An introduction to Philosohpy by Jose Ortega y Gaset

Apr 7, 2021 • Odysseas Lamtzidis • 2021, philosophy

Jose Y Ortega Gasset Jose Y Ortega Gasset

What is philosophy?

Have you ever wondered what is that “philosophy”?

Over the last years, particularly after the crisis of 2008, philosophy has come to the foreground, as a hobby and way to combat the hardships of life. Interestingly enough, philosophy has evolved to have a great number of meanings and it hardly carries the weight that it used to.

The word itself originates from-where you would expect-Greece. Philosophia(φιλοσοφία) or the love of wisdom is the activity where one searches for the truth.

Although we have narrowly defined the term in the modern ages, originally it was meant to touch every domain under the sun. From astronomy to the social sciences. It was simply the search for truth in matters that are important. In that sense, everybody philosophized, not only because everybody wants to know the truth about matters of everyday life, but because every man has that internal need to “know”. As Aristotle put it, men are condemned to suffer, because they need to know everything there is, in a futile attempt to find purpose, while their apparatus-the brain-is incapable of grasping the full meaning.

José Ortega y Gasset, one of the most famous contemporary philosophers, worked during the first half of the 20th century, made an attempt to answer that very question: What is Philosophy. Although he is mostly known for “Revolt of the Masses”, Ortega produced a great corpus of knowledge around philosophy and the nature of man and society. Son of a newspaper director, he wrote many essays but never any books, preferring instead giving lectures in the university of Madrid, where more than 2000 people whole flock to attend them.

The book “What is Philosophy” is an attempt by Midred Adams to synthesize the eponymous lecture into a magnificent work. Ortega is a great lecturer, carefully weaving together poetic language and literally tools to stimulate the interest of the audience. As we will see in Chapter 1, he intentionally doesn’t want to give us answers, but rather help us retrace the path that he himself followed when contemplating this great question. We will circle with him around many different subjects, retracing his own philosophical journey. That way, we can get exposed to the same ideas and develop our own ideas, free of biases (at least overly explicit ones).

Why am I doing this exercise?

Everything started as these things usually start: with a conversation that spiralled out of the main subject. That business partner turned into a mentor, and we started discussing in a more consistent basis about abstract ideas and philosophical subjects, usually anchored around my life experiences. COVID-19 has been a gift in that regard, as it gave me plenty of time to invest in myself and stressors to force me to re-assess nearly everything that I hold dear. Although I am only that the start of that process, philosophy has played a key role in an effort to put things in perspective and understand what is important and what is not.

Having all that time in my hand, it was only natural to think about principles and desires that I took for granted.

This is where “What is Philosophy” comes into play, as an introductory work, it has condensed centuries of philosophical progress. It’s a great place to start one’s own journey, as it lays the logical foundation for a concrete philosophical view of the world. Given that it’s a university class, it is carefully constructed to introduce the audience to many different philosophical views and thinkers.

Game Plan

Every week, I will share a summary and key points of a chapter of the book. It will talk about the chapter itself, as also about my personal takeaways and insights. Finally, we will assemble a list of important questions that sprung from the book but remain unanswered. These are the questions that personally struck a chord and will lead me to see, in black and white, what is important and what is not. What are the great questions for me, personally.

Moreover, I intend to keep track of external books and thinkers that Ortega mentions. If you consider this book (and every book for that matter), like the trunk, the books and intellectuals that are mentioned are the branches and leafs. I have found that the best books will leave me with a dozen people to search for and books to read on various subjects that are relevant to the one that I just read. This is a new attempt tot writing and building something in public. I hope it brings consistency and commitment to a rather chaotic way of working, enable me to log interesting thoughts and perhaps give an idea or two to others.

Thank you for reading and please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. A discussion is worth a thousand posts. Take care


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