José Ortega y Gasset

Spanish liberal philosopher and essayist (1883-1955)
(Redirected from José Ortega Y Gasset)

José Ortega y Gasset (May 9 1883October 18 1955) was a Spanish philosopher.

Were art to redeem man, it could do so only by saving him from the seriousness of life and restoring him to an unexpected boyishness.


  • Life cannot wait until the sciences may have explained the universe scientifically. We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness: it is always urgent, "here and now" without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point-blank. And culture, which is but its interpretation, cannot wait any more than can life itself.
    • Original: "La vida no puede esperar a que las ciencias expliquen científicamente el Universo. No se puede vivir ad kalendas graecas. El atributo más esencial de la existencia es su perentoriedad: la vida es siempre urgente. Se vive aquí y ahora sin posible demora ni traspaso. La vida nos es disparada a quemarropa. Ya la cultura, que no es sino su interpretación, no puede tampoco esperar."
    • Mission of the University [Misión de la Universidad (PDF)] (1930; translation © 1944, first published 1946), p. 73 [p. 15 in Spanish PDF], translated by Howard Lee Nostrand. ISBN 978-1-56000-560-5
  • Life is fired at us point blank.
    • More context: "To live or to be alive or, what is the same thing, to be a man, does not admit of any preparations or preliminary experiments. Life is fired at us point blank. ... Where and when we are born, or happen to find ourselves after we were born, there and then, like it or not, we must sink or swim."
    • Man and People [El hombre y la gente] (1957), p. 42, translated by Willard R. Trask. ISBN 0-393-00123-7

Meditations on Quixote (1914)

When shall we open our minds to the conviction that the ultimate reality of the world is neither matter nor spirit, is no definite thing, but a perspective?
  • I am I and my circumstance, and if I don't save it I don't save myself.
  • When shall we open our minds to the conviction that the ultimate reality of the world is neither matter nor spirit, is no definite thing, but a perspective?
  • Hatred is a feeling which leads to the extinction of values.[1]

The Dehumanization of Art and Ideas about the Novel (1925)

The symbol of art is seen again in the magic flute of the Great God Pan which makes the young goats frisk at the edge of the grove.
The Dehumanization of Art and Ideas about the Novel [La deshumanización del Arte e Ideas sobre la novela] (1925)
The metaphor is perhaps one of man's most fruitful potentialities. Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him.
  • Similarly a work of art vanishes from sight for a beholder who seeks in it nothing but the moving fate of John and Mary or Tristan and Isolde and adjusts his vision to this. Tristan's sorrows are sorrows and can evoke compassion only in so far as they are taken as real. But an object of art is artistic only in so far as it is not real. In order to enjoy Titian's portrait of Charles the Fifth on horseback we must forget that this is Charles the Fifth in person and see instead a portrait — that is, an image, a fiction. The portrayed person and his portrait are two entirely different things; we are interested in either one or the other. In the first case we "live" with Charles the Fifth, in the second we look at an object of art.
    • "The Dehumanization of Art"
  • This grave dissociation of past and present is the generic fact of our time and the cause of the suspicion, more or less vague, which gives rise to the confusion characteristic of our present-day existence. We feel that we actual men have suddenly been left alone on the earth; that the dead did not die in appearance only but effectively; that they can no longer help us. Any remains of the traditional spirit have evaporated. Models, norms, standards are no use to us. We have to solve our problems without any active collaboration of the past, in full actuality, be they problems of art, science, or politics. The European stands alone, without any living ghosts by his side; like Peter Schlehmil he has lost his shadow. This is what always happens when midday comes.
    • "The Dehumanisation of Art"; Ortega y Gasset later used this passage in The Revolt of the Masses (1929), quoting it in Ch. III: The Height Of The Times
  • Were art to redeem man, it could do so only by saving him from the seriousness of life and restoring him to an unexpected boyishness. The symbol of art is seen again in the magic flute of the Great God Pan which makes the young goats frisk at the edge of the grove.
    All modern art begins to appear comprehensible and in a way great when it is interpreted as an attempt to instill youthfulness into an ancient world.
    • "Art a Thing of No Consequence"
  • The metaphor is perhaps one of man's most fruitful potentialities. Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him. All our other faculties keep us within the realm of the real, of what is already there. The most we can do is to combine things or to break them up. The metaphor alone furnishes an escape; between the real things, it lets emerge imaginary reefs, a crop of floating islands. A strange thing, indeed, the existence in man of this mental activity which substitutes one thing for another — from an urge not so much to get at the first as to get rid of the second.
    • "Taboo and Metaphor"
Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated.
La rebelión de las masas (1929)
Also see The Revolt of the Masses
Human society is always, whether it will or no, aristocratic by its very essence, to the extreme that it is a society in the measure that it is aristocratic, and ceases to be such when it ceases to be aristocratic. Of course I am speaking now of society and not of the State.
Contrary to what is usually thought, it is the man of excellence, and not the common man who lives in essential servitude. Life has no savour for him unless he makes it consist in service to something transcendental.
Nobility is defined by the demands it makes on us — by obligations, not by rights.
Noble means the "well known," that is, known by everyone, famous, he who has made himself known by excelling the anonymous mass.… "Nobility" does not appear as a formal expression until the Roman Empire, and then precisely in opposition to the hereditary nobles, then in decadence.
Nationalism is always an effort in a direction opposite to that of the principle which creates nations. The former is exclusive in tendency, the latter inclusive.
  • Strictly speaking, the mass, as a psychological fact, can be defined without waiting for individuals to appear in mass formation. In the presence of one individual we can decide whether he is "mass" or not. The mass is all that which sets no value on itself — good or ill — based on specific grounds, but which feels itself "just like everybody," and nevertheless is not concerned about it; is, in fact, quite happy to feel itself as one with everybody else.
    • Chap.I: The Coming Of The Masses
  • The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will. As they say in the United States: "to be different is to be indecent." The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated. And it is clear, of course, that this "everybody" is not "everybody." "Everybody" was normally the complex unity of the mass and the divergent, specialised minorities. Nowadays, "everybody" is the mass alone.
    • Chap.I: The Coming Of The Masses
  • The history of the Roman Empire is also the history of the uprising of the Empire of the Masses, who absorb and annul the directing minorities and put themselves in their place. Then, also, is produced the phenomenon of agglomeration, of "the full." For that reason, as Spengler has very well observed, it was necessary, just as in our day, to construct enormous buildings. The epoch of the masses is the epoch of the colossal.
    • Chap.II: The Rise Of The Historic Level
  • I have never said that human society ought to be aristocratic, but a great deal more than that. What I have said, and still believe with ever-increasing conviction, is that human society is always, whether it will or no, aristocratic by its very essence, to the extreme that it is a society in the measure that it is aristocratic, and ceases to be such when it ceases to be aristocratic. Of course I am speaking now of society and not of the State.
    • Chap.II: The Rise Of The Historic Level
  • To-day the [Enlightenment] ideal has been changed into a reality; not only in legislation, which is the mere framework of public life, but in the heart of every individual, whatever his ideas may be, and even if he be a reactionary in his ideas, that is to say, even when he attacks and castigates institutions by which those rights are sanctioned.… The sovereignty of the unqualified individual, of the human being as such, generically, has now passed from being a juridical idea or ideal to be a psychological state inherent in the average man. And note this, that when what was before an ideal becomes a component part of reality, it inevitably ceases to be an ideal. The prestige and the magic that are attributes of the ideal are volatilised.
    • Chap.II: The Rise Of The Historic Level
  • It would be wrong to suppose that the man of any particular period always looks upon past times as below the level of his own, simply because they are past. It is enough to recall that to the seeming of Jorge Manrique, "Any time gone by was better."… From A.D. 150 on, this impression of a shrinking of vitality, of a falling from position, of decay and loss of pulse shows itself increasingly in the Roman Empire. Had not Horace already sung: "Our fathers, viler than our grandfathers, begot us who are even viler, and we shall bring forth a progeny more degenerate still"? Horace, Odes, III.6]
    • Chap. III: The Height Of The Times
  • The primary meaning of the words "modern," "modernity," with which recent times have baptised themselves, brings out very sharply that feeling of "the height of time" which I am at present analysing. "Modern" is what is "in the fashion, "that is to say, the new fashion or modification which has arisen over against the old traditional fashions used in the past. The word "modern" then expresses a consciousness of a new life, superior to the old one, and at the same time an imperative call to be at the height of one's time. For the "modern" man, not to be "modern" means to fall below the historic level.
    • Chap. III: The Height Of The Times
  • Even to-day, in spite of some signs which are making a tiny breach in that sturdy faith, even to-day, there are few men who doubt that motorcars will in five years' time be more comfortable and cheaper than to-day. They believe in this as they believe that the sun will rise in the morning. The metaphor is an exact one. For, in fact, the common man, finding himself in a world so excellent, technically and socially, believes that it has been produced by nature, and never thinks of the personal efforts of highly-endowed individuals which the creation of this new world presupposed. Still less will he admit the notion that all these facilities still require the support of certain difficult human virtues, the least failure of which would cause the rapid disappearance of the whole magnificent edifice.… These traits together make up the well-known psychology of the spoilt child.
    • Chap. VI: The Dissection Of The Mass-Man Begins
  • The mass-man would never have accepted authority external to himself had not his surroundings violently forced him to do so. As to-day, his surroundings do not so force him, the everlasting mass-man, true to his character, ceases to appeal to other authority and feels himself lord of his own existence. On the contrary the select man, the excellent man is urged, by interior necessity, to appeal from himself to some standard beyond himself, superior to himself, whose service he freely accepts.… Contrary to what is usually thought, it is the man of excellence, and not the common man who lives in essential servitude. Life has no savour for him unless he makes it consist in service to something transcendental. Hence he does not look upon the necessity of serving as an oppression. When, by chance, such necessity is lacking, he grows restless and invents some new standard, more difficult, more exigent, with which to coerce himself. This is life lived as a discipline — the noble life.
    • Chap. VII: Noble Life And Common Life, Or Effort And Inertia
  • Nobility is defined by the demands it makes on us — by obligations, not by rights. Noblesse oblige. "To live as one likes is plebeian; the noble man aspires to order and law" (Goethe). The privileges of nobility are not in their origin concessions or favours; on the contrary, they are conquests. And their maintenance supposes, in principle, that the privileged individual is capable of reconquering them, at any moment, if it were necessary, and anyone were to dispute them.… It is annoying to see the degeneration suffered in ordinary speech by a word so inspiring as "nobility." For, by coming to mean for many people hereditary "noble blood," it is changed into something similar to common rights, into a static, passive quality which is received and transmitted like something inert. But the strict sense, the etymon of the word nobility is essentially dynamic. Noble means the "well known," that is, known by everyone, famous, he who has made himself known by excelling the anonymous mass.… "Nobility" does not appear as a formal expression until the Roman Empire, and then precisely in opposition to the hereditary nobles, then in decadence.
    • Chap. VII: Noble Life And Common Life, Or Effort And Inertia
  • As one advances in life, one realises more and more that the majority of men — and of women — are incapable of any other effort than that strictly imposed on them as a reaction to external compulsion. And for that reason, the few individuals we have come across who are capable of a spontaneous and joyous effort stand out isolated, monumentalised, so to speak, in our experience. These are the select men, the nobles, the only ones who are active and not merely reactive, for whom life is a perpetual striving, an incessant course of training. Training = askesis. These are the ascetics.
    • Chap. VII: Noble Life And Common Life, Or Effort And Inertia
  • I know well that many of my readers do not think as I do. This also is most natural and confirms the theorem. For although my opinion turn out erroneous, there will always remain the fact that many of those dissentient readers have never given five minutes' thought to this complex matter. How are they going to think as I do? But by believing that they have a right to an opinion on the matter without previous effort to work one out for themselves, they prove patently that they belong to that absurd type of human being which I have called the "rebel mass." It is precisely what I mean by having one's soul obliterated, hermetically closed. Here it would be the special case of intellectual hermetism.
    • Chap. VIII: The Masses Intervene In Everything, And Why Their Intervention Is Solely By Violence
  • I often asked myself the following question. There is no doubt that at all times for many men one of the greatest tortures of their lives has been the contact, the collision with the folly of their neighbours. And yet how is it that there has never been attempted — I think this is so — a study on this matter, an Essay on Folly? For the pages of Erasmus do not treat of this aspect of the matter.
    • Chap. VIII: The Masses Intervene In Everything, And Why Their Intervention Is Solely By Violence
  • It is not a question of the mass-man being a fool. On the contrary, to-day he is more clever, has more capacity of understanding than his fellow of any previous period. But that capacity is of no use to him; in reality, the vague feeling that he possesses it seems only to shut him up more within himself and keep him from using it. Once for all, he accepts the stock of commonplaces, prejudices, fag-ends of ideas or simply empty words which chance has piled up within his mind, and with a boldness only explicable by his ingenuousness, is prepared to impose them everywhere.… Why should he listen if he has within him all that is necessary? There is no reason now for listening, but rather for judging, pronouncing, deciding. There is no question concerning public life, in which he does not intervene, blind and deaf as he is, imposing his "opinions."
    • Chap. VIII: The Masses Intervene In Everything, And Why Their Intervention Is Solely By Violence
  • [I]s this not an advantage? Is it not a sign of immense progress that the masses should have "ideas," that is to say, should be cultured? By no means. The "ideas" of the average man are not genuine ideas, nor is their possession culture. An idea is a putting truth in checkmate. Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it. It is no use speaking of ideas when there is no acceptance of a higher authority to regulate them, a series of standards to which it is possible to appeal in a discussion. These standards are the principles on which culture rests.
    • Chap. VIII: The Masses Intervene In Everything, And Why Their Intervention Is Solely By Violence
  • When all these things are lacking there is no culture; there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism. And let us not deceive ourselves, this is what is beginning to appear in Europe under the progressive rebellion of the masses. The traveller who arrives in a barbarous country knows that in that territory there are no ruling principles to which it is possible to appeal. Properly speaking, there are no barbarian standards. Barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made.
    • Chap. VIII: The Masses Intervene In Everything, And Why Their Intervention Is Solely By Violence
  • Liberalism — it is well to recall this today—is the supreme form of generosity; it is the right which the majority concedes to minorities and hence it is the noblest cry that has ever resounded in this planet. It announces the determination to share existence with the enemy; more than that, with an enemy which is weak. It was incredible that the human species should have arrived at so noble an attitude, so paradoxical, so refined, so acrobatic, so anti-natural. Hence, it is not to be wondered at that this same humanity should soon appear anxious to get rid of it. It is a discipline too difficult and complex to take firm root on earth.
    • Chap. VIII: The Masses Intervene In Everything, And Why Their Intervention Is Solely By Violence
  • [L]ife, individual or collective, personal or historic, is the one entity in the universe whose substance is compact of danger, of adventure. It is, in the strict sense of the word, drama. … [T]he primary, radical meaning of life appears when it is employed in the sense not of biology, but of biography. For the very strong reason that the whole of biology is quite definitely only a chapter in certain biographies, it is what biologists do in the portion of their lives open to biography.
    • Chap.IX: The Primitive and the Technical
  • [T]he direction of society has been taken over by a type of man who is not interested in the principles of civilisation. Not of this or that civilisation but — from what we can judge to-day — of any civilisation. …[T]he type of man dominant to-day is a primitive one, a Naturmensch rising up in the midst of a civilised world.
    • Chap.IX: The Primitive and the Technical
  • Is it not altogether absurd that, under actual circumstances, the average man does not feel spontaneously, and without being preached at, an ardent enthusiasm for those sciences and the related ones of biology?… Every day furnishes a new invention which this average man utilises. Every day produces a new anesthetic or vaccine from which this average man benefits. … How is it, nevertheless, that there is no sign of the masses imposing on themselves any sacrifice of money or attention in order to endow science more worthily? Far from this being the case, the post-war period has converted the man of science into a new social pariah.
    • Chap.IX: The Primitive and the Technical
  • The form most contradictory to human life that can appear among the human species is the "self-satisfied man."
    • Chapter XI: The Self-Satisfied Age
  • It is not that one ought not to do just what one pleases; it is simply that one cannot do other than what each of us has to do, has to be. The only way out is to refuse to do what has to be done, but this does not set us free to do something else just because it pleases us. In this matter we only possess a negative freedom of will, a noluntas. We can quite well turn away from our true destiny, but only to fall a prisoner in the deeper dungeons of our destiny. … Theoretic truths not only are disputable, but their whole meaning and force lie in their being disputed, they spring from discussion. They live as long as they are discussed, and they are made exclusively for discussion. But destiny — what from a vital point of view one has to be or has not to be — is not discussed, it is either accepted or rejected. If we accept it, we are genuine; if not, we are the negation, the falsification of ourselves. Destiny does not consist in what we feel we should like to do; rather is it recognised in its clear features in the consciousness that we must do what we do not feel like doing.
    • Chapter XI: The Self-Satisfied Age
  • The surrealist thinks he has outstripped the whole of literary history when he has written (here a word that there is no need to write) where others have written "jasmines, swans and fauns." But what he has really done has been simply to bring to light another form of rhetoric which hitherto lay hidden in the latrines.
    • Chapter XI: The Self-Satisfied Age
  • Diogenes, in his mud-covered sandals, tramps over the carpets of Aristippus. The cynic pullulated at every corner, and in the highest places. This cynic did nothing but saboter the civilisation of the time. He was the nihilist of Hellenism. He created nothing, he made nothing. His role was to undo — or rather to attempt to undo, for he did not succeed in his purpose. The cynic, a parasite of civilisation, lives by denying it, for the very reason that he is convinced that it will not fail. What would become of the cynic among a savage people where everyone, naturally and quite seriously, fulfils what the cynic farcically considers to be his personal role?
    • Chapter XI: The Self-Satisfied Age
  • He [the "specialist"] is one who, out of all that has to be known in order to be a man of judgment, is only acquainted with one science, and even of that one only knows the small corner in which he is an active investigator. He even proclaims it as a virtue that he takes no cognisance of what lies outside the narrow territory specially cultivated by himself, and gives the name of "dilettantism" to any curiosity for the general scheme of knowledge.
    • Chapter XII: The Barbarism Of "Specialisation"
  • The specialist serves as a striking concrete example of the species, making clear to us the radical nature of the novelty. For, previously, men could be divided simply into the learned and the ignorant, those more or less the one, and those more or less the other. But your specialist cannot be brought in under either of these two categories. He is not learned , for he is formally ignorant of all that does not enter into his speciality; but neither is he ignorant, because he is "a scientist," and "knows" very well his own tiny portion of the universe. We shall have to say that he is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as it implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man, but with an the petulance of one who is learned in his own special line.
    • Chapter XII: The Barbarism Of "Specialisation"
  • The most immediate result of this unbalanced specialisation has been that to-day, when there are more "scientists" than ever, there are much less "cultured" men than, for example, about 1750. And the worst is that with these turnspits of science not even the real progress of science itself is assured. For science needs from time to time, as a necessary regulator of its own advance, a labour of reconstitution, and, as I have said, this demands an effort towards unification, which grows more and more difficult, involving, as it does, ever-vaster regions of the world of knowledge. Newton was able to found his system of physics without knowing much philosophy, but Einstein needed to saturate himself with Kant and Mach before he could reach his own keen synthesis. Kant and Mach — the names are mere symbols of the enormous mass of philosophic and psychological thought which has influenced Einstein.
    • Chapter XII: The Barbarism Of "Specialisation"
  • [I]t is necessary to insist upon this extraordinary but undeniable fact: experimental science has progressed thanks in great part to the work of men astoundingly mediocre, and even less than mediocre. That is to say, modern science, the root and symbol of our actual civilization, finds a place for the intellectually commonplace man and allows him to work therein with success.
    • Chapter XII: The Barbarism Of "Specialisation"
  • [T]he mass-man sees in the State an anonymous power, and feeling himself, like it, anonymous, he believes that the State is something of his own. Suppose that in the public life of a country some difficulty, conflict, or problem presents itself, the mass-man will tend to demand that the State intervene immediately and undertake a solution directly with its immense and unassailable resources. This is the gravest danger that to-day threatens civilisation: State intervention; the absorption of all spontaneous social effort by the State.
    • Chapter XIII: The Greatest Danger, The State
  • Spontaneous social action will be broken up over and over again by State intervention; no new seed will be able to fructify. Society will have to live for the State, man for the governmental machine. And as, after all, it is only a machine whose existence and maintenance depend on the vital supports around it, the State, after sucking out the very marrow of society, will be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty death of machinery, more gruesome than the death of a living organism. Such was the lamentable fate of ancient civilisation. … Already in the times of the Antonines (IInd Century), the State overbears society with its anti-vital supremacy. Society begins to be enslaved, to be unable to live except in the service of the State. The whole of life is bureaucratised. What results? The bureaucratisation of life brings about its absolute decay in all orders.
    • Chapter XIII: The Greatest Danger, The State
  • That Marxism should triumph in Russia, where there is no industry, would be the greatest contradiction that Marxism could undergo. But there is no such contradiction, for there is no such triumph. Russia is Marxist more or less as the Germans of the Holy Roman Empire were Romans.
    • Chapter XIV: Who Rules The World?
  • Greeks and Latins appear in history lodged, like bees in their hives, within cities, poleis. … The polis is not primarily a collection of habitable dwellings, but a meeting-place for citizens, a space set apart for public functions. The city is not built, as is the cottage or the domus, to shelter from the weather and to propagate the species — these are personal, family concerns — but in order to discuss public affairs. … The man of the fields is still a sort of vegetable. His existence, all that he feels, thinks, wishes for, preserves the listless drowsiness in which the plant lives. The great civilisations of Asia and Africa were, from this point of view, huge anthropomorphic vegetations. …Socrates, the great townsman, quintessence of the spirit of the polis, can say: "I have nothing to do with the trees of the field, I have to do only with the man of the city." What has ever been known of this by the Hindu, the Persian, the Chinese, or the Egyptian?
    • Chapter XIV: Who Rules The World?
  • The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from those fantastic "ideas" and looks life in the face, realises that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. As this is the simple truth — that to live is to feel oneself lost — he who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look round for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life.
    • Chapter XIV: Who Rules The World?
  • The State is always, whatever be its form — primitive, ancient, medieval, modern — an invitation issued by one group of men to other human groups to carry out some enterprise in common. That enterprise, be its intermediate processes what they may, consists in the long run in the organisation of a certain type of common life. … [As Renan says,] "To have common glories in the past, a common will in the present; to have done great things together; to wish to do greater; these are the essential conditions which make up a people.… In the past, an inheritance of glories and regrets; in the future, one and the same programme to carry out.… The existence of a nation is a daily plebiscite."
    • Chapter XIV: Who Rules The World?
  • Nationalism is always an effort in a direction opposite to that of the principle which creates nations. The former is exclusive in tendency, the latter inclusive. In periods of consolidation, nationalism has a positive value, and is a lofty standard. But in Europe everything is more than consolidated, and nationalism is nothing but a mania, a pretext to escape from the necessity of inventing something new, some great enterprise.
    • Chapter XIV: Who Rules The World?
  • To imagine that Caesar aspired to do something in the way Alexander did it — and this is what almost all historians have believed — is definitely to give up trying to understand him. Caesar is very nearly the opposite of Alexander. …[I]t is not merely a universal kingdom that Caesar has in view. His purpose is a deeper one. He wants a Roman empire which does not live on Rome, but on the periphery, on the provinces, and this implies the complete supersession of the City-State. It implies a State in which the most diverse peoples collaborate, in regard to which all feel solidarity.
    • Chapter XIV: Who Rules The World?
  • [I]t would be a piece of ingenuousness to accuse the man of to-day of his lack of moral code. The accusation would leave him cold, or rather, would flatter him. Immoralism has become a commonplace, and anybody and everybody boasts of practising it.
    • Chapter XV: We Arrive At The Real Question
  • Whatever be the substance which takes possession of such a soul, it will produce the same result, and will change into a pretext for not conforming to any concrete purpose. If it appears as reactionary or anti-liberal it will be in order to affirm that the salvation of the State gives a right to level down all other standards, and to manhandle one's neighbour, above all if one's neighbour is an outstanding personality. But the same happens if it decides to act the revolutionary; the apparent enthusiasm for the manual worker, for the afflicted and for social justice, serves as a mask to facilitate the refusal of all obligations, such as courtesy, truthfulness and, above all, respect or esteem for superior individuals. … As regards other kinds of Dictatorship, we have seen only too well how they flatter the mass-man, by trampling on everything that appeared to be above the common level.
    • Chapter XV: We Arrive At The Real Question
  • This fighting-shy of every obligation partly explains the phenomenon, half ridiculous, half disgraceful, Of the setting-up in our days of the platform of "youth" as youth. … In comic fashion people call themselves "young," because they have heard that youth has more rights than obligations, since it can put off the fulfilment of these latter to the Greek Kalends of maturity. …[T]he astounding thing at present is that these take it as an effective right precisely in order to claim for themselves all those other rights which only belong to the man who has already done something.
    • Chapter XV: We Arrive At The Real Question
  • What, by a word lacking even in grammar, is called amorality, is a thing that does not exist. If you are unwilling to submit to any norm, you have, nolens volens, to submit to the norm of denying all morality, and this is not amoral, but immoral. It is a negative morality which preserves the empty form of the other.
    • Chapter XV: We Arrive At The Real Question
  • No one knows toward what center human things are going to gravitate in the near future, and hence the life of the world has become scandalously provisional. Everything that today is done in public and in private — even in one's inner conscience — is provisional, the only exception being certain portions of certain sciences. He will be a wise man who puts no trust in all that is proclaimed, upheld, essayed, and lauded at the present day. All that will disappear as quickly as it came. All of it, from the mania for physical sports (the mania, not the sports themselves) to political violence; from "new art" to sun-baths at idiotic fashionable watering-places. Nothing of all that has any roots; it is all pure invention, in the bad sense of the word, which makes it equivalent to fickle caprice. It is not a creation based on the solid substratum of life; it is not a genuine impulse or need. In a word, from the point of view of life it is false.
    We are in presence of the contradiction of a style of living which cultivates sincerity and is at the same time a fraud. There is truth only in an existence which feels its acts as irrevocably necessary. There exists today no politician who feels the inevitableness of his policy, and the more extreme his attitudes, the more frivolous, the less inspired by destiny they are. The only life with its roots fixed in earth, the only autochthonous life, is that which is made of inevitable acts. All the rest, all that it is in our power to take or to leave or to exchange for something else, is mere falsification of life. Life today is the fruit of an interregnum, of an empty space between two organizations of historical rule — that which was, that which is to be. For this reason it is essentially provisional. Men do not know what institutions to serve in truth; women do not know what type of men they in truth prefer.
    The European cannot live unless embarked upon some great unifying enterprise. When this is lacking, he becomes degraded, grows slack, his soul is paralyzed. We have a commencement of this before our eyes today. The groups which up to today have been known as nations arrived about a century ago at their highest point of expansion. Nothing more can be done with them except lead them to a higher evolution. They are now mere past accumulating all around Europe, weighing it down, imprisoning it. With more vital freedom than ever, we feel that we cannot breathe the air within our nations, because it is confined air. What was before a nation open to all the winds of heaven, has turned into something provincial, an enclosing space.
    • Chapter XIV: Who Rules The World?

Man and Crisis (1962)

  • Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.
    • p. 94.

History as a System (1962)

Man is a substantial emigrant on a pilgrimage of being, and it is accordingly meaningless to set limits to what he is capable of being.
  • Scientific truth is characterized by its exactness and the certainty of its predictions. But these admirable qualities are contrived by science at the cost of remaining on a plane of secondary problems. leaving intact the ultimate and decisive questions. … Yet science is but a small part of the human mind and organism. Where it stops, man does not stop.
    • p. 13
  • That science is incapable of solving in its own way those fundamental questions is no sufficient reason for slighting them
    • p. 14
  • The assurance that we have no means of answering [final] questions is no valid excuse for callousness towards them. The more deeply should we feel, down to the roots of our being, their pressure and their sting. Whose hunger has ever been [sated] with the knowledge that he could not eat?
    • p. 15
  • The nineteenth century, utilitarian throughout, set up a utilitarian interpretation of the phenomenon of life which has come down to us and may still be considered as the commonplace of everyday thinking. … An innate blindness seems to have closed the eyes of this epoch to all but those facts which show life as a phenomenon of utility
    • p. 16
  • The species with eyes appears suddenly, capriciously as it were, and it is this species which changes the environment by creating its visible aspect. The eye does not come into being because it is needed. Just the contrary; because the eye appears it can henceforth be applied as a serviceable instrument. Each species builds up its stock of useful habits by selecting among, and taking advantage of, the innumerable useless actions which a living being performs out of sheer exuberance.
    • p. 17
  • Man must not only make himself: the weightiest thing he has to do is to determine what he is going to be. He is causa sui to the second power.
    • As quoted in Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, p. 155
  • Man’s being is made of such strange stuff as to be partly akin to nature and partly not, at once natural and extranatural, a kind of ontological centaur, half immersed in nature, half transcending it.
    • “Man has no nature”
  • Whether he be an original or a plagiarist, man is the novelist of himself.
    • “Man has no nature”
  • Be it well understood, I am free by compulsion, whether I wish to be or not. Freedom is not an activity pursued by an entity that, apart from and previous to such pursuit, is already possessed of a fixed being. To be free means to be lacking in constitutive identity, not to have subscribed to a determined being, to be able to be other than what one was, to be unable to install oneself once and for all in any given being. The only attribute of the fixed, stable being in the free being is this constitutive instability.
    • “Man has no nature”
  • Man is a substantial emigrant on a pilgrimage of being, and it is accordingly meaningless to set limits to what he is capable of being.
    • “Man has no nature”
  • In this initial illimitableness of possibilities that characterizes one who has no nature there stands out only one fixed, pre-established, and given line by which he may chart his course, only one limit: the past.
    • “Man has no nature”

Man and People (1963)


(Text at

  • No human acquisition is stable. Even what appears to us most completely won and consolidated can disappear in a few generations. This thing we call "civilization" — all these physical and moral comforts, all these conveniences, all these shelters, all these virtues and disciplines which have become habit now, on which we count, and which in effect constitute a repertory or system of securities which man made for himself like a raft in the initial shipwreck which living always is — all these securities are insecure securities which in the twinkling of an eye, at the least carelessness, escape from man's hands and vanish like phantoms.
    • p. 25
  • History tells us of innumerable retrogressions, of decadences and degenerations. But nothing tells us that there is no possibility of much more basic retrogressions than any so far known, including the most radical of all: the total disappearance of man as man and his silent return to the animal scale, to complete and definitive alteration. The fate of culture, the destiny of man, depends upon our maintaining this dramatic consciousness ever alive in our inmost being, and upon our being well aware, as of a murmuring counterpoint in our entrails, that we can only be sure of insecurity.
    • p. 26
  • Man does not exercise his thought because he finds it amusing, but because, obliged as he is to live immersed in the world and to force his way among things, he finds himself under the necessity of organizing his psychic activities, which are not very different from those of the anthropoid, in the form of thought — which is what the animal does not do.
    • p. 28
  • The demagogues, impresarios of alteracion, who have already caused the death of several civilizations, harass men so that they shall not reflect, see to it that they are kept herded together in crowds so that they cannot reconstruct their individuality in the one place where it can be reconstructed, which is in solitude.
    • p. 33
  • Torn in this way from its normal connection with contemplation, with being within one's self, pure action permits and produces only a chain of stupidities which we might better call "stupidity unchained." So we see today that an absurd attitude justifies the appearance of an opposing attitude no more reasonable; at least, reasonable enough, and so on indefinitely. Such is the extreme to which political affairs in the West have come!
    • p. 34
  • Without a strategic retreat into the self, without vigilant thought, human life is impossible. Call to mind all that mankind owes to certain great withdrawals into the self! It is no chance that all the great founders of religions preceded their apostolates by famous retreats. Buddha withdraws to the forest; Mahomet withdraws to his tent, and even there he withdraws from his tent by wrapping his head in his cloak; above all, Jesus goes apart into the desert for forty days.
    • p. 35

What is Philosophy? (1964)

  • Meditation on any theme, if positive and honest, inevitably separates him who does the meditating from the opinion prevailing around him, from that which … can be called “public” or “popular” opinion.
    • p. 15
  • Every intellectual effort sets us apart from the commonplace, and leads us by hidden and difficult paths to secluded spots where we find ourselves amid unaccustomed thoughts.
    • p. 15
  • Every living creature is happy when he fulfills his destiny, that is, when he realizes himself, when he is being that which in truth he is. For this reason, Schlegel, inverting the relationship between pleasure and destiny, said, “We have a genius for what we like.” Genius, man’s superlative gift for doing something, always carries a look of supreme pleasure.
    • pp. 16-17
  • I have always thought that clarity is a form of courtesy that the philosopher owes; moreover, this discipline of ours considers it more truly a matter of honor today than ever before to be open to all minds … This is different from the individual sciences which increasingly [interpose] between the treasure of their discoveries and the curiosity of the profane the tremendous dragon of their closed terminology.
    • p. 19
  • I think that the philosopher must, for his own purposes, carry methodological strictness to an extreme when he is investigating and pursuing his truths, but when he is ready to enunciate them and give them out, he ought to avoid the cynical skill with which some scientists, like a Hercules at the fair, amuse themselves by displaying to the public the biceps of their technique.
    • pp. 19-20

Quotes about Ortega y Gasset

  • Ortega y Gasset is of the opinion that the inability of a country to produce a genuine mass movement indicates some ethnological defect. He says of his own Spain that its "ethnological intelligence has always been an atrophied function and has never had a normal development."
    • Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (1951) Ch.18 Good and Bad Mass Movements, §125 citing Ortega y Gasset's The Modern Theme (1931)
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  1. as quoted in Susan Ratcliffe (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of Quotations by Subject, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010-03-11, page 223, ISBN 9780199567065