Julián Marías


Julián Marías (1914-2005)

At 27 he published his "History of Philosophy" that is still reissuing (going in the 32nd I think). He devoted all his long life to thinking and writing. his "Treaty of the best. Morals and the ways of life" It is dated April 1995. He already knew a lot when, at the age of 80, in November 1994, he wrote in the first lines of the prologue:

"It is about raising the problems of morality. This has been done for millennia and in innumerable ways. The starting point has been of great diversity: religious, philosophical, sociological, biological. It has also tried to eliminate the issue..."

And he says then: "This book was born of discontent with the approaches that philosophy has made on moral issues" And later:

"The millenarian tradition of ethics has insisted almost unanimously on the idea of the good, on the condition of the good... But perhaps we find that the scope of human life morality -that is what it is about and nothing else- it is precisely the best, decisive in the management of behavior and, even more, in the realization of that operation which is to live".

I have marked that I bought this little book in November 1995 and that I read it and underlined something without further consequences. But I reread it and underline in November 2013 already in my task of looking for background of the basic idea. And I have reread it now. I remember that I started with great enthusiasm because, in addition to the above, in the first chapter speaks of the goals and says:

"The spontaneity of human life is an essential feature of it, but it soon becomes apparent that it is limited by the need for its order or regulation. The aims that life proposes (and that in a certain way constitute it, give it its concrete reality and its content) require some rules". 

In his search for the goals of human life, he cites the good that Aristotle defines as "That to which all things tend" But the problem is knowing what is the good to which all things tend. It says next:

 "When the good that justifies morality is the supreme Good, with a divine character, a religious foundation is given to morality. When this is missing or in crisis, we must make an effort to seek other justifications, which are reconcilable with universality and ensure it". And he continues: "This runs into a serious difficulty, perhaps insuperable. Life is varied, with many forms. The different peoples show great differences of customs, laws, gods.".

In all the above, D. Julián highlights two facets that were given, and continue to be given, in the "philosophical" way of posing the problems of morality:

a) That despite the time and talent employed, and the diversity of approaches, a good universal objective, or ethical principle has not been found.

b) That the difficulty is that life is very varied in space and time.

And a little later adds a "primary issue": "The subject of morality is the man" And he says that this adds the difficulty of knowing what man is. But it also says that:  

One thing is clear: what morality refers to is human life and its personal condition. Morality has nothing to do with things, nor does it refer to all forms of life -neither to the animal, in one extreme, nor to the divine in the other. But concretely to the human". 

In my readings of 2013 I stopped here. Understanding that neither D. Julian had seen the basic idea. And so I mentioned it in Survival. Ideas for a Universal Ethics. But for writing now this fourth book, I have advanced one more chapter. And I've done it knowing more than in December 2013. And I think that now I've "seen" his idea of "the best". 

In this 2nd chapter on "The intrinsic morality of human life"  exposes his idea of differentiating the morally good of the best. And if I understand it well, the difference is that the man -although he does not know exactly what is- the good or the maximum, You can choose "the best possible" from among the plurality of possibilities that are presented to you, be they many or few. For the man, to live is to prefer. And says: "This is how the notion of the best thing, which seems decisive and has not been taken care enough".He says later:

"The idea of "good", even that of the "supreme good" has obscured the actual form of comparative presence of the best. The Greek idea of the good or agathon, in which the Platonic ontology culminates, and on the other hand the theology, whose consideration of God has led to that of Th absolute Good, infinite and without restriction, has contributed to this. 

And later he says: "Morality appears above all as a justification for the acts."  And then:  "On each act and on the life that each one makes a judgment falls: it is good or bad, the best has been done -it is understood, possible -or not." 

From page 25, D. Julián reviews the most significant theories in the history of the search for the foundation of morality. I think it is not necessary to say anything about it. That story is known. I find it more interesting to highlight three aspects of the ideas presented:

1.- Marias thinks that neither he nor anyone before has been able to discover the human "good", the ultimate goal or objective of man. And that it is not even clear what man is. And that the supreme divine Good is unattainable in this life. In the life that is the orteguian chore. And for this Marias renounces to consider the idea of good, human or divine, as the foundation of human morality.

2.- And he realizes that he does not need to know rigorously what Good is so that men, each man, decides, morally, what he has to do. Every man must and can exercise his freedom and decide, with his reason, what he believes best according to the circumstances of his personal life.

3 .- Although I have not seen that expressly, this duty to live by choosing what is best, is the vital ortegian imperative. For both, Marías and Ortega, this choice is made through the vital reason. And the two say that "reason is for living and not living for reason".  

I have extended myself in the ideas of D. Julian, and especially in the latter, because one of my objectors asked me what I meant with "trying" when I say that the vital imperative of man, of all men, is "trying" the survival of the species. And I told him that trying is, according to the DRAE: to have the courage to do something. Although it is not achieved.

This "trying" is the morally good for every man: Making the best possible (Marías) to try to fulfill Ortega's vital imperative: to save my circumstance to save myself. And with the basic idea we already know that it is Man, humanity, the circumstance to save.

For Ortega, his circumstance was Spain (see Foreword for Germans). Now it would be Humanity. And he also said that, for the man, to live is to live together.  And to live together is to live with others, to alternate, to be altruistic. He was enunciating the content of the vital imperative and the way to try it: the basic ideas in his language.

Madrid, 7.9.18. Reviewed on 5.10.2018