Emilio Uranga (1921-1988) was a Mexican philosopher who was born in Mexico City. From 1941-1944, he studied medicine at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), but he then entered the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of UNAM to study philosophy, where he was taught and influenced by the Spanish philosopher José Gaos (1900-1969), who was a faculty member at UNAM from 1939-1969.
In 1948, Uranga became a member of the Hyperion group (el grupo Hiperión), an intellectual community of young philosophers who were influenced by Gaos and by the existentialism of Heidegger and Sartre. The group included Ricardo Guerra (1927-2007), Jorge Portilla (1918-1963), Salvador Reyes Neváres (1922-1993), Joaquín Sánchez Macgrégor (1925-2008), Fausto Vega (1922-2015), Luis Villoro (1922-2014), and Leopoldo Zea (1912-2006). The group was named after the Greek mythological figure Hyperion, a Titan, son of Uranus and Gaia. Hyperion was the father of the sun god Helios, and was a symbol of illumination, watchfulness, and wisdom. The Mexican philosopher Gustavo Escobar Valenzuela, who was later a student of Uranga’s at the UNAM in the 1960’s, explains that Hyperion was also “hijo de la tierra y del cielo, encargado de unir lo concreto con lo universal” (“son of the earth and sky, charged with unifying the concrete with the universal”).1
From 1953-1957, Uranga studied at the universities of Freiburg, Tübingen, Cologne, and Hamburg, before doing further study at the Sorbonne and receiving his doctoral degree in philosophy. He later taught at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the UNAM. His major writings included Ensayo de una ontología del mexicano (1949), Dos teorías de la muerte: Heidegger y Sartre (1949), Análisis del ser del mexicano (1952), Kant y Santo Tomás (sobre el problema de la verdad) (1954). Goethe y los filósofos (1958), A la sombra de Hegel (1958), Astucias literarias (1971) and ¿De quién es la filofofía? (1977).
Uranga’s reputation began to decline in the 1960’s, as he became an increasingly outspoken defender of the Mexican government against its left-wing opponents, even after the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968. He alienated himself from many of his friends, and became increasingly isolated and withdrawn from society. He died in Mexico City in 1988.
In his Analysis of the Being of the Mexican (Análisis del ser del mexicano, 1952), Uranga says that the being of human beings is accidental insofar as it is contingent on events other than itself. Being as accident is a being reduced or disrupted by its merging with nothingness. There is in it both a clarity and an obscurity in which being and nothingness communicate.2
To see the being of human beings as accidental is also to see it within the horizon of possibility of accident itself. To try to escape the condition of accidentality is to seek an illusory substantiality. The being of human beings is not “substantial,” in the sense of being non-accidental. It is thrown toward both being and nothingness, and this ontological equivocality is what makes it “accidental.”3
Uranga’s point of reference is not the human (lo humano), however, but the Mexican (lo mexicano). His project is not to construct an ontology of the Mexican by starting from the human, but to construct an ontology of the human by starting from the Mexican. He explains that in the mode of being of the Mexican can be seen the mode of being of the human. Whenever we affirm that the being of the Mexican is accidental (just as we may affirm that the mode of being of the American or European is accidental), a horizon of meaning opens up for our reflection.
Taking the concept of the Mexican or Mexicanness as a starting point for an ontology of humankind also avoids the prejudices and presuppositions that have traditionally been associated with the taking of the European as a template for humankind in general. The European may not interrogate its own mode of being as European if it identifies the human as European and not as Mexican or as any other non-European mode of being.4
Mexicanness (Méxicanidad) is not something with rigid contours that can be subsumed under a simple definition. It's not fixed, invariable, or monolithic. It may accommodate social class, ethnic, regional, and historical differences. Uranga quotes the philosopher Samuel Ramos (1897-1959) as saying, “Una cosa es utilizar una filosofía para explicar al mexicano y otra cosa es utilizar al mexicano para explicar una filosofía” (“It’s one thing to utilize a philosophy in order to explicate the Mexican, but another to utilize the Mexican in order to explicate a philosophy”). Ramos explains that if philosophy is utilized to investigate Mexicanness, philosophy may to some degree help us to discover its true nature. But if Mexicanness is used to explicate a philosophy, we may make the mistake of assuming that what we’ve found in Mexicanness was not already present in that philosophy. We may not recognize the true nature of Mexicanness at all.5
Uranga claims that all ontology of the Mexican is “autognosis” (self-knowledge) of the Mexican, but that the converse does not hold true. There are productive and rewarding autognostic modalities of the Mexican that are not ontological.6 For precise knowledge of the Mexican to be attained, however, ontological investigation is necessary.
What is the final outcome of any autognosis of the Mexican? How does the being of the Mexican explain the many and diverse experiences of Mexicans? An answer, says Uranga, is found in the openness of the being of the Mexican to possibility, to contingency, to accident. Autognosis of the Mexican reveals that the being of the Mexican is “accidental.”
Whenever we recognize accident in the horizon of human existence, we discover previously unknown complexities in its ontological structure, and thus we also recognize human existence in the horizon of accident.7
All remoteness from being as accident implies a certain attempt at substantialization, explains Uranga, and all nearness to being as accident implies a certain attempt at accidentalizing ourselves.8 To be open to, and not to try to evade, the accidentality of our own being is also for us to be open to humanness in its deepest sense. We may search for something to make us feel more secure and substantial, but the courage to open ourselves to all that is human, and the willingness to express our affinity with others by demonstrating such qualities as compassion, empathy, kindness, and mutual respect, enables us to more clearly understand our own being.
According to Uranga, the Mexican (or Mexicanness) may be conceptualized as the human (or humanness), and the human may be conceptualized as the Mexican. Thus, the concept of the Mexican has both nationalistic and humanistic aspects. However, nationalism can have its dangers, and can separate the Mexican (or Mexicanness) from the human (or humanness). If nationalism becomes a delimitation or confinement of the human, then the ontology of the Mexican becomes a kind of anti-nationalism, since it attempts to explain how the being of the Mexican is open to all that is human. Thus, the ontology of the Mexican understands the Mexican and the human as an inseparable pair (pareja) of modes of being. The human is understood as the Mexican, and the Mexican is understood as the human.
1Gustavo Escobar Valenzuela, “Emilio Uranga (una aproximación)”, in Humanismo mexicano del siglo XX, edited by Alberto Saladino García (Toluca: Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, 2004), pp. 495-504.
2Emilio Uranga, Análisis del ser del mexicano, y otros escritos sobre la filosofía de lo mexicano (1949-1952), edited by Guillermo Hurtado (México: Bonilla Artigas Editores, 2013), p. 40.
3Ibid., p. 122.
4Ibid., p. 68.
5Ibid., p. 142.
6Ibid., p. 78.
7Ibid., p. 49.
8Ibid., p. 45.