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2009 | 37 | 2 | 29-51

Article title

THE SINOSOID OF CULTURE. ORTEGA Y GASSET - THE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY (Sinusoida kultury. Ortega y Gasset - filozofia historii)

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The essay broadens the understanding of Ortega's thought by elaborating his historiosophy, which is crucial to fully comprehend his popular work, 'The Revolt of the Masses'. The author argues that Ortega's famous sociological framework (based on the interplay between the elites and the masses) is very often trivialized due to the lack of knowledge about his anthropological assumptions, upon which the model of the evolution of culture is constructed. Utilizing the already existing literature (inter alia a synthetic work by K. Polit), the essay reconstructs three philosophical crises in European thought that can be ultimately depicted as a suggestive sinusoid of social attitudes operating throughout the history of Western Civilization between the two boundary lines of the primary 'belief'. The belief is in fact a trust in the first data people have to adopt before they start to think philosophically: the priority of the object or the subject (historically: fides or ratio). The sinusoid shows the cyclical change of the first data people tended to accept and reveals a certain cultural mechanism: every culture is first developed by the inspired generation of individuals who structure reality in some way and then fight for the dissemination of their framework. After they prevail and the culture is accepted on a mass level, a process of degradation starts - this is because the culture gradually looses its link with the vivid circumstances that once constituted the stimulus for the founding generation. As a result, the culture becomes gradually more formal and distant from 'real life' - the elites do not innovate anymore, perceiving their world view as well-established and the masses are able only to renovate what is inherited. In the long run this leads to 'vital disorientation', which must force the next great generation of individuals to structure reality anew. 'The Revolt...' perceived in this way receives another layer of understanding. The popular interpretation of the book is that mass men, knowing their inherent rights (thanks to democracy) and having leisure time (technological advance) enter the public stage and want to be ruled by somebody of their sort. The author highlights that, apart from these two, a third factor is present: the long-term socialization of the culture of 'pure rationalism'. The mass man already feels that it does not correspond fully to his daily experience and becomes disoriented as a result. In consequence, the time of mass movements has come (that will be organized in accordance with the radicalized principle of either rationalism or irrationalism), until the elites harness the revolted masses again. The final part of the essay suggests the possible Eastern European dimension of Ortega's predictions about postmodern Europe and indicates that his intuitions were sufficiently accurate to foresee the emergence of some main currents in the contemporary humanities and sciences.








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  • Grzegorz Lewicki, Uniwersytet Jagiellonski, Instytut Filozofii, ul.Grodzka 52, 31-044 Kraków, Poland


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