What is Philosophy?

“The past century tried very hard to rein in the human mind and hold it in check within the limits set by exactness. This violence, this turning the back on ultimate problems was called ‘agnosticism.’ Such an effort is neither justified nor plausible. That experimental science may be incapable of resolving those fundamental questions in its own way is no reason why it should behave like the fox with the high-hung grapes, should call them ‘myths’ and invite us to abandon them. How can we live deaf to the last, dramatic questions? Where does the world come from, whither is it going? What is the definitive power of the cosmos? What is the essential meaning of life? Confined to a zone of intermediate and secondary themes, we cannot breathe. We need a complete perspective, with foreground and background, not a maimed and partial landscape, not a horizon from which the lure of the great distances has been cut away. Lacking a set of cardinal points, our footsteps would lack direction. To assert that no manner of resolving the ultimate questions has yet been discovered is no valid excuse for a lack of sensitiveness toward them. All the more reason for feeling in the depths of our being their pressure and their hurt! Whose hunger has ever been stilled by knowing that he will not be able to eat? Insoluble though they be, those questions will continue to rise, pathetic, on the clouded vault of the night, blinking at us like the twinkle of a star. As Heine put it, the stars are the night’s thoughts, restless and golden. North and South help to orient us despite their not being accessible cities reached simply by buying a railroad ticket.

What I mean by this is that we are given no escape from the ultimate questions. Whether we like it or not, they live, in one fashion or another, within us. ‘Scientific truth’ is exact, but it is incomplete and penultimate; it is of necessity embedded in another kind of truth, complete and ultimate, although inexact, which could be called ‘myth.’ Scientific truth floats, then, in mythology, and science itself, as a whole, is a myth, the admirable European myth.”

From José Ortega y Gasset, What is Philosophy?, trans. Mildred Adams (New York: W.W. Norton, 1960), pp. 66-7.

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3 Responses to “What is Philosophy?

  1. Dennis the Vizsla Says:

    Philosophy is a major that, in conjunction with $3.89, will get you a tall caramel macchiato at Starbucks. (I can say that because I have a philosophy degree.)

  2. The Necromancer Says:

    DtV: Sadly, some of the people serving you that caramel macchiato may have graduated with the very same major.

  3. What is Not Philosophy? « The Necromancer Says:

    [...] is Not Philosophy? By The Necromancer Following seems an ideal dialectic response to a recent post here. A transcript of Zizek a few years ago, it highlights his quick, biting wit — you can almost [...]

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