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This chapter offers a broad overview of the dominant views of personhood and selfhood in ancient Mesoamerica. It begins with a discussion of the conception of social personhood, then turns to the issue of essence and selfhood, finally culminating in the “embedded identity” theory of personal identity that relies on these previous views.
In this chapter, we look at Mesoamerican views on human activity and life. How did precolonial Mesoamerican philosophers think about proper or right action, in the case of the individual and the wider community? This includes issues such as the role of the state, the ruler, and the individual’s duties toward each. The chapter focuses on key ethical concepts and views in Mesoamerican traditions, such as those concerning humility, sacrifice, and the situational and temporary nature of goodness.
This chapter deals with the issue of the role of philosophy in Mesoamerica and its sources. Offering an expansive account of philosophy, it argues that the sources of philosophy in ancient Mesoamerica include, but are not limited to, textual material. While there is a long textual tradition in Mesoamerica, particularly in Maya and Aztec cultures, we find philosophy in other sources as well, including architecture, art, oral tradition, and performance. The chapter describes the ways philosophy can be found in these numerous sources, and argue for the importance of philosophical interaction with anthropology, art history, and other relevant fields.
This introduction consists of a brief overview of the people, cultures, and history of Mesoamerica, to give readers context and background for understanding precolonial Mesoamerican thought. It provides accounts of the languages, myths, and intellectual culture of the ancient Olmecs, one of the foundational early cultures of Mesoamerica, as well as of still extant groups such as the Maya, Aztecs, Mixtecs, and Zapotecs.
The nature of the cosmos and its maintenance are central issues in Mesoamerican philosophy. The correlative metaphysical systems of Mesoamerica, with their focus on interdependence, transformation, and continual creation, rely on particular views about the nature of the world and its operation that are covered in this chapter. The chapter covers the development of key concepts connected to creation and change, as well as the particular ways these are developed in creation stories across Mesoamerica. Creation stories serve an important purpose in Mesoamerican thought. They should not be thought of as only myth grounding the overall tradition and system, but also as discussions of the nature of being, change, and continual creation.
This book deals with the philosophical thought of the region of Mesoamerica (southern Mexico and northern Central America), specifically during its long history prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century CE. Chapters on central concepts and views in Mesoamerican philosophical traditions highlight issues such as language, truth, time, personal identity, creation, being, knowledge, and ethics. While the Maya and Aztec traditions receive most focus here, other Mesoamerican traditions are discussed, including those of the Mixtec, Zapotec, and of the long distant Olmec.
This chapter deals with the concept of being in Mesoamerican traditions, which to some extent resembles what we find in other global traditions. The chapter covers concept such as the Yucatec Maya itz and the Nahuatl teotl as a kind of basic stuff of the cosmos determining its nature. It is not quite right to call these constituents of reality, in the sense of a material such as atoms that make up the world in physicalistic systems. Instead, these concepts should be understood as expressing the nature of reality itself, that is, being itself, underlying, prior to, and sustaining all particular things.
This chapter covers Mesoamerican conceptions of knowledge through the image of seeing. Knowledge is a matter not just of accessing stable and mind-independent truths about the world, but also involves an aspect of creativity and construction, according to Mesoamerican views. Knowledge requires sensation, which has a creative and participative aspect. We contribute to sensation as active partners with the world. The chapter discusses seeing, the rituals and texts associated with seeing, and the community of people, such as the daykeepers in the Maya tradition, tasked specifically with generation and transmission of knowledge.
One of the most unique features of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican thought, in comparison to that of other parts of the world, is its development of and the centrality of particular conceptions of time, the creation of time, and the role of time. In Mesoamerican thought, time plays a crucial role in the continual creation or maintenance of the cosmos. It is an organizational principle and structure, interconnected with other aspects of the world and containing features of non-temporal aspects of the world. We can determine that time has a key significance in much of Mesoamerican thought not just because many of the textual sources document time and its features, but because time is continually linked with correlated features of reality, and described to be a fundamental feature of objects and events in the world, as we will see in this chapter. Time clearly has a central role to play in the philosophical thought of Mesoamerica, though just how it plays this role is a matter of debate among scholars, and as we will also see, differs between and within traditions.
This chapter includes an investigation of precolonial Mesoamerican languages, including Maya languages and Nahuatl, and their connection to issues of truth and meaning. We find the concept of truth connected to representation and activity. The importance of performative aspects of language can be seen in different ways throughout Mesoamerican traditions, from the ritual performances of the Maya to the focus of acts of speaking of the Aztecs. The chapter begins with a consideration of written language, and continues on to considerations of movement and physical performance as symbolic and as continuous with language, which expresses meaning by sharing essence with what is expressed.
The philosophy of Mesoamerica – the indigenous groups of precolonial North-Central America – is rich and varied but relatively little-known. In this ground-breaking book, Alexus McLeod introduces the philosophical traditions of the Maya, Nahua (Aztecs), Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and others, focussing in particular on their treatment of language, truth, time, creation, personhood, knowledge, and morality. His wide-ranging discussion includes important texts of world literature such as the K'iche Maya Popol Vuh and the Aztec Florentine Codex, as well as precolonial glyphic texts and imagery. This comprehensive and accessible book will give students, specialists and other interested readers an understanding of Mesoamerican philosophy and a sense of the current scholarship in the field.
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