the Barbarism of Specialization (philosophy) (Jose Ortega Y Gasset)

By Jose Ortega Y Gasset

It would be of great interest, and of greater utility than at first sight appears, to draw up the history of physical and biological sciences, indicating the process of increasing specialization in the work of the investigators. It would then be seen how, generation after generation, the scientist has been gradually restricted and confined into narrower fields of mental occupation… how in each generation the scientist, through having to reduce the sphere of his labour, was progressively losing contact with other branches of science, with [the] integral interpretation of the universe….

Specialization commences precisely at a period [the beginning of the 19th century] that gives to civilized man the title “encyclopedic” … In the following generation, the balance is upset, and specialization begins to dislodge integral culture from the individual scientist. When by 1890 a third generation assumes intellectual command in Europe, we meet with a type of scientist unparalleled in history. He is … only acquainted with one science, and even of that one only knows the small corner in which he is an active investigator. He even proclaims that it is a virtue that he takes no cognizance of what lies outside the narrow territory specially cultivated by himself, and gives the name of “dilettantism” to any curiosity for the general scheme of knowledge.

What happens is that, enclosed within the narrow limits of his visual field, he does actually succeed in discovering new facts and advancing the progress of the science that he hardly knows, and incidentally the encyclopedia of thought of which he is conscientiously ignorant. … For the purpose of innumerable investigations it is possible to divide science into small sections, to enclose oneself in one of these, and to leave out of consideration all of the rest. The solidity and exactitude of the methods allow for this temporary but quite real disarticulation of knowledge. …

But this creates an extraordinarily strange type of man. The investigator who has discovered a new fact of nature must necessarily experience a feeling of power and self-assurance. With a certain apparent justice he will look upon himself as “a man who knows.” … The specialist “knows” very well his own tiny corner of the universe; he is radically ignorant of all the rest.

… He is not learned, for he is formally ignorant of all that does not enter into his specialty; but neither is he ignorant, because he is a “scientist,” and “knows” very well his own tiny portion of the universe. We shall have to say that he is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as it implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man [i.e., not ignorant in the way that the ordinary man can be seen as ignorant of this or that], but with all the petulance of one who is learned in his own special line.

And such in fact is the behavior of the specialist. In politics, in art, in social usages, in the other sciences, he will adopt the attitude of primitive, ignorant man; but he will adopt them forcefully and with self-sufficiency, and will not admit of—and this is the paradox—specialists in those matters…. [T]his very inner feeling of dominance and worth will induce him to wish to predominate outside his specialty.

Notes from Xah Lee

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This essay is written by Jose Ortega Y Gasset (1883 〜 1955).

José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955) was a Spanish liberal philosopher and essayist working during the first half of the 20th century while Spain oscillated between monarchy, republicanism and dictatorship. He was, along with Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, a proponent of the idea of perspectivism.

It is a excerpt from his book The Revolt of the Masses (1930) amazon

The text is prepared here by me (Xah Lee) on 2011-05, and is originally from this site: Source 209.16.96.155 (according to the site, it's a personal website of John Bruce Cantrell.)

The Revolt of the Masses

Here's a quote about the book from Wikipedia:

In this work, Ortega traces the genesis of the “mass-man” and analyzes his constitution en route to describing the rise to power and action of the masses in society. Ortega is throughout quite critical of both the masses and the mass-men of which they are made up, contrasting “noble life and common life” and excoriating the barbarism and primitivism he sees in the mass-man. He does not, however, refer to specific social classes, as has been so commonly misunderstood in the English-speaking world. Ortega states that the mass-man could be from any social background, but his specific target is the bourgeois educated man, the señorito satisfecho (satisfied young man or Mr. Satisfied), the specialist who believes he has it all and extends the command he has of his subject to others, contemptuous of his ignorance in all of them. His summary of what he attempted in the book exemplifies this quite well, while simultaneously providing the author's own views on his work: “In this essay an attempt has been made to sketch a certain type of European, mainly by analyzing his behaviour as regards the very civilization into which he was born”. This had to be done because that individual “does not represent a new civilisation struggling with a previous one, but a mere negation …”

I share similar views. See: 9/11, and Human Animal's Love for Excitement and Futuristic Calamity.

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