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Ferrater Mora and Politics: A Passion for Justice

It is somewhat ironic that Ferrater Mora calls each of these collections of articles a dictionary since he was so well known for the much larger Dictionary of Philosophy and since he so often complained that too much attention was paid to that massive work rather than to his more original philosophical writings, but he realized that the easiest way of arranging the many and varied topics was to order them alphabetically by subject matter and once he had done that, they did, in fact, become a kind of dictionary.

The entries in both of these "Dictionaries for Our Time" attest to the richness and scope of Ferrater Mora's interests. These articles show that Ferrater Mora took a keen interest in the "political world." There was a period, perhaps a long period, when he seemed to feel that any involvement in politics was useless because the individual was powerless to bring about change. This feeling was due, no doubt, to his involvement in the Spanish Civil War, which he viewed as the triumph of evil, and his subsequent exile. Professor Paz Espejo, a former student of his, has said that this was true during the six years he spent in Chile from 1941-1947. This outlook did not prevent him from following with keen interest what was happening in the political world, but for a while, he viewed such events as an onlooker rather than a participant. At some point he lost that feeling of hopelessness, although the exact date when this occurred is not clear.

In September 1961, contemplating the vast amount of work he planned to do on a new edition of the Dictionary of Philosophy, Ferrater worried about finding enough time "to write (or rewrite) the thousands of pages that will be needed to make it a decent fat thing." He then added, " I am worried; perhaps I should not be, for it may well happen that some super H bomb settles the problem once and for all. Have you noticed how excitable the great statesmen of the world have become during the last two weeks? Maybe it's the heat. I propose a world-government of philosophers in which I would gladly play an inconspicuous role. Philosophers are not better than anybody else, but they are too timid to let loose atomic bombs."

In 1969 he wrote about his feelings concerning the march in Washington, D.C., against the Vietnam war: "When I saw, and read about, the silent March and the immense gathering I was truly moved. I should have been there. . . . People responded. It was beautiful, like a great symphony."

Some of the last newspaper essays Ferrater Mora wrote were protests against the involvement of the United States in Iraq. Not only did he publish essays voicing his concerns, but he sent telegrams to George Bush, then President of the United States, saying, "Do not imitate Hussein," and to the Pennsylvania senators asking them to vote against sending United States troops to Iraq. Even as he lay dying, he remarked that a world in which such violence existed, a world in which the deaths of innocent people counted for so little, presented a depressing spectacle.

Ferrater Mora's passion for justice was not narrow and limited. It did not extend only to men, but included women, as was proven by his often repeated announcement, "I am a feminist." ("Soy feminista.") Nor was his passion for justice limited to his own people or his own nation; he wanted justice for Catalonia, for Spain, for the United States, and indeed, for all peoples. He went even further. Rejecting anthropocentrism, he supported what has come to be called "animal rights," although he was not entirely comfortable with the language of rights, preferring to speak of "ethical preferences." At the time of his death, he was writing a paper on "rights" and reviewing the complicated history of this term. It is not necessary, however, to use the term 'rights' to describe Ferrater Mora's views. He believed that animals, who have preferences, and who are capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, ought to be allowed to live their lives freely—free from human exploitation and control. This is an intellectual ideal or idea, an idea of justice involving the notion that we humans must treat the other creatures who share this planet with us fairly. Rational arguments can be formulated to support this view; it has nothing to do with loving animals.

Perhaps some clarification is necessary. There is a difference between being an "animal lover," which involves an emotional response and includes enjoying animals, becoming emotionally attached to them, taking pleasure in their company, thinking that one understands them and is communicating with them, and so forth and being an animal rights person, which is an intellectual position. There are animal rights people who are not animal lovers, and there are animal lovers who are not animal rights people.

Ferrater Mora did not believe that he communicated with animals, nor they with him, for their behavior often puzzled him. He could not understand why a cat would insist on jumping from the kitchen counter to the table where Ferrater was sitting, whizzing past his ear and almost spilling his coffee. He did not consider that maybe the cat wondered why this human so stubbornly insisted on sitting in the one chair that blocked, or almost blocked, the cat's passage from countertop to table, enabling the animal to reach the floor without making a large vertical jump. Neither cat nor philosopher modified his behavior, but Ferrater Mora respected that cat and all animals, human as well as nonhuman, and this is what it means to be an animal rights person.

An event illustrates this point about respect. Once in Barcelona when my husband Ferrater Mora and I were walking near the cathedral, a baby rat appeared on the pavement. I no sooner saw the tiny creature than a very tall, husky, young man, wearing heavy, metal-tipped boots—accompanied by several other equally tall young men and several young women—kicked the rat, to the amusement of his companions. The rat flew up into the air and landed with a small thud. It tried to run, but one leg was obviously injured, and it scurried along awkwardly on three legs, desperately trying to escape. My knowledge of the Spanish language departed, and all I could do was tug on my husband's arm and say, "Do something! Do something!" Ferrater Mora apparently had not seen the man kick the rat, but he quickly understood what had happened and realized that the young man was about to kick it again, perhaps to impress his female companions, who were giggling and squealing in high pitched voices and expressing their admiration for this example of what they seemed to think was bravery. Ferrater Mora ran up to the young man, placed himself between him and the small rat, and said, "You would not do that if it were a lion." For a moment, the young man seemed startled. He looked as if he would hit this interloper who blocked his passage. He appeared uncomprehending for a moment, and finally, looking embarrassed, he mumbled that he had intended no harm and had not meant to hurt the small creature. The rat disappeared. Ferrater Mora returned to me in triumph.

I tell this story and repeat Ferrater Mora's exact words—which I remember so clearly because at the moment I thought it such a strange thing to say—to illustrate how he thought. First of all, outnumbered and outweighed, he apparently gave no thought to his own safety in interfering with the amusement of the young men. Nor did he consider that he presented them in an unflattering light—as bullies—before their female companions. Most importantly, his words show that he was emphasizing the disparity between the might of the man and the tiny, defenseless, little rat: a case of unequal power or injustice, if you will. It was not a display of emotional sentimentality on the part of Ferrater Mora; it was not that he loved that rat. What he was voicing was his passion for an idea, the idea of justice; he was expressing his revulsion at the idea that might makes right, wherever or whenever it appears, whether it is between nations, between the sexes, the races, or even in the treatment of that most despised of all animals. Ferrater Mora's insistence on rationality, his intellectual vitality, and his passion for justice—similar to what William Kluback has called his love for the finite—shines through many of his essays.