Authors: José Ortega y Gasset

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Spanish philosopher

Author Works


Meditaciones del Quijote, 1914 (Meditations on Quixote, 1961)

España invertebrada, 1922 (Invertebrate Spain, 1937)

El tema de nuestro tiempo, 1923 (The Modern Theme, 1931)

La deshumanización del arte, 1925 (The Dehumanization of Art, 1948)

La rebelión de las masas, 1929 (The Revolt of the Masses, 1932)

Misión de la universidad, 1930 (The Mission of the University, 1944)

Estudios sobre el amor, 1939 (On Love, 1957)

Del imperio romano, 1941 (Concord and Liberty, 1946)

Historia como sistema, 1941 (Toward a Philosophy of History, 1941)

¿Qué es filosofía?, 1958 (What Is Philosophy?, 1960)

La idea de principio en Leibniz y la evolución de la teoría deductiva, 1958 (The Idea of Principle in Leibniz and the Evolution of Deductive Theory, 1971)


One of the most eminent Spanish philosophers, a figure whose influence was felt beyond his native country, José Ortega y Gasset (awr-TAY-gah ee gah-SEHT) was educated at a Jesuit school at Málaga and at the University of Madrid, where he received his doctorate in l904 at barely twenty-one years of age and where he later held the professorship of metaphysics. From 1906 to 1910 he studied in Germany. Returning to Spain, he obtained his professorship in 1911 and began publishing widely in newspapers and reviews. Essays on Marcel Proust and James Joyce established his reputation as a humanist. In 1923 he founded the Revista de Occidente, which became an important and influential periodical. His announced mission at the time was to “Europeanize” Spain and to combat its traditional cultural isolation.{$I[AN]9810000458}{$I[A]Ortega y Gasset, José}{$I[geo]SPAIN;Ortega y Gasset, José}{$I[tim]1883;Ortega y Gasset, José}

Ortega y Gasset, long a foe of the monarchy, naturally favored the revolution that overthrew Alfonso XIII in 1931. Indeed, he has been called one of the “Fathers of the Republic” and was elected a deputy from León. The victory of Francisco Franco drove him from Spain, however, and he spent many years in exile in France, Portugal, and South America. For a time he held a professorship at the University of San Marcos in Peru. In 1945 he returned to Spain and established the Institute of the Humanities.

Ortega y Gasset produced writings on aesthetics, literature, and sociology. The first of his books to be translated into English, and the work on which his reputation in the English-speaking world chiefly rests, is The Revolt of the Masses, which attained considerable popularity in the United States during the 1930’s. The title is, to some degree, deceptive, for the author is not dealing with proletarian revolution, as the word “masses” might suggest. Rather, he was concerned with what he regarded as the significant phenomenon of the twentieth century: the emergence of the “mass human being” into a position of power. Ortega y Gasset recognizes two types among human beings: the superior individuals, intellectually disciplined, cultivated, always demanding more of themselves and striving to raise themselves still higher; and the “common” individuals, self-satisfied, lacking in standards, making no demands upon themselves, content to be like everyone else. These two classes, the author takes pains to emphasize, have nothing to do with the traditional social divisions; indeed, Ortega y Gasset rather scorns the old European nobility. It is a question of a moral and intellectual elite, the members of which may come from any social milieu.

The fantastic increase in the population of Europe–according to the author, it never rose above 180 million from the sixth century to 1800, but by 1914 it had reached 460 million–eventually produced a continent swarming with people; and the “mass human being,” thrust upward by sheer force of numbers, began to take over all the functions previously exercised by the superior minority. Ortega y Gasset believed that through this class of people all traditional values of European civilization were threatened: “[T]he vulgar proclaims and imposes the right of vulgarity, or vulgarity as a right.” Because the masses “neither should nor can direct their own personal existence, and still less rule society in general,” Ortega y Gasset thought Europe to be in danger of being destroyed by a kind of internal barbarian invasion. Despite these convictions, Ortega y Gasset was not an admirer of the dictatorships emerging in Europe at that time; on the contrary, he detested them. He was, however, reemphasizing the traditional European reliance on a small group of genuinely superior men to direct its affairs.

BibliographyGraham, John T. Theory of History in Ortega y Gasset: “The Dawn of Historical Reason.” Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997. This is a clear look at Ortega’s theory of history.Gray, Rockwell. The Imperative of Modernity: An Intellectual Biography of José Ortega y Gasset. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. An extensive intellectual biography of José Ortega y Gasset that shows the development of his thought in all his major works. It places him in the history of international modernism at the turn of the twentieth century and considers his reaction to Spain’s cultural isolation.Oimette, Victor. José Ortega y Gasset. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. A study of the development of Ortega’s thought against the social and political background of Spain in the first half of the twentieth century. It makes a good introduction to Ortega’s philosophy.Silver, Philip W. Ortega as Phenomenologist: The Genesis of “Meditations on Quixote.” New York: Columbia University Press, 1978. Focuses on a specific facet of Ortega’s thought that had been neglected–namely, his existential phenomenology–and describes his relationship to German philosophers, particularly Edmund Husserl.Tuttle, Howard N. The Crowd Is Untruth: The Existential Critique of Mass Society in the Thought of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Ortega y Gasset. New York: Peter Lang, 1996. An examination of the thought of Ortega and others.
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