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A Life Project

by Dan Garro 12 months ago in self help
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Defining Oneself

The Human Condition

The stone is given its existence…Man has to be himself in spite of unfavorable circumstances; that means he has to make his own existence at every single moment. - Ortega

Josè Ortega, like other existentialists, believed that a person must make himself, that he must define himself in the world.

“The stone,” Ortega writes, “is given its existence.” Things in the world, inanimate objects, plants, and even most animals are “given” their existence—they are what they are. A stone is a stone; it cannot be otherwise.

A person, however, “has to make his own existence at every single moment.” But what does it mean to say a person has to “make his own existence”?

In Ortega, we see echoes of Jean-Paul Sartre’s claim that for human beings “existence precedes essence.” We are “thrown into existence” without a guidebook or roadmap, we exist and lack a predetermined way of being that informs what and who we are, what we (will or should) become.

A Life Project

Ortega suggests that human beings define themselves through their choices and actions, by doing things in the world.

To choose between this or that, he tells us, is to make a choice about what and who we will become in the next moment, about what and who we are working to become.

At every moment of my life there open before me divers possibilities: I can do this or that. If I do this, I shall be A the moment after, if I do that, I shall be B. - Ortega

Beyond the moment, however, the individual can also direct his life with an eye towards the future, towards what he will become or hopes to become. Ortega calls this “a definite program or project of existence.”

life…is the attempt to carry out a definite program or project of existence. - Ortega

We are able to formulate an idea of who we want to be, of who we are, and we can work towards it, towards making this idea of who we are into a reality. The idea we form of the person we want to be is a project or program of existence. An individual’s life is his attempt to realize it his project.

In the process of realizing a project of existence, a person makes himself into something, he defines the existence.

A program or life project is not something definite in the sense of fixed once and for all, but rather something we work on, work out, and continue to change or go beyond as necessary.

Ortega’s life project is akin to Nietzsche’s notion of self-creation or giving style to one’s character. It is the means by which a person defines, transforms, and cultivates himself.

man is impossible without imagination, without the capacity to invent for himself a conception of life, to ‘ideate’ the character he is going to be. - Ortega

As Ortega points out, it takes imagination to invent a conception of life, to survey our circumstances, our past, and determine what we will be. Unlike a stone that is, was, and always will be what it is—a stone—a person is what he is in virtue of how he chooses to define himself, in virtue of the idea of himself that he invents.

Once we have an idea who we are, a conception of life, we can then work on making this idea a reality, we can work towards actually becoming that individual.

Each program, each project we create, each self we attempt to become, is an experiment, a trial. If one life project is no longer satisfactory, if we move beyond it, we can always create another.

But this second program is drawn up in the light, not only of circumstance, but also of the first. One aims at avoiding in the new project the drawbacks of the old. - Ortega

Life as Self-Creation

From Ortega’s standpoint, an individual’s life is this continuous process of trying to determine who he is, to make himself.

His circumstances, his past, provide what framework there is, and within these boundaries he develops a plan, an idea of who he will be and tries to realize, to make actual, this idea.

To make himself in the world, to realize his project, is to be alive and have a conception of life. It is through these projects that we derive meaning, value, and understand ourselves.

Self-creation is not only about making ourselves in the moment, but it is about determining what we will be in the future, what we will become.

the weightiest thing he has to do is to determine what he is going to be. - Ortega

In other words, true self-making, having a life project and living authentically, means looking not only at the present choices before us, but also looking down the road, as it were, and selecting the path that is most suited to us, to our idea of ourselves.

As Ortega notes, there are no limits to an individual’s self-making and self-realization. In fact, we are only limited by our imagination; the only restrictions are those imposed by history and circumstance.

Unlike a stone, unlike mere objects in the world whose existence is set, human beings make themselves and determine what they will be in the future. They are able to imagine an idea of who they are and work to realize it, to make it a reality.

Man ‘goes on being’ and ‘unbeing’—living. - Ortega

Thanks for reading!

Please subscribe & check out my related articles: The Habit of Living; Creating Opportunities; Reason, Autonomy, and Kant’s Ethics; One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy; Living Underground; Perspective; and The Wisdom of Socrates.

self help

About the author

Dan Garro

Philosopher/Educator/Writer/Podcast Host & Producer

I'm a philosophy professor, avid reader, I love writing, and I co-host/produce The Existential Stoic Podcast.

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