Man and His Circumstances: Ortega as Educator

by Robbie McClintock

Chapter XVI — On the Past and Future of Present Man

"Historia como sistema," 1936, Obras VI, p. 48.

Man needs a new revelation, for he loses himself in his arbitrary and boundless inner cabalism when he can no longer contrast and discipline himself in the clash with what he knows to be an authentic and inexorable reality. Reality is the only true pedagogue and governor of man. Without its inexorable and pathetic presence, there can be no serious culture, there can be no state, there can not even be—and this is the worst of all—reality in one's personal life. When man remains alone, or thinks he does, without another reality that is distinct from his ideas and that sternly limits them, he loses the sensation of his own reality, he becomes for himself an imaginary, spectral, phantasmagoric entity. Only beneath the formidable pressure of some transcendence can we make our person compact and solid, and produce in ourselves a discrimination between what we are in effect and what we merely imagine ourselves to be.

Ortega

XVI — On the Past and Future of Present Man

Man is born a man, but everywhere he is treated as a thing. Each person is registered at birth; and thereafter he is repeatedly counted and classified under a variety of numbers; he is continually mobilized as the nation, economy, or society may demand; and he is finally released when death converts him from the consumer to the consumed. In current mythology, human aggregates have been as thoroughly personified as were the forces of nature in primitive religion. The lawyer's fiction of the corporate person has been confounded with reality; and the men of an era yet to come will find us, insofar as we inveterately describe human events as the work of various loving, hoping, wise, wrathful institutions, as curious as we find the Homeric Greeks when they disguised their heroic deeds as the work of Olympian Gods.

History is no longer the story of heroes; it is not even the story of liberty: history has become the record of nations, classes, parties, groups, and processes as they are raised up by causal forces and ruined by objective determinants. A myriad or myriads are mobilized in war; hundreds of thousands starve in famine; millions are exterminated in bestial acts of genocide. In such a world the person seems implacably ground into an object, as a once vital shell is ground to sand when waves endlessly wash it, back and forth, over the grating surface of the shore.

Yet, the fullness of life is best attained as men try to realize their selves, not impersonal abstractions, through the use of principles. To facilitate this endeavor, we might radically humanize our understanding of history, sociology and philosophy. Then, these subjects might pertain to our lives, not to corporate fictions. Then they might illuminate the history that exists as an influence in and upon my life, the community that ought to exist through my life, and the philosophy that can best guide my life.

Intellectual work can be judged against various purposes. Great reforms in the human sciences will follow as new purposes generate new intellectual standards. Building empirically true models in social, political, and historical studies, as well as making exhaustive analyses of procedural points in philosophy, serve the purpose of establishing the repute of the model-builder and the analyst within academe. But as a prelude to acting in one's life upon one's world—as the work of man thinking, not the scholar —model-building is singularly inadequate. Reliance on induction protects the model-builder from criticisms of his personal judgment. In addition, induction makes his models, even models of revolution, radically reactionary, for the inductive modeler confines himself to simple variations on past accomplishments. Furthermore, most models are not made to human scale: they locate the man in the institution, as it were, rather than the other way around. Such models help officials act on unwary individuals, but they do little to illuminate the all-important problems of our personal conduct of life. To empower the person to affect his vital world—the fascinating web of hopes and fears, of abilities and deficiencies, of intentions and performances that compose each particular life—the human scientist would concentrate on principles, not facts, for principles are timeless universals that are applicable, that is, susceptible of being applied by the active individual, to every occasion, whereas facts are unique to each situation and are not a suitable basis of applicable generalizations.

Fragments 53 and 23, Freeman, Ancilla, pp. 26, 26.

Principles become powerful when particular men use them to make and implement personal valuations. Command of principles is not developed by creating models of what happened in various cases; it arises from reflection on what failed to happen. As the laws of physics explain why interventions in nature did not produce the results that men naively expected, historical principles explain why actions by men of good will incurred consequences that failed to fulfill the actors' intentions. Heraclitus was profound when he observed that war is the father of all and that men know of justice only by the fact of injustice. Reflection on failure is the essence of all critical theory; and the purpose of the resulting principles is not to perpetuate established practices, but to free the future of past errors.

Origen y epílogo de la filosofía, 1943, 1960, Obras IX, pp. 411–2.

"History," Ortega said, "is not only to recount the past, but to understand it, but I should now add that to understand the past, history must necessarily be to criticize it and, in consequence, to become enthused, afflicted, and irritated with it, to censure, applaud, correct, complete, lament, and mock it. History is not a way of saying things: seriously, history is an integral way of living in which the man, the historian, takes part completely—if he is, in truth, a man—in part with his intellect and in part with the whole pack of his most powerful passions, cum ira et studio."

La rebelión de las masas, 1930, Obras IV, p. 206.

In studying "history as a system," Ortega did not try to create a positive model of what happened in history in the manner of Spengler, Toynbee, and others. The past interested Ortega as a record of definite human mistakes, and rigorous reflection on the erring past was valuable to the degree that it yielded principles by which persons could avoid repeating such mistakes in living their particular lives. History would be useful to a man educating himself insofar as it helped him avoid having to repeat the errors of others. "We need history whole to see if we can escape from it, not to fall back into it."

Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History, Adrian Collins, trans., pp. 20–1.

Ortega was not alone in appreciating the negative importance of historical principles. Professional historians easily overlook the radical revision of historical method arising from the °Critical history" that Nietzsche advanced in examining the use and disadvantage of history for life. Superficially, critical history seems similar to the practices of academic historians, for Nietzsche agreed with the professional in deprecating two other forms of history: the antiquarian and the monumental. In the former, the historian indiscriminately, minutely, and pedantically reconstituted every detail of the past without making any effort to explain, whereas in the latter, the historian depicted great, moving examples of human achievement without paying close attention to the constricting facts that might diminish the monument. But Nietzsche envisaged doing more through critical history than the professional did with his sound account of essential events and his judicious estimation of their probable causes and historic significance. Nietzsche wanted more than u an interpretation"; he wanted the past to be rigorously analyzed, judged, and negated. "Man must have the strength to break up the past, and to apply it, too, in order to live. He must bring the past to the bar of judgment, interrogate it remorselessly, and finally condemn it."

For Nietzsche, critical history accomplished more than reconstructing the past; it became a chisel with which to shape the present. Here the professional historian may resist, uncomfortably wondering how he can effect normative judgments in the present without molding the past into a tool of propaganda. But history used to shape the present would be the antithesis of a "presentist" history, one that interprets the past anachronistically through the categories of present concern. Rather than recount the past to suit the complacencies of the present, Nietzsche suggested that men could criticize the past in order to worry out principles by which they could lead a life different from the one their immediate past, their habits and assumptions, projected into the present. In this way, men would empower themselves to reject the inertias of their past and to make their present from this negation. Here was history in the service of self-formation; here was history with a maximum use and a minimum disadvantage for life.

For Ortega, "history as a system" would be a Nietzschean critical history. Ortega did not mean that history was a physical system like a system of faults in the crust of the earth, the reproductive system of an animal, or the weapons systems of modern armies. He did not want to subject history to "systems analysis." History, like philosophy, was a great speculative system; it was the set of principles by which men could make sense of the phenomena of completed human lives. By working out such a system, a man could use it, not to predict the future, but to make the future, to make, not an abstract future, but his own actual future. History was about the past; but it existed in the living present of particular persons. Such history was an intellectual system that yielded principles that living men could use in the present to define their problems and to direct their effort. A particular man could pursue his destiny when he learned to anticipate how his life would unfold over time and to perceive how to deal with challenges to the growing integrity of his character.

Origen y epílogo de la filosofía, 1943, 1960, Obras IX, p. 362.

A man learned which of his possibilities merited his personal concern by using historical principles to weigh their potential contribution to the reality he sought to live. For example, Socrates' conduct with respect to his trial and execution showed a keen sense of critical history. Socrates understood what actions were a threat to his character, and he used this understanding effectively to defend his chosen way of living. Men should always study history with the Socratic goal in mind; turning back to the past, they could make history a speculative, theoretical discipline that would prove pedagogically practical as men found its results helpful in their concern for self-culture. Progressively, man can "take fuller possession of his past. When the current struggles cease, it is probable that man will, with a fury and eagerness now unknown, occupy himself in absorbing the past to an unheard of degree and with an unprecedented vigor and precision: this is what I call, and have foretold for a number of years, the dawn of historic reason."

Two concepts by which men might take fuller possession of their past were "the generation" and "beliefs." These ideas were not offered primarily to the historian so that he could organize a better narrative of the past; instead, they were to be used by the philosopher, or better yet, by every man who would live philosophically, to define his situation in life, to describe to himself his duty and destiny, to pre-occupy himself with what it was that he had to do. Although these concepts were not primarily to help us write history—their purpose was to help us make history—we can learn much about them by observing how they served historical explanation. One could not use the generation or beliefs effectively in a retrospective narrative of finished events; but one could use them to sharpen one's understanding of the prospective expectations that the participants in events may have had. Thus, Ortega contended that to reconstruct the hopes and fears that had animated historically creative persons one needed such concepts. Generations and beliefs were particularly helpful in revitalizing the essential phenomena in history, the spontaneous concerting of concern among men who may have had no inkling of each other's existence. Helping to make credible how in the past spontaneous personal initiatives could effectively cohere without being organized by some outside force, they might equally well help living men foment such unorganized cooperation.

En torno a Galileo, 1933, Obras V, esp. pp. 21–80.

Ideas y creencias, 1940, Obras V, p. 384.

To explain the substance of these concepts in detail is unnecessary; Ortega did it at greater length and with greater lucidity than could be managed here. Our purpose is to indicate how these components of historic reason were to be used. Heroic, historic adventures were sketched out with concepts like the generation and beliefs. A generation was a temporal grouping of diverse persons who shared, through their separate perspectives, a concern for common historic problems and who saw their lives animated by similar historic tasks. Beliefs underlay another historic grouping, one that could include parts of several generations but perhaps not all of any. Beliefs were certain basic standards of thinking that shape our perception of our world and of ourselves; beliefs determine what we will and will not find convincing. Beliefs were not thoughts, which occur to us at a particular time and place and which we arrive at through a particular act of intellection. "On the contrary, these ideas that truly are 'beliefs' form the container of our life i and, consequently, they are not so constituted as to be particular contents inside of our life. This means that they are not ideas that we have, but ideas that we are. And even more precisely, because they are fundamental beliefs, they are confused by us with reality itself—they are our world and our being—; and, therefore, they cease to have the character of thoughts that might very well not have occurred to us." In defining his personal aspirations, any particular man relied on certain beliefs and thought of himself as a participant in a generation that had a definite historic mission. If you and I share beliefs and our personal conceptions of our generational tasks mesh together, we will cooperate in our historic activities even though we may never meet and consciously concert our efforts.

With personal conceptions of our generation and beliefs, with the empty concepts filled with content drawn from our personal lives, we can sharpen our understanding of the relation between our selves and our historic circumstances. In developing such comprehension, we prepare ourselves to act more independently, more precisely, more effectively in our world. Without having to know the official vita of another, we can estimate his generation and beliefs from our personal experience of him. Such estimates can become a secure, tacit basis for spontaneous cooperation. Tremendous historic energy inhered in the bonds of belief and in the succession of generations. History as a system was to help particular men—everyman—learn how to control that energy in his personal life.

If through critical history men developed concepts for explaining how they might shape their actual historic destinies, forming vital alliances with other persons, an important improvement would be made in the means that each person found at hand in his self-education. Likewise, reflection on "the social" could serve a similar purpose. Academic sociology failed this purpose; a model of the social structure, of what society is in itself, was at once intellectually impossible and vitally uninteresting. It would be both possible and interesting, however, to gain a clear comprehension of "the social" as it exists in our actual lives and as it helps and hinders our efforts to act; furthermore, each man could use such understanding to perfect his free pursuit of his authentic purposes. The social theory of historic reason would not make "society" function more efficiently; it would help men function more effectively.

El hombre y la gente, 1949, 1957, Obras VII, p. 81.

Man and People, Willard Trask, trans., pp. 174–5.

A first step towards developing such a theory would be to cut down to human scale that bane of all clear thought—Society, the Social Structure. Great sociologists like Comte, Spencer, Durkheim, and Bergson had failed to determine rigorously what constituted a social fact, Ortega observed. This vagueness led to numerous hypostatizations in which men groundlessly assumed that one or another social model corresponded to some actual entity, variously called society, the social structure, classes, elites, and so on. No such entities existed; the only real referents of social theory were particular aspects of the actual lives of various men, namely the dehumanized side of their lives. "This idea of the collective soul, of a social consciousness, is arbitrary mysticism. There is no such collective soul, if by soul is meant—and here it can mean nothing else—something that is capable of being the responsible subject of its acts, something that does what it does because what it does has a clear meaning for it.... The collective soul, Volksgeist or 'national spirit,' social consciousness, has had the loftiest and most marvelous qualities attributed to it, sometimes even divine qualities. For Durkheim, society is veritably God. In the Catholic De Bonald (the actual inventor of collectivist thought), in the Protestant Hegel, in the materialist Karl Marx, this collective soul appears as something infinitely above, infinitely more human than man.... The collectivity is indeed something human, but it is the human without man, the human without spirit, the human without soul, the human dehumanized."

El hombre y la gente, Apendices, 1949, 1957, Obras VII pp. 270-2. The compilers suggest that at least the notes to these lectures exist and will eventually be published after all Ortega's more finished posthumous papers have been published; Ibid., p. 72.

Ortega's sociological treatise, Man and People, is incomplete. He had planned a course of twelve lectures, the last six of which were to be on the State; Law; Society and its forms; the Nation, ultra-nation, and inter-nation; "Animal societies" and human societies; and Humanity. Ortega was not one to adhere rigorously to a schedule of topics; and the transcript of his twelfth lecture introduces the topic of the State, as if he planned to continue on, and he proposed eight additional lectures that would have covered the topics listed above. Whether he gave these lectures or whether, if he did, the transcripts have been preserved, is not clear. The incompleteness of the public record is not too serious, however, for our present endeavor; sufficient portions of his sociology are available for grasping its character.

Ibid., p. 265.

In Man and People Ortega displayed his mastery of phenomenological description, using it to elucidate the nature of social facts as they appear in lived life. His method differed radically from that identified with sociology, and he explicitly rebuked the use of sampling techniques to make inferences about public opinion from evidence about private opinions. Public opinion was not the holding of similar private opinions by a large number of individuals. Rather public opinion existed among the opinions of each separate person, as he was taken separately; public opinion comprised that portion of man's mental baggage that he possessed, not by virtue of his own intellection or volition, but because it was pressed upon him by his linguistic, cultural, and communal circumstances. The study of public opinion was not to tell men of affairs which ideas were receiving majority or minority backing at various moments, but to help each person become aware of how his conditioned opinions functioned in his vital experience, so that he might gain greater conscious, independent control over his public opinions and increase his sphere of responsible, volitional activity. To accomplish such purposes, sociology had to help individual men gain command of social usages, the various rote gestures, informal customs, commonplaces, and formal laws that were pressed from without on the members of a community.

Ortega envisaged a mission for the sociology of usages similar to that Mannheim, Scheler, Znaniecki anticipated for the sociology of knowledge, except that Ortega more closely circumscribed his conception of the social. If used rigorously, his conception would exclude knowledge from the social realm, locating it in the more hospitable spheres of the personal and the interpersonal. He founded his social theory on careful distinctions between these realms of experience.

In the quest for self-knowledge, clarifying these distinctions was important, for the personal, the interpersonal, and the social were real elements of the life one lived. Thus, in rejecting past conceptions of a self-subsistent society as a form of mysticism, Ortega did not seek to deny the reality in our lives of social constraints, for he knew well from his experience as a Spaniard that a man's social circumstances were a determinant of the possibilities that he could pursue both separately, personally, and in common with other men, inter-personally. The social was not some grand, mysterious entity that existed apart from us and that demanded our worship and sacrifice; it was a set of real constraints that affected, for both good or ill, our immediate, transcendent existence. The reality to which social theory corresponded, therefore, was this operational presence of social constraints in our personal lives.

Una interpretación de la historia universal, 1948, 1960, Obras IX, pp. 75-6.

Ortega's ontology invalidated all social theory that hypostatized society, treating it as a self-subsistent entity, the reality of which did not depend on its existence in the particular lives of actual persons. For this reason, Ortega generally avoided the word "society" and replaced it by "the social," for the only reality of the social was adjectival; the social could only describe elements of our actual lives. "Society," when used at all, clearly referred to certain phenomena in one's life. "The theory of human life is, to begin with, the theory of personal life. But inside of our personal life we encounter not only other persons who are like ourselves and who do not give rise to a discipline unlike the personal, but we also encounter them together in an aggregate, that is distinct from each of them and all of them, taken one by one: we call this aggregate the society or the collectivity ."

Ortega phenomenologically described how an awareness of the social developed in the life of a person. On finding himself alive in the world, a child began by living with other persons; and from his direct, interpersonal experience of "We," of living with other persons, he developed conceptions of "I" and "you," of my living with myself and of your living with yourself. By means of these conceptions, a person could create a multitude of interpersonal worlds in which many different you's and I's entered into innumerable definite relations. Most of our real experience of other people fell into this interpersonal realm; and as complicated as these relations were, the interpersonal sector of my life was not the social sector. Social facts should not be confused with interpersonal relations. The social comprised a different set of facts; namely, the innumerable usages that each man found pressed upon him in the course of living his particular life: innumerable forms of speech, salutations, customs, traffic regulations, and so on.

Part of Ortega's contemplated contribution to a first philosophy was to have been a study of the use and disadvantage of usages for life. Curious readers will find the details in Man and People, and we will not follow his reasoning closely here. Suffice it to note that usages have an anomalous character; they present themselves to us in our lives as faits accomplis. The observation of usages is never mandatory or inescapable, but refusal to conform carries an impersonal penalty that is characteristic of usages. To drive on the "wrong" side of the road is dangerous; and people who refuse to shake hands, who converse in boorish phrases, or who flout the law all feel, in different ways, the self-enforcing power of social usages. Hence, the social is that aspect of our lives that is predetermined by the usages of the people with whom we live. But the person was not necessarily the helpless prey of usages, forced to acquiesce or suffer grievous consequences. Usages were much like habits, the humane value of which William James so profoundly explicated. While limiting the possibilities open at any time, usages greatly facilitated, within the limited possibilities, a man's capacity of effective action. Full understanding of the definite usages in force in a group would minimize the limitations imposed on one's actions by the usages and would maximize one's power to make the usages facilitate one's efforts to act. Thus, like a good handbook on linguistic convention, the social theory of historic reason would put the person in control of the great power that was locked in usages.

A paradox in Ortega's conception was that the social turned out to be a dehumanized sector of human life. The impersonality of the law is proverbial, and the policeman who enforces it does not act at least in theory as a man, but as an officer. Usages exist because " one" accepts them, and they are thus devoid of particularized human interest. This dehumanization revealed the social as a completely derivative realm that could not be justified as a goal for personal endeavor; the social gained value only if it served to facilitate the pursuit of definite human purposes. For instance, speech was a social fact consisting of "what people say." Scientific students of language could compile, codify, and comprehend the entirety of speech; but the fulfillment of their inquiry was not in the abstract comprehension of language itself, but in the definite improvement of efforts by particular persons to say what they had to say. While the mechanical act of speaking was social, the intelligent act of saying something was personal, fully human. Social facts were themselves dehumanized, and their justification for existing in our lives was that they help us to realize our possible, personal humanity. Properly understood, usages are an essential aid in our self-formation: they free us to concentrate on more significant matters. As Socrates explained to Crito, despite occasional abuses, the laws educate us by providing a form within which we can determine our personal character. The laws were sovereign indirectly; namely, by serving a man as he sought to be the sovereign of his soul.

Ibid.1 pp. 64-119.

Because the· human value of usages was indirect, a complicated problem of enforcement arose, a problem that, once understood, showed why it was so important for the quality of common life that people be united by stirring, difficult aspirations. Man and People ends just when Ortega arrived at this problem, introducing the paradox that society is as much an occasion for dissension as an opportunity for community. However, in other works he explained the gist of his views, especially in An Interpretation of Universal History.

See especially En torno a Galileo, 1933, Obras V, pp. 81-164; and "Un capítulo sobre la cuestión de como muere una creencia," 1954, 1962, Obras IX, pp. 707-725.

Meditación de Europa, 1949, 1960, Obras IX, p. 268.

Since usages were justified only to the degree that they helped men pursue their authentic purposes, they were vulnerable to the resentment of those who experienced the established usages as destructive impediments blocking self-fulfillment. Repeatedly, situations have arisen in which many have found that the established usages impeded their personal formation; then, the Socratic willingness to cherish the laws, come what may, quickly disappeared. Such situations led to great historic crises similar to the one that Ortega thought the European peoples were experiencing. Now, in our time, the prominence of national usages seems out of proportion to the scant degree that they facilitate the pursuit of interesting personal purposes. Hence, the nations, especially the more grandiose ones, are vulnerable to a seething resentment in the young: they widely perceive national usages as unjustified impediments to the fulfillment of their higher possibilities. The managers of the nation-state can do little to preserve their present prominence; change is under way. But, as Ortega realized, progress or regress in the transformation of national usages depends on whether they are anarchically torn asunder or sportingly transcended, whether we restrain the agents of the nation-state by turning against them in anger or by turning away from them in admiration for something else. Only the latter course can conserve the real accomplishments of our national traditions without making of those traditions an intolerable barrier against man's further self-realization. "The infamy and irresponsibility of politicians has brought Europe to this hour of debasement, in which it feels like Atlantis, for it seems about to submerge itself in the elemental fluid that is history. But thanks to its inexhaustible or almost inexhaustible interior riches, well beneath the skin of this, its debasement, it subterraneously prepares the basis of a new culture ... , but the surface, the conspicuous part of both the collectivities and the greater number of individuals, is patently miserable."

To revalue national usages constructively, men need a social theory that is antithetical to the ones that make the person more docile before established authorities; men need a social theory, like that of historic reason, that will recreate a personal sense of authority by helping them understand how social usages can be harnessed to personal concerns. Few now have the Socratic realization that the established laws are our educators and that these can, when attended to properly, help us form our selves. Instead, we have accustomed ourselves to thinking of usages, especially those of the nation, as objective powers that have their own internal dynamic before which our personal concerns pale into insignificance: some revere, others hate these august powers. But the social forms of the nation merit allegiance only insofar as they serve in our efforts to educate our selves. By this standard, the national idea is on the verge of losing our allegiance. But men will not find real alternatives to the nation by deferring to even more grandiose abstractions; we will find alternatives when we give allegiance to social usages that transcend the claim of any particular nation and that effectively help each live a fuller life. We must find these usages within our lives. As Ortega often reiterated, men are the only agents of historic initiative; they do not exercise that initiative by irritably seeking to suppress established usages, but by adapting existing usages to the service of surprising, new purposes.

An excellent case study in the processes of civic pedagogy in the United States would be an imaginative inquiry into the influence of descriptive sociologies like William H. Whyte's The Organization Man on the expectations of those who acquired their education during the 1960's.

In sum, as historic reason replaced abstract reason, marked changes would occur in disciplines pertinent to the conduct of life. Generally, studies would be reoriented so that everyman could use them in his effort to live his life well. Particularly, history would lose its traditional character as a descriptive subject, becoming more theoretical, whereas sociology would cease to be so theoretical, becoming more descriptive. Such reorientation would make these studies more effective in informing the reason by which we shape our personal lives. For instance, Americans have already had a taste of the practical power generated when descriptive sociologies spontaneously inform the historic reasoning of many youths, shaping the beliefs of a generation. Thus, in recent years corporate businesses have had difficulty recruiting talented young men and women, each of whom decides separately against corporate life on the basis of how certain sociologists have trenchantly described the usages governing giant organizations. In this way, historic reason affects the practical world. Spontaneous confrontations between social usages and personal intentions have only begun; a theoretical history and a descriptive sociology may produce many more.

Be that as it may, descriptive history and theoretical sociology still dominate their disciplines, but a basis exists in the realities of life for a reversal, or at least a merger, of their interests. The person learns little about the living of life from a knowledge of historical facts or of social theories, but he might learn much from historical theory and social facts. Living our life is a dynamic, temporal enterprise; to live our life well, we need theories that explain how we can act on relationships that function over time. Furthermore, to act well at any particular time and place, we need to know the established usages that will facilitate or hinder our efforts. Taking history and sociology as cooperative enterprises, which hopefully will function far into the future, one might further contend that the historical theorist will gain more from a mounting heritage of careful sociological descriptions than the social theorist will gain from a continually revised body of historical description. Regardless of how these matters work out, for Ortega The Dawn of Historic Reason would herald an effort by both historian and sociologist to inform, expand, and perfect the rational powers diverse persons used in living their lives. The philosopher, too, had a similar task.

Having already surveyed Ortega's philosophical reforms, we need to make only one further point in showing how he invited men to make philosophy, as well as history and sociology, more useful and less disadvantageous for their lives. In basing philosophy on life and in using it to guide living, men should be careful not to narrow undesirably their repertory of truly vital concerns. "Vital concerns" means the actual hopes and fears that beneath all the rationalizations really move men in the course of their living their lives. It means the real motive: the love of the good, pure or perverted; anxiety; joy; exuberance. Ortega's stature vis-à-vis his philosophical peers will be found in the richness of his sense of life, in his surer sympathy for man's vital concerns. Ortega found thinkers like Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Sartre unable to do justice to the dramatic, joyful side of life; and in comparison to them Ortega excelled by virtue of his ability to draw on a truly catholic sense of life in filling out his reform of reason with concrete concerns.

A guiding philosophy that does not do justice to the actual concerns that move men will automatically become destructive as men impose it upon themselves, for it will prompt them to suppress authentic parts of their lives. Valid parts of their destinies will appear as matters not recognized according to their partial views. Persons seriously involved with the vital issues of experience will be deceived into inauthenticating themselves and trying, even, to impose their imagined limitations on others. Men give inward consent to a system of practical reason only when it makes sense with respect to the realities they are actually living; and standards based on an incomplete sense of life will not gain inward consent and will spread only as the few impose them on others, forcefully cutting life down to fit a narrowed image. Consequently, it was of the utmost importance that any conception of practical reason begin with a full inventory of the moving concerns of life.

On this point, Ortega held a number of influential thinkers to have been too narrow. Like the technicians, important humanists exaggerated the moving power of anxiety while they underestimated that of exuberance. Ortega most seriously opposed writers who condemned an outright determinism by arguing that human freedom was authentically manifest only in anguish. Any conception of practical reason that made anxiety the sole sign of authentic concern would necessarily end, despite the philosopher's intentions, in a deterministic stimulus-response psychology. Man would be seen as free, but biased by a desire to diminish his most palpable uncertainties and to preserve his most cherished certainties, to lessen his anxieties. Ortega acknowledged that anguish was one authentic manifestation of human freedom, but not the only one, for through anguish alone men could not sustain freedom. Driven only by anxiety men would seek consistently to escape from freedom.

La idea de principia en Leibniz, 1947, 1958, Obras VIII, p. 297, n. 1.

Ibid., p. 306.

Man's creative potency—his ability to sustain his freedom, his power to initiate unnecessary acts—sprang from his sporting, joyous exuberance as much as from his anxiousness. "Life is anguish and enthusiasm and sensual pleasure and bitterness and innumerable other things." To avoid distorting practical reason by unjustly narrowing its base, Ortega showed that enthusiasm was equally as authentic a part of life as was anxiety. Our awareness of our freedom, even more, the actuality of our freedom, did not always give rise to anguish: frequently it provoked profound feelings of exhilaration. Joy, hope, and exuberance moved us into the unknown, which in turn produced a sense of anxiety, an alertness towards possible landmarks. The real basis for practical reason was the open interplay of joy and anguish, and only the dialectic of the two could give an adequate alternative to closed stimulus-response theories of behavior. "My idea, then, is that the tone adequate for philosophizing is not the wearisome seriousness of life, but the halcyon joviality of sport, of play."

Historic reason made sense only if men were actually moved by positive, sportive concerns. If men used reason predominantly to minimize their anxieties in the face of their freedom, then they would not take to historic reason, for in effect such reasoning would increase their anxieties by continually expanding their freedom. But if men used reason predominantly to maximize their personal, positive accomplishments, then they would find historic reason to be a great aid. Anxiety and joy were the concomitants of any personal effort, and the philosopher should seek to adapt reason to strengthening the positive effort rather than to drawing attention, one-sidedly, to the anguish.

Ortega could not accept the Sartrean lament that it was futile to speak of the good life with men who were hungry; too often, the hunger has been caused by various conceptions of the good life, for instance, that cattle are sacred or that a man's virility should be tested by the number of children he sires. Even hungry, downtrodden men gamely face life as a sporting matter, proposing goals and accepting certain standards. They have a sense of personal dignity, freedom, and power. The job of philosophy was to build on these positive qualities, to arm them with greater foresight, surer skills, and a sharper sensibility. The good life had not resulted from men banding together in an anguished effort to defend themselves from danger. Well-being resulted from man's sportive exuberance by which millions of independent efforts aggregated into a great qualitative improvement of life. The philosopher would serve human well-being to the degree that he founded a humanistic, practical reason on the full range of man's authentic concerns, on the joyful as well as the anguished. Then everyman had to harness this reason to improving his personal ability to pursue his positive aspirations.

Ibid., p. 316.

In sum, Ortega invited men to cease making academic specialities of history, sociology, and philosophy and to begin letting these serve more directly in forming the actual rationality that everyman employs in living his life. These subjects would not work magically, providing perfect programs to the abstract difficulties of the time. These subjects were not meant to perfect primarily our civic programs, but to help the civic substance, men, perfect themselves. The education of the public was thus a matter for self-culture, not paternal instruction; and this faith in the public significance of self-education departs sharply from present practice. In effect, historians, sociologists, and philosophers were invited to stop treating their subjects as the vehicles of truth, so to speak, and their students as empty receptacles into which the truths of their subjects are dumped. By basing all forms of reason on the realities of living, the students become the vehicles of truth, the truths of life, and the subjects become receptacles into which truths that have been proved in various persons' lives are gathered. "Philosophy is not to demonstrate with life that which is the truth; it is strictly the contrary, to demonstrate the truth by being able, thanks to it, to live authentically."

"Apuntes sobre una educación para el futuro," 1953,1962, Obras IX, p. 675.

What might happen if men take up the human sciences in the spirit of Count Yorck and Wilhelm Oil they, believing that the significance of these studies for human practice is pedagogical? What might result if men responded to Ortega's invitation, making culture serve the fullness of life, of the life that each lives? These questions have no predetermined answers, for the point of the invitation was to bring spontaneity back into public affairs, to call on the men of eminent capacity to follow their own lights. Ortega urged men not to be content to impose the abstract plans of today upon the living reality of tomorrow. He did not merely invite historians, sociologists, and philosophers to make their subjects serve the pedagogy of self-formation. He further called on men, on everyman, to make full use of this pedagogy, refurbishing the historic spontaneity that has been characteristic of Western history.

Ortega expended much effort in his later years in addressing diverse groups - librarians, architects, educators, corporate executives, dramatists, lawyers, doctors, scholars, and scientists. With each group, his plea was the same: "¡Pensar en grande!" The practitioner of any occupation based on intellect was a man of culture, not a specialist; this man of culture was responsible, not only for performing his limited duties effectively, but further for basing this performance on a definite conception of its implications for the whole of life. All men of culture, especially the young, had a mission to perfect their imagination and intellect, to enter every profession without abdicating their initiative to the formalized rituals of a career, and to inform their performances with a definite conception of what significance their special competencies had for the complete cultural repertory of their time. Let the librarian find ways to make the book, of which he was the custodian, serve as a more effective stimulus to life. Let the men of the theater discover how to transport the audience to an intimation of yet unimagined human possibilities. Let the lawyer not be content to administer existing law but to create desirable, new forms of law. In short, let cultured individuals in every walk of life continually take initiatives that will keep every habit and every institution in permanent disequilibrium, in a perpetual need for adaptation.

This literature is immense and can be merely introduced here. In keeping with the analysis below, it can be divided into two kinds: prescriptive and protreptic. Representative examples of the prescriptive are: F. R. Leavis, Education and the University: A Sketch for an 'English School'; the Committee on the Objectives of a General Education in a Free Society, General Education in a Free Society; Howard Mumford Jones, Education and World Tragedy; The American Assembly, The Federal Government and Higher Education; Charles G. Dobbins, ed., Higher Education and the Federal Government; The Commission on the Humanities, Report of the Commission on the Humanities; James Bryant Conant, The Education of American Teachers; and Daniel Bell, The Reforming of General Education. Leading examples of the protreptic group are, besides Ortega's Misión de la universidad, Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Higher Learning in America; Mark van Doren, Liberal Education; Karl Jaspers, The Idea of the University; Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America; Jacques Barzun, The House of intellect; C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures; and James A. Perkins, The University in Transition. These groups, of course, reflect similarities of method, not of aim.

As is common these days, Ortega's vision of the future called for marked changes in cultural institutions. Numerous critics have perceived that the great era of organizational reform in politics, economics, and social relations has approached completion in the West. They recognize that the locus of constructive change has shifted from practical organizations to educational, scientific, and cultural concerns. Thus, many have suggested that these be reorganized to take account of their novel power. But usually the desired reorganization is impossibly unrealistic. The plans are Utopian not because they fail to take into account the existing circumstances i about the present situation planners are often painstakingly precise. They are Utopian not because they lack specific prescriptions; with these they abound. They are Utopian because the planners do not understand the character of cultural power; they are unaware of its proper source and its peculiar mode of operation. Pedagogical planners confuse cultural power with political power, and out of inertia they treat cultural concerns as if they were practical organizations. Like the politician, businessman, and warrior, they propose a glorious campaign, break it into plausible steps, and expect their underlings to perform as planned. They have read the Republic but failed to sense its irony.

Political power is prescriptive; cultural power is protreptic. Politics commands the will; culture persuades the understanding. The two must go together, but they do not mix: the protreptic politician is a demagogue and the prescriptive intellectual is an ideologue. These distinctions help one comprehend the genius of Ortega's hortatory reforms, his invitation to innovation.

Misión de la universidad, 1930, Obras IV, p. 314.

Ortega's proposals to the men of culture were protreptic, not prescriptive. He wanted to inspire dramatists, executives, lawyers, librarians, teachers, writers, scholars, even man-thinking with a vision of an intellectual life greater than any now known. The university, its students, its faculty, its libraries, the professions it served, the schools it drew from, writers, publishers, and scientists too: all could rise up, and each, independently, could inform his work with a grander design. What held for the university, held for every aspect of culture: "the origin of university reform is in coming fully to terms with its mission. All change, repair, or refurbishing of our house that does not begin by first revising with energetic clarity, with decision, and with truth the problem of our mission will be a labor of wasted love." The protreptic reformer believes that if free men are in concord about purposes, they can work in community even though each attends only to his personal performance.

See The Committee on the Objectives of a General Education, General Education, esp. pp. 4-5; and Howard Mumford Jones, Education and World Tragedy, esp. pp. 109-178.

Not only was Ortega's grand design for intellect protreptic rather than prescriptive, it was extensive rather than intensive. Most pedagogical prescriptions concentrate on one set of institutions. Planners specialize: they cannot lay down the law for all. Hence, in 1945 a Harvard committee on general education thought it had cast its net wide by prescribing possible reforms for both the secondary schools and the colleges. But a year later, Howard Mumford Jones showed that such proposals were impossible without reform of the graduate schools. No matter where one begins to plan, soon all is drawn in. Ortega understood this fact: to exhort students to move towards one goal was useless, if the faculty had a different bent, the libraries had another, and the professions yet a fourth. Therefore, Ortega incited many groups that worked with intellect to contemplate their mission. The particular design of each group, of course, would differ, but Ortega hoped that each would inform its mission with a problem common to all: to wit, improving the use of cultural power in contemporary life. By doing so, men of culture would greatly expand their capacity to exercise initiative, a publicly significant private initiative, in the contemporary West.

In 1932, speaking at the centenary of the University of Granada, he suggested that the university was one of the basic European institutions that with a reform of reason might again be of crucial historic importance. "En el centenario de una universidad," 1932, Obras V, pp. 463–474. In 1934, writing "On Careers," he observed that the idea of a career could be a very useful historical concept to the young if they did not hypostatize it, seeking thoughtlessly to fit themselves to the form it suggested; if they used it as a mere idea they could map great new possibilities for their personal programs of life. "Sobre las carreras," 1934, Obras v, pp. 167–183.

In 1935, speaking about the "Mission of the Librarian," Ortega contended that, owing to the profusion of books, that venerable instrument of thought was falling into crisis; "from now on it will be necessary to care for the book as a living function; it will be necessary to control books by means of a policy and to become the tamers of the tumultuous tomes." Here was the librarian's mission. "Misión del bibliotecario," 1935, Obras V, p. 227, cf. pp. 209–234.

In 1935, speaking in the P.E.N. Club of Madrid, Ortega stated that "the mission of the writer, the biped with a pen, is to elevate towards the heights everything inert and dull. When the writer does not succeed or, at least, when he does not manage to do this, ah!, then the writer is not the writer because then the pen is not a pen, but a gun." Fateful words, these! "En el P.E.N. Club de Madrid," 1935, Obras VI, p. 233.

In 1937, musing on "A Quarrel in Physics," he contended that physicists should accept a systematic philosophic discipline in order to settle disagreements that were significant but insoluble by physical experiment; and if the physicists developed such intellectual foundations they would point the way to the rebirth of a European concord. "Branca en la fisica," 1937, Obras V, pp. 271–287.

In 1937, reflecting on "The Misery and Splendor of Translation," Ortega perceived a great educational mission for the translator: as Goethe had observed, the humane can live fully only among all men, and the task before the translator was to enable each of us, everyman, to live among all men, regardless of historic and linguistic barriers. "Miseria y esplendor de la traducción," 1937, Obras V, pp. 433–452. In 1943 and 1946, celebrating Velazquez, Ortega suggested to painters that men who had the capacity like Velazquez to reshape fundamentally the office of the painter are basic influences in the evolution of society: "they transcend, thus, the history of art and consign us to history in its entirety, the only one that is truly history." Velázquez, 1943, 1946, 1959, Obras VIII, p. 501, cf. pp. 484–5.

In 1946, writing on The Idea of the Theater, Ortega called it "a visible metaphor" that, like any metaphor, should allow men to go beyond themselves, intuiting things presently outside their powers of apprehension, for a few hours achieving "the supreme aspiration of the human being: managing to be sublime." Idea del teatro, 1946, 1958, Obras VII, pp. 459, 471, cf. pp. 443–501.

In 1948, in the "Prospectus of the Institute of the Humanities," Ortega proposed that those interested band together to partake in "man's most constitutive sport, that is theorizing," in this case theorizing in an atmosphere of healthy calm about how men can further humanize themselves. "Prospecto del Instituto de Humanidades," 1948, Obras VII, pp. 11–23.

In 1951, at a conference at Darmstadt on Man and Room, he called on the architect to free himself, like the technician, from reasoning from necessity and to fantasize new forms within which men might live. "El mito del hombre allende a técnica," 1951, Obras IX, pp. 617–623.

In 1953, at another Darmstadt conference, this time on The Individual and Organization, he contended that organization for its own sake was a threat to human life, that the welfare state, which aims to make life good for the individual, tends by virtue of its paternalism "to asphyxiate the individual," but that contemporary organization, if used as a basis, not a substitute, for individual effort, could be the groundwork of tremendous improvement in the quality of life. "Individuo y organización," 1953, Obras IX, pp. 677–680.

In 1954, speaking about "The Liberal Professions," he called on lawyers, doctors, engineers, financiers, and other professionals to resist the "hermeticism," the tendency to close themselves to larger issues, which they had recently manifested, and to "create new forms of individual activity," to invent ever more demanding realms of practice, and thus to preserve the "variety of situations" that characterized Europe. "Las profesiones liberales," 1954, Obras IX, pp. 691–706.

In 1954, in his last public speech, "A Look at the Situation of the Director or Manager in Present Society," Ortega reiterated his characteristic concerns: the manager had to resist specialism for he possessed enormous social power; the times were ones in which the limits of the nation-states had been reached and the vitality of public life was declining in sloth, politicians were ineffective, intellectuals could only theorize; the only potentially dynamic, constructive enterprise was a movement towards European unity, a unified Europe was a prerequisite of a stable world, and leadership in the movement towards unity was the managers' mission: "Peace—and not this or that little peace like so many that history has known, but peace as a stable form, almost definitive, of living together among the countries—is not a pure desire; it is a thing, and as such it therefore requires being fabricated. For this, it is necessary to find new and radical principles of law. Europe has always been prodigious in inventions. Why not have the hope that it can succeed as well in this?" "Una vista sobre la situación del gerente o 'manager' en la sociedad actual," 1954, Obras IX, p. 746, cf. pp. 727–746.

Readers interested in Ortega's particular ideas about cultural institutions had best go to the sources. Because each had its own mission, the way each might serve historic reason had to be taken up separately. Nevertheless, when Ortega's ideas about the library, writing, the theater, art, the liberal professions, and the university are juxtaposed, his single purpose becomes apparent: to exhort men of culture to use their power independently. A national humanities foundation was not needed for the human sciences to affect public life. At every instant, men of letters influenced the ethical concord within which all public affairs took place. To do so with optimum effect, each needed to contemplate his personal abilities and intentions, and, with a profound personal commitment, to appoint himself to the task of continually provoking himself, his peers, the people, and their leaders to examine their purposes and powers. Men of culture of every type could each determine what function he could perform in the further liberation of man; and then, if each strove self-consciously to fulfill this mission, all would be pushed beyond their present limits.

Ibid., 1930, Obras IV, p. 321.

Culture was the means men had invented for thinking about their purposes. "Life is a chaos, a savage forest, a confusion. Man is lost in it. But his mind reacts at his sensation of shipwreck and ruin; it works to find in the forest 'paths' or 'ways', that is, clear and firm ideas about the universe and positive convictions about what things and the world are. The conjunction or system of these is the culture in the true sense of the word." In this true sense, he continued, culture was the opposite of ornament. "Culture is that which saves us from vital shipwreck, which permits man to live, and without which his life would be a tragedy lacking sense, and hence, a radical debasement." Culture was a cosmos of conceptions, the tools of historic reason, within which men could define and discuss their purposes; and whoever freely refined these conceptions, sharpening the tools with which men think in the course of living, would spontaneously enlarge and perfect the possibilities open to men. Ortega invited us to have faith in historic reason and to use this power; this was his invitation to autonomy.

His invitation to the men of culture was thoroughly protreptic. Officials cannot keep the initiative in the face of protreptic reforms; they can only try to prevent potential reformers from appealing to their peers. Many people, out of habit, are inclined to belittle protreptic reform, seeing it as a threat to rational organization, which has served so well as a source of progress in past centuries. But Ortega invited us to embark once again on a great departure from past forms. Western communities had rigidified with the actualization of their major political, economic, and social aspirations; therefore the historic responsibility of protreptic reform was great: it alone could turn our effort towards uncharted seas.

Ortega's appeal to librarians, playwrights, and professionals, to students and professors, to all men of culture, was that they set their own standards, that they define their respective goals, and that they find ways to order their lives on the basis of these integral purposes. In making this appeal, Ortega was not pandering to parochial perversities; he was arguing for the highest historic service. Possibilities for historic initiative had been exhausted in the practical walks of life; nevertheless, men would create new historic enterprises by realizing that the great, unfilled possibility was to uncover and exercise the uses of cultural power.


Soul has its own principle of growth.

Heraclitus, 115