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The Boundaries Between Philosophy and Literature: A Response to Elizabeth Millán and Amy Oliver
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The Boundaries Between Philosophy and Literature
A Response to Elizabeth Millán and Amy Oliver

To Have One’s Work Analyzed and Criticized is Certainly A Great honor for a philosopher, for philosophy is born of dialogue, and without criticism it withers and dies. I am, therefore, delighted by the critical commentary that Elizabeth Millán and Amy Oliver have composed about my philosophical work, and I am moved by their gentle criticisms and obvious generosity.

I take it that my task in responding to them is not so much to present an apologia for those of my views they have questioned, but rather to engage in the more profitable task of extending the discussion of the topics on which they have been critical, to deepen our mutual understanding of them. Of course, it would be impossible to take up every theme they touched on or every argument they voiced. My space is limited. So, my plan is to address what I [End Page 259] consider to be the most interesting and important specific questions they raised around the more general topic of the boundaries between philosophy and literature.

Ah, Ortega, the focus of the criticism of Millán and Oliver! The Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset certainly is a significant and controversial figure in the history not only of Spanish philosophy but also of Latin American philosophy, although he is largely ignored today. I do not think that there has been another Hispanic philosopher that has had the kind of influence he had on Latin American philosophy in the twentieth century. I am told that when he first visited Buenos Aires in 1916, he took the city by storm. His visit was seen as a liberation from the shackles of positivism in which Latin American philosophy was still trapped. To the deterministic and suffocating views of positivists, for whom the world moved according to fixed, unchanging, and mechanical laws, his emphasis on values and freedom was like a sea breeze that takes away malodorous fumes. And, of course, what made his views so attractive was not only the content that was appropriate for the moment in history but also the superb writing style in which he couched his ideas. That Ortega is one of the most gifted essayists of the Spanish language goes without saying. To read him is a delight that no educated person should miss. But he has always been controversial, not only because of the uncompromising philosophical view he proposed, generally known as perspectivism, but also because of his reported arrogance. In the first quarter of the twentieth century, every educated person, and particularly philosophers, in the United States would most likely have known who Ortega was and had read something from him. Was there anyone who had not heard about, even if he or she had not read, The Revolt of the Masses? Today, however, there is hardly an educated person in this country, let alone a philosopher, who knows who he was or has read any of his works. Why?

I have given two answers that Millán and Oliver seem to think are incompatible, one that they approve and another that they reject. In opposition to their view, I defend the one they reject and argue that the two answers are not incompatible. The first is that Ortega, like other Spanish and Latin American philosophers, suffers from a kind of cultural discrimination that, as a matter of course, ignores any figure whose work is written in Spanish or comes from [End Page 260] Spain or Latin America. I think Millán and Oliver articulate well the point, so I shall not repeat it. The other answer I give might be considered less flattering to Ortega. It has two bases. One is the very florid style that characterizes Ortega’s writing, for its preciosismo and mannerism are impediments to his appreciation today in many philosophical quarters, particularly in the United States. The other is the personalization of philosophy. For Ortega, philosophy is something very personal, it is his view of the world, his philosophy, and this has an important consequence: it is very difficult, if not impossible, to...