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This article will seem a little unnecessary to those in academia, particularly individuals who regularly use the argot of the sciences. But within the cultural dialog, this issue is of great interest and importance. I am quite incensed when ever I encounter the historical use of BC/AD when in discussion of delineated historical periods. Not only is this solecism inordinate in the scientific sense (we have had BCE (before common era)/CE (common era) for quite some time now) but it also gives credence to the religious and their social standing where it is highly incongruous to do so. Even if this usage of BC/AD was completely removed from the social dialog (as I feel it should be) there still is a problem with the use of the life and death of the purported Jesus of Nazareth as a historical nexus. I feel though that this issue has been well mollified within the dialogs of philosophy. How? For the uninitiated I will provide some terse expatiation on what I am referring to within the boundaries of history and philosophy.
In the purview of the past two centuries of German philosophy (or any philosophy for that matter), there is no way around the towering figure of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). It is through the critiques of his students and admirers that the most important aspects of philosophy in the past century have been predicated. Nonetheless, for this argument there is only one feature of Hegel’s thought that is pertinent, and that is his Philosophy of History. Before Hegel there had not yet been any integrated approach of history within any school of philosophic thought. Whether you agree with his dialectic approach to history or not, it is in reaction to this tenet that all philosophy of history is based. One can never forgo Hegel’s astute observations on the cyclical, tragic, ironic, and cunning lineaments of history and these will continue to be lessons that every future generation will have to learn. Nonetheless, as forward thinking as Hegel’s historical approach was, he still made a grievous error in leaving his world historical axis on the appearance of Christ. Contained within this oversight is the assumption I wish to critique.
The most intellectually sound retort to this dictum was devised by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969). One could view Jaspers as more of a psychologist than a philosopher, yet it is impossible and fallacious to disregard his contribution to existential philosophy (Jaspers was also one of the earliest reviewers and critics of Nietzsche’s writing, far more astute than Heidegger), even in light of his vacillating metaphysics. He dealt with the issue at hand in his book, Vom Ursprung und Zeil der Geschichte (From the Origin and Goal of History). In it he rejects Hegel’s world historical axis of the life of Christ and instead brilliantly asserts that the axis is more apropos within the century of 500 BCE in Athens. To maintain his intellectual integrity and purview of history though, he also deemed it necessary to include in this historical integument the enlightenments of the East. By this process of induction he places the axis between 860 BCE and 200 BCE. In consideration of this era he rightly elucidated that all of the key historical advances in Art, Philosophy, and Science began to emerge and flourish in the cultures of China, India, Persia, and Greece. If one explores these cultures within this proposed historical nexus with any intellectual honesty, it should become quite apparent that Jaspers had brilliantly identified the true turning point of history. This stance I find much more historically and scientifically tenable than the use of the life of the Nazarene as an historical crux.
I feel that these observations best illustrate the gravamen of my argument against the usage of BC/AD when delineating historical epochs. In the end, it will be up to you if I was successful. As with so much of our existence and reality we must always remember to look to the language to find and remove all cultural manacles. In my continued fight against theocratic totalitarianism, this semantic usurpation is just one more battlefront with faith, for the emancipation of our minds.