The Axial Age

  1. What is the Axial Age?

    1. Major shift in human thinking c.700 BCE-100 CE

      1. most activity from c.600 BCE to c. 300 BCE

      2. spread out geographically from East Mediterranean to China

    2. Saw development of several new religions

      1. Zoroastrianism

      2. Judaism

      3. Jainism

      4. Buddhism

      5. Hinduism (development of the Upanishads)

      6. Daoism

      7. Mystery cults of Mediterranean region

      8. Christianity

    3. Also important developments in law, ethics, rationalism

      1. Confucianism in China

      2. Various philosophical schools in Greece, along with math and sciences

    4. Key ideas of the Axial Age (not all adopted everywhere)

      1. Increasing spiritualization of religion, moving away from emphasis on ritual

      2. Internalization of right and wrong (development of a moral conscience) as opposed to punishment-reward systems

      3. Monotheism

      4. Divine love

      5. Political and ethical rationalism

      6. Natural rationalism - math, science

  2. Increase spiritualization

    1. Increased emphasis on religion in explaining human existence

    2. Increased emphasis on nature of human relationship to the divine

    3. De-emphasis on importance of ritual and sacrifice in religious behavior

      1. animism and shamanism saw ritual as means to seek favor from gods and spirits

      2. Axial Age religion moves away from the "magic"

    4. Buddhism and Jainism

      1. India-region had been dominated by Brahmanism in the post-Harrapan period

      2. Based on the Vedas, holy texts of the Arayn migrants

      3. placed strong emphasis on ritual and sacrifice to appease these gods

      4. gave enormous social, economic, and political power to the priest caste, the Brahmins

      5. Buddhism and Jainism emerge in part as rejections of the powers of these priests and the importance of these rituals

      6. Jainism

        1. though has older roots, main tenets established by Mahavira (c. 599-527 BCE)

        2. like other religions in the region, believed in reincarnation

        3. souls are reincarnated based on accumulation of karma (action/consequences of action), that force reincarnation

        4. souls gain liberation by freeing themselves of karma

          1. souls must practice Right View, Right Knowledge Right Conduct to gain this liberation and become god-consciousness

          2. soul is in everything - since all soul can achieve liberation, it is important to avoid doing harm

          3. as such, Jainism emphasizes ahisma - non-violence - and Jains are usually vegetarian

          4. it is important to practice asceticism (avoidance or non-attachment to possessions and worldly pleasure) to acheive enlightenment and liberation

      7. Buddhism

        1. founded by Siddhartha Guatama c.563-483 BCE

        2. of the noble/warrior kshatryia caste, from the hill regions near Nepal

        3. In tradition of the region, believed in samsara, the cycle of birth, life, death, and reincarnation

        4. Founds a religion based on the Four Noble Truths

          1. all life lead to suffering

          2. suffering comes from desire

            1. impermanence of world makes fulfillment of desire impossible

            2. our desire, craving and attachments draw us back into the world of suffering through reincarnation

          3. suffering can be ended by a cessation of desire and attachment, the realization of the the truth of the No-self

          4. Nirvana, the cessation of attachment, can be achieved by following the eight-fold path: right knowledge, right purpose, right speech, right conduct, right occupation, right effort, right awareness, right meditation.

        5. like Jainism, emphasizes ahisma and asceticism, as well as importance of moderation

    5. Daoism in China

      1. Like Buddhism and Jainism, a more spiritualized approach to religion

      2. Attributed to Laozi

        1. traditional author of the Daodejing

        2. little is known - may have lived in the 300s BCE or earlier

        3. may in fact not have been one person, but several

      3. Elements of mysticism and magic -- some of its ideas may go back to Shang shamanism
      4. Importance of wu-wei, or non-action, yielding to the universal forces
      5. emphasizes simplicity, passivity, acquiescence -- retreat from the miseries of the world
      6. Central is the belief in the Tao: the Truth, The Way, the flow of the universe, that which underlies the natural order:
      7. But the Tao must be intuited, not rationally understood: "The Tao cannot be defined, it can only be intuitively sensed or felt and heeded. When men are attuned to the Tao, they cooperate with... nature, respond directly to experience rather than reflect on it, invent no mental abstractions, and live and die quietly...."
      8. So, one could never find the Tao unless you stopped looking!
      9. Sayings from the Daodejing
  3. Monotheism
    1. Increased emphasis on moment of creation implies existence of a single creator
    2. "Monotheism" takes many forms
      1. Zoroastrianism
        1. founded by Zoroaster (also called Zarathuster) - c. 600s BCE in Persia
        2. opposed to ritualistic, idol-worshipping religion
        3. Saw one good deity - Ahura Mazda (Wise LORD) in a dualistic struggle with evil
        4. dualistic, but worship focused on this one deity
        5. taught importance of good thoughts, good deed, good words
      2. Judaism
        1. Hebrew religion focused on worship of single tribal deity probably sometime in the mid 2nd millennia BCE
          1. expressed through the Covenant
          2. places responsibilities on both humans and their God
          3. human responsibility heightened by a sense of linear time
        2. still seem to acknowledge existence of rival deities
        3. Hebrew religion seems to become fully monotheistic c. 500 BCE
      3. Many other traditions - Greek, Egyptian, Buddhist, Hindu - also suggest a creator-god
        1. this god may or may no continue to exist
        2. often seen as the underlying divinity in polytheistic religions - all other gods being manifestations of this underlying god
  4. Divine Love and the Internalization of a Conscience
    1. Many Axial Age thinkers posit a special place for humans
      1. receive focus of God's (or gods') attention
      2. humans elevated above other living things
      3. not everyone agrees about this elevated place - Jains, notably
      4. idea often originally tribal (that is "my tribe is special, yours is not"), but becomes in some places a universal idea applied to all humans
        1. late first century Judaism
        2. Mozi (400s BCE, China) - taught a philosophy of universal love
        3. Christianity will teach a doctrine of universal divine love
          1. universalism takes time to develop
          2. draws from Jewish traditions, such as the Pharisees' emphasis on benevolence, love, and charity
          3. tempered by millennial notions of destruction
    2. This specialness also puts demands on human behavior
      1. Jewish Covenant demands an adherence to and and internalization of a moral code
      2. Buddhism requires a life of moderation and ahisma, following thee Eight-Fold Path
      3. Zoroastrianism demands good thoughts, deeds, and words in the struggle against evil
    3. Implies importance of the individual human being
      1. Particularly obvious in Judaism
      2. Belief in liner time implies a changing history
      3. This history can be changed by the actions of one individual, regardless of status
      4. Thus it is important that all individuals adhere to the moral code.
  5. Political and Ethical Rationalism
    1. Axial Age sees development of schools a thought that approach human society as a logical problem to solve
    2. Pessimists and skeptics
      1. Stoics
        1. founded by Zeno of Citium (334-262 BCE), Greece
        2. believed that only humans are capable of a good and evil, while nature is neutral
        3. nature being neutral and humans being unpredictable leads to suffering
        4. thus wisdom demands acceptance of suffering, as it is unavoidable
        5. clear similarities to ideas of Buddhists, Daoists
      2. Plato - Athens (428-348 BCE)
        1. in his work The Republic, argues that most humans motivated by desire
        2. only an elite is guided by wisdom - the Guardians
        3. thus only the Guardians can rule for the good of all
      3. Legalists - China
        1. school of thought that develops in the Warring States period, c.300s BCE
        2. held that humans were inherently corrupt
        3. only law can be trusted
        4. demands a strong ruler, absolute obedience, and a strict system of rewards and punishments based on clearly established laws
    3. Optimists
      1. Confucianism
        1. founded by K'ung Fu-Tzu (Confucius) - 551-479 BCE
        2. worked as a tutor and an administrator; ideas collected by his students in a book call the Analects
        3. lived in the Warring States period, and sought ways to end that violence
        4. believed it possible to create a harmonious social order based on ethics and personal cultivation
        5. a key element was the importance of li - ritual and etiquette
          1. very historically minded, looks back to the last period of peace, the early Zhou Dynasty, for examples of a harmonious society
          2. Zhou had emphasized ritual and etiquette as a way of reinforcing bonds of loyalty and hierarchy
          3. Confucius believed that li was critical in educating people about and reinforcing social roles
          4. proper observance of li would foster moral and harmonious behavior
        6. follows the logical implications of the Mandate of Heaven
          1. this was the Zhou idea that their dynasty gained the right to rule because they were moral and able rulers, while the Shang had ceased to be
          2. Confucius advanced this concept
            1. argued that the people naturally followed moral, able rulers
            2. would automatically fulfill their roles in society without instruction under such rulers
            3. but would never fulfill their roles under immoral and irresponsible ruler
          3. insisted on the "rectification of names" - bad rulers should be called bad rulers and not given honors (may be why he had trouble keeping a job)
        7. in time, becomes the dominant political and ethical philosophy of China
        8. Examples from the Analects
      2. Socrates (469-399 BCE - Athens, Greece)
        1. Argued that truth is something pursued, not uncovered.
        2. All could seek truth through through the dialectic.
        3. Thus advanced what we call the the Socratic method--learning based on conversation, questions and answers
        4. Concerned primarily with ethics - ethical knowledge could be gained by rational reflection on goals and consequences
        5. Believed that doing good comes from knowing good - "Virtue is knowledge"
        6. Thus asked, "what is wisdom? who is wise?"
        7. therefore questioned Athenian society of the day
          1. a. a wise man knows that he knows nothing
          2. b. wisdom, therefore, must be a goal of every person
          3. c. no one was wise in Athens, since they all thought they were!
        8. put to death--made to kill himself for the crime of "corrupting the youth" - encouraging them to question Athenian values
      3. Aristotle (384-322 BCE, Athens, Greece)
        1. recognized for centuries as the great rational thinker of ancient Greece
        2. argued that democracy leads to mob rule (as it had with the death of Socrates)
        3. but also held that rule by an elite aristocracy, which Plato had argued for, led to tyranny
        4. therefore held that the power of the people and the elites must be balanced, based on the rule of law
  6. Natural Rationalism
    1. Mathematics
      1. applied mathematics and geometry was ancient
      2. particularly in Greece, though, a theoretical approach develops
        1. Pythagoras (c. 569-475) founds a "school" (more of a cult) devoted to, among other things, the study of numbers
        2. Introduces abstract mathematics, as opposed to applied mathematics, to the study of nature
        3. Believed that the universe was constructed out of pure, abstract mathematical forms
        4. Will be echoed by people like Plato, who argued that the universe was constructed out of perfect geometrical forms
        5. this kinds of thinking leads to a study of numbers as numbers, forms as forms, and not as practical tools for commerce or architecture
        6. Will lead, by c.300 BC, to the development of the mathematical proof with the the work of Euclid in geometry
    2. Science
      1. In Greece, development of the concept of Natural Philosophy
        1. effort to develop a theoretical understanding of nature from which individual phenomena could be explained
        2. detached from any practical consideration
          1. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge, not to be able to build thins or make predictions
          2. Self consciously theoretical inquiries into the state of nature
          3. Plato argued that pursuit of knowledge for improving a craft was inferior to pursuit of knowledge for understanding true nature of the universe
        3. De-individualizes nature - seeks to find cause of all earthquakes, all floods, all cycles of growth and reproduction, etc, not just individual cases
      2. Elsewhere a less theoretical but still rationalistic approach to study of natural world
        1. in China, scientific study geared to practical needs of the state

          1. Astronomic study promoted by imperial state since emperor's ability to maintain harmony judged in part on ability to provide an accurate calendar

          2. Chinese understanding of nature reflected and reinforced Confucian political ideology that emphasized a harmonious, interlocking set of relationships that united all people

          3. Nature seen holistically, as a single organism, much like the idealized state

          4. State and social organization both part of and a reflection of that natural order, thus disorder in one created or reflected disorder in the other

        2. similar in other regions

          1. In India, the needs of the priest caste, the Brahmins, of high importance

            1. Ritualistic importance of texts and reading go texts leads early to highly developed study of linguistics

            2. Belief in very long cycles of time leads to early development of study of large numbers

            3. A highly technical and mathematical understanding of astronomy developed out of need for astrological computations

          2. Mayans
            1. Mayan religion, like all Mesoamerican religion, placed great emphasis on flow of time in grand cycles

            2. Of the Mesoamericans, the Mayan developed the most complex system of calendrics involving the longest cycles of time

            3. Maya saw time, and its passage, as the basic building block of the universe

            4. Mayan kings, as chief priests, sponsored extensive astronomical study, including the building of observatories

            5. Mathematics became highly developed, including the independent development of zero, in order to support these observations