José Ortega y Gasset

(1883—1955) Spanish philosopher

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Spanish philosopher, opponent of Franco and critic of modern democracy.

Born in Madrid of wealthy parents, Ortega was educated at the University of Madrid, where he obtained his doctorate in 1904. He studied philosophy in Germany for five years, becoming a neo-Kantian in the process, before returning to Madrid in 1910 as professor of metaphysics. Politically active, he played a role in the overthrow of Alfonso XIII in 1931, served as a deputy for Leon, and became civil governor of Madrid. With the rise of Franco, however, Ortega chose exile in Argentina and Portugal. When he finally returned to Spain in 1946 he founded in Madrid the Institute of Humanities, where he taught and wrote for the last years of his life.

Philosophically Ortega argued for what he called ‘perspectivism’. The world, he insisted, can be known only from a specific point of view. He consequently took as the fundamental feature of his theory of knowledge not mind or matter but ‘perspective’. All perspectives were equally valid. The only indubitably false perspective was that which claimed to be the one and only true perspective. He is best remembered, however, for a work of political analysis: La rebelión de las masas (1930; translated as The Rebellion of the Masses, 1932). Democracy, he warned, could all too easily lead to tyranny, both of the left and the right. It was the duty of the intellectual elites of Europe to fight against this threatened tyranny of the masses.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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