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6440 - Teotl - a central conception in aztec philosophy

It’s becoming more and more clear that the pre-hispanic Mesoamerican peoples where not only versatile in proto-scientific arts, crafts and ideas but also established a rich and fruitful tradition of cosmology or, maybe better, “philosophy”, that cannot be marginalized as mere mythology. On the contrary, the reconstruction of one of the central concepts in nahua philosophy, “Teotl”, suggests that the Aztec “tlamatinime” (wise men) had a genuinely philosophical approach towards the world and its phenomena. The Aztec (educated) mindset seems to have had a deep, multi-layered understanding of the cosmos that had “epistemological” as well as “metaphysical” implications that are not so easy (or perhaps especially hard?) to comprehend even for a western student of philosophy.  
This paper adumbrates the concept of “Teotl” in two ways: as an ideal construct and as a historical and hermeneutical problem. Since the probability of a compromise of the codices and the other source material is very high, one can never neglect the possibility of misinterpretation or deliberate distortion, especially during the time of the conquista and the decades afterwards. This is why, talking about “Teotl”, one must also be addressing the forms of prevention of such problems and the methods to overcome corrupted or lost pieces of information.  

The paper will close with a general question concerning intercultural philosophy as a whole and the relationship of nahua philosophy and modern continental philosophy in particular: can such a reconstruction of non-western cosmologies or philosophies respectively have an impact or a major relevance on our present scientific progress? What is there to gain from such a comparative or rather reciprocal investigation? Regarding the proceeding globalization of the world and the problems that it brings along there seems to be a great necessity in at least considering the possibility of loosening not only our political, but, more importantly, our mental borders. Maybe there are solutions for some of our philosophical, scientific, or even our social problems, slumbering in one or another “foreign” view of the world.

Keywords: Aztec Philosophy, Aztec Cosmology, Intercultural Philosophy, "Teotl"

Author: Diem, Robert (Universität Wien, Austria / Österreich)

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