Saturday, January 16, 2010

(Book #2) Jose Ortega y Gasset - What Is Philosophy

As I went into the second week of this endeavor I felt it would be good to change the tone a bit and jump into something heavier than a fiction novel. I chose a book called "What Is Philosophy", by a Spanish philosopher named Jose Ortega y Gasset. Now, I have taken a few humanities, theory and philosophy courses through my education, and never did I come across this guy or this writing, which was recommended to us in my very first Architecture Design class eleven years ago. Since that time it has been on my bookshelf, unread and likely unopened. Having far too many unread books and too little shelf space, the time seemed right to pick this one up.

The title of the book seemed passive enough, and assuming that it would be an "Introduction to Philosophy" or a "Philosophy for Beginners", I was proven naive. After a few pages I was forced to pick up a pencil so that I may underline and highlight passages and jot notes in the margins. The book jumped headlong into some of the meaty roots of philosophy, of questioning and doubt and the process of philosophizing as a serious and worthy enterprise. Ortega posits that science attributes too much value and worth to sensory observations and seemed to be even hostile towards the notions of Physics, or at least in the wide "imperialistic" acceptance of these ideas, but assigned value to some of the methodical scientific processes in the investigation and pursuit of truth.

The book was adapted from a series of lectures and indeed read that way. Ortega seemed to seldom touch on many specific ideas that are discussed in philosophy and focused more on the act of philosophizing. Sure, he touched on many of the all-encompassing ideas, but intentionally danced around many of the literal ideas. He tried to circle around his points and slowly draw closer to his deductions, but in this became somewhat repetitive. Responding to the question of "What is Philosophy?" is like reading about philosophy itself. One sentence sometimes must be read multiple times in order to really understand what the sentence is saying. Each word in this sentence carries with it volumes of background grappling with a particular notion and poses its own set of unique questions. A loaded question in turn generates a loaded answer which must be dissected in a peeling-away of its layers like that of an onion. Much of this book was addressing those very 'layers' by taking side tracks on notions such as 'knowledge', 'doubt' and 'problems' in an effort to better enunciate a fully charged and weighted response to that very question.

Throughout the text I felt myself disagreeing with some of what Ortega had to say and wondering that If I had read this book 11 years ago without having a prior experience to many of these ideas, would I have bought into it more? Certainly the content is debased somewhat by its age, originally being presented in the 1930's, though the more broader strokes are still valid. I think it would have fit into my worldview more then when I had more positive feelings towards religion thank I do now. Overall, I did come away with a few morsels which I found interesting and as a whole it was still worth reading, as tedious as it got at times. It was also certainly worth the exercise in getting back into the mindset of reading philosophy which often requires more time and a deeper level of processing during the actual act of reading as opposed to simply reflecting back at the end of a text.

No comments:

Post a Comment