Latin American Studies José Ortega y Gasset
Travis Landry
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0270


Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (b. 1883–d. 1955) engaged with questions of national identity, cultural regeneration, the arts, history, and the nature of reality. His extensive corpus impacted, primarily, the intellectual thought and politics of Spain, but also, more broadly, of Latin America and Europe. University teaching, lectures, letters, and involvement with influential periodicals likewise remain inseparable from his legacy. Ortega enjoyed a mythic public persona, whose voice sounded the tumultuous, often violent upheavals of his day, spanning the 1898 Spanish-American War, World War I, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the outset of the Franco dictatorship. As a young man, his studies in Germany cemented an indebtedness to and, ultimately, complex positioning against idealism, and his three extended stays in Argentina at distinct moments of his personal history have importance for his transatlantic reach and association with writing of exile. Though his philosophical production can appear unsystematic or incomplete because so disparate in its breadth, the trajectory of his career shows coherence. Above all, Ortega maintained that reality depends on a dynamic, relational exchange between self and circumstance. It is not surprising, therefore, that he found himself fascinated by Einsteinian relativity, believing his own views on history and perspective to be parallel to coetaneous advances in physics. Ortega sought to define and regenerate the national conscience of Spain, immersed himself in its politics, and saw some of his most malleable ideas appropriated for the rhetoric of emerging far-right factions. His later years of political reticence and withdrawal further complicate this association. In time, he developed a notion of reality founded on the premise of ratio-vitalism, which would constitute the hallmark of his understanding of being. In brief, the external world is non-rational and only becomes rational when subjected to human reason, as ratio, that is, when it comes into being by means of reflection, while that same consciousness cannot be separated from the biological forces of living, as vitalism, in the world. Thus, Ortega bridges subjective idealism with positivist materialism, neither of which he believed could alone account for subject-object codependence of existence. Wide-ranging and open-ended, Ortega’s writings have an enduring interdisciplinary appeal rooted in his stylistic ambiguities, the imagination, issues of modernity, and sweeping subject matter.

General Overviews

Select scholars of Ortega, like those who authored Garagorri 1970 and Molinuevo 2002, have sought to make his philosophy accessible to a general audience by identifying the main concepts and contextualizing them in the historical trajectory of his thought. With more targeted reading, Cerezo Galán 1984 approaches Ortega from the eye of a philosopher, while Marías 1971 discusses his impact from the perspective of having been his pupil. To appreciate Ortega’s broader reach, especially across different disciplines, one should consult Graham 2001, and for more on Ortega’s use of language and writing style, see Senabre Sempere 1964. Most recently, Morujão, et al. 2021 reconsiders Ortega across a range of social, historical, and philosophical issues related to his writings, which they see in conversation with one another and ultimately framed by an anti-idealist paradigm of lived experience.

  • Cerezo Galán, Pedro. La voluntad de aventura: aproximaciones críticas al pensamiento de Ortega y Gasset. Barcelona: Ariel, 1984.

    A classic exploration of Ortega’s thought by one of his most astute readers, this study explores questions of culture, morality, language, and creativity, while situating them against the backdrop of Spain, a range of influences, and the contemporaries with whom Ortega engaged. As a Spanish philosopher in his own right, Cerezo Galán offers insights with the intimacy of one whose early formation overlapped with the latter decades of Ortega’s life.

  • Garagorri, Paulino. Introducción a Ortega. Madrid: Alianza, 1970.

    This pithy “pocket” resource makes the more challenging philosophical problems confronted by Ortega accessible to the initiated and uninitiated alike. From his firsthand experiences with Ortega and as secretary at the Revista de Occidente, Garagorri is able to deftly unpack Ortega’s often unwieldy solutions to the quandaries of human life as radical reality, the nature of truth in perspective, and history as an ever-unfolding potentiality of being.

  • Graham, John T. The Social Thought of Ortega y Gasset: A Systematic Synthesis in Postmodernism and Interdisciplinarity. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001.

    The breadth of Graham’s agenda serves as a foundation for the integrative approach he employs to adumbrate a systematic cohesion across the guiding parameters of Ortega’s writings, which he reads as philosophical, historical, and social in a trifold composition. A multifaceted thesis then emerges that is concerned, more specifically, with the postmodern reach of Ortega’s interdisciplinary ideas as they relate to late-20th-century methodologies in a range of fields.

  • Marías, Julián. Acerca de Ortega. Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1971.

    This indispensable collection of essays written over twenty years by Ortega’s revered pupil contextualizes transitional moments in the evolution of Ortega’s position on metaphysics, phenomenology, ratio-vitalism, conscience, and the collective. Marías captures Ortega in his history, including with biographical and personal reflections on his passing in 1955 and impact on Spain. Marías’s early considerations of how Ortega saw the world and, by extension, future potentiality remain a fundamental point of reference.

  • Molinuevo, José Luis. Para leer a Ortega. Madrid: Alianza, 2002.

    The clarity of organization and a well-presented discussion of topics for being sufficiently versed in Ortega make Molinuevo’s contribution utilitarian in the best sense. It also stands out for attention to Ortega’s quasi-psychological, symbolically infused reflections on landscapes and regions, along with the various means by which Ortega framed reason (vital, historical, narrative).

  • Morujão, Carlos, Samuel Dimas, and Susana Relvas. The Philosophy of Ortega y Gasset Reevaluated. Cham, Switzlerland: Springer, 2021.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-79249-7

    This study assesses Ortega’s formation vis-à-vis the philosophers that he read, alongside those whose works influenced more directly what he wrote. The authors emphasize the constellation of writing that defines Ortega’s trajectory, and further contextualize the debated views on Ortega’s politics, with attention to his interest in anthropology and years in exile. The thesis posits Ortega as anti-idealist, privileging, within his writings, human life as a drama of being in the world.

  • Senabre Sempere, Ricardo. Lengua y estilo de Ortega y Gasset. Salamanca, Spain: Acta Salmanticensia, 1964.

    Ortega’s literary style and shifting terminology make his use of language a key consideration for parsing out his meaning across the many writings of his lengthy career. Senabre Sempere offers a unique cataloguing of parts of speech, syntactical variations, metaphors, images, and other tropes in these writings, with concise reflections on Ortega’s choices, especially, with respect to his irony, humor, and interest in drama.

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