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This article is taken from PN Review 27, Volume 9 Number 1, September - October 1982.

Jose Ortega y Gasset: The Why and the Wherefore Octavio Paz

This essay first appeared in a special issue of the Madrid daily paper El Pais dedicated to the memory of Jose Ortega y Gasset on the 25th anniversary of his death.

I write these lines with enthusiasm and with fear. Enthusiasm because I always admired Jose Ortega y Gasset; fear because- apart from my personal inadequacies-I do not believe one can summarize or judge in an essay a literary and philosophical oeuvre as vast and varied as his. A philosophy which can be summarized in a phrase is not a philosophy but a religion. Or its counterfeit: ideology. Buddhism is the most intellectual and discursive of religions; all the same, a sutra condenses the entire doctrine in the monosyllable a, the particle of universal negation. Christianity, too, can be stated in one or two phrases, such as 'Love one another' or 'My kingdom is not of this world.' The same thing happens, at a lower level, with ideologies. For example: 'Universal history is the history of the war of the classes' or, in the liberal camp, 'Progress is the law of societies.' The difference is that ideologies pretend to talk in the name of science. As Alain Besançon says: the religious man knows that he believes while the ideologue believes that he knows (Tertulian and Lenin). Maxims, tags, the sayings and the articles of faith do not impoverish religion: they are seeds which grow and fruit in the heart of the faithful. Philosophy, by contrast, is nothing ...


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