reason that had been developed, the scientific, moral, and aesthetic. This discipline, plus the rigor of his arguments, obscured the fact that Kant withdrew from reason its fundamental claim, namely that its propositions corresponded to reality. Kant showed that all conceptions of a transcendent substantive reality, of an actuality that existed apart from its manifestations in experience, were in fact transcendental ideals, mere conceptions that told us nothing about reality in itself, but that were used as if they did in order to establish intellectual standards. Kant knelled the death of the correspondence theory insofar as it pertained to substances, res, ens, entities, bodies, to any reality out there somewhere.
Kant's personal discipline was strongly internalized, which may account for the fact that he made no provision in his system for the external authority of reason. Recall how carefully Parmenides had devised a way of speaking that "you must accept ... when you have heard it," for he had experienced the same capriciousness that had led Heraclitus to complain that men ignored reason even when they came in contact with its teachings. The whole import of the correspondence theory was to make reason something that men must accept on hearing it because it articulated a truth dependent not on the whims of human imagination but on the rationality of the encompassing, of reality itself. In breaking with this tradition, Kant's transcendental ideal gave rise to a system of reason far more elaborate than that of the ancients, but Kant's pure reason was voluntary. Kant asked how various forms of reason were possible, and he brilliantly worked out the conditions of their possibility. But whether these possibilities would ever become actual, he left to the free choice of man. The romantic movement quickly showed that other men might choose to discipline their imaginations in ways that differed from the rationalistic rigor that Kant chose.
Many, however, stayed within the Kantian path, relying on reason, not emotion, to deal with human concerns. In natural science the transcendental ideal worked magnificently, so well in fact that many scientists still believe that empirical methods give them a positive knowledge of objective reality and not of a phenomenal world. For other scientists, the Kantian critical method, not his particular results, proved most liberating, for it opened the way to new forms of geometry, logic, and mathematics. Whole new worlds were brought into existence by postulating categories whose possibility did not occur to Kant.
In these matters, the transcendental ideal worked so well because the scientist, who might be very interested in his findings and their significance for him, was nevertheless disinterested with respect to the phenomena he studied. This disinterestedness was not the case in the other areas of inquiry—politics, economics, ethics, esthetics, value theory, and so on—where the transcendental ideal proved less effective. For this reason, philosophers who are primarily interested in natural science and its limitations are still usually content to live with Kant's ontological skepticism, whereas philosophers working in the human sciences feel that refurbishing the correspondence theory is important.
In intensely human concerns, with respect to which the observer can only feign disinterestedness, the transcendental ideal has been inadequate. A human standard justified by an absolute reality had an authority that seemed ineluctable; and its prestige, its correspondence to actuality, helped in the important but difficult matter of inspiring men to subordinate their interests to their principles. But a standard based simply on a transcendental ideal, and on nothing more substantial, easily seemed, in difficult situations, to be merely optional, depending on the convenience of the moment; and this lack of prestige, this correspondence to a mere concept, made it more easy for men to subordinate their principles to their interests. Marx tried to salvage this situation with a leap of faith. He accepted systematically the subordination of principles to interests and placed all hope in the ultimate benevolence of history: if conflicting interests are allowed ruthlessly to consume one another, a time will arrive when men will no longer need interests, and principles will be free to flourish. But history may not be benevolent, unless in making it men guide themselves by the principle of benevolence.
Schopenhauer, On the Basis of Morality, III, #12, E.F.J. Payne, trans.
Schopenhauer soon began to grapple with the practical effects of idealistic subjectivism by going beyond Kant. Schopenhauer saw clearly that men would not resist their egoistic urges unless they believed that morality had an equally palpable foundation. "If, therefore, we take the matter seriously, artificial concept~ combinations of [the Kantian] kind can never contain the true incentive to justice and philanthropy. On the contrary, such an incentive must be something that requires little reflection and even less abstraction and combination; something that, independently of the formation of the intellect, speaks to every man, even the coarsest and crudest; something resting merely on intuitive apprehension and forcing itself immediately on us out of the reality of things." This something, Schopenhauer held, was compassion, which was the root feeling from which the two great moral virtues, justice and loving-kindness, were derived.
"Judicium Regiae Danicae Scientiarium Societas," in Ibid., p. 216.
Schopenhauer's treatise was refused the prize for which it was submitted. The Royal Danish Society for Scientific Studies could not "pass over in silence the fact that several distinguished philosophers of recent times are mentioned in a manner so unseemly as to cause just and grave offense." But in addition the judges had a more substantive point. Schopenhauer wrote an erudite philosophical criticism and a profound essay on the psychological basis of moral feeling. But the metaphysical section was relegated to an appendix and was not a good example of Schopenhauer's metaphysical abilities. In effect, he showed that, given compassion, one could derive the moral virtues from it; but he did not show that compassion transcended Arthur Schopenhauer and was an ineluctable feature, not only of his perception of reality, but of an absolute reality confronting all men.
Many other philosophers took up the problem of re-establishing a link between moral reasoning and reality so that principles might maintain their prestige. Any adequate discussion of the recent history of reason would have to follow closely the contributions of Nietzsche, Dilthey, Brentano, Bergson, to mention only a few. None was wholly successful, and the problem is still very much a problem of man, not merely one of philosophy. Ortega put the difficulty well and his theory of historic reason was an attempt to deal with it. To this theory we shall shortly turn.
Ortega joined Nietzsche in attempting a transvaluation of values, for such a transvaluation seemed the most desirable response to the profound nihilism that arose as numerous shocks to the authority of reason, particularly the Kantian criticisms, slowly worked their way into the European's consciousness. We might sum up, in the Aristotelian terminology, which we shall soon try to shed, Ortega's view of twentieth-century life: the formal cause or the ultimate reason why the characteristic problems of the time had arisen was the Kantian critique, the material cause or substrate in which the problems manifested themselves was the revolt of the masses, the efficient cause or the source of shaped change in contemporary affairs was the reform of reason, and the final cause or purpose, the goal, of these developments was an exuberant Europe. We have looked at some detail at the material and final causes of the second voyage, at the revolt of the masses and a sportive Europe. The formal and efficient causes were for Ortega closely linked, for the reform of reason followed out of the Kantian critique and its aftermath.
"Qué pasa en el mundo," El Sol, June 3, 1933.
When men were left with a mere ideal and when they ceased to discipline their character by contrasting it to a transcendent actuality, their arbitrary will became the motive force of human affairs. In 1933, in trying to determine "What's Happening in the World," Ortega suggested that the collapse of reason as an effective, legitimate authority was the spiritual source of the major upheavals in twentieth-century life, the source of the new art, the glorification of sport and the body, the cult of youth, and the politics of direct action, especially Fascism. The reasoned traditions of the past were simply being ignored, for, having learned about philosophy without learning to philosophize, youths felt no compunctions making them take reason seriously. Belief in naturalistic reason lost its power when it ceased to be buttressed by a transcendent authority, when it lost its claim to correspond to a substantive reality. In the absence of an alternative, people based their actions on their arbitrary will, for to the untutored the will seemed far more immediate and solid, more real, than did obtuse mental images. "The politics of today means that the new generations do not want to be reasonable, not because they have no reason, but because they do not want to heed their reason even if they have it. They do not want an idea of things, but the things themselves. They do not value those who think, but those who will. In essence, they prefer volition to intellect."
Contemporary Europeans were disillusioned; they lacked a faith; in their hearts they believed all was permitted. Frightened by this situation and the specter of chaos lurking in it, men arbitrarily selected features of their circumstances and exalted these, trying desperately to make absolute realities of them. Thus, the Fascist and the Communist exalted the state and the party so that these could substitute for the principles that had informed the politics of liberal democracy. Men who found no authority in thought turned desperately to a myth of an organic state or an organized proletariat; the discipline they could no longer derive freely from their reason, they found in the prosaic facts of state and party, which would at least impose a totalitarian form on life, for slavery was preferable to intolerable chaos.
Ortega did not hanker for such a solution to the situation. Wherever the desperate, arbitrary will ruled over all, there was no check on those who wielded power. As events would show, a willful flight from freedom was the surest route to chaos; and what seems to have been the stability won in blood by certain authoritarians may well prove to be mere interludes of exhaustion. For Ortega, the problem was not one to be solved by the man of dominant volition. The problem had its formal cause in carefully reasoned arguments and the efficient cause, by which men might resolve it, would be of the same nature: a reasoned reform of reason. Hence, in spite of the fighting and the fury, Ortega believed that men of intellect should not exalt the will, but redirect their inquiry back to the foundations of reason.
¿Que es filosofía?, 1929,1957, Obras VIII, p. 311.
Men who were dazzled by experimental brilliance had for too long ignored the most important questions about the nature of the universe and of human life. A backlog of fundamental problems had been created by the Kantian revolution; and popular culture was being bedeviled by irresolution about these matters. Contemporary Europe was endangered in part because many of its better thinkers had turned away from the problems of man, ignoring the profound questions that arise as men find themselves alone in a world. "That experimental science cannot resolve these fundamental questions in its own manner gives it no cause for the gratuitous gesture, like the fox before the grapes that were out of reach, of calling them 'myths' and inviting us to abandon them. How can we live unmoved by the final, dramatic questions? From whence comes the world and whither does it go? What is the formative power of the cosmos? What is the essential meaning of life?"
Montaigne, "Par divers moyens on arrive à pareille fin," Oeuvres complètes, p. 13.
Questions do not disappear by invalidating their traditional answers. When the old answers dissolve, some men resolve to find new means to make new answers. Thus, in speaking of the diversity of means that exist for arriving at a single goat Montaigne made an appropriate observation: "Certes, c'est un subject merveilleusement vain, divers et ondoyant, que l'homme. n est malaisé d'y fonder jugement constant et uniforme."
What follows, then, is an attempt to adumbrate, not Ortega's solution to the ontological problem, but what Ortega envisaged as the desirable, historic solution to the problem. He indicated several lines of endeavor along which diverse men working in different ways in various human concerns could develop a renewed conviction in the authority of reason.
Wisdom is one thing—to know the thought whereby all things are steered through all things.