Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Is Ortega Y Gasset The Most Important Modern Philosopher? The Most Discerning Prophet?

Joaquín Arregui på Twitter: ""Sólo cabe progresar cuando se piensa en  grande, sólo es posible avanzar cuando se mira lejos" -José Ortega y  Gasset… "

"The Revolt Of The Masses"
Jose Ortega y Gasset
PDF file of the entire English language text

Alan: I must mention a singularly important book by 20th century Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset, "The Revolt Of The Masses."

Free online English language version of "The Revolt of The Masses": http://pinkmonkey.com/dl/library1/revolt.pdf

In the early 1970s, Time Magazine informed me that Bob Dylan had recently read "The Revolt Of The Masses" and it had a profound effect on him. I can't locate that "Time" passage but here's a pertinent user comment on a Dylan site: "Your asking me for my interpretation for The Times They Are A Changin'. He prophetizing the coming changes in America when the traditional virtues will be replaced with Tolerance and Equality. It's the "Revolt of the Masses" that he's writing about where the average person takes control of civilization. The self satisfied masses no longer listen to their betters, their parents, or the past. Anyone who disagrees with the mass of humanity will be crushed or eliminated. Who am I to interpret this song? The lyrics answer this question for you."

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With striking accuracy and prophetic insight, "The Revolt of The Masses" details how the economic empowerment of "the masses," (absent any engaged understanding of economics, politics and social dynamics), would lead, inevitably, to uneducated people's contempt for the cultural subtleties-and-interactivities that birth, nourish and sustain civilization. 

Instead, the under-educated masses view the world with tunnel-vision intensity, blindly clamoring for more "purchasing power" to acquire "things" that satisfy their visceral drives for food, sex and comfort, with negligible understanding of the sprawling socio-political-economic-and-cultural matrix that makes civilization possible. 

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The Incipient Unraveling Of The Western World As Seen By Visionary Spanish Philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1929)

Ortega y Gasset argued that the growing political and economic power of the aggressively ignorant would make them increasingly contemptuous of the "elitist" rubrics-and-restraints that comprise the foundation of civilization.

In Ortega y Gasset's view, the masses -- drunk on purchasing power and the presumptuous (often quasi-solipsistic) individualism it breeds -- would become contemptuous of any guidance, statement, suggestion or obligation set forth by educated people whose breadth-and-depth learning, coupled with their commitment to The Common Good and General Welfare, enable them to perceive the indispensable rubrics of social and political cohesion, not to mention the linchpin communitarian goal of "the greatest good for the greatest number" - and not "just me and my almighty, fact-free opinion." 

That why lies destruction.

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Spanish Philosopher Ortega y Gasset's Keen Analysis Of "The Rebellion Of The Masses"

I will contrive a single-sentence to epitomize "The Revolting Masses." 

Increasingly confined to dug-in "ideological silos," "the uneducated masses" -- motivated first-and-foremost by their wallets, their loins and the acquisition of pleasurable "stuff" -- cleave to social, economic and political postulates that prioritize their own opinions and beliefs over knowledge and facts. 

However, successful operation of any modern democracy obliges society to rely on scientific knowledge which, unlike opinion, can be corroborated by The Scientific Method.

For those who would minimize the importance of The Scientific Method -- perhaps arguing, as St. Paul did, that "the wisdom of the world is folly before God" -- let's be clear: Every electronic device, every motorized vehicle, and every surgical procedure owes its existence to The Scientific Method. 

And no one's God will save humankind from self-destruction if The Scientific Method is not held in the same sacred esteem as any religious postulate. 

Image result for pax on both houses, pascal 
In politics and "society at large," knowledge-and-facts trump opinion-and-belief, although opinion and belief are vouchsafed by Freedom of Speech.

However, when religiously-predicated personal views seek to impose themselves on The Body Politic, they "universalize" theocratic/autocratic impulses that are intrinsically inimical to democratic governance. 

"The terrible thing about our time is precisely the ease with which theories can be put into practice.  The more perfect, the more idealistic the theories, the more dreadful is their realization.  We are at last beginning to rediscover what perhaps men knew better in very ancient times, in primitive times before utopias were thought of: that liberty is bound up with imperfection, and that limitations, imperfections, errors are not only unavoidable but also salutary. The best is not the ideal.  Where what is theoretically best is imposed on everyone as the norm, then there is no longer any room even to be good.  The best, imposed as a norm, becomes evil.”  
"Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,” by Trappist monk, Father Thomas Merton

More Merton Quotes
If people who seek to impose their non-factual (or, increasingly, fake-"factual" and even anti-factual) opinions-and-beliefs on The Body Politic were to admit their core hostility to scientifically-informed Democracy, we would at least have an honest debate.

As it is, most American Christians are not interested in honesty-and-truth, at least not when these qualities contradict their religious and ideological passions.

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Insofar as conservative Christians are responsible for spearheading the recent right-wing assault on knowledge and factuality (mostly to protect their "literal" understanding of The Bible or to validate their diehard passion for "salvation assurance") it has become crucial that a "critical mass" of Christians subscribe to a new kind of "Christian Science" in which scientifically-demonstrated "findings" will be considered central to humankind's understanding of the world, and, correlatively, beliefs-and-personal-opinions will be held in such a way that the verb "believe" is central. Belief will no longer masquerade as certain knowledge and believers will no longer publically deny scientifically demonstrated data, facts and information. 

In our commonly-apprehended world of sensory experience, scientific evidence is primary. 

Similarly, for this new generation of "Christian scientists" scientific evidence will be considered a necessary prelude to the formation of an individual's political, economic and social views. 

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It is also true that every citizen is free to use The Scientific Method to try to overturn scientific findings currently considered true by scientific consensus. (Notably, The Scientific Method is the only epistemological technique so far devised by humankind which actively tries to prove that its findings are wrong. Religionists are wisely advised to pay close attention to this "miraculous" fact.)

Thomas Aquinas, widely revered as Catholicism's guiding theological light, summarized the interaction between science and faith. Arguing against those who said that natural philosophy was contrary to the Christian faith, (Aquinas) writes in his treatise "Faith, Reason and Theology" that "even though the natural light of the human mind is inadequate to make known what is revealed by faith, nevertheless what is divinely taught to us by faith cannot be contrary to what we are endowed with by nature. One or the other would have to be false, and since we have both of them from God, he would be the cause of our error, which is impossible." "Aladdin's Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through The Islamic World," by John Freely

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Aquinas' observation concerning the epistemological primacy of "the natural world" is re-stated by biologist PZ Myers: "If you've got a religious belief that withers in the face of observations of the natural world, you ought to rethink your beliefs -- rethinking the world isn't an option."

In many ways Ortega y Gasset's argument/prophecy is as subtle as civilization itself. Indeed, the ability to understand Ortega's argument -- whether one agrees with it or not -- serves as a "rough marker" for the very "Ability To Understand," a minimal threshold of understanding that is essential if Democracy is not to collapse into one or another form of populist autocracy in which "the uneducated masses" mistake their oppressors for saviors. 

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