Is time a fundamental or emerging phenomenon

Axial time phenomenon

April 8, 2017, 9:58 pm

Kurt Salamun from the Institute for Philosophy at the University of Graz on the phenomenon "Axial Time"

Shortly after the Second World War, a fascinating idea was born that has lost none of its appeal today. It says that within a few centuries before the new era, a spiritual process took place that had a lasting impact on the world.

Almost at the same time, a certain way of thinking awoke in several parts of the world and the great philosophies and religions emerged that still rule the world today. This parallel phenomenon was called "Axial Time". Their discoverer: the great German existential philosopher Karl Jaspers.

"This axis of world history now seems to be around 500 BC, in the spiritual process that took place between 800 and 200. This is where the deepest turning point in history lies. The human being with whom we still live today came into being."
(Jaspers, From the Origin and Purpose of History, 1949)

India, China and the West

Karl Jaspers restricts the places of origin and activity of the great philosophies and religions to India, China and the West. He does not go into the philosophies of Africa or South America, and under the term Occident he summarizes such diverse currents as ancient philosophy or the thinking of the prophets of Israel.

But despite this reductionism, it remains to Jaspers's merit to have moved away from the Eurocentrism of philosophy with his idea of ​​the Axial Age and to have created a basis for discussion between the different cultures.

Turning away from mythical ways of thinking

In the centuries before the turn of the century, people began to ask radical questions, critically questioning previously applicable norms and traditions, and rejecting mythical and magical ways of thinking, writes Jaspers. Awareness is sharpened, special systems of thought and schools compete with one another and thereby cause a tremendous upswing in intellectual life.

For Wolfgang Röd, professor emeritus for philosophy at the University of Innsbruck, this happened most impressively with the Greek philosophers. But also in Indian thinking a turn away from mythical thinking took place at this time, observes Ram Adhar Mall, President of the Society for Intercultural Philosophy. In the Axial Age, Buddha protested against the sacrificial rites of the Hindus. The gods of the Vedas - such as wind, fire, water and air - were now interpreted as psychic powers.

Reward the good and punish the bad

Prof. Mall considers the system of rewarding good and punishing evil to be the greatest commonality between Indian and Western thinking.

"Rewarded and punished above all in real life. In the area of ​​practical life, the Chinese philosophy after Lao Tse and Confucius has a lot to say," says Prof. Mall, "while Confucius is more about the duties of the belligerent upper class, Lao Tse focuses on the lower class' image of man, which primarily provides for equality between men and women. "

Is there a common denominator?

Karl Jaspers was looking for a common denominator for the different approaches and attitudes that prevail in the world.

"Several roads, separated from each other at the origin, seem to lead to the same destination at first. It is a multiplicity of the same in three forms. There are three independent roots of a later - after interrupted individual contacts, finally only for a few centuries, actually only since today - to one single unity becoming history. "
(Jaspers, From the Origin and Purpose of History, 1949)

Book tips
Karl Jaspers, Hans Saner, "What is man?", Verlag Piper, ISBN 3492237401

Karl Jaspers, "The spiritual situation of the time", Gruyter, ISBN 3110163918

Karl Jaspers, "Introduction to Philosophy", Piper Verlag, ISBN 3492200133

Austrian Karl Jaspers Society
Biography - Karl Jaspers