Alberto Oya (Bio)

Neither Realism nor Idealism: José Ortega y Gasset on the Task of Philosophy

The aim of this talk is to discuss Ortega’s conception of philosophy, formulated in his El tema de nuestro tiempo (1923) [The Theme of Our Time] and ¿Qué es Filosofía? (1964) [What is Philosophy?], as the task of formulating an understanding of the world which, despite being a subjective reaction on the part of the concrete individual, is nonetheless evidentially grounded and aims to exalt the world “to the fullness of itself”. Ortega’s way of conceiving of Philosophy is linked to one of the main philosophical theses he defended, which is that of conceiving “mi vida” (“my life”) as the most fundamental and primary fact. In this way, Ortega aimed to put an end to the philosophical controversy between realism and idealism. To the classic controversy between naive realism, which claims that the world is a reality subsistent in itself and so completely independent of the concrete subject, and idealism, which claims that the conscience, the thinking I, is the most primary reality, Ortega responded by arguing that the most primary and fundamental fact is neither the world nor the I, but the coexistence between the world and the I. According to Ortega, “mi vida” (and each one’s life) is the most fundamental ontological category, “the most radical way of being” (“el modo de ser más radical”). Everything I can relate to, be it theoretically or practically, is determined by the primary given fact of the coexistence between myself and the world. Besides, “mi vida” (and each one’s life) is not an abstraction but a concrete fact, consisting in my engaging with and relating to the world I coexist with. However, Ortega’s claim that the most fundamental ontological category is “mi vida” does not imply, according to him, that the reality of things, what they are, is exhausted by our relation to them. Philosophy constitutes the effort of attempting to discover what things are “por sí y no para mi vida” (“for themselves and not for my life”). It is to contemplate the things that are there in the world while attempting to conceive them abstractly, as they would be with independence of my (each one of us) subjective relation with them —it is the act of “putting things apart from me”. This exercise of ceasing to be interested in things is, Ortega argues, a giving oneself over to the whole world, and as such it constitutes an act of love, since it amounts to the effort made by the concrete individual to (virtually) deny himself with the sole purpose that things may become what they are independently of his concrete relation to them. According to Ortega, therefore, philosophizing is an act of love that requires the intellectual to conceive the world as an end in itself, with its own dignity and autonomy.