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Aztec Philosophy

Understanding a World in Motion

James Maffie

Publication Year: 2014

 In Aztec 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 Philosophy focuses 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 Philosophy will 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.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xvi

This work would not have been possible without the monumental achievements of Miguel León-Portilla and Alfredo López Austin. They are the giants upon whose shoulders Aztec scholarship rests. Although I know neither personally, I found myself in constant...

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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...

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1: Teotl

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pp. 21-78

Let’s begin our examination of Aztec metaphysics. Western philosophy standardly defines metaphysics as 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...

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2: Pantheism

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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...

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3: Agonistic Inamic Unity

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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...

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4: Teotl as Olin

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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 by how it moves.1 And how does it move? Teotl...

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5: Teotl as Malinalli

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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...

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6: Teotl as Nepantla

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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’s hows or modi...

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7: Teotl as Time-Place

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pp. 419-478

Fray Alonso de Molina translates the Nahuatl word cahuitl as “time.”1 Cahuitl derives from cahua, meaning “to leave, abandon, or relinquish something or someone; to carry something to another place; to accompany someone home.”2 Apparently cahuitl literally...

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8: Weaving the Cosmos: Reality and Cosmos as Nepantla-Process

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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...

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Conclusion: Nepantla and Aztec Philosophy

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pp. 523-530

The Aztecs’ world, the fifth and last Sun-Earth Ordering in the history of the cosmos, is a 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...


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pp. 531-566


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pp. 567-592

E-ISBN-13: 9781607322238
E-ISBN-10: 1607322234
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607322221
Print-ISBN-10: 1607322226

Page Count: 512
Illustrations: 69 figures
Publication Year: 2014