Jaspers, the Axial Age, and Christianity

American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 83 (2):239-254 (2009)
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Abstract

Karl Jaspers celebrates the “Axial Age” as marking a fundamental advance in humanity’s self-understanding, but rejects Christianity as “fettering” this new enlightenment to a notion of Jesus as the sole incarnation of the divine. Here I try to show that, relative to Jaspers’ own account of Existenz and especially of existential “foundering,” Jesus becomes distinctive in a way that Socrates, Buddha, and Confucius are not (even on Jaspers’ own accounts of these four “paradigmatic individuals”). I go on to show how, on Karl Rahner’s inclusivist account of theincarnation, Jaspers’ objections to Christianity mostly dissolve. Finally, I suggest the need to recognize two Axial Age traditions: one rejecting sacrificial forms in favor of ethical prescriptions, the other finding new ethical meaning in these older forms.

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