Perspectivism and the Understanding of History - Ch. 1 of "What is Philosophy?" by Jose Ortega y Gasset

Chp 1 from "What is Philosophy?"- Philosophy Today. The Strange Adventure which Befalls Truths: The Coming of the Truth. Articulation of History with Philosophy. 

In Chapter one of his work What is Philosophy Gasset lays out the nature of the lectures that have been collected together to form this book. He makes note that by the time that he is writing, that there has been a resurgence of interest in philosophy from its decline in the anti-rationalism of the 19th Century and the Naturalism of the first part of the 20th Century. (The decline in the 20th Century, he mentions in later chapters, was due to the success and rise of the science of Physics, and its technological power, in the early 20th Century. There was a hope that Physics would become the all encompassing philosophy, but Gasset points out that it failed. There are questions that Physics just cannot answer, and thus philosophy has come back as a discipline.) He also clarifies that he is not writing a history of philosophy, as one might guess from the title of the work. Rather, he is probing the question, "What does it mean to philosophize as such?" What is this act of man that we call philosophizing? It is not an easy question, and so he mentions that his answer is going to one similar to the methods of the Phenomenologists, a spiraling answer which takes many passes at an answer, starting from a broad perspective and then getting more and more specific and technical. 

In his first pass at an answer he begins by talking about the nature of truth and its relation to history. Truths, themselves, are eternal, always existing and always the same. Yet, they have a double nature in that they break into the world of the temporal and historical as man comes to know and understand them. Consider this quote: 

"This fragility gives truths a double condition which is exceedingly curious. In themselves they exist forever, without alteration or modification. Yet their acquisition by a real person, subject to time, gives them an aspect that is historical; they surge forth on one date, and they may disappear on another. Clearly this temporal quality does not affect them, but it does affect their presence in the human mind. What really happens in time is the psychic act with which we think about them; this is a real event, and effective change in the flow of moments. It is the fact of our knowing these truths, or being ignorant of them, which has a history. And it is this which is mysterious and disquieting, for it means that by virtue of one of our thoughts, a transitory and fugitive reality in a most fugitive world, we enter into possession of something that is permanent and supertemporal." 

Like Plato positing the existence of the World of the Forms in which the perfect versions of truths existed, truth is eternal... but it is also a bit shocking that at a particular time and place, to a particular person, these eternal truths enter into temporality as the mind of a man understands them for the first time. Gasset uses the image of a crevice to represent the mind of a particular man, and when the right size and shape is present, the truth falls from eternity into temporality through that crevice. 

History is the engagement of man with eternal ideas, looking at aspects anew and forgetting others. Truth doesn't change, but man's disposition changes. It is the universal rationality that all men share that allows him to become, so to speak, that which he is not by a conformity of his mind to the intellectual species of that thing. History, then, is the particular embodiment of the intelligible truths which man of each age has understood and which we can too understand again. History is to philosophy as matter is to form, the singular is to the universal, and potency is to act. 

The "philosophical task of this generation" is to bring together an understanding of history as the union of both the temporal and eternal together. He has coined this as "perspectivism." What is philosophy? Philosophy is encountering the eternal and perennial truths in every age, as well as seeking authentic history, or to understand the truths which man understood in the past.