History as a “Systematic Science of Reality” for Ortega y Gasset

History as a “Systematic Science of Reality” for Ortega y Gasset
Jose Ortega and Gasset

In a short and concise article, History as a systemIt was published in 1935 (now in Aurora Historical MindSugarco, 1994), Ortega y Gasset writes that “History is the systematic science of the radical reality that is life.”

Life is a radical reality

By radical reality, Ortega means the person in whom all others appear, even those to whom we ascribe a greater value such as God. Indeed, each one’s life is “the truth that precedes all others.” And human life, which is the subject of history, unfolds continuously and permanently between the past and the future, presenting itself on the one hand as a choice between different possibilities of existence, on the other hand as a limitation, because it is a choice that we cannot help but take into account what we have been: «Before us are the different possibilities of existence, But behind us is what we were […]if we look in the light of the symmetry of our present, we are surprised at the fact that our life consists of what each of us was alone and with others ».

The past as an identity moment

The experience of each of us consists not only of what we have personally experienced, but also of the history that we have bequeathed to us from the society in which we live. The past is part of our present, it is for man the moment of identity, the uncompromising and fatal truth that must be taken into account.
Don Giovanni’s yearning for a new adventure is also the story of his love, trials, difficulties and successes. European civilization is also Greco-Roman human and Christian human, it is feudalism and bourgeoisie, socialism and liberalism, fascism and democrat.

Man as a pilgrim from existence

But “being” is, paradoxically, the force that keeps us from surviving. At best, we can look back on the past with nostalgia, but the life project is always something new, it is always one possible response to the difficulties of the present. This is why, says Ortega, “life is a drama”: it is “ground, not potency,” making rather than reality. It can go for the better or for the worse. In this sense, man is truly a “pilgrim of existence.” And here the Spanish philosopher highlights the error of progressivism, which a priori believes that change is in any case progress, while this can only be confirmed by a later historical reason, that is, by a reason that tells us what we were and reveals to us why how we are. A concept similar, if you will, to that expressed by Battisti in Con il ribbon rosa (1980) when he sings: «Who knows who you are, who knows who you will be, who knows what will become of us, we will only find out by living».

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Belief and mainland

But in the constant change of our lives is there righteousness? Is there anything to keep? certainly. This is what we believe in. A belief is not just the idea we think, but the idea we think and believe. It is not an individual opinion, but a collective opinion. He cannot diagnose a man, a people, or a historical epoch without defining his core belief, “which sustains and energizes others.”
In the Middle Ages, for example, the dominant belief was belief in God. Without it and considering only his strength, he would have felt unable to deal with the mysterious environment that the world had formed, with the misfortunes and pains of existence. . He held with a lively belief that an almighty being would freely reveal to him everything necessary for his life. We can follow the ups and downs of this faith and witness its gradual decline, generation after generation. It’s a sad story. The living faith is no longer nourished, becomes pale, paralyzes itself, until the middle of the fifteenth century, and faith evidently becomes tired and ineffectual. Man at this time begins to feel that revelation is not enough to clarify his relationship with the world: once again man feels lost in the harsh jungle of the universe. For this reason the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are centuries of great distress and terrible anxiety, as we might say today of crisis. A new faith, a new faith that saves the Western man: faith in reason, in the new sciences. The Renaissance is the anxiety that generates a new faith based on materialistic mathematical reason ».

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The crisis of the physical mind

If Dante’s magnificent construction of the Divine Comedy represents the swan song of the medieval world at the end of the fourteenth century, Descartes’ discourse on method instead represents the clamor of rationalism, the “morning passion that heralds an entire age we call the modern age.”
But today we are witnessing the suffering of this modern age. This reason can shed light on everything, that the world has a rational structure that can be grasped by the mathematical materialistic mind, and that technology can solve all human problems, all of which look more and more like prejudice, illusion. Moreover, modern physics itself without hesitation admits that scientific knowledge has a symbolic character. Physics does not put us in contact with any reality, it is an intellectual construct, placed between reality and the person, as recognized also by current ecology philosophers such as Arne Naess and Guido Dalla Casa. «The material world does not appear as a reality, but as a great machine that is manipulated and used. There is still a tiny bit of faith in physics, but it is turning into faith in its uses.”
Since the twentieth century, faith in the physical and mathematical mind has gradually been called into question, it has become weak, from a living faith, which effectively affects our lives, it has become a dormant faith, which wearily persists as a cliché, as a myth.
On the other hand, it fostered the awareness that science has nothing to say with precision about the great problems of human existence. Figuratively speaking, Ortega says: “Man escapes the physical mind like water from a basket.” And he adds, “In the end [l’uomo] He is already tired of the stars, the nervous reactions and the atoms ».

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Discover the vital and historical mind

However, the failure of the physicist-mathematical mind does not mean, for Ortega, abandoning oneself to irrationality or nihilism, but rather leaving the way open for a vital and historical reason, that is, for a reason that clings to life and consists of a narrative. to what happened to man. Ortega is concerned with making it clear that the historical reason is not to be understood as an extra-historical cause that occurs in history in the manner of Hegel, but, literally, what has happened to man. «A man’s being is just what happens to him: he happens to be stoic, Christian, rational, vital. She happens to be a Paleolithic female and the Marquise de Pompadour.
Thus the historical mind becomes a story (and Ortega gives a wonderful essay on it in that 1933 text which might be considered, if not his masterpiece, then his most interesting text, About Galileo). Only by becoming narrative can reason make life more transparent.


Sandro Marano

Sandro Marano at Barbadillo.it

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