Existenz Menu
An International Journal in Philosophy, Religion, Politics, and the Arts
ISSN 1932-1066

Volume 14, No. 1, Spring 2019

Jaspers, Ortega, History, and Axial Age


Index and Editor's Introduction

On Being with Others: Jaspers and Ortega
Oliver W. Holmes | Wesleyan University

Karl Jaspers and José Ortega y Gasset are frequently associated with phenomenology and existential philosophy. Whereas such an interpretation of their philosophical status is problematic for some scholars, this essay takes the position that certain features of existentialism were common to both. For Jaspers and Ortega, one of the defining characteristics of human existence, for Jaspers and Ortega, concerns the finitude in which the individual experiences limits in the world. The essay examines their respective concepts of selfhood and historicity, and the broader implications of these concepts in existential phenomenology. An analysis of the boundary situations of the individual and his or her circumstances, through inter-subjective human reality, by both thinkers, will provide the existential formulation of self-disclosure and the apparent paradox between finite existence and the open possibilities of the future.

Keywords:Jaspers, Karl; Ortega y Gasset, José; Husserl, Edmund; Heidegger, Martin; Kant, Immanuel; Existenz; existentialism; "I myself"; the Other; boundary situation; circumstances; social world; inter-subjectivity; historicity.


Ortega and the Dynamics of Historical Reason
Pierre Keller | University of California, Riverside

In this essay, José Ortega y Gasset's conception of historical reason is articulated and contrasted with contemporary conceptions expressing the dynamics of reason. Ortega's conception of historical reason is seen as one based on a fundamentally and inclusively historical conception of the a priori that is articulated in the context of science and culture. As such, Ortega's conception also connects in an important way to Thomas Kuhn's conception of scientific revolution and his conception of fundamental conceptual changes brought about by scientific revolution. In contrast to Michael Friedman, Charles Taylor, Hubert Dreyfus and many others, I embrace Kuhn's conception and do not take it to involve a commitment to relativism. I argue that Kuhn's conception is based on a reading of structural objectivity and the Copernican revolution that is different from the structural objectivity embraced in the tradition of Bertrand Russell and Rudolf Carnap, as well as Friedman, Taylor, and Dreyfus. Kuhn's conception of the Copernican revolution constitutes the very significance of objects, including mathematical and logical structures, through their dynamic systematic relations, dynamic systematic relations that are not limited to science. This is the structuralism of Immanuel Kant's Copernican revolution as understood by Ernst Cassirer and the Marburg School, as well as by Ortega y Gasset, Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger. It is the basis of the conception that these philosophers have of the significance that the Copernican revolution has for metaphysics and for ontology.

Keywords: Ortega y Gasset, José; Friedman, Michael; Kuhn, Thomas S.; Cassirer, Ernst; Weyl, Hermann; Copernican revolution; dynamics of reason.


Jaspers and Ortega on the Historicity of Being Human
Marnie Binder | California State University, Sacramento

Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset and German philosopher Karl Jaspers were both born in 1883, and they both maintained the position that humans are principally historical beings. Therefore, as attested by this notion itself, there are points in which their philosophy coincides. Ortega argued that human beings have no nature, only history. His argument is that history as such is human nature; what is most natural about being human is the fact of being historical and thus always having historicity. Jaspers maintained the same position that in contemplating historicity, one's focus should not be on human nature in the strictly hereditary sense, because it is one's traditions, not the genetic makeup, that most make one to be human. Jaspers emphasizes the conversion of an existential historic consciousness into a consciousness of historicity that is similar to what can be understood in Ortega as historical perspectivism imbued with pragmatism.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Ortega y Gasset, José; philosophy of history; philosophy of historiography; continental philosophy; Iberian philosophy; history; historiography.


José Ortega y Gasset and Karl Jaspers: Some Intriguing Parallels
Oswald Sobrino | University of Florida

In this essay seven parallel themes in the thought of José Ortega y Gasset and Karl Jaspers are being identified and discussed. The first parallel is the horizon of knowledge as a common commitment to perspectivism. The second is the shipwrecked human who will benefit from philosophical orientation; while their respective philosophizing in and by itself is shown as the third parallel. The fourth parallel is heroic individual philosophizing and the primordial reality that the philosopher faces (for Jaspers, Being; for Ortega, life); here, Jaspers' Encompassing is being compared with Ortega's vitalism, and is being examined with regard to how Jaspers' treatment of anthropology relates to Ortega's fundamental statement: "I am I and my circumstance." The fifth parallel is man as decision-maker: man as possible Existenz in Jaspers compared to man as futurity in Ortega. The sixth parallel offers a closer correlation between the two uses of I (yo) identified by Ortega and the way Jaspers speaks of man when facing the Other and also the way he speaks of man as possible Existenz. The seventh parallel compares Ortega's historical reason and Jaspers' historicity in their respective attempts to describe the actualization of man's freedom.

Keywords: Ortega y Gasset, José; Jaspers, Karl; perspectivism; philosophizing; Being; life; Existenz; futurity; historical reason; historicity.


Histories Beyond History
Dmitri Nikulin | The New School, New York

Reflecting on my motives for writing The Concept of History, I present three negative concerns that the book was directed against: namely, the notions that, firstly, history is teleological, secondly, that it is universal, and, thirdly, that a history so construed takes on a problematic role in political decision-making. The book thus looks for an alternative to the dominant mode of historical understanding in the modern West, and it finds several such alternatives by looking at the earliest Greek historians and the ancient tradition of catalogue poetry that predates them. By attending to these examples, I show that history is always multiple and intersecting, and that it is constituted by two elements: a fabula that briefly emplots (originally orally) the names and events, and the historical, which preserves (originally in written lists) the detailed names and events. The discussion of the book is further extended by responses to the thoughtful remarks of my critics.

This Author meets Critics session is viewable at YouTube.

Keywords: Historical being; fabula; the historical; ahistorical and non-historical; natural history; name and image; oblivion in history; teleological history; radical novelty; the truth of history.


Can There Be History Without Representation?
Jeffrey A. Bernstein | College of the Holy Cross

Dmitri Nikulin argues that history is a discursive activity making use of names and images for the preservation of historical events. Names form an essential component of the historical account while images supplement and substantialize names. In this essay, I raise the question of whether or not, on Nikulin's account, there can be history without names and images—that is, without representation. I juxtapose Nikulin's account with Jean-Luc Nancy's essay "Finite History" in order to see whether or not the latter exceeds the purview of Nikulin's conception of history. Without providing an answer to that question, I hold that Nancy's text (when read alongside Nikulin's) helps one to perceive the complexity of this topic with more clarity.

Keywords: Nancy, Jean-Luc; Nikulin, Dmitri; history; image; name; representation; philosophy of history; fabula.


"Please, stop at Zuckerman"—Names and Memory in History
Alfredo Ferrarin | University of Pisa, Italy

In discussing Dmitri Nikulin's book on history I start from the initial question regarding what one would like to have preserved of oneself, once one is no more. I then contrast this question with the overall argument of the book, which identifies in history a combination of names and narratives. While my first objection concerns the absence of names in much historiography, keener on privileging anonymous movements and not aimed at preserving the identity of its protagonists, I then examine the question of names to determine if it is possible at all to rescue what has been lost, and if it is always desirable to do so. I mention some examples of the possible futility of preserving names, not because I want to undermine its importance, but because I mean to stress that much of what remains of someone runs an unpredictable course and escapes one's control.

Keywords: Nikulin, Dmitri; names, historical; memory; history; fame; the dead; survival narratives.


Creativity and Historical Non-Being in Nikulin's Concept of History
John V. Garner | University of West Georgia

Dmitri Nikulin's The Concept of History raises important questions about the ways historical beings like humans can be said to face non-being (for example, the non-being of death; or of past events or persons; or of future novelties). Here, I discuss three main topics relevant to the book's framework. First, I ask whether the content of and motivation for historical writing must be of exclusively mortal origin. Beyond Nikulin's theory of ahistorical invariant structures, I consider the possibility of ahistorical sources of content or motivation. Second, I engage with the book's concept of beneficial forgetting and express caution regarding the terminology of "mechanisms" or "arts" of forgetting. Third, I engage with the book's conception of productive imagination and suggest that a radical conception of historical novelty may be integrated into Nikulin's theory. Following Nikulin's lead, I emphasize throughout the essay the way that thinking about history demands attentiveness to the ahistorical.

Keywords: Nikulin, Dmitri; ahistorical; correlationism; creation; forgetting; imagination, historical novelty; past; theodicy.


Hermeneutics, Historicism, and The Concept of History
Adam J. Graves | Metropolitan State University of Denver

This essay offers a critical assessment of Dmitri Nikulin's effort to advance a theory of history that avoids the pitfalls of universalism, on the one hand, and historicism, on the other. I focus my attention upon the relationship between three key concepts in Nikulin's study; namely, the fabula, the historical, and logos. On my reading, Nikulin implicitly adopts an epistemological orientation, inherited from late nineteenth-century neo-Kantian philosophers who envisioned history as an object that must be thematized in order to be studied scientifically. As a result, Nikulin comes to characterize history in terms of an untenable schema/content dualism that almost entirely extricates the historical past (or, data) from the contemporary effort to understand (or, interpret) it. By contrasting Nikulin's view with those of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer, I show that a hermeneutic conception of history offers a more convincing account of the dynamic relationship between the past and the act of historical understanding. In the end, I argue that the double-edged problem of universalism versus historicism only arises when one fails to appreciate the role of historically effected consciousness within historical understanding, and so the problem is best avoided by adopting a hermeneutical, rather than an epistemological, orientation.

Keywords: Nikulin, Dmitri; Gadamer, Hans-Georg; Dilthey, Wilhelm; Heidegger, Martin; Anscombe, Gertrude E. M.; philosophical hermeneutics; history; historicism; historical relativism; universalism; neo-Kantianism; Wirkungsgeschichte.


Toward a Happy Ending: Memory, Narrative, and Comedy in History
Sonja M. Tanner | University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

In his search for what possibly could it mean for history to end well, Dmitri Nikulin suggests that history can be rendered as being comical. This review takes up this possibility and identifies that Nikulin refers to comedy's narrative form and the rich conceptual prospects this offers. Drawing on ancient Greek and Roman precedents as models, this essay supports Nikulin's challenge to grand historical narratives and shows by example of comic literary narratives how a multiplicity of perspectives can become acceptable with regard to framing historical accounts.

Keywords: Nikulin, Dmitri; self-knowledge; historical narrative; comic literature; philosophy of history; story-telling; narratology; antiquity.


History and Historical Conceptualization
Massimiliano Tomba | University of California, Santa Cruz

Dmitri Nikulin's erudite and stimulating book challenges the way as to how history is being thought of and provokes a number of questions. In this essay I want to address some of them. First of all, I discuss to what extent it is possible to abandon the concept of universal history without questioning the concept of historical time that underlies it. Secondly, I address Nikulin's discussion with regard to the pluralization of historical narratives and I explore whether when constructing hypothetical histories a limit for pluralization can be set to establish hierarchies among different points of view.

Keywords: Nikulin, Dmitri; Kant, Immanuel; Hegel, Georg W. F.; White, Hayden; historical temporalities; universal history; histories.


The Axial Age and the Quest for a Secular Religion in Modernity
Michael Steinmann | Stevens Institute of Technology

The question of whether the Axial Age can be asserted as historical reality has long been disputed. This essay argues that the Axial Age is best understood as an expression of philosophical faith. The existence of a common axis in the history of humanity can ultimately not be shown by means of empirical evidence. Humans rather must have faith in sharing one common history. Karl Jaspers' understanding of faith follows Immanuel Kant's conception of religion insofar as faith is sustained through a moral commitment to humanity. The essay shows that while Jaspers lays out the moral and faith-based dimensions of the Axial Age, he holds on to the assumption of its historical reality, which leads to tensions within his approach. Especially his Eurocentric premises make it difficult to believe in an axis that would unify all human development.

Keywords: Axial Age; humanity; history; religion; philosophical faith; modernity; secularism; Eurocentrism.


Breakthrough to Transcendence? Three Concepts of Inter-Cultural Philosophy (Leibniz, Hegel, Jaspers)
Helmut Heit | Tongji University, Shanghai, China

After a brief discussion of G. W. Leibniz' and G. F. W. Hegel's disposition toward Chinese philosophy, the essay addresses Jaspers' idea of a breakthrough to transcendence in the Axial cultures and questions the relevance of its contribution for the historiography of philosophy. In view of two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century, Jaspers took it upon himself to reconceptualize the idea of a world-history. The Western and Christian traditions could no longer serve as the central axis and needed to be replaced by a global perspective. Historians of philosophy who were dissatisfied with the practice of putting a sole focus on the Greco-Roman tradition in European culture later adopted this idea and challenged the implicit or explicit equation of Western philosophy as being philosophy proper. However, the attempts to establish a Jaspers inspired post-Eurocentric historiography of philosophy met a problem. Jaspers' existentialist assumptions are based on the concept of a global philosophia perennis, which in turn constitutes a universal and unifying standard for evaluation. Any such standard reintroduces what it sought to eliminate. Moreover, Jaspers' pluralism or globalism is limited to the presumed advanced civilizations of India, China, and the West, while other traditions such as African or Native American philosophy are still not being considered. And finally, the Western tradition as a continuous refinement of these Axial beginnings remains authoritative, ironically even its late modern post-colonial subversion.

Keywords: Eurocentrism; intercultural philosophy; Western philosophy; Chinese philosophy; Axial Age; exoticism; universalism.


Cultural and Anthropological Patterns in the Axial Age
Markus Wirtz | University of Cologne, Germany

In The Origin and Goal of History Karl Jaspers describes the rise of civilizations by using the phrase "Axial Age" to refer to a phenomenon that is not reducible to direct causal relations between different cultures. This essay addresses the question of how the new level of self-consciousness of mankind that has been achieved during the Axial Age can best be explained. Three possible explanations are being discussed, which comprise firstly, seeing the parallel cultural developments of the axial age as a pure temporal coincidence; secondly, identifying the simultaneity of the axial civilizations as a sign of destiny or as the work of God; and thirdly, identifying concrete cultural and anthropological patterns that have shaped the axial cultures. While the third explanation does not exactly correspond with Jaspers' original philosophical intentions, it is arguably the most defensible one.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Axial Age; civilizations; cultural anthropology; cultures; humankind; philosophy of history; cultural origin.



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