Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Elegy for José Gaos

Philosophy in Mexico, philosophy in Latin America has suffered the loss of its most distinguished cultivators. Faced with so painful a fact, these words, devoid of serenity and written with a still heavy heart, want to express the confidence that his memory remains among us as a source of strength and instruction.

Dr. Gaos came from Spain with a vast treasury of philosophical ideas and books that he generously made available to Mexican students by way of his extraordinary work as a translator and, above all, through personal commentary while lecturing, in the exemplary role of master that he maintained without interruption, even in the last moments of his life. But the books that Gaos brought with him were not, in any way, the fashionable books of the times but precisely the great enduring classics of philosophy. And it is difficult to find a point of comparison in our scholarly history for the seriousness and splendor with which he explained and discussed these books. Without taking into account the master’s labor that benefitted so many generations and that he pursued without hurry and without pause, it is impossible to comprehend recent developments in Mexico’s intellectual history.

Coupled with this work, in part a consequence of it, Dr. Gaos knew how to create around him a large group of students who over time have come to play a role in Mexico’s philosophical and cultural life. This creation was not in any way a closed circle but rather an open relation in which no one was obliged to share particular philosophical opinions, doctrines or political beliefs. On the contrary: it was more a demand on the standards of intellectual work and for graceful comportment. Within these broad circles there was always room for the most diverse beliefs and attitudes, and they always enjoyed a respect maintained with the utmost sensitivity.

As Dr. Gaos’s students we were able to live this dual experience—of the discipline of work and of the respect for moral attitudes—one of the most salient and inextricable traits of the master’s disposition. We hope that younger students who did not have the chance for direct contact, members of the generations to come, will be able to discover these same teachings in the works that he wrote. We think that in his books Dr. Gaos very clearly distinguished what he called the two parts of philosophy. One, the rigorous methodical task employed on the phenomena of experience, which has as its stated objective universal validity; the other, the decidedly failed part of the traditional metaphysical system that philosophical criticism exposes; philosophy as personal confession that does not properly specify objectives but rather modestly discloses human experience by way of exchanging ideas for the enrichment of their own and others’ moral wisdom.

This view that accepts the limitations of man to scientifically know the ultimate metaphysical questions is also the recognition of the mystery, to borrow Gaos’s own words, of the “reasons of the heart,” to which they have to answer. A wise skeptical attitude toward the claims of pseudoscience, along with the most liberal and generous understanding for the reasons of the heart that ought to operate in those places where the rigidity of science and philosophy are ineffective. Here, perhaps, is his greatest teaching.

He has already become this exceptional spirit’s definitively steadfast figure—one worth remembering—and an ideal to both those who knew him as well as to those who thoughtfully approach his published work. And his legacy becomes even greater when considering how few men—in our time as in other times—have been able to assemble in his person the mastery of the most rigorous instruments of philosophical activity with the exemplary virtues of the man of wisdom.

–Written by Fernando Salmerón, El Universal, Sunday, June 22, 1969: Review of the Week, p. 10. Translated by Frank Garrett. I thank Hernando A. Estévez and Luz Hernandez for their amiable feedback and suggestions. The Spanish text can be found online at the José Gaos Archive.

No comments:

Post a Comment