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Catholic Social Science Review

Volume 20, 2015

Robert F. Gorman
Pages 99-111

Revisiting Karl Jaspers's Axial Age Hypothesis
Natural Law as a Missing Link

This article argues that Karl Jaspers’s account of the rise of the Axial Age phenomenon is deficient owing to his failure to consider the natural law as a plausible cause for its development. The Axial Age concept—which precedes Jaspers, who nevertheless popularized it—claims that widely separated civilizations from the Ancient Greeks and Hebrews to the Persian, Hindu, Buddhist, and Confucian cultures all began to display sophisticated political and moral development from 800–200 BC, without any known contact. Jaspers regarded its rise as a mystery. However, given ancient legal codes containing moral precepts long predating this period, the natural law hypothesis serves as the most plausible explanation of this ‘mystery’ of mankind’s dawning moral awareness.

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