Philosopher and essayist located in the noucentista movement, of great influence in Spain in the first third of the twentieth century. He was born in Madrid on May 9, 1883 and died in the same city on October 18, 1955. The influence of his ideas, expressed in books and articles, can be traced in almost all areas of art, politics and thought. His influence also permeated the young generation of writers linked to the Generation of ’27, although the social commitment of many of them contradicted Ortega’s idea of replacing “reality with metaphor” set forth in The Dehumanization of Art (1925). The Revista de Occidente, directed by Ortega, as well as the publishing house of the same name, opened generously to new creators. Federico García Lorca himself signed some poems after his arrival in Madrid both in the magazine España, which Ortega directed, and in the Revista de Occidente. In addition, in 1928, one of his most influential books, Gypsy Ballads, appeared under the publisher’s imprint, in a small-format edition that sold out immediately. Ortega’s publishing house also published Canticle by Jorge Guillén, Safe Chance by Pedro Salinas and Quicklime and Song by Rafael Alberti.
Ortega was born into a family of the high bourgeoisie of Madrid. He studied at the universities of Deusto and Central in Madrid. He received his doctorate in philosophy in 1904 with a thesis on The terrors of the year one thousand; he furthered his studies in Germany where he was influenced by neo-Kantianism. In 1910, he married Rosa Spottorno (1884-1980).
An incident in December 1924 during a visit to Granada, where he had been invited to give a lecture, provoked a unanimous reaction of support in which Federico García Lorca intervened.
He was closely linked to the world of journalistic publishing, thus continuing the tradition started by his grandfather Eduardo Gasset, who had founded El Imparcial. The philosopher was editor and contributor, respectively, of the magazine España, which was published between 1925 and 1924, and the newspaper El Sol. In the latter, which appeared in 1917, he published two of his best-known works in installments, Invertebrate Spain and The Rebellion of the Masses. But his great editorial contribution came with the founding in 1923 of the Revista de Occidente, a publication of profound intellectual rigor in which the main authors of the most influential currents in thought and science collaborated. Ortega directed the publication from the first issue until the beginning of the Civil War.
Ortega’s intellectual prestige together with his influence as a publisher made him a respected and powerful figure. An incident in December 1924 during a visit to Granada, where he had been invited to give a lecture, provoked a unanimous reaction of support in which Federico García Lorca intervened. Ortega, accompanied by Pío Baroja, arrived in Granada as part of a tour of Andalusia which, however, was abruptly interrupted at the next destination, Málaga.
According to the testimonies collected by the researcher María Bueno in her book A Basque in the Nasrid Court, although Ortega’s speech was followed by a large audience, colleagues from the University of Granada did not come as massively as Ortega expected to compliment him. A joke against Baroja (apparently devised by Federico and his friend Miguel Cerón) ended up clouding the atmosphere. The complaints of Ortega, already in Madrid, provoked the reaction of Melchor Fernández-Almagro, the sculptor Juan Cristóbal and García Lorca himself who sent letters to El Defensor lamenting the bad treatment of the philosopher. The letter to the Lorca’s director reads: “Dear Constantino [Ruiz Carnero]: I learn that in Granada the distinguished Don José Ortega y Gasset and the brilliant novelist Baroja have not been received as befits, and I regret with all my heart what happened, as a good citizen of Granada, because today in Madrid our beloved city is spoken of in unfavorable terms, but unfortunately accurately. It has been a sad and stupid spectacle, of which I fervently protest in the name of the beauty of Granada”.
A few months later Baroja retaliated by incorporating a derogatory description of Granada in the novel The Ship of Fools. Ortega, for his part, published in 1927 his controversial Theory of Andalusia in which he writes: “The Andalusian has been lazy for some 4,000 years, and he is not doing badly”.
After the proclamation of the Second Republic, Ortega was elected deputy for the Group at the Service of the Republic created by himself, Gregorio Marañón and Ramón Pérez de Ayala to convene intellectuals with a view to working for the new regime. However, he only remained in Parliament for one year.
On July 18, 1936, Ortega was ill at his home in Madrid. According to him, several armed militiamen came to his home to make him sign a manifesto condemning the coup d’état against the Republic. Ortega demanded the fighters to lighten the content of the document because he thought it was too forceful. Reluctantly, the manifesto was rectified and Ortega signed it together with Gregorio Marañón and Ramón Pérez de Ayala. That same month of July, despite his convalescence, he decided to flee to Paris and the Netherlands, and then continue his exile in Argentina, until in 1942 he took up residence in Lisbon.
From 1945 onwards, he began to visit Spain more and more frequently, where he created the Institute of Humanities to replace the professorship he had been deprived of. His political positions after the Civil War were less committed and full of ambiguities, a vagueness that haunted him until his death, which occurred in 1955, due to the different versions abounding about whether he had finally spurned the Church or accepted the confession.