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The Imperial InteUect and the Select Minority:

Ideas of Newman and Ortega y Gasset on the Mission Of The

by Joseph F. Renahan
West Virginia University
During the centennial of the birth of Jose Ortega y Gasset it seemed
appropriate to me to try to present a small paper, however insignificant
and defective it might be, as a personal bomenaJe. I cannot speak as a
philosopher equipped to shed further light on Ortega's phenomenology and
his debt to Husserl, Heidegger, and Dilthey but rather as one of those interested readers educated in the European tradition, to whom Ortega
directed so much of his writing, and as a laborer in the institution with which
our lives are intimately bound: the university.
Since to a member of an older generation, who happens to be Irish,
the terms "university" and "liberal education" inevitably bring to mind
John Henry Newman's classictreatment of the subject for the English speaking world, the Idea of a UnIversity, it also seemed quite natural to compare some of Newman's ideas with those expressed by Ortega in his Mision
de la unIversidad. Although the two works are separated by obvious differences in time and philosophical orientation, they neverthelessshare striking points of concurrence that are still worth examining. Even the circumstances of their composition are roughly similar, for Ortega's Mision
consists of a reworking of five lectures to umversity students in Madrid
in 1930, and Newman's Idea consisted originally of nine lectures delivered
over a two-year period during the formation of a Catholic University which
began in 1851.When that project failed after a seven-yeartrial, he published
a second volume of lectures and essays on university subjects, which he
had written over a period of four years. Both volumes comprise the Idea

as we know it today.I
My title is derived from Ortega's designation of the traditional
university-trained class of European leadership as the select minority, and
from Newman's description of the philosophical habit of inquiry produced by university training as the imperial intellect. The paper will concentrate on two major areas of concern, the purpose of general education and
the creation o! the vitalist curriculum and, to a lesser extent, the criteria


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for the selection of faculty to teach such a curriculum. In deference to
Ortega, we shall begin by summarizing his pedagogical ideas and then indicate the points of concurrence with Newman.
Ortega conceived the mission of the university to be two-fold: the
satisfaction of the vital needs of students through studies that would enable
them to live at the maximum cultural level of their times and the satisfaction of their vocational needs through coursework leading to competence
in the learned professions. His plan, as Howard Lee Nostrand has pointed
out, is a reaction to specific weaknesses in the structure of European society, which he had already described in La rebellon de las masas.2 The mass
man of the twentieth century was complacent because scientific progress
had enabled him to live at a levelof comfort that in previous centurieswould
have been accessible only to the select minority. A kind of Nature Boy in
a technological Garden of Eden, mass man needed a Mephistopheles to
galvanize him into activity that would lead to a further raising of the general
cultural level. Unfortunately, whereas in previous centuries mass man had
looked to the select minority for leadership, he now sought no authority
beyond his own inclinations.

With increasing frequency, however, as Ortega

hoped and predicted, the university would be accepting the children of the
working class into its programs, and yet he felt it was not equipped to deal
effectively with their vital social needs.' The problem was especially acute
in the Spanish universities, where it was compounded by the fact that higher
education tended to reflect the traditional bourgeois values of the segment

of societythat it particularlyserved.3
Neglecting its role as transmitter of the integrated culture of its time,
the modern university had become dedicated to professional preparation
and to the training for, and conduct of, research, based largely on German
models.6 Ortega believed that the latter function was appropriate for only
a very limited gifted minority. For the university to involve the average student in research was to waste effort in the production of pseudo-research.
Moreover, to teach the sciencesas independent disciplinesof pure knowledge

wasto fail to respondto the vitalconcernsof the averagestudent.7 Ortega

felt that it would be pointless to redress specific abuses, to treat symptoms
but not the disease. What was needed was the reorganization of the structure that was producing the abuses.'
A sensible restructuring would depend on the accurate determination
of the function of a university in accord with the vital needs of society,
a society composed of individuals interacting with the world around them
in the activity known as life. In such an interaction, neither the subjective
nor the objective world can have priority. One cannot, for example, reduce
the concept of human life to the science of biology. But what can and must
be done is to equip average students with those aspects of scientific and

technical knowledge that will enable them to live at the height of their times. 9

Becoming an expert in a given field did not necessarily mean that a

person was equipped for life at the highest cultural level. Indeed, it was
very possible in the twentieth century to be culturally a barbarian, skilled
in a single profession but oblivious to the intellectual achievements of

others.I 0 The university,however,could assumethe burden of providing

its students with a plan of life composed of ideas that represented the

superiorlevelof the time.I I In this way it could offset someof the disadvantages of excessive specialization, which had caused such a fragmentation of European society that experts were able to communicate effectively
only with other experts in their fields. If the university were to address itself
to the task of raising its students to the height of their times, it would have
to combine these discrete disciplines, these disiecta membra, into a cultural
unity and teach this integrated culture to the average student fully and effectively.

I 2

In order to guarantee that the average student would learn the necessary
components of this plan of vital culture, the university would have to practice pedagogical economy. It would do so by establishing a School of
Culture, which would reduce the general curriculum to a body of material
that could be fully grasped by all students within the usual constraints of
time and effort by seeing to it that they learned this material. The transmission of culture would be an inexorable task binding on both faculty and


At the same time, the university would continue its program of professional training, but it would relegate the conduct of scientific research
to institutes dedicated to it. " Specially gifted students would have access
to the research units, but the average student would not be required to
engage in a vain sort of pseudo-research that failed to achieve its purpose
so often that it was becominga caricature of itself.I 3 Freed from the necessity
to demonstrate his supposed capacity for creative research, the average student could then devote his time both to the learning of the cultural material
that the university considered vital, and to his professional formation, which
very rarely would entail the carrying out of research. Science and the advancement of knowledge would remain vitalizing principles in the university, but they would be actively engaged in only by the gifted and dedicated

few. I 6 Professors of the Facultad de Cultura would be chosen on the basis

of their ability to synthesize and present the components of the cultural
plan. The faculty would not be required to conduct research but rather to
devote their energies to translating the latest scientific advances into the

vitalist curriculum. I 7
That curriculum would consist of five cultural disciplines, each supported by a corresponding scientific discipline. The disciplines are presented



in pairs as follows, with the cultural title appearing first, followed by the
name of the supporting scientific discipline:
1. Imagen f(sica del mundo (F(sica).
2. Los ternas fundamentales de la vida organica (Biolog(a).
3. EI proceso historico de la especie humana (Historia).
4. La estructura y funcionamiento de la vida social (Sociologla).

5. EI piano del universo(Filosof(a).1 1

Such a plan, Ortega believed, would revitalize the average student's
perception of the world and place him at the height of his time, would
humanize science and the scientist, and would put the student's vital, as
well as professional, interests at the center of the university's concern. In
providing the student with "a road map through the jungle of life" the
university would become a vital participant in, and leader of, contemporary
La cultura va regida por la vida como tal, y tiene que ser
en todo instante un sistema completo, integral y claramente
estructurado. Es ella el piano de la vida, la gUlade caminos

por la selvade la existencia.19

For an existentialphilosopher like Ortega, culture is the totality of what
we do and what we are, and it is renewed from moment to moment as we
make our decisions.20The cultured person willreject archaic ideas that would
condemn him to a difficult, unrefined life and embrace those that represent the highest level of his epoch.21In our age the content of culture is
derived largely from science, but culture itself is not identical with scientific fact but rather with a kind of vital faith in science. A general student
studying science in the Facultad de Cultura would not receive the same in-

structionas onespecializingin scientificresearch.22 Culturalsciencewould

contain a synthesis of ideas about the nature of scientific research com-

pletedthus far. 2) Thegoal wouldbe to makeeachstudentawareof general

principles and the significance of each cultural activity. It would be impossible to demand expert mastery in every field for the sake of understanding circumstantial culture: either we would all have to become scientists,
which does not seem feasible, or else we would be condemned to lead stupid
lives." However, sensibleteaching can saveus from such extremes. Through
explanations of the differences between the sciences, their essential contents can be made understandable. This is the essence of pedagogical
economy. It is not an anti-rational approach to the sciences but simply a
demand that, in the words of Ivan Barrientos, "empirical epistemology
speak the 'language of life.'''B As Ortega put it:

Pretender que el estudiante normal sea un cientlfico es, por

10 pronto, una pretension ridlcula que solo ha podido
abrigar... el vicio de utopismocaracter(stico de las generaciones anteriores alas nuestras... EI utopismo lIeva a la
pedagogla de Omln.26
Ortega's impressions of scientists, based on his university days in Germany, are similar to the Hollywood stereotypes. Either the scientist is a
"maniatico 0 un demente"27like the monk of bygone ages, totally absorbed in his calling--andjust as it would be inappropriate to convert the average
student into a scientist, so it would be inappropriate to make such a scientist into a teacher. Or else the scientist is a parvenu, a neophyte pressed
into pedagogicalservicewithout a comprehensiveview of his discipline, "un
'nuevo rico' de Ja ciencia.. ..incapaz de enseitar su asignatura, porque ni

siquieraconoceIntegrala disciplina."21 Neitherkind of so-calledscientist

would teach in the Facultad de Cultura.
Like Ortega, Newman contemplated the problem of bringing to a higher
cultural level a Catholic country which had lagged, some would say through
no great fault of its own, behind the technological and scientific advances
of England and Continental Europe. Newman's emphasis on a specifically
Catholic universityaside, his views, which antedate Ortega's by about eighty
years, are nonetheless strikingly similar.
Let us start with the term "culture" and its derivatives. For Ortega
it represents the vital stock of ideas and skills necessary for maximum personal fulfillment in a given epoch, "el sistema vital de las ideas en cada
tiempo."29 It has nothing to do with the idea of ornament or refinement.
Newman's view is in accord with Ortega's. He speaks of education as the
culture of the intellect, a carefully planned process of learning. Yet, because
he included a portrait of the gentleman as the end product of liberal education, he was accused of attempting to engraft on Irish soil a British University whose graduates would be those feudal remnants known as gentiemen.)O
Newman had to remind his critics, many of whom suspectedhis motives
because he was Oxford-trained and a convert, that the Pope, who had given
his approval to the projected university, would hardly have intended the
transformation of young Catholic Irishmen into English gentlemen but
rather the training of men capable of functioning as competent professionals
and active members of society. To that end he felt, like Ortega, that the
university must conceive its essential functions to be the diffusion, rather
than the advancement, of knowledgeand that the universitymust be studentcentered rather than subject-centered.)1
He asked rhetorically whether the Pope had recommended the formation of the university for the sake of the sciences or for the students.)2 To


those who objected to the possible neglect of the sciencesin favor of a more
exclusivelypedagogical mission, Newman responded in a manner not unlike
Ortega's. He pointed out that there were institutions far more suited than
a university to act as instruments for "stimulating philosophical inquiry
and extending the boundaries of knowledge," and he gave examples of

academieslike the Royal Societyand severalothers.33

He would, like Ortega, separate research from the university's central
mission, while at the same time maintaining close ties with institutions of
pure research so that their findings might be incorporated into the vital

cultural curriculum.J4

Newman is equally insistent that researchers do not necessarily make

good teachers. Indeed, "to discover and to teach are distinct functions; they
are also distinct gifts, and are not commonly found united in the same person."35 Ortega put it this way: "Hombres dotados de este genuino talento
[for teaching] andan mas cerca de ser buenos profesores que los sumergidos
en la habitual investigacion."36 Newman would not use research as a
criterion for faculty selection, nor did Ortega.37 "No decidinl en la eleccion del profesorado el rango que como investigador posee el candidato,

sino su talento sinteticoy sus dotes de profesor."38 i

Newman envisioned the creation of an intellectual aristocracy, in effect a select minority, trained in the formation and exercise of a
philosophical attitude of mind. He insisted that such a product required
years of dedicated training and was scornful of attempts to educate workingmen through reading rooms because of the necessarily fragmentary
nature of such efforts. He aimed at the formation of what he called an imperial intellect, based not so much on simplification as discrimination.
Again, this seems reminiscent of Ortega's organization of the curriculum
around clear definitions and distinctions in the functions of the sciences.
For Newman, the imperial intellect defines rather than analyzes:
Taking into his charge all sciences, methods, collections
of facts, principles, doctrines, truths, which are the reflections of the universe upon the human intellect, he admits
them all, he disregards none, he allows none to exceed
or encroach...he takes things as they are...he recognizes
the insuperable lines of demarcation.. .he observes how
separate truths lie relatively to each other, where they concur, where they part company, and where, being carried
too far, they cease to be truths at all.39
For Newman perfection of mind, then, consists in seeing things accurately in their relationships from all possible variety of perspectives.
Education produces ill the individual accuracy about particulars, overall

knowledge, and enlightened vision.40Both Newman and Ortega deplore the

cramming of the mind with unmanageable data, emphasizing instead the
formative role of education. As Alfred North Whitehead advocated, the
amount of informative material must be sacrificed for the sake of formative
wisdom--Newman's motto was "a little, well"--just as extreme specialization is to be avoided because the world is an all-embracing collection of
diverse experiences,4llndeed the only specialization that Ortega advocated
was el talento integrsdor. "En rigor, significa este -- como ineluctablemente
una especializacion;pero aqul el hombre se
todo esfuerzo creador
especializa precisamente en la construccion de una totalidad."u Newman's
approach to the problem was to recognize that no student could become
expert in all disciplines, but that all students could profit from their associa-


tions withoneanother.43 Expertsfrom one disciplinewouldbe in constant

communication with those from others, the very necessary activity that
Ortega found conspicuosly missing from modern European life.
Although Newman enumerated practical benefits of education, he
believed basically that the formation of the intellect was a sufficient end
in itself. At the same time, he feared that the refinement of intellectualism
might find an excuse for sensuality. Education could not guarantee salvation. Indeed, its results could be nullified by the passion and pride of man.
Though liberal education may not guarantee salvation, it must nevertheless, in Newman's view, include the study of theology, if it is to be complete, and he devoted an entire lecture to showing that theology is essential
to the integrity of the university. Ortega too saw a place for the study of
religion in the Facultad de Culturs as a branch of knowledge. He drew an
analogy from history, knowledge of which would involve both the sacred
and the profane: if a student knows the philosophy of man, there is no
reason he should neglect that which is divine. Both thinkers thus appear
to concur that religious studies should be included for the sake of a complete integration of knowledge. And both would agree, Ortega by implication rather than overt expression, that eternal salvation was a matter beyond
the scope of the university.
As we have noted, for Newman, the utility of an education was not
a central concern. He felt that ultimately the end of knowledge was inseparable from knowledge itself. Knowledge is its own end and brings its
own reward. For Ortega, however, essential cultural knowledge is indispensable for a complete life.
Thus there are differences in their basic approaches; but these I feel
are less striking than their similarities, which, I believe, have been sufficiently highlighted in our discussion so as to obviate the necessity of summarizing them at this point.

Although, unlike Unamuno, Ortega never rose to a position of prominence as an educational administrator, and Newman's Irish university,
except for Celtic studies and a medical school, was a failure, their concurrent ideas stilldeserveconsideration. Granted that their thinking was directed
toward European universitiesin countries beset by cultural problems peculiar
to them; nevertheless, as Juan Lopez Morillas has indicated, who among
us is so confident of the validity of the programs for general education in
his own institution that he can afford to cast stones?"
Could we not profit by examining the value of some of their contentions? Would it not be advisable, for example, to initiate a series of empirical studies designed to test the validity of Newman's or Ortega's intuition that the creation of knowledge and the dissemination of it require personalities that are rarely combined to an outstanding degree in a single individual? Correlations of personality inventories of outstanding researchers
and outstanding teachers could be the first steps in the validation of such
a hypothesis. It is the type of statistical study that schools of education
are especially equipped to carry out. Recent studies in Canadian universities indeed seem to be aimed in this direction."
It may be that American universities are making unrealistic demands
on their faculties by insisting on excellencein teaching, serviceand research.
It may also be that this insistence is in reality producing excellence in only
one of those areas, and a tolerated mediocrity in the others. It may be that
in order to produce true excellencein all three areas, the university willhave
to accept the notion of specialization in vitalistic teaching as distinct from
specialization in research. This, together with the effective use of the principle of pedagogical economy, could produce human beings adequately
educated for life as well as for the professions.
IA more detailed and precise description of the composition of the Idea of a University
can be found in George N. Shuster's introduction to The Idea of a University (Garden City.
New York: Doubleday Image, 1959), p.26 Subsequent references to the Idea will be to this
popular paperback edition.
'Howard Lee Nostrand, trans.. Mission of the University, by Jose Ortega y Gasset
(Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1944), p. 3.
'Excellent summaries of La rebellon de las masas and La mislon de la unlversldad can
be found in Victor Ouimette, Jose Ortega y Gasset (Boston: Twayne. 1982), pp. 106-111.
[razon] si se cree debido, como yo creo, lIevar al obrero el saber universitario
es porque este se considera valioso y deseable... Segunda, la tarea de hacer porosa la Universidad al obrero es en m(nima parte cuestion de la Universidad y es casi totalmente cuestion
del Estado. Solo una gran reforma de este hara efectiva aquella." Jose Ortega y Gasset, "Misian de la Universidad," in Obras Completas. Tomo IV (Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1947),
p. 318. All future references to this edition will be cited as Ortega.
'''Hoy mandan...las cIases burguesas, la mayona de cuyos individuos es profesional."
Ortega felt that the bourgeoisie had received adequate professional training in the university,
but inadequate training for life. Ortega, p. 323.

'From personal experience, Ortega had a poor opinion of the pedagogical effectiveness
of the German model: "Para que venga nadie a contarme que la Universidadalemana
como institucion. un modeloL
Ortega. p. 348.
"'Universidad contempoTilnea ha complicado enormemente la enseiianza profesional...y
ha ariadido la investigacion quitando casi por completo Ia enseiianza 0 transmision de la cultura.
Esto ha sido evidentemente una atrocidad."
Ortega. p. 322.
'''Solo una gran reforma de este [el Estado] hani efectiva aquella Oa Universidad]."
sity reform depends on reform of the state. Ortega. p. 318.


estos profesionales, aparte de su profesion, sean capaces de vivir e influir vitalmente segun la altura de los tiempos." Ortega. p. 323.
."Este nuevo barbaro es principalmente el profesional."
Ortega. p. 322.
I I "Por eso es ineludible crear de nuevo en la Universidad la enseiianza de la cultura 0
sistema de las ideas vivas que el tiempo posee." Ortega. p. 323.
I '''Hay que reconstruir con los pedazos dispersos--dislecta membra--Ia unidad vital del
hombre europeo." Ortega. p. 325.
'Part II of the Mlslon describes the operation of the principle of pedagogical economy
and is entitled "Principio de la econom{a en la enseiianza." Ortega, pp. 329-334.
""Ante todo separemos profesion y ciencia." Ortega, p. 336.
con que sepan su ciencia." (The italics are Ortega's.) "Pero saber no es investigar." Ortega. p. 336.
"This stricture would apply to faculty as well as students. "De 10s profesores, unos. mas
ampliamente dotados de capacidad, seran a la vez investigadores. y los otros, los que solo
sean maestros, viviran excitados y vigilados por la ciencia
"Ortega, p. 351.
I '''La necesidad de crear vigorosas s(ntesis y sistematizaciones del saber para enseiiarlas
en la Facultad de Cultura. ira fomentando un genero de tal en to cient{fico que hasta ahora
solo se ha producido por azar: el talento integrador."
Ortega, p. 348.
"Ortega, p. 335.
"Ortega, p. 343.
"Ortega, p. 321.
"On the other hand. the average man hides from his responsibilities:
"el hombre
falsificar su vida reteniendola hermetica en el capullo gusanil de su mundo
iicticio y simplic!Simo." Ortega, p. 344.
""En la Facultad de Cultura no se explicanl fiSica segun esta se presenta a quien va a
ser de por vida un investigador fisicomatematico."
Ortega. p. 345.
""La f!Sica de la Cultura es la rigorosa s{ntesis ideologica de la figura y funcionamiento
del cosmos material. segGn estas resultan de la investigacion f!Sica hecha hasta el d{a." Ortega,
""Una de dos: 0 para no vivir ineptamente, sin noticia de 10 que es el mundo material
vells Rolls que ser f!Sicos, que dedicarse
en que nos movemos. tendr(an todos los hombres
a la investigacion, 0 resignarse a una existencia que por una de sus dimensiones serra eSUJpida."
Ortega, p. 345.

"Ivan Luis Barrientos. '''Life'. 'Culture'. and 'Higher Education' in the Philosophy of
Jose Ortega of Gasset. "Diss. Michigan State University. 1965 (University Microfilms International. Ann Arbor. 1980). p. 97.
"Ortega. pp. 337-338.
"Ortega. p. 337.
"Ortega. p. 339.
"Ortega. p. 321.
JONewman, p. 8.
JI Newman, p. 8.

"Newman, p. 8.
"Newman, p. 9.
"Newman, p. 10.
"Newman, p. 10.
"Ortega, p. 348.
"Newman, p. 10.
"Ortega, p. 349.
"Newman, p. 417.
"Lee H. Yearley, The Ideas of Newman (University Park and London: The Pennsylvania
State University Press, 1978), p. 122. The author puts the Idea in the context of Newman's
evaluation of liberal religion.
" Barrientos, p. 81. The author citesWhitehead's Alms of Education to show that education
seeks' 'the knowledge of aUpossible things, not only for the sake of learning them, but rather
in terms of a formative capacity-which he calls 'wisdom'--for 'life,''' a view that accords
well with both Ortega's cultural plan and Newman's formation of the imperial intellect.
"Ortega, p. 348.
"George N. Shuster, Intro., The Idea of a University, by John Henry Newman, p. 33.
"Juan Lopez-Morillas, Universities and Their Mission, Brown University Papers: No.
XXXII (Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University Press, 1956), p. 8.
"For example, Three Decades of Full-time Canadian University Teachers: A Statistical
Portrait, ED 196330.