By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Philosophical Pilgrimage

Library of the Ortega Foundation in Madrid
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Since the Jesuits introduced me to philosophy in college, I have been in love with philosophy as the pursuit of wisdom (this phrase "in love" is not casual; since Plato, philosophy has been described as a passionate loving). In my recent trip to Madrid, I made a religious pilgrimage on the feast of the city's patron saint, the farmer St. Isidore, which I have already mentioned in my prior trip reports; but I also made a philosophical pilgrimage to the Ortega y Gasset Foundation, a think tank and research institute in Madrid, named after the man who revived philosophy in Spain, Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955).  (The name of this blog is Logos--that is not by accident, the name encompasses both a theological and philosophical dimension.)

Heidegger (left) and Ortega (right)
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Ortega could be classified as an existentialist. His insights will remind students of philosophy of Heidegger--with whom Ortega was friends. Apparently, Ortega independently anticipated some of Heidegger's insights. Yet, I take to Ortega in a way that I do not take to Heidegger. First of all, Ortega did not engage in the absurd, turgid jargon-mongering of Heidegger. Ortega wrote with great clarity; he was also a journalist from a family that owned a newspaper in Madrid. But most important of all, unlike Heidegger, Ortega was never a Nazi or a fascist of any kind. Ortega, to his great credit, had too much character and insight to fall for that horrible charade.

A philosopher honored in Madrid with his own street.
 In the future, I will write more about Ortega's insights into the life we are all forced to live on the stage of the world into which we have been born (think of Shakespeare's famous description of life as a play in which we must play our part). Yet, I can entice you with a kernel from Ortega which captures how his philosophy takes a radically different focus from the philosophies that stemmed from Descartes and Kant (many call the philosophical approach stemming from Descartes and Kant "modern" philosophy as opposed to ancient or contemporary philosophy; these labels are terms of art in philosophical discussions and do not match our ordinary or conventional notions of historical chronology).

While Descartes (also Jesuit-educated like Ortega himself) announced the famous "I think therefore I am" (Cogito ergo sum) which imposed on future philosophies an obsession with the subject, the thinker, and how he or she relates to the outer world that is observed as a spectator, Ortega, as many other contemporary philosophers, changed the focus. In contrast to Descartes, Ortega would say "I think because I live" (Cogito quia vivo). Ortega elaborated:

1. " Man is not a res cogitans [a thinking thing], but rather a res dramatica [a dramatic thing]. He does not exist because he thinks, but rather, on the contrary, he thinks because he exists."

2. "Life is the radical reality; this [life] is the fundamental ["pure"] occurrence which is the struggle between a human being and his circumstances."

This dramatic perspective reminds me of the rhetoric of John Paul II, who viewed life as a dramatic reality full of momentous, defining decisions and who was strongly influenced by the contemporary philosophy of phenomenology.

Note: The above quotations are my own translations from the original Spanish. They are taken from a publication of the Ortega Foundation entitled Ortegay y su tiempo (Ortega and his era), which was a kind gift to me from the staff of the foundation in Madrid. By the way, I received a very kind and cordial reception for which I am duly grateful.