Was there ever an Axial age when great thinkers acting independently in Greece and Palestine and China and Iran and India revolutionized Human Society and invented a new form of consciousness?
No- but philology does record sudden explosions in meta-metaphoricity based preference falsification across diverse literate cultures not all of which, unfortunately, were ever entirely purged from our collective memory by the rising up of 'slave' castes or nations, like the Gokturks or Teutons or, indeed, Tamils, who concentrated on important stuff- metallurgy, horse breeding, plain speaking and piety as opposed to self aggrandizing psilosophy & Credentialist chrematistics.
Yet here is a book- The Axial Age and Its Consequences, by Robert Bellah and Hans Joas, which makes the bold claim that 'intellectual sophistication itself was born worldwide during this critical time. Across Eurasia, a new self-reflective attitude toward human existence emerged, and with it an awakening to the concept of transcendence. From Axial Age thinkers we inherited a sense of the world as a place not just to experience but to investigate, envision, and alter through human thought and action'.
What does 'the concept of transcendence' mean? It's the notion that you can get a superior type of knowledge from thinking about the sort of stuff which other people are also thinking about but thinking about merely to some useful, productive or coherent end. Bill Gates made a lot of money by thinking about computers and how to make them more useful. Like Gates, I too thought about computers but didn't make any money or come up with anything useful. But my transcendental theory of personal computing is far more intellectually sophisticated and self reflective than his. I am able to apodictically prove not only that the self-sodomy of the post Kristevan Chora is an emergent of virtuous stroking of the mouse such that, uniquely, all Iyengars are shown to be secretly adding garlic to their sambar and God talks to me through my neighbor's cat. Unlike Gates, who just experiences the world and gets invited to cool places whereas I've just been barred from even my local pub, I have a lot more time to investigate, envision and alter the World through my own human thoughts and actions. This is because I don't actually live on this World but just visit from time to investigate it before getting thrown out of the pub.
There is an obvious counter to my argument- viz. 'Vivek, you are a stupid drunken slob, not an intellectual. Only intellectuals get to have theories which can be considered as self- reflective or transcendent. Okay, even if you are or were a Professor, it's probably somewhere crap or in some real shite subject so just fuck off.'
The problem with this rebuttal is that it shows precisely why the Axial age availability cascade is nothing but a wank. Jaspers, and other such low brow fuckwits, fasten on pedagogic traditions and discover that from time to time they get up their own arses with transcendent shite. But wherever these shite 'intellectuals' have shown up, everybody thought and said they were worthless cunts. Aristophanes spots Socrates for a fuckwit straight off the bat. Herodotus locates the dawn of free political discourse in Iran when 'after slaughtering the Magi, the truth loving Persians' sat down to consider the proper way to order society. Israel had its moment of glory before its God became Transcendent and has been in continuous decline ever since. Confucian scholars in China helped their country most when consigned to 'oil basket graves' and, as for the Brahmin grammarians. their own Saints damn them for their 'dukring karane' because a good thought may be badly expressed but stupidity remains stupidity no matter how grammatically correct.
Since runaway Academic Credentialism is associated with Cliodynamic sclerosis, as is the hypertrophy of Transcendent Religiosity and self-reflective Narcissistic injury, some people, like Karen Armstrong, think we are living through a second Axial Age. Fortunately, enough young people are quitting school to get rich quick while plenty of post Docs are waiting tables and driving buses so- so long as College fees continue to rise faster than inflation- we've dodged that bullet at least for the time being.