Ortega y Gasset, Jose. Man and People. Trans. by Willard R. Trask. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1957. Orig. pub. 1936.


"I shall never forget the surprise mingled with shame and shock which I felt when, many years ago, sonscious of my ignorance on this subject, I hurried, full of illusion, all the sails of hope spread wide, to books on sociology … and found something incredible &endash; namely, that books on sociology have found nothing clear to say about what the social is, about what society is."

-- Ortega, 
                        Man and People, p. 13


Man and People, prepared originally as a course of lectures at the Institutio de Humani-dades in Madrid, is Ortega's attempt to develop a vitalist sociological doctrine (vitalism rejects the enlightenments privileging of rationality as the human essence, substituting instead activity and feeling; for the vitalists to be is to act in the world). As such, it can be read as an attack against American and European-style sociologies rooted in a positivist strain of social scientific method and their failure to provide a useful account of emergent fascist politics. More impotantlyl, it is his description of "society" and the "societal" as a function of usage (192-221) fostered by language (222-57) and public opinion (258-72).


1. Man exists in a state of "being in one's self" or "besides one's self."

A. Ortega argues that man's unique characteristic, that which separates him from the kingdom of animals is the ability to turn his thoughts inward, to meditate his own existence, to be "in one's self." This ability to turn inward follows a cyclical patter: (a) man feels himself lost, alienated form the outside world (alteracion); (b) by his own effort he draws himself inward and forms ideas about "things" (ensimismamiento), man theorizes; (c) he then resubmerges into the world having synthesized the alteracion and the ensimismamiento which allows him to take "action." Man's destiny is action and action is dependent upon thought.

B. "Almost all of the world is in tumult, is besides itself, and when man is besides himself he loses his most essential attribute: the possibility of meditating, or withdrawing to himself in order to come to terms with himself and define what it is that he believes, what he truly esteems and what he truly detests. Being besides himself bemuses him, blinds him, forces him to act mechanically in a frenetic somnambulism." (16)

"The demagogues, impressarios of alteracion, who have already caused the death of several civilizations, harass men so that they shall not reflect, see to it that they are herded together in crowds so that they cannot reconstruct their individuality in the one place where it can be reconstructed, which is in solitude (being in themselves). They cry down service to truth, and in its stead offer us: myths. And by all these means they succeed in throwing men into a passion, in putting them, between orders and terrors, besides, that is, outside of themselves. And clearly, since man is the animal that has succeeded in putting himself inside himself, when manis beside himself his aspiration is to fall back into animality." (33)

" … it is impossible to speak of action except in so far as it will be governed by a previous contemplation; and vice versa, contemplation, or being within one's self, is nothing but a projection of future action.


2. Man's existence revolves around the relationship between his "radical reality" and the structure of the outside world.

A. Man's world is divided between his own "inward" world, his radical reality, and the realities of the "others," the outside world. (The universe is thus condensed to two "things": (a) me, and (b) the rest of the world.) Everything we know outside of our own world is understood through the paradox of "seeing." Those things not immediately in our presence we generally accept as existing through the faith that we place in our memory of their existence. Ortega calls this the habit of memory or "compresence." For example, we have no trouble believing that there is a hallway outside of this room, not because it is part of our present vital experience, but because we've seen it at one time or another and rely upon our memory of its existence. Those "things" which do exist outside of our presence to which we attribute "existence" are so because they have some importance to us, because they relate to our radical realities.

B. "The radical solitude of human life, the being of man, does not, then consist in there really being nothing except himself. Quite the contrary, there is nothing less than the universe, with all that it contains. There is, then, an infinity of things but there it is, amid them, man in his radical reality is alone, alone with them! … From this substrate of radical solitude that is irremediably our life, we constantly emerge with a no less radical longing for companionship. Could we but find one whose life would wholly fuse with, would interpentrate with ours….Genuine love is nothing but the attempt to exchange two solitudes." (49-50)

"The present exits in actuality, the compresent in habituality … The vital world is composed of a few things that are present at the moment and countless things that are latent, hidden at the moment, that are not in sight, but we know or believe we know &endash; in this case it makes no difference which&emdash;that we could see them, that we could have them present to us." (63, 65)

"A thing is never present to us by itself, but, on the contrary, we always see a thing standing out against other things to which we pay no attention and which form a ground against which what we do see stands out. (66)


3. The perception "I" have of the world is a "me-it" view.

A. Man is essentially ego-centric. The world is formed around "me" and all other "things" exist only to the extent that they fill my needs and desires. The framework for these needs and desires is called a "pragmatic field" (e.g., the world of war, the world of religion, etc.). Each person's realities are defined by their relationship to "things" as they exist in a particular pragmatic field. With inanimate objects the relationship developed is a "me-it" relationship. The inanimate object exists for me, but I for it. The obverse is true with animate objects &endash; we exist for each other in confrontation with each other and create a community: "We." The highest form of community is not between man and animal, but rather between man and man, or more properly, between man and woman.

B. "Our world, the world of each one of us, is not a totum revolutum, but is organized in 'pragmatic fields' …. Our practical or pragmatic relation with things, and theirs with us, even though finally corporeal, is not material but dynamic." (80)

"Co-existence is the inter-twining of existences, is two things interexisting, not simply being there without having anything to do with each other." (87)

"Does not the word "social" naturally point to a reality consisting in the fact that man conducts himself in confrontation with other beings which, in their turn, conduct themselves with respect to him &endash; hence to actions in which, in one way or another, there is the reciprocity in which not only am I a broadcasting center of actions towards another being but that other being is also a broadcasting center of actions toward me, so that in my action there must already be an anticipation of its action, my action reckons with it because its action also reckons with mine." (87)


4. Man is the social animal.

A. As an object whose "being" is dependent upon other humans, man's relationship to the rest of the world is not determined merely by his own radical reality, but by an inter-penetration of radical realities with second degree realities (realities fostered by the other members of the I-you-we-him community). This communion between I-you reveals a reciprocity of action between us. This reciprocity indicates a mode of communication between us. It is thus communication, the reciprocity of action between me and the "other man" which forms the basis for the social and society."

B. "Normally, I am not aware of my genuine life, of what it is in its radical solitude and truth, but instead, I presumptively live presumed things, I live among interpretations of reality which my social environment and human tradition have been inventing and accumulating." (97)

"To speak of man outside of and apart from a society is to say something that is meaningless and self-contradictory … Man does not appear in solitude &endash; although his ultimate truth is solitude; man appears in sociality as the other, frequenting the one as the reciprocator." (104)

"The only part of the Other man which is actually present to us is his body, but that his body, being flesh, is a field of expressiveness, an almost inexhaustible semaphore of signals." (118)


5. In "society" exist "the People" who establish laws and customs for human behavior.

A. If society reflects the relationship between countless individual I(s) and you(s), then who sets down the "laws" of behavior for the collective "we" &endash; the interpenetration of relationships between all people? Ortega's answer is "the people" &endash; the collectivity, everybody. So, when a policeman stops us from jaywalking, he is not acting "in himself" but rather "besides himself" &endash; he is acting for "the people" who have determined that such behavior is harmful and ought to be punished. As the state (the legal embodiment of "the people") controls some of our behavior, so too are our social relations controlled by the way in which we "react with one another." For example, social decorum dictates that two people offer some kind of salutation to one another upon meeting. To forego this custom (be it a handshake, nod, kiss, etc.) it to break with a convention that has been established by the people and is to be considered deviant. To follow the convention merely as convention is to be socialized.

B. "Who is the subject of this human action that we call 'to forbid' to command legally? Who forbids us? Who commands us? It is not the policeman nor the man superintendent nor the man chief of state who is the subject of this action of forbidding and commanding. The forbidding and commanding come from the state. If to forbid and to command are human actions, they come form someone form a particular subject, form a man. The man is not the state. The state is everything, society, the collectivity." (171-72).

"In the measure to which I think and speak not from my own individual conviction, but simply repeating what is said and is though, my life ceases to me mine, I cease to be the supremely individual person that I am, and I act on society's account &endash; I am a social automaton, I am socialized." (173)

"… this idea of the collective soul, of a social consciousness, is arbitrary mysticism. There is no such collective soul, if by soul is meant &endash; something that is capable of being the responsible subject of its acts, something that does what it does because what it does has a clear meaning for it…. the collectivity is indeed something human, but is the human without man, the human without spirit, the human without soul, the human dehumanized." (174)


VI. Society is characterized by an "architecture of its usages."

A. "Usage" refers to conduct that is frequently repeated for a purpose besides-itself and hence is part of the socialization process. If I shake your hand upon meeting you in the street, I rarely think about what I am doing. The handshake reaction is automatic, it is a socialized behavior. However, handshaking was not always a socialized behavior performed besides itself. There was a time when it was performed as a result of a very direct and specific calculation (e.g., to show that you are not carrying a weapon). Similarly, all human actions possess etymologies which reveal themselves as having had specific purposes in themselves at one point, and only later, through the dynamic process of history as having diminished to "usages" &endash; actions performed for a purpose besides themselves. Usages are of two types: (a) weak and diffuse like customs and public opinion, and (b) strong and rigid like the police, the state, etc. All of the "usages" for a given community of I-you-me relationships are interconnected and build our society.

B. "Usages are not of the individual, but of society." (194)

"The suppression of a usage is not in the hands of the individual will &endash; be it mine, yours or his. To do away with it takes a great deal of work, as it takes a great of work to level a hill or to build a pyramid. We have to win over individual after individual, we have to win over everybody else, that vague entity "everybody else" (the people)." (209)

"As you see, usages are interconnected and rest one upon another, forming a gigantic architecture. This gigantic architecture of usages is, precisely, society." (221).


7. Language is a reflection of society, of the will of the "the people" and is thus the ultimate "usage.

A. The highest form of relationship that can exist between "me" and "you" is "love." Because love is a feeling that I have within-myself (it is not present) I have the need to "say" things to the object-person of my love. Hence, love is realized through speech. To speak is to use a language that is not created by either speaker. Resultantly, two lovers can speak the words of love but never be aware of the reason that the words reveal such and such a feeling. In this sense, language is coercive; it is adopted by a community and adapted to a situation. As language becomes usage we necessarily adapt to it. As such, language becomes not only a perfect reflection of society, but society itself.

B. "Language is a social usage between them [lovers], between their two inwardnesses, and whose exercise or use by individuals is predominantly irrational." (224)

"… whereas saying, or trying to say, is a properly human action, the action of an individual as such, to speak is to practice a usage which, like all usages, is nether born in the person who practices it, nor properly intelligible, nor voluntary, but is imposed on the individual by the collectivity." (258)

"… society is in essence, power, an insuperable power facing the individual … Public opinion, reigning opinion, has this power behind it and makes it function in the various forms that correspond to the various dimensions of collective existence. This power of the collectivity is public power." (268)

"A language, speech is what people say, it is the vast system of verbal usages established in a collectivity. The individual, the person, is from his birth submitted to the linguistic coercion that these usages represent. Hence, the mother tongue is perhaps the most typical and clearest social phenomenon. With it people enter us, set up residence in us, making each an example of people. Our mother tongue socializes our inmost being, and because of this fact every individual belongs, in the strongest sense of the word to a society. He can flee from the society in which he was born and brought up, but in his flight from the society inexorably accompanies him because he carries with within him. This is the true meaning that the statement that a man is a social animal can have." (251)


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