An Orientating Story - Ch. 1 - Some Lessons in Metaphysics by Jose Ortega y Gasset

I apologize that it's been so long since my last post. I was finishing up the school year at my job and am finally getting the energy to get back in my readings and studies. More posts to follow! This book, Some Lessons In Metaphysics, is a collection of Gasset's lectures from his courses on Metaphysics at the university. Let's jump in! 

Lesson I - The false elements in studying. Metaphysics and the need for it. Antagonism between the student and the creator of science. Curiosity and preoccupation. The tragedy of pedagogy. Culture without roots; a return to barbarity. Question and answer. 'Doing' and the justification of metaphysics.

A Fundamental Story

Why is there a discipline of metaphysics? Why would someone study these things? If this discipline exists, it is because man felt a need to carve tit out and search for its existence. 1 "We say that we have discovered a truth when we have found a certain thought that satisfies an intellectual need which we have previously felt." 2 Truth needs a capacity to receive it to be considered truth, in a sense. Those who don't desire truth, whether science or metaphysics, see these disciplines as meaningless. But to those who see and feel the need, it imposes itself on the person as a involutional desire from within one's very being. 3 He calls this an "immediate necessity." It is something that is "...having its roots in me, indigenous, autochthonous, authentic." 4 

This is juxtaposed with something like an ideology, a need or story/worldview which is imposed from without upon those who really have no interest or need in such a belief. 

Well now, when man sees himself obliged to accept an external and mediate need, he finds himself in an equivocal, ambivalent situation, because this is the same as being invited to make his own (which means to accept) a necessity which is not his. Whether he likes it or not, he must behave as though it were his; he is thus invited to share in a fiction, a falsehood, a deception. And although this man may put forth all his good will in order to feel as if it were his, this does not mean that he achieves this, nor is it even probable that he can. 5

Incompleteness of Technical Knowledge and the Existential Failure of the "Student" Today

One example of this Ortega uses is regarding science as a discipline. It is something taught to us and imposed on us from the outside, only a few truly enjoying the search for scientific truth as such. Humans are not first scientists, but first have deeper needs and questions regarding their humanity, which drove them to create science to fill that need. 6

Now there is a difference between a desire and a need. Gasset defines a desire as something generatedby contact with a good already existing, whether real or imagined, and then which continues to draw one toward it. A need, on the other hand, is something rooted in our being which pushes us toward a resolution even if we have never encountered the object which would satiate it. Gasset brings in, again, the example of someone studying the workings of a field of science which has already been established and who is just learning a set of facts versus someone who is driven to learn science out of need or desperation for his life. This man will approach the discipline with his whole being in the pursuit of truth. 7 

This is authentic "curiosity," to be taken up with total care and focus on the tasks that obsesses and engulfs one. 8 This is juxtaposed with a shallow curiosity that so many students embody, a type of frivolous learning of some isolated subject matter which is disconnected with the deep metaphysical needs of their being. 9 Thus teaching has been corrupted, and as the knowledge base of humanity grows which the student must learn in more and more specific fields, farther and farther does the average man or student's connection to deep metaphysical yearning or knowledge get. 10

... there is introduced into the human mind a foreign body, a set of dead ideas that could not be assimilated. This culture, which does not have any root structure in man, a culture which does not spring from him spontaneously, lacks any native and indigenous values; this is something imposed, extrinsic, strange, foreign, and unintelligible; in short, it is unreal. Underneath the culture - received but not truly assimilated - man will remain intact as he was; that is to say, he will remain uncultured, a barbarian. 11 

This produces the effect that at the same time that humanity is becoming more technically knowledgeable and savvy, it is also becoming more and more barbarous morally and humanly. 12 Learning, teaching, studying, knowledge will only take its proper place once the fundamental questions that man is seeking at the depth of his being are understood. 13 

A First Attempt at a Definition of Metaphysics

In bringing to conclusion this opening chapter on the nature of metaphysics, Ortega ties it back together. (He often in his books brings phenomenological approach of starting with easier versions ofhis arguments and spiraling closer and more deeply into truth). He says that metaphysics is something that man creates. 14 He creates it in order to produce a basic orientation for the situation that we find ourselves in, for our human lives, which is a situation of fundamental dis-orientation and loss of this life. As he said at the beginning of the chapter regarding ideology. 

We need an orientating narrative story for our lives all the way down to its very core and essence, and metaphysics is the attempt at seeking authentic versions of this. 15


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