Academic journal article CLIO

"Hegel and America" by Jose Ortega Y Gasset

Academic journal article CLIO

"Hegel and America" by Jose Ortega Y Gasset

Article excerpt

Introduction

After receiving his doctorate from Madrid, Jose Ortega y Gasset studied philosophy in Germany from 1904 to 1908. Before this visit to Germany, his work revealed little interest in German writers (except Nietzsche),(2) and the overwhelming importance of neo-Kantian influences during his study in Marburg has prevented scholars from seriously considering Hegel as a significant influence; indeed, the powerful anti-Hegelian bias of German neo-Kantians would seem to warrant ignoring Hegel. Thus Marias sees Ortega's study in Marburg, center of neo-Kantianism, as the "decisive stage" of his study in Germany,(3) recalling how (according to Ortega himself) the neo-Kantians were so hostile to Hegel that Hegel's work was not read.(4)

Nevertheless, Ortega's years in Germany also coincided with a surge of scholarly interest in Hegel's early manuscripts. He was in Germany when Hegel's early writings appeared in 1907,(5) and though Gray claims that he first read Dilthey in 1929(6) - he was also in Germany when Dilthey published his major study Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels.(7) Scholars have observed the strong affinity between Ortega and Dilthey,(8) and Ortega's interest in Dilthey, whom he later studied and translated,(9) may have roots in his early trip to Germany. Moreover, it is difficult to untangle Dilthey's influence and Hegel's, for Ortega himself recognized the convergence of their ideas in other contexts.(10)

Conspiring with the historical neglect of Hegel's influence on Ortega, prevailing philosophical interpretations of Ortega have likewise obscured Hegel's importance. Stressing existentialist or phenomenological characteristics of Ortega's thought, scholars have focused on the influence of Heidegger(11) or Husserl(12) and ignored Hegel. Yet the influence of Hegel appears in Ortega's general interest in a philosophy and system of history,(13) and Hegel also may have influenced Ortega's notion of life as vital experience.(14) Through this idea of life Ortega would seek to reconcile idealism and realism - an idea usually ascribed to Heidegger's influence. For Ortega, "Life is what we are and what we do."(15) Unlike thought or consciousness, which belongs to the individual subject, such life, he argues, transcends the individual: "Thought is mine, is I. My life is not mine, but I belong to it" (158). This life connects the individual to others, just as reality "is my coexistence with the thing" (147), and the ultimate reality is the self's connection with all things (158). The idea of life provides an important grounding for Ortega's social and historical vision, a treatment that has striking antecedents in Hegel's early writings, where life also played a central role in overcoming the duality of subject and object. Struggling to find a way of expressing the comprehensive reconciliation of all oppositions, Hegel contrasts the individual human being, the individual life, to this more comprehensive category of life,(16) which Dilthey would recognize as prefiguring the functions of spirit and culture in his own writings.

Certainly by the mid-1920s Hegel was a major interest of Ortega. From 1928 to 1931 Ortega composed three essays specifically about Hegel and also published Hegel's Philosophy of History in Spanish translation.(17) Though Karl Weintraub has previously suggested the importance of these essays for understanding Ortega's thought,(18) none has been translated into English, and there has been little discussion of them.(19) Ortega's interest in Hegel also appears in other contemporaneous writings that do not directly treat Hegel. For example, many of the themes treated in "Hegel and America" recur in "The Argentinian State and the Argentinian." While his essay on Argentina does not directly discuss Hegel, Ortega collapses familiar Hegelian categories into bright images.(20) In it Ortega deplores the loss of historical consciousness, which he sees as root cause of the world crisis, and he portrays current events as parallel to the decline of classical civilization. …

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