site search by freefind advanced
Existenz Menu
An International Journal in Philosophy, Religion, Politics, and the Arts
ISSN 1932-1066

Volume 13, No. 2, Fall 2018

The Axial Age and the Role of the University


Index and Editor's Introduction

The Indispensability of Complete Openness for the Future of Humanitas
Helgard Mahrdt | University of Oslo, Norway

Karl Jaspers' and Hannah Arendt's remarkable friendship is documented in a forty-years-long dialogical correspondence where both could present their views—sometimes of entirely divergent nature—on a variety of political and ethical themes. Both were thinkers for whom communication was central. Following Jaspers, human beings realize the truth of their existence in existential communication where the communicating partners are equal. Arendt, on her part, put the world at the centre of politics. She could build on Jaspers' insights and transfer communication into the public political realm, thus giving preference to human plurality.

Keywords: Arendt, Hannah; Jaspers, Karl; Existenz; sincere dialogue; friendship; truth in existential communication; boundary situations; action and speech.


The Logic of Karl Jaspers as an Intercultural Basic Knowledge
Albrecht Kiel | University of Konstanz, Germany

The philosophical logic by Karl Jaspers is contrary to all approaches to this topic by other philosophers who derive it from systems philosophy and ontology. Its aim is to combine the different strands of philosophy's history (especially after Kant) synoptically. In this synopsis we find the four modes of the encompassing (die Weisen des Umgreifenden) in which human practice is unfolding: being, consciousness in general, spirit, and existence, standing in a tension between world and transcendence. This means it was necessary for him to differentiate the indispensable psychological fundamental functions—and with this Jaspers delivers a contribution to integrated anthropology. Regarding philosophical logic as an overall concept, the general significance of this logic is that it is distinct from theories of methods, categories, and sciences that have to be treated separately from it. It has to be considered as underpinning an intercultural basic knowledge in contrast to that special knowledge as it is presented by the aforementioned theories. Seen from a practical point of view this logic can be utilized for religious dialogues founded on modern metaphysics, a differentiated treatment of anthropology, and an adequate social theory. This practical point of view (Jaspers' clavis clavium) is essential for understanding his works that were written after 1935.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; logic; Encompassing; philosophical method; scientific method; dialectic; phenomenology.


Sixteen Perspectives on Karl Jaspers' Orientative Knowledge
Albrecht Kiel | University of Konstanz, Germany

The essay addresses a significant omission found in Jaspers scholarship, namely the recognition of the importance of Jaspers' seminal work on logic in the context of philosophical anthropology that has the power to provide conceptual frameworks for addressing social and psychological challenges in modern societies. Sixteen different thematic approaches are introduced to place Jaspers' logic into a contemporary setting.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Kant, Immanuel; logic; Existenz; ontology; philosophical anthropology.


The University and Civil Society: The Challenges of Free Communication
Stephen A. Erickson | Pomona College

An authentic university must have appropriate dynamics and guidelines with respect to discussion and dialogue. There is some legitimacy to be found in imposing constraints on communication (a) within the university; (b) within civil society; and (c) in the relation between these two. There are some problematic tensions and conflicts with regard to truth-seeking, solidarity-building, and compromise-forging. These issues will be explored through reference to some contemporary implications of Jaspers' ideas regarding freedom and inquiry, both within and beyond university life.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Hegel, G. W. F.; communication; contextualization; enlightenment; freedom; university education.


A Virtue-Theoretic Approach to the Concept of a University
M. Ashraf Adeel | Kutztown University

Virtue epistemologists such as Jonathan Kvanvig and Duncan Pritchard have argued that it is not propositional knowledge but understanding, particularly holistic understanding that has final value or value for its own sake as an epistemic state. Karl Jaspers argues that the overall aim of science and philosophy is to give us a comprehensive understanding or "lucid self-knowledge" of our existence in the world. There seems to be a philosophic overlap between Jaspers and some shades of contemporary epistemology. From both of these points of view, education aims at both the imparting of knowledge and inculcation of understanding among students. In other words virtue epistemology, when applied to education, would aim at developing the epistemic character of students and inquirers. Such a virtue-theoretic approach employed to education, particularly to university education, implies the need for a revival of a broad humanistic view of the university rather than a merely utilitarian one.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Kvanvig, Jonathan; virtue epistemology; propositional knowledge; understanding; epistemic virtue; science; education; humanistic; university.


The Idea of the University in Practice: Karl Jaspers, Heinrich Blücher, and the Common Course at Bard College
Maxim Botstein | Harvard University

It is generally accepted that Karl Jaspers' patently idealistic vision of the university would pose tremendous difficulties to anyone attempting to put such pedagogy into practice. Jaspers himself acknowledged that his ideal of a Socratic, interdisciplinary university would be impossible to realize fully in an actual institution. This was all the more true because of the intense pressure modern society placed on the university to produce technical knowledge and a body of skilled professionals. For that reason, scholars have seldom believed that Jaspers' work on the university had much practical influence, neither in Germany nor abroad. This essay examines one serious attempt to produce such a Socratic educational program influenced by Jaspers' philosophy, from 1953 to 1968 at Bard College in the State of New York. Heinrich Blücher, Hannah Arendt's husband and a professor of philosophy at Bard, created and directed the Common Course, an ambitious program aimed at introducing freshmen to the "philosophical attitude," as he put it, and to their "capacities for human freedom." By adapting and modifying Jaspers' philosophy, Blücher attempted to meet what he perceived to be a crisis of modern life and to provide his students and the university an alternative to Cold War technocracy. Japers himself followed Blücher's work closely, and Blücher's Common Course project sheds light on a seldom-acknowledged intellectual exchange in Jaspers' later career, as well as on the influence of his university idea on at least one American liberal-arts college.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Blücher, Heinrich; university education; Bard College; Axial Age; philosophy in education.


Philosophy with Children and Jaspers' Idea of the University: Resisting Instrumental and Authoritarian Thinking
Senem Saner | California State University at Bakersfield

Jaspers' vision of an ideal university stipulates an institution devoted to the search for truth by virtue of communication. I argue that such an institution requires students who are willing and able to collectively pursue open and free inquiry as well as academics who uphold this value. Such a desideratum as well as an overall capacity for participation in the university's mandate needs to be cultivated in students at an early age. While a desire for truth and open-ended inquiry requires that economic and instrumental considerations for education do not exhaust the students' reasons for seeking a university education, an interest in truth and learning for its own sake is best cultivated when one aims to foster children's natural curiosity about big questions, such as, for example, the beginning of the universe, personal identity, the meaning of life, or the nature of friendship. Furthermore, the capacity for participation in a community of learning and research requires that the virtues of critical thinking, intellectual empathy, and intellectual integrity are familiar to students—that their interaction with teachers and academic personnel is not based on their status as authority figures and disciplinarians, thereby following stereotypes of early schooling, but rather that they are also seen as being fellow inquirers and thinkers. These two Jaspersian goals of university education—(1) the open inquiry for truth and (2) communication as the method for such inquiry—are best supported if philosophical thinking is introduced to students at an early age.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; university education; idea of the university; public philosophy; philosophy for children; truth; communication; self-directed learning; curiosity.


Existenz and Nothingness: Jaspers and Sartre on the Ontology of Truth
Dane Sawyer | University of LaVerne

Jean-Paul Sartre and Karl Jaspers, who diverge on many topics, are two complementary and insightful thinkers who successfully address the differences between willful and necessary ignorance. Both argue that necessary ignorance is a fundamental feature of the human condition, with Sartre emphasizing the importance of freedom and responsibility, oftentimes by resting his analysis on the gloomier and grim side regarding an ontology of truth. In his unpublished and posthumous work Truth and Existence, Sartre sheds light on the various ways that individuals aim to avoid, negate, or distort the truth for the sake of personal interests, as well as to evade responsibility for one's choices. However, according to Jaspers, Sartre's text suffers from a lack of systematic attention to his various positions and concepts. By dividing truth into its various modes within the Encompassing, Jaspers more suitably captures and communicates some of the insights and views that Sartre had tried to espouse in Truth and Existence. Both Sartre and Jaspers advocate that the important factor in encountering truth is not so much the actual truth one can discover, but the attitude one takes towards that truth, notably, an open acceptance and authentic response to it, one that embraces, seeks, and appropriates the truth with integrity and responsibility.

Keywords: Sartre, Jean-Paul; Jaspers, Karl; willful ignorance; necessary ignorance; bad faith; Existenz; ontology of truth; truth; existentialism; authenticity.


The Axial Age, The Moral Revolution, and the Polarization of Life and Spirit
Eugene Halton | University of Notre Dame

The essay concerns issues related to my book, From the Axial Age to the Moral Revolution, and begins with a discussion of how I came to uncover the forgotten work of John Stuart-Glennie, who some seventy-five years before Jaspers proposed a comprehensive theory of the phenomena described by Karl Jaspers as the Axial Age. Although they each drew similar conclusions regarding many of the facts of the moral revolution respectively the Axial Age, there are significant differences in their philosophies of history, concerning, for example the problem, whether history can be regarded deterministically or as an open whole, and whether nature can be a source of profound spiritual significance and even transcendence or whether that realm is limited to historical consciousness. I also briefly discuss two other overlooked contributors, namely D. H. Lawrence, who wrote on the phenomena twenty years before Jaspers, and Lewis Mumford, who is one of the first writers to draw from Jaspers' work. I then respond to four diverse scholarly essays on my book.

This Author meets Critics session is viewable at YouTube.

Keywords: Stuart-Glennie, John S.; Jaspers, Karl; moral revolution; Axial Age; panzooinism; ultimate law of history; evolutionary legacy.


Context and Meaning of the Axial Age Concept: Comparing the Formulations of John Stuart-Glennie and Karl Jaspers
Victor Lidz | Drexel University

John Stuart-Glennie's concept of the Moral Revolution of the sixth century BCE is compared with Karl Jaspers' concept of the Axial Age lasting from 800 to 200 BCE. I praise Eugene Halton's revival of Stuart-Glennie's work, but hold Jaspers' treatment, built on the scholarship of Max Weber, to be the rightful source of much contemporary research on the development of world civilizations. Like Weber, Jaspers underscored differences among the developmental paths of the great civilizations of China, India, Classical Antiquity, Islam, and the Modern West; Stuart-Glennie treated them as being basically similar, deriving from a Moral Revolution that was fundamentally alike across civilizations.

Keywords: Stuart-Glennie, John S.; Jaspers, Karl; Weber, Max; Axial Age; moral revolution; modern West; civilization.


Reflections on Axiality: Evolutionary Legacy or Historical Consciousness?
Christopher Peet | The King's University, Canada

Eugene Halton's book makes a significant contribution to scholarship on the Axial Age. Halton provides a summary of the alternative formulations of the Axial Age thesis by John S. Stuart-Glennie, Lewis Mumford, and D. H. Lawrence that considerably corrects the current Jaspers-centric bias of scholarship. His consideration of Stuart-Glennie's articulation of panzooinism opens up a more nuanced and differentiated appreciation of the human evolutionary legacy that precedes the Axial Age. However it is unclear how this evolutionary legacy is effectively active within historical consciousness. Further, in conceptualizing this legacy he overlooks the degree of violence of hunter-gatherer tribalism, and overestimates the viability of their life-style as modeling sustainability. Insofar as the world religions overvalue the Axial Age, Halton's laudable goal of contributing to a sustainability revolution will prove ineffectual by comparison to Jaspers' thesis, the difference between them turning on the question of evolutionary legacy vis-à-vis effective historical consciousness.

Keywords: Halton, Eugene; Jaspers, Karl; Axial Age; evolution; world history; sustainability; ecology; panzooinism; effective historical consciousness.


Should the Axial Age be Renamed?
Benjamin Schewel | University of Virginia

The recent popularization of the term "axial age" has stimulated a debate about whether scholars should develop a more precise, way of describing the socio-spiritual parallelisms of the first millennium BCE. This essay evaluates Eugene Halton and John Torpey's recent contributions to this debate. Both authors agree on the basic problem regarding the term "axial age"—it falsely suggests that history displays one spiritual pivot—yet they reach quite different conclusions regarding terminological alternatives. Halton suggests abandoning the term "axial age" and speaking instead of a "moral revolution." Torpey recommends keeping it but simply applying it to several other periods of transformation. This essay ultimately rejects both suggestions and recommends instead that scholars continue using the term "axial age" in the same, heuristically vague way that they tend to employ other world-historical periodizing terms such as "antiquity," "medieval," or "modernity."

Keywords: Halton, Eugene; Jaspers, Karl; Torpey, John; Axial Age; social theory; philosophy of history; historiography.


John Stuart Stuart-Glennie versus Karl Jaspers: A Quixotic Quest?
Bryan S. Turner | Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, and Potsdam University, Germany

Theories of an Axial Age (800-200 BCE) in which humanity, moral consciousness, ethics and religious sensibility came into existence have been connected to Karl Jaspers as the principal originator of them. Such theories claim that nothing new has been added to human culture since that Achsenzeit. This academic wisdom has been challenged by Eugene Halton who shows convincingly if repetitiously that the idea of an Axial Age was developed by John Stuart Stuart-Glennie some seventy-five years before Jaspers under the heading of the Moral Revolution. Halton also claims that similar ideas were put forward by Lewis Mumford and D. H. Lawrence. As an academic detective story, Halton's book is successful, but what is the intellectual reward of such an exercise? One answer is that the focus on nature and technology in both Stuart-Glennie and Mumford provides the basis for an inquiry into a new technological transformation that is post-axial. Such an inquiry is found in Halton's concluding chapter on "The Moral Revolution and the Modern Revolution Today." Halton argues that Stuart-Glennie has been neglected for his theories were too complicated and he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Stuart-Glennie, John S.; Axial Age; core and peripheral civilizations; Moral Revolution; technology.


Some Remarks on New Translations of Karl Jaspers' Works
Michael Steinmann | Stevens Institute of Technology

This essay gives a critical analysis of the terminology used in a new translation of Karl Jaspers' Prefaces to both the German and American edition of The Great Philosophers, and of the terminology employed in the first complete translation of Jaspers' Introduction to The Great Philosophers.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Burch, Ruth A.; Hild, Florian; Wautischer, Helmut; The Great Philosophers English translation; Die grossen Philosophen English translation; Gestalt; Dasein; Geist.


Jaspers in English: Erudition, Exactitude, and Measure
Suzanne Kirkbright | Dorchester, United Kingdom

This review of the first complete English translations of Karl Jaspers' Introduction to The Great Philosophers, the Preface to the original edition, and of Jaspers' Preface to the American edition assesses the communicative merits of the translators' re-examination of his analysis of "greatness." The method is to compare the translators' objective approach to their task with Hannah Arendt's editorial abridgement and Ralph Manheim's literary translation of sections of Jaspers' book. Their consistent work consolidates the myriad details of former translations to promote a better understanding of Jaspers' thinking for both expert and potentially new readers.

Keywords: Arendt, Hannah; Jaspers, Karl; Mannheim, Ralph; Burch, Ruth A.; Hild, Florian; Wautischer, Helmut; Introduction to The Great Philosophers; literary translation; translation method; communication; interpretation; existence; existential; greatness.


Comments on the Translation of Karl Jaspers' Introduction to The Great Philosophers
Mats Andrén | University of Gothenburg, Sweden

This translation of Karl Jaspers' Introduction to The Great Philosophers closely follows the German original and skillfully upholds Jaspers' complexity of expression. The text elucidates how Jaspers was coming to terms with the German and European experience during the times of war, dictatorships, and nihilism, while remaining faithful to values in German culture and philosophy as well as to his own philosophy. By making this translation available to a broader readership, the value of recognizing and appreciating individual greatness is treated in the context of Jaspers' philosophy to remind readers of the necessity not to confuse greatness with fanaticism.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Burch, Ruth A.; Hild, Florian; Wautischer, Helmut; Great Philosophers English translation; Die grossen Philosophen English translation; greatness; freedom; nihilism.



Sponsored by
Karl Jaspers Society
of North America
Boston, MA

Frequency: bi-annual
Spring / Fall

All materials posted
on this site are
protected under
copyright law. Unauthorized dissemination of any content posted on this site is prohibited. Please contact the editor for copyright clearance.

Karl Jaspers Stiftung | KJSNA | Karl Jaspers Gesellschaft | Polish Karl Jaspers Society | Italian Karl Jaspers Society