The Axial Age, the Moral Revolution, and the Polarization of Life and Spirit

Existenz 2 (13):56-71 (2018)
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Thus far most of the scholarship on the axial age has followed Karl Jaspers’ denial that nature could be a significant source and continuing influence in the historical development of human consciousness. Yet more than a half century before Jaspers, the originator of the first nuanced theory of what Jaspers termed the axial age, John Stuart-Glennie, mapped out a contrasting philosophy of history that allowed a central role to nature in historical human development. This 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. Although Jaspers and Stuart-Glennie 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, delineating in the process my own philosophy of history as a progress in precision, paradoxically counteracted by a regressive contraction of mind.

Author's Profile

Eugene Halton
University of Notre Dame


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