African Philosophy is a disputed term, used in different ways by different philosophers. Philosophy is the study of general problems concerning matters such as existence knowledge truth beauty justice validity mind and language Although African philosophers spend their time doing work in many different areas, such as metaphysics, epistemology, moral philosophy, and political philosophy, a great deal of the literature is taken up with a debate concerning the nature of African philosophy itself. Metaphysics is the branch of Philosophy investigating principles of reality transcending those of any particular science Epistemology (from Greek επιστήμη - episteme, "knowledge" + λόγος, " Logos " or theory of knowledge Ethics is a major branch of Philosophy, encompassing right conduct and good life Political philosophy is the study of questions about the City, Government, Politics, Liberty, Justice, Property, Rights Though this is often criticised as being sterile and self-absorbed, it can nevertheless provide useful insights into the nature of philosophy in general.
One of the most fundamental loci of disagreement concerns what exactly it is that the term ‘African’ qualifies: the content of the philosophy or the identities of the philosophers. On the former view, philosophy counts as African if it involves African themes (such as distinctively African perceptions of time, personhood, etc. ) or uses methods that are distinctively African; on the latter view, African philosophy is any philosophy done by Africans (or sometimes, by people of African descent).
In what follows – for the purposes of an encyclopædia article – it will generally be more useful to take the former view as central, as it is surely the distinctive content and methodology that distinguishes African from other philosophy. (It's perhaps worth pointing out that the vast majority of African philosophy in the former sense will as a matter of fact also count as African philosophy in the latter sense. )
Having said all that, a historical survey is most easily and informatively undertaken by looking at philosophers who were born on the continent of Africa; when we come to the modern era, we shall revert to taking content and methodology as primary. Let us start, however, by looking at ancient African philosophy.
We start with yet another distinction: that between philosophers and philosophy. Paulin J. Hountondji has argued that, without a written language: “thousands of Socrates could never have given birth to Greek philosophy. Paulin Hountondji (b1942 is a Beninese philosopher and Politician. . . so thousands of philosophers without written works could never have given birth to an African philosophy” (Hountondji, p. 106; quoted in Kwame, Introduction, p. xx). Joseph I. Omoregbe's broad definition of a philosopher as, "one who devotes a good deal of his time reflecting on fundamental questions about human life or the physical universe and who frequently and habitually does this” and though no clearly articulated and documented philosophy exists, there is still a philosophical tradition. Put simply, even if there were no known African philosophers, there was African philosophy.
At least one may say that if we take a philosophy to be a coherent set of beliefs, but not a system explaining the unity of its understanding of all the world's phenomena, the nature of the world and the place of human beings in that world, then few if any cultures lack a philosophy. Such a philosophy doesn't depend upon the existence of specific people who philosophise, but even its innate in responding to life.
There is no debate concerning the fact that Africans have always been perfectly capable of philosophical thought. The standard view of the rise of philosophical (and of scientific) thought is that it probably required a certain sort of social structure (one in which, for example, a significant part of society had the leisure to think and debate), but that even given this necessary background condition, there's a further complex set of factors needed. The claim that Africa developed no philosophy, then, is merely the claim that the right conditions happened not to arise there.
Philosophy in North Africa has a rich and varied history, dating from pre-dynastic Egypt, and continuing through the birth of both Christianity and Islam. North Africa or Northern Africa is the Northernmost Region of the African Continent, separated by the Sahara from Sub-Saharan Arguably central to the ancients was the conception of "ma'at", which roughly translated refers to "justice", "truth", or simply "that which is right". One of the earliest works of political philosophy was the Maxims of Ptah-Hotep, which were taught to Egyptian schoolboys for centuries.
North African philosophers made extremely important contributions to Hellenistic philosophy, Christian philosophy, and Islamic philosophy. Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic civilization following Aristotle and ending with Neoplatonism Christian philosophy is a term to describe the fusion of various fields of Philosophy with the theological doctrines of Christianity. Islamic philosophy is a branch of Islamic studies, and is a longstanding attempt to create harmony between Philosophy ( Reason) and the religious teachings
In the Hellenistic tradition, the influential philosophical school of Neoplatonism was founded by the Egyptian philosopher Plotinus in the 3rd century CE. Neoplatonism (also Neo-Platonism) is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical Philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD founded by Ancient Egypt was an Ancient Civilization in eastern North Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now Plotinus ( Greek:) (ca AD 204–270 was a major philosopher of the ancient world who is widely considered the founder of Neoplatonism (along with his
In the Christian tradition, Augustine of Hippo was a cornerstone of Christian philosophy and theology. He lived from 354 to 430 CE, and wrote his best known work, The City of God, in Hippo Regius, (now Annaba, Algeria). Events By Place Roman Empire Constantius Gallus, Caesar of the East is deposed and executed on orders of Constantius II Events By Place Asia Feng Ba abdicates as emperor of the Northern Yan, one of the states vying for control of China Hippo Regius is the ancient name of the modern city of Annaba (formerly Bône Algeria. Annaba (عنابة formerly Bône, historically Hippo) is a city in the northeastern corner of Algeria near the river Seybouse and Algeria ( ar [[Arabic]] الجزائر, Al Jaza'ir ælʤæˈzæːʔir Amazigh: ⴷⵥⴰⵢⴻⵔ Dzayer) officially the People's He challenged a number of ideas of his age including Arianism, and established the notions of original sin and divine grace in Christian philosophy and theology. Arianism is the theological teaching of Arius (c AD 250-336 who was ruled a heretic by the Christian church at the Council of Nicea. Original sin is according to a doctrine in Catholic theology, humanity's state of Sin resulting from the Fall of Man. In Christianity, divine Grace refers to the sovereign favour of God for humankind — especially in regard to Salvation — irrespective of actions
In the Islamic tradition, Ibn Bajjah philosophized along neo-Platonist lines in the 12th century C. Abū-Bakr Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn al-Sāyigh ( Arabic أبو بكر محمد بن يحيى بن الصائغ known as Ibn Bājjah (ابن باجة was an Andalusian Neoplatonism (also Neo-Platonism) is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical Philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD founded by E. The purpose of human life, according to Bajja, was to gain true happiness, and true happiness is attained by grasping the universals through reason and philosophy, often outside the framework of organized religion. In Metaphysics, a universal is what particular things have in common namely characteristics or qualities
Ibn Rushd philosophised along more Aristotelian lines, establishing the philosophical school of Averroism. Abū 'l-Walīd Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Rushd (Arabicأبو الوليد محمد بن احمد بن رشد better known just as Ibn Rushd (ابن رشد and in European Averroism is the term applied to either of two philosophical trends among scholastics in the late 13th century, the first of which was based on the Notably, he argued that there was no conflict between religion and philosophy, and instead that there are a variety of routes to God, all equally valid, and that the philosopher was free to take the route of reason while the commoners were unable to take that route, and only able to take the route of teachings passed on to them.
Ibn Sab'in challenged the above view, arguing that Aristotelian methods of philosophy were useless in attempting to understand the universe, because those ideas failed to mirror the basic unity of the universe with itself and with God, so that true understanding required a different method of reasoning. Mohammad Ibn Abd-al-Haq Ibn Sab’in (محمدبن عبدالحق بن سبعين is the last philosopher of the Andalous in the west land of Islamic world
There is at least one example of a pre-modern sub-Saharan African philosopher: Anthony William Amo was taken as a slave from Awukenu in what is now Ghana, was brought up and educated in Europe (gaining doctorates in medicine and philosophy), and became a professor at the universities of Halle Halle and Jena. Sub-Saharan Africa is a geographical term used to describe the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara, or those African countries Anton Wilhelm Amo or Anthony William Amo (1703 &ndash ca 1759 was born in what is now Ghana, taken to Europe, and became a respected Philosopher The Republic of Ghana is a country in West Africa. It borders Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast to the west Burkina Faso to the north Togo to the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena (FSU is located in Jena, Thuringia in Germany and was renamed for the German writer Friedrich Schiller
Kenyan philosopher Henry Odera Oruka has distinguished what he calls four trends in modern African philosophy: ethnophilosophy, philosophical sagacity, nationalistic–ideological philosophy, and professional philosophy. The Republic of Kenya is a country in East Africa. It is bordered by Ethiopia to the north Somalia to the northeast Tanzania to the south The Kenyan philosopher Henry Odera Oruka became known for his project of the sage philosophy Ethnophilosophy is an ethnic approach to the study of Philosophy. In fact it would be more realistic to call them candidates for the position of African philosophy, with the understanding that more than one of them might fit the bill. (Oruka later added two additional categories: literary/artistic philosophy, the work of literary figures such as Ngugi wa Thiongo, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Okot p'Bitek, and Taban lo Liyong, and hermeneutic philosophy the analysis of African languages in order to find philosophical content. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (born January 5, 1938) is a Kenyan author formerly working in English and now working in Gĩkũyũ. Okot p'Bitek (1931 &ndash July 20, 1982) was a Ugandan poet who achieved wide international recognition for Song of Lawino, a long ) Maulana Karenga is one of the key philosophers in African-American circles, he produced a 803 page book titled Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt. Maulana Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett on July 14, 1941, and also known as Ron Everett) is an African American
Ethnophilosophy has been used to record the beliefs found in African cultures. Ethnophilosophy is an ethnic approach to the study of Philosophy. Such an approach treats African philosophy as consisting in a set of shared beliefs, values, categories, and assumptions that are implicit in the language, practices, and beliefs of African cultures; in short, the uniquely African world view. A comprehensive world view (or worldview) is a term Calqued from the German word Weltanschauung ( Welt is the German As such, it is seen as an item of communal property rather than an activity for the individual.
One proponent of this form, Placide Tempels, argued in Bantu Philosophy that the metaphysical categories of the Bantu people are reflected in their linguistic categories. Placide Frans Tempels (1906&ndash1977 was a Belgian Missionary who became famous for his book Bantu Philosophy. Bantu Philosophy ( La philosophie bantoue in French) is a 1945 book written by Placide Tempels which argues that the people of Sub-Saharan Bantu may refer to Bantu expansion, a series of migrations of Bantu speakers Bantu languages Bantu people According to this view, African philosophy can be best understood as springing from the fundamental assumptions about reality reflected in the languages of Africa.
An example of this sort of approach is the work of E. J. Algoa of the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria, who argues for the existence of an African philosophy of history stemming from traditional proverbs from the Niger Delta in his paper "An African Philosophy of History in the Oral Tradition". Nigeria, officially named the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal Constitutional republic comprising thirty-six states and one Federal Philosophy of history or historiosophy is an area of Philosophy concerning the eventual significance if any of human History. The Niger Delta, the delta of the Niger River in Nigeria, is a densely populated region sometimes called the Oil Rivers because it was once a Algoa argues that in African philosophy, age is seen as an important factor in gaining wisdom and interpreting the past. In support of this view, he cites proverbs such as "More days, more wisdom", and "What an old man sees seated, a youth does not see standing". Truth is seen as eternal and unchanging ("Truth never rots"), but people are subject to error ("Even a four-legged horse stumbles and falls"). It is dangerous to judge by appearances ("A large eye does not mean keen vision"), but first-hand observation can be trusted ("He who sees does not err"). The past is not seen as fundamentally different from the present, but all history is contemporary history ("A storyteller does not tell of a different season"). The future remains beyond knowledge ("Even a bird with a long neck cannot see the future"). Nevertheless, it is said, "God will outlive eternity". History is seen as vitally important ("One ignorant of his origin is nonhuman"), and historians (known as "sons of the soil") are highly revered ("The son of the soil has the python's keen eyes").
Another more controversial application of this approach is embodied in the concept of Negritude. Leopold Senghor, a proponent of negritude, argued that the distinctly African approach to reality is based on emotion rather than logic, works itself out in participation rather than analysis, and manifests itself through the arts rather than the sciences. Sir Léopold Sédar Senghor ( 9 October 1906 20 December 2001) was a Senegalese Poet, politician and cultural theorist who Cheikh Anta Diop and Mubabinge Bilolo, on the other hand, while agreeing that African culture is unique, challenged the view of Africans as essentially emotional and artistic, pointing out that Egypt was an African culture whose achievements in science, mathematics, architecture, and philosophy provided a basis for Greek civilization. Cheikh Anta Diop ( 29 December, 1923 &ndash 7 February, 1986) was a Senegalese Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning " Knowledge " or "knowing" is the effort to discover, and increase human understanding Mathematics is the body of Knowledge and Academic discipline that studies such concepts as Quantity, Structure, Space and The term architecture (from Greek αρχιτεκτονικήarchitektoniki) can be used to mean a process a profession or documentation Philosophy is the study of general problems concerning matters such as existence knowledge truth beauty justice validity mind and language
Critics of this approach argue that the actual philosophical work in producing a coherent philosophical position is being done by the academic philosopher (such as Algoa), and that the sayings of the same culture can be selected from and organised in many different ways in order to produce very different, often contradictory systems of thought. One can imagine trying to develop an English theory of mind by collecting proverbs and idioms such as "I'm in two minds about that", "He's out of his mind with worry", "She has a mind like a sieve", etc.
Philosophical sagacity is a sort of individualist version of ethnophilosophy, in which one records the beliefs of certain special members of a community. The premise here is that, although most societies demand some degree of conformity of belief and behaviour from their members, a certain few of those members reach a particularly high level of knowledge and understanding of their cultures' world-view; such people are sages. In some cases, the sage goes beyond mere knowledge and understanding to reflection and questioning — these become the targets of philosophical sagacity.
Critics of this approach note that not all reflection and questioning is philosophical; besides, if African philosophy were to be defined purely in terms of philosophic sagacity, then the thoughts of the sages couldn't be African philosophy, for they didn't record them from other sages. Also, on this view the only difference between non-African anthropology or ethnology and African philosophy seems to be the nationality of the researcher. Anthropology (/ˌænθɹəˈpɒlədʒi/ from Greek grc ἄνθρωπος anthrōpos, "human" -λογία -logia) is the study of Ethnology (from the Greek ἔθνος, ethnos meaning "habit custom convention" is the branch of Anthropology that compares and
Critics argue further that the problem with both ethnophilosophy and philosophical sagacity is that there is surely an important distinction between philosophy and the history of ideas, although other philosophers consider the two topics to be remarkably similar. No matter how interesting the beliefs of a people such as the Akan or the Yoruba may be to the philosopher, they remain beliefs, not philosophy. The Akan people are a linguistic group of West Africa. This group includes the Akuapem, the Akyem, the Ashanti, the Baoulé The Yoruba (Yo•row•ba ( Yorùbá in Yoruba Orthography) are one of the largest ethno-linguistic or Ethnic groups in West Africa To call them philosophy is to use a secondary sense of that term, as in “my philosophy is live and let live”.
Professional philosophy is the view that philosophy is a particular way of thinking, reflecting, and reasoning, that such a way is relatively new to (most of) Africa, and that African philosophy must grow in terms of the philosophical work carried out by Africans and applied to (perhaps not exclusively) African concerns. This view would be the most common answer of most Western philosophers (whether of continental or analytic persuasion) to the question ‘what is African philosophy?’
Critics of this view note the ethnocentricity within this statement. The question to them is "What is philosophy?" Those who hold the viewpoint of the Professional Philosopher would likely answer, "European, American and Asian philosophy alone shall be called philosophy". Professional Philosophers therefore must either provide more detail regarding their views or accept that their views are simply ethnocentric.
The professional philosopher would likely point out that, aside from academic journals, philosophy primarily consists of book-length treatises on philosophical topics written in an open, philosophical mindset by a uniquely gifted individual. Not just any work will suffice of course, the work must be brilliant and unique. However, there doesn't seem to be anything necessarily Euro-centric or ethnocentric about the production of such works. The historical lack of such works in sub-saharan Africa therefore says something about the culture and peoples of Africa.
Created by Maulana Karenga the philosophy of Kawaida is an ongoing synthesis of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world. Maulana Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett on July 14, 1941, and also known as Ron Everett) is an African American One of its central tenets is that culture is the fundamental source of a people's identity, purpose and direction. Thus, Kawaida is, in fact, a continuous dialog with African culture, asking questions and seeking answers to central and enduring concerns of the African and human community. At the heart of this project is the continuing quest to define and become the best of what it means to be both African and human in the fullest sense. This involves an ongoing search for models of excellence and paradigms of possibilities in every area of human life, but especially in the seven core areas of culture: history; spirituality and ethics; social organization; political organization; economic organization; creative production (art, music, literature, dance, etc. ) and ethos. It also involves creating a language and logic of liberation, one of opposition and affirmation, and a corresponding liberational practice to create a just and good society and pose an effective paradigm of mutually beneficial human relations and human possibility. 
Nationalist–ideological philosophy might be seen as a special case of philosophic sagacity, in which not sages but ideologues are the subjects. Alternatively, we might see it as a case of professional political philosophy. In either case, the same sort of problem arises: we have to retain a distinction between ideology and philosophy, between sets of ideas and a special way of reasoning.
Ethnophilosophers attempt to show that African philosophy is distinctive by treading heavily on the 'African' and almost losing the 'philosophy'. Their main rivals, the professional philosophers, adopt the view that philosophy is a particular way of thinking, reflecting, reasoning, that such a way is relatively new to (most of) Africa, and that African philosophy must grow in terms of the philosophical work carried out by Africans and applied to (perhaps not exclusively) African concerns. Thus they tread heavily on the 'philosophy', but risk losing the 'African'; this risk, however, is by no means unavoidable, and many African philosophers have successfully avoided it, including Kwame Anthony Appiah, Kwame Gyekye, Kwasi Wiredu, Oshita O. Kwame Anthony Appiah (born 1954 in London) is a Ghanaian Philosopher, cultural theorist, and Novelist whose interests include Kwame Gyekye (born 1939 is a Ghanaian Philosopher, and an important figure in the development of modern African philosophy. Kwasi Wiredu (born 1931) is one of the foremost African philosophers working today Oshita, Lansana Keita, Peter Bodunrin, and Chukwudum B. Okolo.
(part of this article is based upon Peter J. King's introduction to African philosophy (see link below), used with permission)