196: Three Spanish Philosophers by Jose Ferrater Mora

by Gerard


196.1: Ferrater Mora, Jose. Three Spanish Philosophers: Unamuno, Ortega, Ferrater Mora. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2003. 252 pp. ISBN 0-7914-5713-3.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 190: Modern Western and other non-Eastern philosophy
  • 196: Modern Spanish and Portuguese philosophy
  • 196.1: Modern Spanish philosophy

Jose Ferrater Mora’s Three Spanish Philosophers is a look into the current philosophical work being done by Spanish thinkers. Mora, a philosopher in his own right, tries to interpret, blend, and comment on the works of Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) and Josa Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955). These two analyses form a sort of prelude to his own work, which is presented as the third part of the book. It’s a rather odd situation for this work. Mora died in 1991, and this edition came out in 2003. His widow Priscilla Cohn and fellow philosopher Prof. Josep-Maria Terricabras have curated and updated this edition. Each chapter is from a separate work he wrote, but here they are combined to show a progression in Spanish thought from the beginning of the 20th century to the end.

Starting with Unamuno, he sees a contrarian stance that he attributes to years of political repression. But it wasn’t contrary for contrary’s sake. It was agitate the spirits of the nation, to rattle the cage, so to speak. Unamuno believed that to be, you must first be against one’s self. To be Spanish, to be a member of country that created the Quixote, you had to rail against the windmills of reality to truly understand it. Ortega, following a few decades later, wove Spanish philosophy into discussions on art, music, life, culture, history, and every else he encountered. As he matured as a thinker, he progressed from objectivism to perspectivism to ratio-vitalism (I’m still fuzzy on the distinctions between these, however).  Teachings culminate in the belief that human life is the basic reality because all other realities are perceived from within it. While Unamuno pressed for the edges of and the antidotes to reality, Ortega tried to find its core. Mora’s philosophy, coming in the latter half of the 20th century, seeks to integrate the others. His investigations into the philosophies of life and death incorporate ideas of what makes the reality of life and existence a reality at all.

Suffice to say, it’s all pretty heady stuff, but Mora’s compilation isn’t terribly difficult to understand. You just can’t let yourself get distracted by other things while reading. This one takes some time, but there are some genuine insights here. There’s also a fair amount of modern Spanish history that helps to explain some of the contexts that each philosopher lived in. If you like reading philosophy, then this one would not be a bad one to add to your shelves. A thick but interesting read.