20 | 30, pp. 19-36 | doxa.comunicación

January-June of 2020

Doxa and Paradoxa: the concept of public opinion in Ortega and the role of the philosopher

ISSN: 1696-019X / e-ISSN: 2386-3978

1. Introduction

The concept of “public opinion” is a complex one within the work of José Ortega y Gasset. However, it is important that we attempt to elucidate what Ortega meant by this concept, if we wish to understand what the idea of Europe meant for him and what it means today within the context of his philosophy. Public opinion plays a key role in Ortega’s political philosophy, as it the source from which public power flows. From a young age, he explored the concept in a number of publications, including the article “De puerta de tierra” published in the newspaper El Imparcial in 1912; the chapter titled “Who Rules the World?” in the second part of the book The Revolt of the Masses; and several works he wrote in exile, such as the essay titled “On Pacifism” in his Epilogue for the English (1937), the unfinished book Man and People (1949-1950), and A Meditation on Europe (1949). These last four works, which provide us with an outline of the nature of public opinion, are closely related to one another.

The Revolt of the Masses was highly successful, not only in Spain but also in other countries such as Germany, France and particularly the United States, where it was reprinted on multiple occasions, more than in any other country, in fact. Its enormous success was remarked upon by the Hispanist Thomas Mermall in the introduction to The Revolt of the Masses that he wrote for the publisher Castalia. It was one of Ortega’s best-known and most frequently translated works, largely due to the fact that its subject matter was related to the growing unease in Europe and the “terrifying homogeneity of circumstances into which all of the West is falling” (Ortega, 2004-2010, ch. IV: 352). The “sickness” spreading through Europe was related to the emergence of a new type of man, the so-called “mass-man”. This new man posed a threat to European unity because, to him, all of the continent’s principles and usages were problematic and questionable, and no longer valid. What began as a dissection of the character of the mass-man in the first part of The Revolt of the Masses ended by questioning who holds the reins of power in Europe and what characterises a nation. Reflecting on Europe is one of the main themes in the second part of the book and in the Prologue for the French and the Epilogue for the English, which Ortega wrote nine years later for the French and English translations of the book, respectively. In 1949 he gave a lecture at the Free University of Berlin, titled A Meditation on Europe, in which he revisited many of the ideas he had previously explored in “Who Rules the World?”. At times, he even reproduced entire paragraphs verbatim. Perhaps this was due to the argument that Ortega put forward in “The Intellectual and the Other”, among other texts, which held that an intellectual would have had all of his great ideas by the age of 26, after which he would develop and ripen those ideas and see them through to their ultimate conclusions. In his Prologue for the French, Ortega remarked that he was at that time writing Man and People, in which he conducts a sociological analysis and in-depth exploration of the nature of man. Consequently, at that moment, he had only made a preliminary study of modern man.

opinion in order for coexistence in a society to take place, it will be indispensable to consider the role of the philosopher in the construction of that coexistence.


Ortega; public opinion; philosopher; validity; usage; public power.

opinión pública, será imprescindible dar cuenta del papel del filó-sofo en la construcción de esa convivencia.

Palabras clave:

Ortega; opinión pública; filósofo; vigencia; uso; poder público.