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The Xavier Zubiri Review, Volume 1, 1998, pp. 5-16

Introduction to the Philosophy of Xavier Zubiri

Thomas B. Fowler

President, Xavier Zubiri Foundation of North America
Washington, DC USA


Life and Times

Xavier Zubiri y Apalategui was born in San SebastiŠn, on December 4, 1898. After preparatory studies in Guipķzcoa he attended the University of Madrid where some of his mentors were Angel Amor Ruibal, GarcŪa Morente, Juan ZaragŁeta, Josť Ortega y Gasset, Julio Rey-Pastor, and Julio Palacios. He also included periods of residence at the University of Louvain, then under Cardinal Mercier, and the Gregorian University at Rome, the successor of the Collegio Romano. At the Gregorian, in 1920, he received the doctorate in theology. In 1921 he received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Madrid. He refers to the period 1921-1928, when he worked extensively on phenomenology, as the "phenomenological-objectivist" epoch.

In 1926 he won the competition for the chair of history of philosophy at the University of Madrid. Between 1928 and 1931 he included trips throughout Europe to study under the masters of various disciplines: classical philology with Werner Jaeger; philosophy with Husserl and Heidegger; theoretical physics with De Broglie and Schrödinger; biology with von Geluchten, Spemann, and Goldschmidt; mathematics with Rey-Pastor, La Vallťe-Poussin, and Zermelo. As a result of these extended study trips, and his continual rethinking of philosophical problems, he embarked upon a second epoch, what he terms the "ontological" epoch (1931-1944), in which philosophical problems were radicalized, and he developed the concept of relegation, which became a cornerstone of his theological writings. Zubiriís Madrid University lectures, Metaphysics of Aristotle (1931-1932), and Pre-Socratics (1933-1934) acquired special resonance. During the course of the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939), he was in Paris teaching courses at the Institut Catholique and studying oriental languages with Deimel, Benveniste, Labat, Dhorme, and others at the Sorbonne. In 1939 he married Carmen Castro who had been one of his students, and was the daughter of the Spanish writer Amťrico Castro. From 1940 to 1942 he occupied the chair of history of philosophy at the University of Barcelona.

In 1943 Zubiri left the university to strike out on his own program of research and teaching in Madrid. This also marks the beginning of his final, mature period, the "metaphysical" epoch, whose main theme is reality. He created his own model, the cursos (seminars), and through them he continued to present and involve others with his philosophical insights. His seminars were well attended, and he gathered a group of devoted followers with backgrounds in many disciplines who worked with him on the development of his thought. This group met weekly with Zubiri to discuss philosophical matters and review his texts as they were being written. The first major book of his mature period, On Essence, was published in 1963. It represents a complete rethinking of the concept of essence in light of the entire history of philosophy and the development of science during the 20th century. His principal systematic work, Sentient Intelligence, appeared in three volumes in the early 1980s. In this work, Zubiri builds upon the entire history of philosophy and science to create a new philosophical vision which incorporates [6] key elements and insights from virtually all major thinkers, but which also shows how each of their systems went astray. The scope, depth, clarity, and profundity of Zubiriís philosophy suggest that it is both the culmination of 2500 years of intensive intellectual struggle and the solid basis on which knowledge can build in the future. Zubiri died on September 21, 1983, in the midst of editing a new book for publication.

Zubiriís Rethinking of Philosophy

The history of philosophy is littered with corpses of failed systems. Many are the philosophers who, contemplating this situation, saw in it nothing but an inconvenient fact arising from some fault in the assumptions, reasoning, or scope of their predecessorsí work. Each expected to put paid to this situation once and for all with his own new and improved philosophy, only to see it fall to the same fate.[1] Zubiri is determined to avoid such a fate, and to accomplish that goal, he needs to do three things:

  • Determine what went wrong with all past philosophies, not individually but in common. To do this he must penetrate to a much deeper level than any of these philosophies, and determine the unspoken and unrecognized assumptions that lie there.
  • Develop a new way of doing philosophy not subject to the vicissitudes of history and changes in the scientific worldview. This will require a totally new conception of reality as something open at multiple levels, rather than closed, fixed, and exhaustible, and a corresponding new theory of intelligence.
  • Demonstrate that there is genuine progress in philosophy by creating a new synthesis which is not a drop-in replacement for and rejection of all of the old erroneous systems, but rather something which absorbs their key insights and refines and/or corrects them in a dynamic, rather than a static synthesis such as that of Kant. This synthesis must be equally capable of absorbing developments in science and mathematics.

It is important to understand at the outset just how radical Zubiriís rethinking of philosophy had to be in order to achieve his goal. Though in constant dialogue with the history of philosophy, and recognizing that this history must be the starting point for his (or any effort), Zubiri

  • rejects the traditional view of reality as a zone of things, whether "out there" beyond perception, within the mind, in the realm of ideas, or anywhere else, replacing it with a more fundamental and general notion, that of formality, which refers to the nature of what is present to the intelligence;
  • rejects the traditional four-part division of philosophy into metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and ethics as the primary basis for its organization, instead recognizing that no such strict division has ever been achieved or is even possible, and that a new approach to human intellection is necessary;
  • rejects the traditional notion of God as a reality object, instead conceiving of Him as a reality fundament or ground;
  • rejects the traditional idea of reality as "closed" and static, as implied in most conceptions of essence, in favor of a new view of reality and essence as "open";
  • rejects the traditional notion of a person as another type of "thing," arguing that personhood is a separate, distinct kind of reality.
  • rejects the agreement of thought and things as the fundamental notion of truth; rather this dual truth is founded on a more fundamental truth, real truth, the impressive actuality of the real in sentient intellection.
  • rejects the traditional notion of sensible intelligence founded on opposition between sensing and intelligence, replacing it with a fully integrated conception, sentient intelligence.

Key Elements in Zubiriís Thought

Zubiriís philosophical thought integrates twelve major elements:

  • The panorama of the entire Western philosophical tradition from the Presocratics through Heidegger, Logical Positivism, and to some extent, the 20th century English schools of thought. Like Aristotle, Zubiri is constantly in dialogue with his predecessors.
  • Aristotle and the tradition of classical philosophy (though subject to relentless critical analysis and rethinking). The gravity of Aristotle, as well as his encyclopedic vision and his understanding of the position of philosophy in the context of human knowledge, are particularly important in Zubiriís thought.
  • Insights from the work of the Phenomenologists in the 20th century. Though ultimately superseding them, Zubiri believes that there is a kernel of truth in their analysis of human experience which is essential to formulating a philosophy which takes account both of our undeniable perception of the world as real (see below), our understanding of it through science, and the limitations of our intelligence.
  • The overwhelming force of our direct perception of reality. For Zubiri, this is the salient characteristic of human intelligence and must be the starting point for any firmly grounded theory of the intelligence, any epistemology, and ultimately any philosophy. Though not specifically discussed by Zubiri, the tradition of the great Spanish mystics and the characteristics of their knowledge, in some ways akin to direct experience of the world, must have been in the back of his mind.[2]
  • Scientific knowledge, and especially the insight science has given us into the structure of the natural world and our ability to know that world. Zubiri evinces a particularly keen interest in quantum mechanics and the revolution in physics which occurred in the early decades of this century. His interest extends to all the sciences, and he believes that the cracking of the genetic code has provided insights in the biological realm which are in some ways analogous to those achieved in physics.
  • Modern logic and mathematics, especially Gödelís theorem, and the new insights about mathematical truths and mathematical realities these developments have yielded.
  • Nonscientific knowledge, specifically, the need to establish a foundation for it in a comprehensive philosophical system, and recognize its great and continuing contribution to the totality of knowledge. In what sense is a novel, a poem, or a painting about reality? Why do we say that an artist has "perceived essential truths"? Why does an artist create his works rather than just discourse about his subject?
  • The relation of God to the physical world and to science and scientific knowledge, especially physics; dealt with at length in earlier works.[3]
  • Insights from Eastern philosophical/religious traditions, especially the Vedanta. Zubiri regards this as particularly important for understanding how philosophy began and why it emerged as different in the Western tradition.
  • The fundamentally different reality of the person, as compared to ordinary physical realities.
  • Results and insights from philology, especially Indo-European philology. Zubiri believes that those who first created our language and our words had a freshness and clarity of vision with respect to certain basic human experiences that later generations could not replicate.[4]
  • The Christian theological tradition, with equal emphasis on Eastern (Greek) and Western Fathers and theologians. Zubiri wrote extensively on this subject and related topics, including a book published posthumously.[5]

Poles of Zubiriís Thought

Roughly speaking, the two poles of Zubiriís thought are (1) that which is most radical in Aristotle, his conception of essence as the Çn eŹnai, what makes a thing be what it is; and (2) the phenomenological concept of reality . His own radical innovation was to weave these two into a unified whole via the new concept of sentient intellection. But Zubiri radically rethinks both Aristotleís and the phenomenologistsí legacies; so his concept of essence, his concept of reality, and his concept of intelligence differ in many respects from the originals.

(1) Zubiri points out that Aristotle begins by conceiving of essence as that which makes a thing what it is, in the most radical sense. Later, however, Aristotle links his metaphysics with his epistemology by claiming that essence is the physical correlate of the definition (of a thing). Knowledge is then of essences via definition in terms of genus and species; the most famous example is of course "man is a rational animal". Zubiri comments:

When the essence is taken as the real correlate of the definition, the least that must be said is that it is a question of a very indirect way of arriving at things. ForÖinstead of going directly to reality and asking what in it may be its essence, one takes the roundabout way of passing through the definition.[6]

For Zubiri, this is not merely a roundabout way, but something worse:

Öit is a roundabout way which rests on an enormously problematic presupposition, namely, that the essential element of every thing is necessarily definable; and this is more than problematical.[7]

In fact, Zubiri believes, the essence in general cannot be defined in genus-species form, and may not be expressible in ordinary language at all. He believes that essencesóin the radical sense of determining what a thing is, and thus how it will behave, what its characteristics are, and so forthócan be determined only with great difficulty; and much of science is dedicated to this task. Specifically, Zubiri believes that it is necessary to go back to Aristotleís original idea of essence as the fundamental determinant of a thingís nature, what makes it to be what it is, and expand on this concept in the light of modern science.

But this critique indicates that there is a deep realist strain to Zubiriís thought, a belief that we can, in some ultimate sense, grasp reality. The problem arises in connection with our belief that what we perceive is also realóa belief upon which we act in living out our lives. This compels Zubiri to make an extremely important distinction with respect to reality: between reality in apprehension (which he terms Ďreityí) and reality of what things are beyond sensing, (true reality, realidad verdadera). Zubiri believes that the failure of past philosophers to distinguish these, and consequently, their failure to recognize that they refer to different stages of intellection, is at the root of many grave errors and paradoxes. This leads directly to the second pole of Zubiriís thought: Phenomenology.

(2) Zubiri takes three critical ideas from phenomenology (Husserl, Ortega y Gasset, and Heidegger). First is a certain way or "idea" of philosophy. In particular, he accepts that phenomenology has opened a new path and deepened our understanding of things by recognizing that it is necessary to position philosophy at a new and more radical level than that of classical realism or of modern idealism (primarily Hegel).[8]

Secondly, he accepts that philosophy must start with its own territory, that of "mere immediate description of the act of thinking". But for him, the radical philosophical problem is not that proclaimed by the phenomenologists: not Husserlís "phenomenological consciousness", not Heideggerís "comprehension of being", not [9] Ortegaís "life", but rather the "apprehension of reality". He believes that philosophy must start from the fundamental fact of experience, that we are installed in reality, however modestly, and that our most basic experiences, what we perceive of the world (colors, sounds, people, etc.) are real. Without this basisóand despite that fact that knowledge built upon it can at times be in erroróthere would be no other knowledge either, including science. However, at the most fundamental level, that of direct apprehension of reality, there is no possibility of error; only knowledge built upon this foundation, involving as it does logos and reason, can be in error. Zubiri points out that it makes sense to speak of error only because we canóand doóachieve truth.[9]

But because the world discovered to us by science is quite different from our ordinary experience (electromagnetic waves and photons instead of colors, quarks and other strange particles instead of solid matter, and so forth), a critical problem arises which thrusts Zubiri towards a radical rethinking of the notion of reality. This is one of the main themes of the book Sentient Intelligence.

The third ideaóperhaps Ďinspirationí is a better termówhich Zubiri draws from phenomenology has to do with his radically changed concept of reality. For Zubiri, reality is a formality, not a zone of things, as in classical philosophy:

In the first place, the idea of reality does not formally designate a zone or class of things, but only a formality, reity or "thingness". It is that formality by which what is sentiently apprehended is presented to me not as the effect of something beyond what is apprehended, but as being in itself something "in its own right", something de suyo; for example, not only "warming" but "being" warm. This formality is the physical and real character of the otherness of what is sentiently apprehended in my sentient intellection.[10]

This conception of reality is, so to speak, a radical "paradigm shift", because it means that there are multiple types of reality and that many of the old problems associated with reality are in fact pseudo-problems. Zubiri notes that

The reality of a material thing is not identical with the reality of a person, the reality of society, the reality of the moral, etc.; nor is the reality of my own inner life identical to that of other realities. But on the other hand, however different these modes of reality may be, they are always reity, i.e., formality de suyo.

Much of the work is devoted to analyzing the process of intelligence, and explaining how its three stages (primordial apprehension, logos, and reason) unfold and yield knowledge, including scientific knowledge.

Sentient Intellection not Sensible Intellection

Zubiri seeks to reestablish radically the basis for human knowledge as the principal step in his restructuring of philosophy. This task goes far beyond any type of Kantian critiqueósomething which Zubiri believes can only come after we have analyzed what human knowledge is, and how we apprehend. For Zubiri, perception of reality begins with the sensing process, but he rejects the paradigm of classical philosophy, which starts from opposition between sensing and intelligence. According to this paradigm, the senses deliver confused content to the intelligence, which then figures out or reconstructs reality. The Scholastics said, nihil est in intellectu quod prius non fuerit in sensu nisi ipse intellectus. This is sensible intelligence, and according to Zubiri, the entire paradigm is radically false.

Zubiriís point of departure for his rethinking of this problem is the immediacy and sense of direct contact with reality that we experience in our perception of the world; the things we perceive: colors, [10] sounds, sights, are real in some extremely fundamental sense that cannot be overridden by subsequent reasoning or analysis. That is, there is associated with perception an overwhelming impression of its veracity, a type of "guarantee" which accompanies it, that says to us, "What you apprehend is reality, not a cinema, not a dream." Implied here two separate aspects of perception: first, what the apprehension is of, e.g. a tree or a piece of green paper, and second, its self-guaranteeing characteristic of reality. This link to reality must be the cornerstone of any theory of the intelligence:

By virtue of its formal nature, intellection is apprehension of reality in and by itself. This in a radical sense an apprehension of the real which has its own characteristics...Intellection is formally direct apprehension of the realónot via representations nor images. It is an immediate apprehension of the real, not founded in inferences, reasoning processes, or anything of that nature. It is a unitary apprehension. The unity of these three moments is what makes what is apprehended to be apprehended in and by itself.[11]

Thus what we have is a fully integrated process with no distinction between sensing and apprehension which Zubiri terms sensible apprehension of reality. The fundamental nature of human intellection can be stated quite simply: "actualization of the real in the sentient intellection".[12] There are three moments of this actualization:

  • affection of the sentient being by what is sensed (the noetic).
  • otherness which is presentation of something other, a "note," nota (from Greek, gignosco, "to know", and noein, to think; hence the noematic).
  • force of imposition of the note upon the sentient being (the noergic).

Otherness consists of two moments, only the first of which has received any attention heretofore: content (what the apprehension is of) and formality (how it is delivered to us). Formality may be either formality of stimulation, in the case of animals, or formality of reality, in the case of man.

The union of content and formality of reality gives rise to the process of knowing which unfolds logically if not chronologically in three modes or phases:

  • Primordial apprehension of reality (or basic, direct installation in reality, giving us pure and simple reality)
  • Logos (explanation of what something is vis à vis other things, or what the real of primordial apprehension is in reality)
  • Reason (or ratio, methodological explanation of what things are and why they are, as in done in science, for example)

This process, shown schematically in Figure 1, is mediated by what Zubiri calls the Ďfieldí of reality. The reality field concept is loosely based on the field concept from physics, such as the gravitational field, where a body exists "by itself", so to speak; but also by virtue of its existence, creates a field around itself through which it interacts with other bodies. Thus in the field of reality, a thing has an individual moment and a field moment. The individual moment Zubiri refers to as the thing existing "by itself" or "of itself"; de suyo is the technical term he employs. The "field moment" is called as such and implies that things cannot be fully understood in isolation. This is in stark contrast to the notion of essence in classical philosophy.


Figure 1

Sentient Intelligence in Zubiriís Philosophy


Roughly speaking, primordial apprehension installs us in reality and delivers things to us in their individual and field moments; logos deals with things in the field, how they relate to each other; and reason tells us what they are in the sense of methodological explanation. A simple example may serve to illustrate the basic ideas. A piece of green paper is perceived. It is apprehended as something real in primordial apprehension; both the paper and the greenness are apprehended as real, in accordance with our normal beliefs about what we apprehend. (This point about the reality of the color green is extremely important, because Zubiri believes that the implicit denial of the reality of, say, colors, and the systematic ignoring of them by modern science is a great scandal.)

As yet, however, we may not know how to name the color, for example, or what the material is, or what to call its shape. That task is the function of the logos, which relates what has been apprehended to other things known and named from previous experience; for example, other colors or shades of colors associated [12] with greenness. Likewise, with respect to the material in which the green inheres, we would associate it with paper, wood, or other things known from previous experience. In turn, reason via science explains the green as electromagnetic energy of a certain wavelength, or photons of a certain energy in accordance with Einsteinís relation. That is, the color green is the photons as sensed; there are not two realities. The characteristics of the three phases may be explained as follows:

  • Primordial apprehension of reality is the basic, direct installation in reality, giving us pure and simple reality. This is what one gets first, and is the basis on which all subsequent understanding is based. Perhaps it can be most easily understood if one thinks of a baby, which has only this apprehension: the baby perceives the real world around it, but as a congeries of sounds, colors, etc., which are real, but as yet undifferentiated into chairs, walls, spoken words, etc. It is richest with respect to the real, poorest with respect to specific determination (Ulterior modes augment determination, but diminish richness). In it, reality not exhausted with respect to its content, but given in an unspecific ambient transcending the content. This transcendence strictly sensed, not inferred, even for the baby. Primordial apprehension is the basis for the ulterior or logically subsequent modes.
  • Logos (explanation of what something is vis à vis other things, or as Zubiri expresses it, what the real of primordial apprehension is in reality). This is the second step: differentiate things, give them names, and understand them in relation to each other. As a baby gets older, this is what he does: he learns to make out things in his environment, and he learns what their names are, eventually learning to speak and communicate with others verbally. This stage involves a "stepping back" from direct contact with reality in primordial apprehension in order to organize it. The logos is what enables us to know what a thing, apprehended as real in sentient intellection, is in reality (a technical term, meaning what something is in relation to oneís other knowledge). It utilizes the notion of the "field of reality" The reality field is a concept loosely based on field concept of physics: a body exists "by itself" but by virtue of its existence, creates field around itself through which it interacts with other bodies.
  • Reason (or ratio, methodological explanation of what things are and why they are, as is done in science, for example). This is the highest level of understanding; it encompasses all of our ways of understanding our environment. One naturally thinks of science, of course; but long before science as we know it existed, people sought explanations of things. And they found them in myths, legends, plays, poetry, art, and musicówhich are indeed examples of reason in the most general sense: they all seek to tell us something about reality. Later, of course, came philosophy and science; but no single way of access to reality, in this sense, is exhaustive; all have a role. ". Reason, for Zubiri, does not consist in going to reality, but in going from field reality toward worldly reality, toward field reality in depth. If one likes, the field is the system of the sensed real, and the world, the object of reason reason, is the system of the real as a form of reality. That is, the whole world of the rationally intellectively known is the unique and true explanation of field reality.

In Zubiriís wordís, reason is "measuring intellection of the real in depth".[13] There are two moments of reason to be distinguished (1) intellection in depth, e.g., electromagnetic theory is intellection in depth of color;[14] (2) its character as measuring, in the most general sense, akin to the notion of measure in advanced mathematics (functional analysis). For example, prior to the twentieth century, material things were assimilated to the notion of "body"; that was the measure of all material things. But with the [13] development of quantum mechanics, a new conception of material things was forced upon science, one which is different from the traditional notion of "body". The canon of real things was thus enlarged, so that the measure of something is no longer necessarily that of "body". (Zubiri himself will go on to enlarge it further, pointing out that personhood is another type of reality distinct from "body" or other material things). Measuring, in this sense, and the corresponding canon of reality, are both dynamic and are a key element in Zubiriís quest to avoid the problems and failures of past philosophies based on static and unchanging conceptions of reality.


Given Zubiriís radically new approach to philosophy, and his analysis of intelligence as sentient, it is not surprising that his concept of reality is quite different from previous philosophy as well. As mentioned above, he rejects the idea of reality as a "zone of things", usually conceived as "out there" beyond the mind, and replaces it with a more general notion, that of formality. "Reality is formality", he says over and over, and by this he means that reality is the de suyo, the "in its own right"; it is not the content of some impression. Anything which is "in its own right" is real. This de suyo, the formality of reality, is how the content is delivered to us. Our brainsóZubiri refers to them as organs of formalizationóare wired to perceive reality, to perceive directly the "in its own right" character. It does not emerge as the result of some reasoning process working on the content; it is delivered together with the content in primordial apprehension.

This includes reality in apprehension, as well as reality beyond apprehension. But always, the character of reality is the same: de suyo. It is therefore something physical as opposed to something conceptual. And this is true whether one is speaking of things perceived at the level of primordial apprehension, such as colors, or things perceived in ulterior modes of apprehension such as reason, where examples might be historical realities such as the Ottoman Empire, or mathematical objects such as circles and lines: both are real in the same sense, though they differ in other respects (mathematical objects are real by postulation, whereas historical entities are not). Moreover, reality is independent of the subject, not a subjective projection, but something imposed upon the subject, something which is here-and-now before the subject. Logos and reason do not have to go to reality or create it; they are born in it and remain in it.

When a thing is known sentiently, at the same time it is known to be a reality. The impression of reality puts us in contact with reality, but not with all reality. Rather, it leaves us open to all reality. This is openness to the world. All things have a unity with respect to each other which is what constitutes the world. Zubiri believes that reality is fundamentally open, and therefore not capturable in any human formula. This openness is intimately related to transcendentality:

...reality as reality is constitutively open, is transcendentally open. By virtue of this openness, reality is a formality in accordance with which nothing is real except as open to other realities and even to the reality of itself. That is, every reality is constitutively respective qua reality.[15]

Reality must not be considered as some transcendental concept, or even as a concept which is somehow realized in all real things:

Örather, it is a real and physical moment, i.e., transcendentality is just the openness of the real qua real....The world is open not only because we do not know what things there are or can be in it; it is open above all because no thing, however precise and detailed its constitution, is "the" reality as such.[16]

Sentient intellection is transcendental impression, in which the trans does not [14] draw us out of what is apprehended, toward some other reality (as Plato thought), but submerges us in reality itself. The impression of reality transcends all its content. This is the object of philosophy, whereas the world as such-and-such is the object of science.

For Zubiri, the fundamental or constitutive openness of reality means that the search for it is a never-ending quest; he believes that the development of quantum mechanics in the 20th century has been an example of how our concept of reality has broadened. In particular, it has been broadened to include the concept of person as a fundamentally different kind of reality:

That was the measure of reality: progress beyond the field was brought about by thinking that reality as measuring is "thing". An intellection much more difficult than that of quantum physics was needed in order to understand that the real can be real and still not be a thing. Such, for example, is the case of person. Then not only was the field of real things broadened, but that which we might term Ďthe modes of realityí were also broadened. Being a thing is only one of those modes; being a person is another.[17]

Now of course, not everything which we perceive in impression has reality beyond impression; but the fact that something is real only in impression does not mean that it isnít real. It is, because it is de suyo. And what is real in impression forms the basis for all subsequent knowing, including science. Still, we are quite interested in what is real beyond impression, which may be something else, or the same thing understood in a deeper manner. For example, electromagnetic theory tells us that colors are the result of photons of a particular energy affecting us. But, according to Zubirióand this is extremely importantóthere are not two realities (the photons and the colors), but the colors are the photons as perceived. Reason is the effort to know what things are "in reality" which are known in primordial apprehension.


Truth, like reality, is much different in Zubiriís approach. The traditional view has always been that truth is some sort of agreement of thought and things. Zubiri rejects this view because it is incomplete and not sufficiently radical for two reasons: (a) "things" as understood in this definition are the product of ulterior modes of intellection, and (b) "thought" is not univocal, being different in the three modes. The notion of truth as agreement of two things, dual truth, is a derivative notion, which must be grounded upon something more fundamental. For Zubiri, the priority of reality is always paramount, and hence the primary meaning of truth, real truth, is impressive actuality of the real in sentient intellection. It is a quality of actualization, not agreement of two disparate things, which as the ground of truth would pose insuperable verification problems. All other truth is ultimately based on this real truth, this actualization. As such, real truth is imposed on us, not conquered; dual truth, a derivative form of truth, we conquer through our own efforts. Real truth must be sought in primordial apprehension:

Öthe real is "in" the intellection, and this "in" is ratification. In sentient intellection truth is found in that primary form which is the impression of reality. The truth of this impressive actuality of the real in and by itself is precisely real truthÖ.Classical philosophy has gone astray on this matter and always thought that truth is constituted in the reference to a real thing with respect to what is conceived or asserted about that thing.[18]

Now truth and reality are not identical in Zubiriís philosophy, because there are many realities which are not actualized in [15] the sentient intellection, nor do they have any reason to be so. Thus not every reality is true in this sense. Though it does not add any notes, actualization does add truth to the real. Hence truth and reality are different; nor are they mere correlates, because reality is not simply the correlate of truth but its foundation on account of the fact that "all actualization is actualization of reality." [19]

Zubiri and Science

The scientific and the metaphysical are closely connected, because both are forms of knowledge emerging from the reason or third mode of human intellection. Articulating the relationship between them has been a difficult problem for at least three centuries of Western philosophy. For Zubiri, the relationship is as follows: reality unfolds in events observed by the sciences, which indeed allow us to observe aspects of it which would otherwise remain hidden. But this unfolding of reality is no different from its unfolding through personal experience, poetry, music, or religious experience. All human knowing is of the real, because reality is the formality under which man apprehends anything. In manís quest for understanding, the utilization of scientific concepts, amplified and interpreted, only supposes that the sciences are an appropriate way of access to reality. Philosophy, in turn, reflects on the data offered by the sciences as "data of reality". But philosophy is not looking to duplicate the efforts of science. Both philosophy and science examine the "world", that to which the field of reality directs us. But science is concerned with what Zubiri terms the "talitative" order, the "such-and-suchness" of the world, how such-and-such thing behaves; whereas philosophy is concerned with the respective unity of the real qua real, with its transcendental character, what makes it real.[20]

Human Reality

For centuries it was believed that what is real "beyond" impression comprises "material bodies", envisaged as made up of some sort of billiard-ball type particles. The development of quantum mechanics forced a change in this picture, though not without considerable controversy. A much more difficult effort was required to recognize that something can be real and yet not be a thing, viz. the human person. The human person is a fundamentally different kind of reality, one whose essence is open, as opposed to the closed essences of animals and other living things. An open essence is defined not by the notes that it naturally has, but by its system of possibilities; and hence it makes itself, so to speak, with the possibilities. "Its-own-ness" is what makes an essence to be open. This open essence of man is the ground of his freedom, in turn the ground of his moral nature. Zubiri terms the set of notes defining the essence of what it means to be a person personeity, and personality the realization of these notes by means of actions. A person, for Zubiri, is a relative absolute: "relative" because his actions are not entirely unconstrained, but are what makes him the kind of person that he is; "absolute" because he enjoys the ability to make himself, i.e., he has freedom and is not an automaton, fully deterministic.

As a consequence, manís role in the universe is different; and between persons (and only between them) there is a strict causality, which in turn implies a moral obligation. This causality is not a simple application of classical notions of causality to persons, but something irreducible to the causality of classical metaphysics, and still less reducible to the concept of a scientific law. This is what Zubiri refers to as personal causality. "And however repugnant it may be to natural science, there is...a causality between persons which is not given in the realm of nature."


God and Theology

The person is, in his very constitution, turned toward a reality which is more than he is, and on which he is based. This [16] reality is that from which emerge the resources he needs to make his personality, and which supplies him with the force necessary to carry out this process of realizing himself. This turning of a person to reality is relegation. It is a turning toward some ground not found among things immediately given, something which must be sought beyond what is given. The theist calls this ground ĎGodí. With respect to religions, nearly all offer a vision or explanation of this ground, and therefore there is some truth in all. But Christianity is unique because of the compenetration of the relegated person and the personal reality of God.

Concluding remarks

Zubiriís philosophy is boldly conceived and superbly executed rethinking and repositing of the great philosophical questions, unique in many extremely significant respects. It represents a new conception of philosophy as well as a new way of viewing and absorbing the history of philosophy. At the same time, it presents satisfying answers to the great philosophical questions, and reveals how many of the problems of the past were in fact pseudo-problems arising from misunderstandings, especially of the nature of human intellection as sentient.




[1] . Pintor Ramos, Zubiri, Madrid: Ediciones del Orto, 1996, p. 18.^

[2] In another work, El hombre y Dios (1973-75, published posthumously in 1984), Zubiri emphasizes this aspect of his thought, saying that we are dominated by reality, and that "Reality is the power of the real" which in effect seizes us. (p. 88).^

[3] Naturaleza, Historia, Dios, Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones, ninth edition, 1987; English edition, 1981.^

[4] Zubiri studied Indo-European philology (nowadays usually termed "historical linguistics") with Benveniste, one of the early pioneers. He was of course unaware of the work done in the late 1980s by Ruhlen, Shevoroshkin, Greenberg and others linking together major language families (Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, Finno-Urgric, etc.) into superfamilies such as Nostratic or Eurasiatic; but this would have come as no surprise to him, especially in view of his own etymological work on philosophical terms in the Semitic and Indo-European languages.^

[5] El hombre y Dios, Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones, [Man and God], 1984.^

[6] Sobre la esencia, Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1985, p. 89-90 [English translation by A. R. Caponigri, Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1980, p. 113.]^

[7] Ibid.^

[8] Diego Gracia, Voluntad de Verdad, Barcelona: Labor Universitaria, 1986, p. 89.^

[9] Inteligencia y realidad, Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1980, chapter VII (hereafter, IRE).^

[10] IRE, p. 172-173.^

[11] IRE, p. 257.^

[12] Inteligencia y razůn, Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1983, p. 13 (hereafter, IRA).^

[13] IRA, p. 45.^

[14] IRA, p. 43.^

[15] IRA, p. 19.^

[16] IRA, p. 19-20^

[17] IRA, p. 56.^

[18] IRE, p. 234.^

[19] Inteligencia y logos, Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1982, p. 255 (hereafter, IL).^

[20] IL, p. 268.^




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