John Torpey, "The Three Axial Ages: Moral, Material, Mental" (Rutgers UP, 2017)


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Since its initial postulation by Karl Jaspers, the concept of an “axial age” in the development of human thought and religion has exerted enormous influence in the fields of history and sociology. In The Three Axial Ages: Moral, Material, Mental (Rutgers University Press, 2017), John Torpey develops the concept further by identifying two additional axial points in human history following upon the first, “moral” age. Torpey identifies the second of these ages the “material” age, which lasted from approximately 1750 until 1970. Characterized by unprecedented advances in economic development, it fueled enormous population growth and fostered a hedonistic attitude towards the very idea of consuming material goods. This was subsequently superseded by the final axial age, one in which the focus shifted towards thinking about thinking, and a greater emphasis upon sustainability rather than just consumption. As Torpey concludes, whether this age will address successfully the problems of our time remains to be seen, though success will be defined by drawing upon the achievements of the axial ages that preceded our current one.

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