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

Monday, October 3, 2011

Caesar and Ortega: Freedom under Constraints



 The German historian of the Late Roman Republic Christian Meier writes as
 follows about the task of capturing historical reality:

We must therefore consider not just the personalities, their general and particular interests and opinions, but the positions they occupy within the configuration, which is of course determined 
by their action and interaction, but also determines them.  The overall situation dictates not only the areas of activity, but perspective and distance. In any situation men are bound to certain positions, and these are defined within the surrounding framework. One must therefore consider not just the participants, but the total situation, which is greater than the sum of its parts. True, such an approach makes it difficult to form one-dimensional judgements with scholarly detachment, but it brings us closer to the reality.

Meier, Caesar: A Biography (BasicBooks, 1982), p. 6 (emphasis added).

Modern bronze statue of Julius Caesar, Rimini,...                Image via Wikipedia
The above description reminds me of the philosopher Ortega y Gasset's own description of the radical reality in which we live our lives. That radical reality can be summed up in the leitmotif of Ortega's metaphysics: "I am I and my circumstance"--in the original Spanish, "Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia."

Notice that the historical actor determines the situation but is, in turn, also determined by it. Free will is exercised within constraints. Ortega makes the felicitous comparison with the great creative freedom of the skilled classical poet within the technical constraints of meter and rhythm. Vergil could create a classic masterpiece within very tight metrical constraints. We can do the same with our lives, regardless of the circumstances.

By the way, I recommend Meier's biography of Caesar. Also, note that more resources on Ortega the philosopher are available under  the"Philosophy Resources"  page of this website (Pages link above).
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