Translator and Editor Introductions (i-v)


(Outside back cover)

With the title The Fundamental Problems of Western Metaphysics we now publish the text of a seminar with that name that Zubiri (1898-1983) imparted in 1969 giving a definitive expression to a subject that concerned him deeply throughout his entire life. It received its first written expression in the two articles entitled “Sobre el problema de la filosofía” (On the Problem of Philosophy) that Zubiri published in the journal Revista de Occidente (Western Review) of 1933. Xavier Zubiri thinks that in the philosophy of each era there has only been one “fundamental problem”, which has actually been varying throughout the whole history of metaphysics. The “fundamental problem” in Greek philosophy was the problem of occurrence or motion, and Zubiri dedicates the first chapter of this book to it. Soon afterwards, philosophy changed its horizon, and the fundamental question ceased to be “why do things change” in favor of another one, “why are there any things at all”. The metaphysical horizon was no longer occurrence, but nothingness or contingency. That was the horizon where the whole of Western metaphysics was inscribed from Augustine to Hegel. Zubiri analyzes the content of this horizon in some of its main authors, like St. Thomas (chapter 2), Descartes (chapter 3), Leibniz (chapter 4), Kant (chapter 5), and Hegel (chapter 6). Finally, as a conclusion, he proposes his own alternative, to view the problems of metaphysics from a new horizon, different from occurrence or contingency. This new horizon is based on his description of the fact of “sentient intelligence”. For Zubiri, only from this perspective can there be a fundament for an authentically genuine metaphysical horizon truly different from both the ancient and the modern ones. Because of this, the new horizon is strictly postmodern or contemporaneous. All of the above gives us an idea of the importance of this text, rigorously fundamental not only for the understanding of the philosophy of Zubiri, but also for the understanding of contemporary thought.



Translated by Joaquín A. Redondo, M.E., M.A. (Phil.)
and critically reviewed by Dr. Thomas B. Fowler, Jr., Sc.D.

(From the Spanish edition of
Los problemas fundamentales de la metafísica occidental,
Alianza Editorial, Fundación Xavier Zubiri, Madrid, Spain, 1994)

(Numbers in braces “{ }” refer
to the pagination of the above Spanish edition, 1994)


Just a few words in order to provide a few preliminary strokes. Zubiri presents a new evaluation of metaphysics and reviews the history of metaphysical perspectives choosing some philosophers from the ancient Greek to Hegel. He considers that the history of metaphysics is also part of metaphysics simply because metaphysics is a problematic science. It has to search for its own subject of study. That object is simply not out there in front of us, it has to be found. Zubiri calls it the “diaphanous”, something so subtle in everything real that we have to do violence to our intelligence in order to focus upon it. Therefore, our intelligence is a “questing intelligence”, querens, that may actualize that reality in our intelligence. Not an “ideal” or conceptual production pointing to something absolutely unknowable, but knowledge of a particular reality that is known that way, when impressing its particular form on us. This is a manner that transcends all other manners, providing a view of a greater universal reality to be continuously outlined in our intelligence with further precisions. The essence of philosophy is metaphysics and the core of metaphysics is transcendence, the many ways it has been constructed.

“The transcendental order in itself has an intrinsically problematic texture” (The Fundamental Problems of Western Metaphysics, Sp. 1994, p. 322). We should point out that in his work On Essence he tells us that “Here reality does not refer or means what the thing is in itself, its nature, etc., but … it means only the formal character of that which is apprehended, even though what is apprehended may be a most ephemeral, fugitive and insignificant quality.” (On Essence, 1980, p. 137; Sobre la esencia, 1985, p. 114). He had also written previously, “It is necessary that after having apprehended the objects under which it lies, a new mental act may operate on the previous one in order to position the object in a new dimension so as to make this other new dimension, not transparent, but visible. The act by which the object of philosophy is made patent is not an apprehension, not an intuition, but a reflection.” (Nature History God, 1981, p. 105; Naturaleza, Historia, Dios, 1942, p. 116).

Zubiri refers to the “horizon of nothingness”. From the horizon of motion of the Greek, Zubiri proceeds to deal with the horizon of nothingness and “being” present in Christianity as exemplified in St. Thomas. Then, he follows with the horizon of nothingness and certitude in Descartes. With Leibniz, the horizon of nothingness is possibility. Next is Kant where the horizon of nothingness is objectuality. The last philosopher is Hegel where the horizon of nothingness faces the absolute and reason.

Zubiri ends with a presentation of what he also considers fundamental, the problem of what intelligence is. He proposes his notion of sentient itelligence in a final chapter, which is an outline of his future trilogy Sentient Intelligence.

Will finish with these guiding thoughts by Zubiri. “But human intelligence is sentient, and senses reality intellectively according to all the possible types of sensing and not just according to the sense of sight.” (Man and God, Sp. 1988, p. 188). “Intelligence begins to function when man has to suspend his adequate replies in the order of pure stimulations. That is the moment when the function I call ‘to become aware of reality’ begins to act, which is the dawn of intelligence. Intelligence intervenes with its radical act, its elementary and exclusive act, in the way of apprehending reality as reality.” (The Fundamental Problems of Western Metaphysics, Sp. 1994, p. 334). “This act of impression of reality insofar as it is of impression is sensitive; insofar as it is of reality is intellective.” (Ibid., p. 336).

Joaquín A. Redondo

{ i }


The present volume is the publication of the seminar Los problemas fundamentales de la metafísica occidental (The Fundamental Problems of Western Metaphysics), which Zubiri imparted through 12 sessions for the academic year of 1969-1970 at the Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones (Research and Publications Society). It belongs, therefore, to the period when Zubiri’s thought had reached its maturity.

A few months before, in March of 1969, Zubiri had given a brief seminar in two sessions entitled Estructura de la metafísica (Structure of Metaphysics), which is a preparation and complement to the one we are publishing here. That seminar consists of two parts. A historical first part, which presents in a very compressed way the same historical content covered in this present text. And a systematic second part, which presents in greater detail what will be covered in the last chapter of the present academic seminar.

The seminar we present here is a seminar that shows several peculiarities. Although Zubiri held the chair of History of Philosophy from 1926 to 1942, the dominant tone and basic objective of his enterprise has a distinctive theoretical accent, something that is even more patent in his mature productions. It is true that in our time the great majority of “theoretical” philosophies are accompanied with {ii} developments and perspectives facing the history of previous philosophies —at least, facing some of the more prominent issues considered important— and Zubiri is no exception. In his theoretical works we find numerous historical references, but in that context it concerns very schematic references that almost always appear as critical oppositions to his own thought. In this sense, the references by Zubiri tend to return over and over on a few authors and they do so with such determination that it seems to suggest an interpretation of the history of philosophy different from the usual one. The present seminar could also be understood as the explicit presentation of those interpretations and therefore, an elaboration and fundament of what in the theoretical works appears as schematic references.

With the title Cinco lecciones de filosofía (Five Philosophy Lectures), Zubiri had published another seminar in 1963. In it he analyzed several historical variations of the concept of “philosophy” in some important philosophers, such as Aristotle, Kant, Comte, Bergson, and Husserl (with some additions on Dilthey and Heidegger), a selection that Zubiri considered “absolutely arbitrary”. That alleged “arbitrariness” does not appear to concern the importance of the chosen authors, but rather the incomplete characteristic of the selection, since in the last “prologue” (1980) that Zubiri wrote on that work he said, “An adequate exposition should cover many other thinkers. Actually, in one of my other seminars I have attempted to add four other authors to the five covered in this present work, St. Thomas, Descartes, Leibniz, and Hegel. Perhaps some day I may decide to publish these studies.”

Zubiri clearly refers to the seminar we now present, the continuity of which with the previous one is established {iii} by the author. This means that the present seminar has an expository level and Zubiri develops in it what he estimates is central in the thought of six authors he considers quite important at different stages of Western thought. The “techniques” of exposition are repeated. Taking as a guide a central text of an author there appears an insistence to present the structural coherence of his thought. Here again we find the great expository qualities of Zubiri that unite both clarity and maximum rigor. Those qualities, which earned so many readers for Cinco lecciones de filosofía (Five Philosophy Lectures), will continue to earn them for this seminar, which however, faces quite some complex issues. Obviously, the expositions of Zubiri can and should be contrasted with the contributions of historical criticism on each particular case.

But what is most remarkable in this seminar is the presence of another stratum, which no doubt is more original and will interest those who know Zubiri. The expositions mentioned are framed within a conceptivation, pointedly theoretical, of the basic substratum on which Western philosophy is nurtured. Such a substratum, not visible at first sight, is what surfaces under the light of Zubiri’s own philosophy. According to it, Western philosophy appears as a progressively accentuated deviation, which is configuring what Zubiri calls an entification of reality, resting on a base where we can discover a progressive logification of intelligence, culminating in the total primacy of the “conceptive intelligence” in Hegel. The present seminar is the detailed development of this “entification” of reality with its consequent “logification” of intelligence that conform the antithesis against which Zubiri displays his mature philosophy.

With this we are able to understand not only the numerous and important critical observations to the authors presented, but also {iv} the fact that the seminar begins with a highly theoretical treatment. This is done in order to define “the fundamental problems of Western metaphysics” or perhaps it might be better to say “the problematic fundament of Western metaphysics”. For this reason, the seminar does not end with Hegel, the philosopher that carries this trend to its maximum; Zubiri adds an important “conclusion” outlining his doctrine of sentient intelligence, which tries to offer a positive correction to that basic deviation.

This last point appears important to those interested in Zubiri. We are facing a broad outline of what later will be developed in his trilogy Inteligencia sentiente (Sentient Intelligence), and therefore, is an important document concerning the development of this topic in the work of Zubiri. To confirm this, one has only to compare the broad outline in this volume with the article “Notas sobre la inteligencia humana” (Notes on Human Intelligence), published in 1967-1968, which clearly shows the close relationship it has to the treatment given to the subject here. This allows us to document all along the Zubiri enterprise how basic the issue of sentient intelligence is, and probably also permits to document the progress of its elaboration, which only culminated with his trilogy Sentient Intelligence incorporating important precisions over points he had held prior to it.

As a whole, the present book clearly establishes two points. In the first place, the historical line, which nurtures and inspires the mature philosophy of Zubiri with the purpose of providing it with its latest radicality and fill in its numerous lacunae. In the second place, it shows the relief, which the basic overall view of Western thought presents —at least, the one Zubiri believes is such— from the heights reached by the mature philosophy of Zubiri. Without doubt, this will contribute to clarify several points of the thought of the philosopher.

Although it does not appear that Zubiri was seriously thinking {v} about publishing this material during his lifetime, he had carefully reviewed the original transcript, which shows signs of having been worked upon during his lifetime. It is not just the case of stylistic corrections (this aspect appears to be somewhat ignored), but of additions and changes for important greater precision. There exists a restructuralization of the whole seminar by means of a posterior new index written by Zubiri, which provides a much greater systematic configuration. This restructuralization is the one we have used for this publication.

My grateful thanks to Carmen Castro de Zubiri for her interest in the publication of this seminar and her valuable help in the reading of many additions and the identification of some quotations. Also to the Fundación Xavier Zubiri (Xavier Zubiri Foundation), particularly Asunción Medinaveitia, for the help received. Diego Gracia read and carefully corrected the first draft of the manuscript, contributing important improvements in every aspect. J. Antonio Martínez Martínez reviewed the chapter on Descartes.

Antonio Pintor-Ramos

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