The Unity of Philosophy - Ch. 4 The Origin of Philosophy by Jose Ortega y Gasset

In chapter four Gasset begins by making note of his usual methods, that he is going to approach the same question, but from a new perspective. He mentions how his first glance at the history of philosophy portrayed a discipline in which there was a multitude of ideas which chaotically interacted. From this first perspective there is a type of confusion that sets in, one that is customary of the beginning of understanding something. 1 

Here Ortega makes a very important point, that even though there are a plurality of philosophical schools, ideas, thinkers, all of who seem to be chaotically disputing with one another, that in reality we should notice that they are all arguing about the very same questions. And if they are arguing about the very same questions in their multitude of thoughts, then it becomes clear that there is some objective unity to philosophy as such.  To understand this is to head towards the heart of philosophy. 2

...despite the existence of many divergent opinions, all are opinions on the same thing. This invites us to try to detect amid the multitude of philosophies some unity, and even a oneness in philosophy; to discover what the diverse doctrines have in common ... that all possess ultimately a unity. 3

And so here Ortega is concerned with looking at the overarching themes of philosophy, the commonalities, rather than getting bogged down in the differences of each system. 4 Now that which isin front of us we may perceive with the body, with the intuition of our senses. That which is recently past gives us still a practical clue and glance into the past because of the remnant that is still around (the wrinkles on an old man's face, for example). But the distant past is something which is primarily mediated by words, by hearing, by stories. 5 These names are signs of being. They are the stand ins for that which was or that which is not present to us now. "The word is thus the presence of the thing that is absent." 6 When we contemplate that word we come to share in the being of the thing contemplated to a degree, though not perfectly. "And while as we now talk about the Himalayas, we possess it, in some small measure, we tread it, we are in contact with it - that is, we are in contact about it." 7 

This is to obtain the concept of a thing. Amazing as this is, Gasset offers a warning. He says that if we begin to equate the concept, the small portion we share in of the thing, with the real thing itself, we can begin to go astray and end up with a bastardized notion of the thing. 

For what we have of the thing, when we have its name, is a caricature: its concept. And unless we proceed with caution, unless we evince distrust for words and attempt to pursue the things themselves, the names will be transformed into masks, which instead of enabling the thing to be in some way present for us, will conceal the thing from us. While the former is the magical gift of words, their feat, the latter is their disgrace, the thing language constantly verges on - a masquerade, a farce, mere jabber. 8  

He continues to warn that we often in society think that we have true knowledge as we have acquired all these "words" (i.e. partial ideas and definitions that are actually lacking the reality of what things are) and put on performances of erudition in our conversations when in reality we don't know that which we are speaking about. The wise man, he says, is the one who remains silent and conscious of their ignorance. 9 


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