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In light of the debate over recent years on the idea of the Axial Age, this paper examines the concept of origin in Jaspers’ historical work by distinguishing both the empirical conception of origin found in the design and conception of the Axial Age and its philosophical meaning. According to Origin and Goal of History the concept of origin is much closer to Benjamin’s conception and to the philosophical model re-elaborated by Hannah Arendt, rather than to a scientific-empirical vision of the beginning. The aim of this paper is therefore to show the open nature of the origin in Jaspers’ philosophy of history, which constantly redefines the goal of history by interacting with the present. According to the author of the paper, this different conception of the origin provides an alternative meaning to Jaspers’ vision of the goal of history. Thus, this new model disrupts the linear and abstract classical model of the philosophy of history.
In this paper the author challenges the interpretation of the Axial Age as a global turning point in universal history that would have occurred in the middle of the first millennium BCE. Nonetheless, he considers the concept of the Axial Age (along with pre- and postaxiality) as a valuable and even indispensable analytic tool in the comparative study of cultures. The author also criticizes the Axial Age theory’s excessive fascination with time and simultaneity, characterizing it more as a myth than theory. The “turning point” or “discoveries” which the theory of the Axial Age refer to, in different civilization, would have, in fact, taken place at different times with different intensities, in different conditions and with different consequences. The renunciation of the concept of an Axial Age should not, however, mean giving up the adjective “axial”. The axis on which the story is believed to rotate, and which divides the history in a before and after, is a point in time or time period. Instead, we must forgo the universality of the Axial-Age.
This study asks whether the Axial Age can indeed represent a resource and stimulus in the current crisis of man expressed though a feeling of distrust towards progress and cultural pessimism. Analyzing in parallel some common reasons from the civilizations of the Axial Age, the paper thematizes the notion of “renouncer”: “renouncer” can be considered all those who go against tradition in a number of ways, criticizing institutions and customs on many levels and stepping out from their socio-cultural context. For example, this distance is expressed in Buddhism, the prophets of Israel, in the theoria of the Greek philosophers. It is in the various meanings of the concept of theoria – which shapes all forms of our knowledge – that an ambiguity can be found; it is the basis of many contradictions of our culture.
What is the goal of the history? Starting from the definition of the human being as a result of the turning point accomplished by the Axial Age, this paper shows the ethical and political foundation to Jaspers’ historical conception of history. Throughout history, man is given the possibility to fulfil his sense of existence and freedom, but this requires political freedom as its prerequisite, along with the transformation of strength and power in the domain of legality, law and the creation of space for the communication and dialogue between men. As demonstrated by the analysis of twentieth century historical events, Jaspers’ idea of freedom requires justice to become a reality; it is therefore necessary that justice founded on natural law also become the law of the historical societies.
The first part of this paper focuses on the concept of Jaspers’ Achsenzeit. It considers the origin of this term in comparison to the historical works of Jaspers to those of Jacob Burckhardt and Ernst von Lasaulx. The second part of this paper discusses the criticism and most recent claims made by Jan Assmann onwards on empirical inconsistency of the Axial Age. As this paper demonstrates by focusing on some key themes in The Origin and Goal of History, Jaspers does not develop an empirical concept, but rather a philosophical argument. According to the author, Jaspers does not deem it necessary to gain scientific knowledge of the totality of history. The concept of the Axial Age is rather the means through which man acquires his own self-understanding; it is the foundation of life, allowing man to explore his potential and reach self-awareness.
This article centers around the critique of the notion of technique given by the Junger brothers, Ernst and Friedrich, presented in a footnote in Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte. Jaspers thinks that the works of the Junger brothers, albeit in different ways, lack a proper interpretation of technique, since they base their considerations on ideas derived from images and visions, rather than primarily on rational concepts; even though they might seem to be within the realm of rational knowledge, these concepts belong to mythical thought. The idea of modernity, much more akin to Ernst Junger’s perspective, fails to produce a real cognitive tension and an authentic rational foundation. However, the main difference in interpretation derives from a substantial difference in the conception of history. Jaspers’ interpretation of the latter cannot be separated from the moral obligation to which each man must adhere whilst projecting the self towards the future. On the other hand, Junger’s post-historical speculation delineates a vision that seeks to fuse together artificial and organic life: a vision of life on earth as seen from the moon, through which it is no longer possible to distinguish between castles, churches, supermarkets, and volcanic eruptions.
The analysis of the technique contained in The Origin and Goal of History is an important contribution to the debate on the essence and consequences of technological development that began to develop in the nineteenth century, but has grown out if control in the first half of the twentieth century. Jaspers focuses expecially on the close connection between science and technique in the Modern Age, on the consequences that the development of technology has had not only on the work modality and execution but more generally on the contemporary spiritual world, and on the diffusion of mass society. However, according to Jaspers, this technique also has a demonic character because it was created by man in order to achieve certain valuable goals, but has unexpectedly turned into a power beyond the control of its creator. Modern technology threatens to overwhelm and choke man who created it to such an extent that man is reduced to a mere “instrument”, while technique becomes master of man. Furthermore, in a kind of dialectic of the Age of Enlightenment, technique threatens to annihilate the free spirituality of man, from which it was produced, because it attributes an “all-time record” to what can be repeated mechanically, calculated and predicted. Finally, the economic interests and despotic powers use technology without any consideration for religious, ethical values and human dignity.
The Origin and Goal of History is divided into three chapters, in compliance with the Kantian triad: “What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope for? What is the human being?”. A connection is thus made between Jaspers’ historical-philosophical thought and the European Age of Enlightenment. Moreover, it reflects on the present with a critical reference made to the age of Enlightenment in light of the fascist experience.
This paper, with its direct reference to the Origin and goal of history but also to other Jaspersian texts, focuses on the themes based on the relationship between historical consciousness and crisis awareness in order to reach the central issue of the relationship between history and the present, vision of history and freedom and responsibility of existence. The Jaspersian intent of recovering the meaning of unity and universality of human history (unlike natural history) is thus underlined in close connection with the search for meaning, its very existence and its peculiar singularity. In this Jaspersian perspective, the main dialectic centres on the relationship between: freedom and necessity, the opening up of individual existence (but also collective) to the horizons of possibility and the ever-looming shipwreck on his choices, historical dimensions and over-historical tension and, finally, time and eternity.
The most important concept by Karl Jaspers in his book Origin and meaning of history is certainly “Axial Age”. Jaspers assigns two functions to this concept which are both relevant to a rational understanding of history. The axial age 1) is an empirical fact, a scientifically repeatable historical process; 2) represents an axis from which one can conceive an order of meaning in the historical development. This essay reconstructs the genesis and function of the concept of “Axial Age”, comparing it with other theories of history developed along the twentieth century, such as the idea of the origin of history of Walter Benjamin. In particular, it focuses on its fortuity, especially in the thought of Eric Voegelin, Jan Assmann and David Graeber and comes to a close with the evaluation by Jaspers of the age of technology.
This paper investigates Jaspers’ conception of history in the context of his work, in particular to the concept of the Axial Age. Although Jaspers had already been involved in political and social issues before World War II, it was National Socialism that brought these matters to the centre stage of his thought. Firstly, this study shows how his philosophy of history is rooted in a diagnosis of his time, i.e. the scientific-technical age. Secondly, it focuses on the structural role of the Axial Age in Jaspers’ view on history. By highlighting common aspects with influential concepts of the philosophical tradition, the paper also emphasizes Jaspers’ original approach.
At the end of the fifties, during the debate on the guilt of Germans for their involvement in the tragedy of National Socialism, Jaspers feels the need to reflect on the origin and meaning of history to increase present day awareness and to try imagining a new future. A pivotal role in this reflection is carried out by the description of the present day as the era of technique. Contrary to Junger and other technique theorists, Jaspers looks for a way to limit this domain. He believes that the technique is an instrument that can be used correctly or incorrectly. The prerequisite for any attempt to organize society and politics on a new basis is to rediscover faith in mankind and the possibilities of the world. Despite the many similarities that Jaspers’view point differs from Heidegger’s by believing in man’s capabilities as opposed to the domain of the structures of being.
This article argues that Jaspers’ approach to history can be interpreted (1.) from the viewpoint of the contemporary history of his day, (2.) from the view-point of his existential philosophy, and (3.) from the view-point of his moral and political ideals. Within these distinctions some of Jaspers’ fundamental political statements are discussed, in addition to his concepts of historicity and of an Axial Age in world-history.
Jeffrey Olick has characterized Jaspers’ The Question of German Guilt as the manifesto for a new kind of political culture which envisions the collective responsibility of the past as an integral part of national identity. The deeply conflicting insights of the text are the result of Jaspers’ intricate attempt to address his German readers in the first person plural. While many Germans saw Jaspers as a spokesperson for the Allies and conceived the we-perspective as unauthentic, others, like Heinrich Blucher, accused him of fraternizing with former Nazis. This article argues that Jaspers’ contradictory patriotism has roots in both his existentialism and political thought, which has brought together conservative and progressive elements in an innovative way.
Starting from today’s challenges, the author highlights the tensions within a philosophical consideration of history, which Jaspers founded on the centrality of the instant (Augenblick), i.e. on the experience of the eternity in time. In this paper, the promethean characteristics of our modern age, in balance between the risk of the end of humanity and a possible transition – through philosophical faith – to a more human, new Axial Age, emerges along with the awareness of the imperfect and unattainable perfection of man; the internal limit of world history: its constituent, structural incompleteness.
Maria Luisa Basso, Karl Jaspers o della filosofia come amore. Con brani scelti, tradotti e commentati (Elena Alessiato)
Karl Jaspers – Hannah Arendt, Verità e umanità. Discorsi per il conferimento del Premio per la pace dei Librai tedeschi 1958(Chiara Pasqualin)
Karl Jaspers, La cura della mente. Filosofia della psicopatologia(Marco Deodati)
Karl Jaspers, La fede filosofica a confronto con la rivelazione cristiana (Nunzio Bombaci)
Edoardo Massimilla, Presupposti e percorsi del comprendere esplicativo. Max Weber e i suoi interlocutori (Giovanni Morrone)
Nota di Anton Hügli, Edizione commentata dell’opera completa di Karl Jaspers (estate 2015)