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Aztec Philosophy

Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion

James Maffie
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    Aztec Philosophy
    Book Description:

    InAztec Philosophy, James Maffie reveals a highly sophisticated and systematic Aztec philosophy worthy of consideration alongside European philosophies of their time. Bringing together the fields of comparative world philosophy and Mesoamerican studies, Maffie excavates the distinctly philosophical aspects of Aztec thought.Aztec Philosophyfocuses on the ways Aztec metaphysics-the Aztecs' understanding of the nature, structure and constitution of reality-underpinned Aztec thinking about wisdom, ethics, politics,\ and aesthetics, and served as a backdrop for Aztec religious practices as well as everyday activities such as weaving, farming, and warfare. Aztec metaphysicians conceived reality and cosmos as a grand, ongoing process of weaving-theirs was a world in motion. Drawing upon linguistic, ethnohistorical, archaeological, historical, and contemporary ethnographic evidence, Maffie argues that Aztec metaphysics maintained a processive, transformational, and non-hierarchical view of reality, time, and existence along with a pantheistic theology.Aztec Philosophywill be of great interest to Mesoamericanists, philosophers, religionists, folklorists, and Latin Americanists as well as students of indigenous philosophy, religion, and art of the Americas.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-223-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    The indigenous peoples of what is now Mexico enjoy long and rich traditions of philosophical reflection dating back centuries before being characterized by their European “discoverers” as “barbarians” or “primitives” incapable of or unmotivated to think rationally, abstractly, or philosophically.¹ Pre–Columbian societies contained individuals who reflected systematically upon the nature of reality, human existence, knowledge, right conduct, and goodness. The Nahuatl-speaking peoples of Central Mexico — including those residing in Mexico–Tenochtitlan known today as the “Aztecs” — were no exception. Nahua societies included individuals calledtlamatinime(“knowers of things,” “ sages,” or “ philosophers”; sing.tlamatini) given to puzzling over...

  5. 1 Teotl
    (pp. 21-78)

    Let’s begin our examination of Aztec metaphysics. Western philosophy standardly definesmetaphysicsas the study of the nature, structure, and constitution of reality at the most comprehensive and synoptic level. Metaphysics aims to advance our understanding of the nature of things broadly construed. Metaphysicians seek answers to puzzles concerning the nature of existence, causality, consciousness, space, time, God, personal identity, and the relationship between human beings and the world.Ontologyis a branch of metaphysics that focuses more narrowly on the nature of being per se and on what things exist and the kind of existence they enjoy.¹ Aztec metaphysics...

  6. 2 Pantheism
    (pp. 79-136)

    Aztec metaphysics’ conception of teotl constitutes a form of pantheism. Section 2.1 presents my evidence for this claim. I argue Aztec metaphysics is neither polytheistic nor panentheistic. Sections 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4 explore how Aztec pantheism understands such notions as sacredness,neltiliztli,ixiptla, andteixiptla. Section 2.5 argues Aztec pantheism entails animism. Section 2.6 anticipates and responds to several possible objections against this interpretation.

    Aztec metaphysics’ understanding of teotl constitutes a form of pantheism. Definitions of pantheism vary. I adopt the definition proposed by Michael Levine inPantheism:A Nontheistic Concept of Deity.¹ To say that Aztec metaphysics is pantheistic...

  7. 3 Agonistic Inamic Unity
    (pp. 137-184)

    Aztec metaphysics claims teotl’s ceaseless becoming is characterized by the cyclical struggle between paired complementary polarities such as life and death. Sections 3.1—3.3 explore this claim. Section 3.4 looks at how Mesoamerican artists represented this notion of polar duality. Section 3.5 focuses upon several more abstract dualities such as being and nonbeing. Section 3.6 argues that balance and imbalance and center and periphery arenotamong teotl’s dual aspects. Section 3.7 discusses Ometeotl’s relationship to polar duality. I conclude in section 3.8.

    Teotl’s process of continual and continuous selftransformation is defined by what I callagonistic inamic unity, that...

  8. 4 Teotl as Olin
    (pp. 185-260)

    Aztec metaphysics conceives teotl as a single, allencompassing macroprocess that consists of a complex constellation of systematically interrelated and interpenetrating microprocesses. As a process, teotl is defined byhow it moves.¹ And how does it move? Teotl moves in three principal ways: olin, malinalli, and nepantla. Each of these constitutes a different modus operandi of teotl; a differentpathof energy circulation and conveyance; a different pattern of causation, interaction, interrelation; and hence a differentpatternof change, becoming, and transformation. Each is immanent within the unfolding of reality like the pattern of a woven fabric or rings of a...

  9. 5 Teotl as Malinalli
    (pp. 261-354)

    Malinalli represents a second kind of motion–change, a second principal pattern in teotl’s ceaseless becoming and transforming, and a second way of unifying agonistic inamic partners.

    According to Jeanette Peterson, the wordmalinallirefers to a family of botanically related, native perennial wild grasses today calledzacatonorzacatede casa by residents of the area surrounding Malinalco (“Place of Malinalli”).¹ The grasses share several physical characteristics: feathery, seed–bearing flowers that grow in tuftlike bunches; bunches of single compound flower shafts; rough, sharp–edged leaves; and stalks that grow in tuftlike clusters. They also share certain functional features....

  10. 6 Teotl as Nepantla
    (pp. 355-418)

    Nepantla constitutes a third kind of motion–change, a third principal pattern in teotl’s ceaseless becoming and transforming, and a third way of unifying inamic partners in agonistic tension. Like olin and malinalli, it represents one of teotl’showsor modi operandi.

    Durán reports interviewing a Nahuatl-speaker regarding the status of the Aztecs’ conversion to Christianity. The man characterizes the Aztecs’ condition using the concept ofnepantla. He states, “Father, do not be astonished, we are stillnepantla.”¹ But what exactly does this mean? Durán translatesnepantlaas “en medios” (“in the middle” or “betwixt and between”) andneutros(“neither...

  11. 7 Teotl as Time-Place
    (pp. 419-478)

    Fray Alonso de Molina translates the Nahuatl word cahuitl as “time.”¹Cahuitlderives fromcahua, meaning “to leave, abandon, or relinquish something or someone; to carry something to another place; to accompany someone home.”² Apparentlycahuitlliterally means “that which leaves, abandons, accompanies, or carries someone or something.” Aztec metaphysics thus appears to conceive of time as that which leaves or abandons as well as that which carries or accompanies people and things.

    Aztec metaphysics conceives the various periods of time (e.g., days, nights, thirteen–day “weeks,” and twenty–day “months”) asqualitativelydifferent, tonallienergy–charged burdens carried on the...

  12. 8 Weaving the Cosmos: Reality and Cosmos as Nepantla-Process
    (pp. 479-522)

    Let’s tie together the arguments of the preceding chapters. Backstrap weaving is one of the principal organizing metaphors employed by Aztec metaphysics in conceiving the structure and working of reality and cosmos. Olin, malinalli, and nepantla motion-change are all involved in weaving. Backstrap weaving includes spinning, twisting, bobbing, shuttling, undulating, and interlacing. This chapter examines backstrap weaving with the aim of understanding more fully the claim that Aztec metaphysics conceives the cosmos as a grand weaving-in-progress. I first briefly review our findings regarding the nature of olin, malinalli, and nepantla motion-change.

    Olin, malinalli, and nepantla represent three different kinds or...

  13. Conclusion: Nepantla and Aztec Philosophy
    (pp. 523-530)

    The Aztecs’ world, the fifth and last Sun–Earth Ordering in the history of the cosmos, isa world in motion.It is a world of ceaseless nepantla–defined becoming and transformation. The Aztecs’ world is also nonhierarchical: one without transcendent deities, purpose, truths, norms, or commandments. In such a world, Aztec tlamatinime asked, what is the correct path (ohtli), the right way of life, for human beings to follow? What enables humans to follow and further this path, and what disables them? How did Aztec tlamatinime, in other words, conceive what Western philosophers call ethics, political philosophy, epistemology, and...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 531-566)
  15. Index
    (pp. 567-592)