Essay Of African Philosophy In World

Not to be confused with Africana philosophy.

"African Philosophy" redirects here. For the journal that formerly had this name, see Philosophia Africana.

African philosophy is philosophy produced by African people, philosophy that presents African worldviews, or philosophy that uses distinct African philosophical methods.[1] Although African philosophers may be found in the various academic fields of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, moral philosophy, and political philosophy, much of the modern African philosophy has been concerned with defining the ethnophilosophical parameters of African philosophy and identifying what differentiates it from other philosophical traditions.[1] One of the implicit assumptions of ethnophilosophy is that a specific culture can have a philosophy that is not applicable and accessible to all peoples and cultures in the world, however this concept is disputed by traditional philosophers.[2] Furthermore, in A Discourse on African Philosophy: A New Perspective on Ubuntu and Transitional Justice in South Africa, Christian B. N. Gade argues that the ethnophilosophical approach to African philosophy as a static group property is highly problematic. His research on ubuntu presents an alternative collective discourse on African philosophy ("collective" in the sense that it does not focus on any individual in particular) that takes differences, historical developments, and social contexts seriously.

Father of African Philosophy, Uzodinma Nwala, prior to his employment to teach at UNN, there was nothing called African Philosophy as course of study in any university. "All we were taught as students were Western philosophy. Nothing like African philosophy existed anywhere. In fact, many years after the introduction of the courses, there still remained arguments among experts, whether there was really African Philosophy". He was awarded the Aimé Césaire award in 2013 at the University of Abuja. African Philosophy can be formally defined as a critical thinking by Africans on their experiences of reality. Nigerian born Philosopher K.C. Anyanwu defined African philosophy as "that which concerns itself with the way in which African people of the past and present make sense of their destiny and of the world in which they live." [3] In this regard, African philosophy is a critical reflection on African leaderships in the administration of their duties towards their citizens; the morally blameworthiness or praiseworthiness of it. It will also provide possible solutions to the problems experienced in African governances.[citation needed]

As a rational critical inquiry on Africans and their worlds, it is consequently the task of African philosophy and of African philosophers to make the uncoordinated coordinated, the uncritical critical and the inarticulate articulate, particularly of the preliterate Africa.[citation needed]

One of the most basic disagreements concerns what exactly the term 'African' qualifies: the content of the philosophy and the distinctive methods employed, or the identities of the philosophers.[1] On the former view, philosophy counts as African if it involves African themes such as perceptions of time, personhood, space and other subjects, or uses methods that are defined as distinctively African.[1] In the latter view, African philosophy is any philosophy produced by Africans or by people of African descent, and others engaged in critiques or analysis of their works.[1]

Nigerian philosopher Joseph I. Omoregbe broadly defines a philosopher as one who attempts to understand the world's phenomena, the purpose of human existence, the nature of the world, and the place of human beings in that world. This form of natural philosophy is identifiable in Africa even before individual African philosophers can be distinguished in the sources.[4]

Pre-modern[edit]

Philosophy in Africa has a rich and varied history, dating at least as far back to the ancient Egyptian philosophy identified in pre-dynastic Egyptian thought and culture, and continuing through the development of the major regional philosophical traditions of North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, and the Horn of Africa.

In the early and mid-twentieth century, anti-colonial movements had a tremendous effect on the development of a distinct African political philosophy that had resonance on both the continent and in the African diaspora. There was also notable engagement in the pre-colonial and early post-colonial era with the Marxist and Communist philosophical traditions developing throughout the twentieth century, resulting in the flourishing of a distinctive African economic philosophical tradition. One well-known example of the economic philosophical works emerging from this period was the African socialist philosophy of Ujamaa propounded in Tanzania and other parts of Southeast Africa. These African political and economic philosophical developments also had a notable impact on the anti-colonial movements of many non-African peoples around the world.

North Africa[edit]

In North Africa, arguably central to the development of the ancient Egyptian philosophical tradition of Egypt and Sudan 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.

Ancient Egyptian philosophers also made important contributions to Hellenistic philosophy and Christian philosophy. In the Hellenistic tradition, the influential philosophical school of Neoplatonism was founded by the Egyptian philosopher Plotinus in the 3rd century CE.

Christian[edit]

Further information: Christian philosophy

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). 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.

Islamic[edit]

Further information: Islamic philosophy

In the Islamic tradition, Ibn Bajjah philosophized along neo-Platonist lines in the 12th century C.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.

Ibn Rushd philosophised along more Aristotelian lines, establishing the philosophical school of Averroism. 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.

West Africa[edit]

The most prominent of West Africa's pre-modern philosophical traditions have been identified as that of the Yoruba philosophical tradition and the distinctive worldview that emerges from it over thousands of years of its development, as well as the cosmologies and philosophies of the Akan, Dogon and Dahomey.

Historically the West African and North African philosophical traditions have had a significant impact on Islamic philosophy as a whole as much of the Islamic philosophical tradition was subject to the influence of scholars born or working in the African continent in centres of learning such as Cairo in Egypt and Timbuktu in Mali. Many of these intellectuals and scholars created a philosophical tradition in these cities.

Horn of Africa[edit]

In the Horn of Africa, there are a number of sources documenting the development of a distinct Ethiopian philosophy from the first millennium onwards. Among the most notable examples from this tradition emerge from the work of the 17th-century philosopher Zera Yacob, and that of his disciple.

Southern Africa[edit]

In Southern Africa and Southeast Africa the development of a distinctive Bantu philosophy addressing the nature of existence, the cosmos and humankind's relation to the world following the Bantu migration has had the most significant impact on the philosophical developments of Southeast Africa and Southern Africa, with the development of the philosophy of Ubuntu as one notable example emerging from this worldview.

Central Africa[edit]

Many Central African philosophical traditions before the Bantu migration into southern Central Africa have been identified as a uniting characteristic of many Nilotic and Sudanic peoples, ultimately giving rise to the distinctive worldviews identified in the conceptions of time, the creation of the world, human nature, and the proper relationship between mankind and nature prevalent in Dinka mythology, Maasai mythology and similar traditions.

African Diaspora[edit]

Some pre-Modern African diasporic philosophical traditions have also been identified, mostly produced by descendants of Africans in Europe and the Americas. One notable pre-modern diasporic African philosopher was Anthony William Amo, who was taken as a slave from Awukenu in what is now Ghana, and was brought up and educated in Europe where he gained doctorates in medicine and philosophy, and subsequently became a professor of philosophy at the universities of Halle Halle and Jena in Germany.

Modern[edit]

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.[2] 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, such as the work of literary figures such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, 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.) In the African diaspora, American philosopher Maulana Karenga has also been notable in presenting varied definitions for understanding modern African philosophy, especially as it relates to its earliest sources.

Ethnophilosophy and philosophical sagacity[edit]

Ethnophilosophy has been used to record the beliefs found in African cultures. 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 worldview. 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. According to this view, African philosophy can be best understood as springing from the fundamental assumptions about reality reflected in the languages of Africa.

Another 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." 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"). However, these arguments must be taken with a grain of cultural relativism, as the span of culture in Africa is incredibly vast, with patriarchies, matriarchies, monotheists and traditional religionists among the population, and as such the attitudes of groups of the Niger Delta cannot be construed to the whole of Africa.

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. 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, arguing that Egypt was an African culture whose achievements in science, mathematics, architecture, and philosophy were pre-eminent. This philosophy may also be maligned as overly reductionist due to the obvious scientific and scholarly triumphs of not only ancient Egypt, but also Nubia, Meroe, as well as the great library of Timbuktu, the extensive trade networks and kingdoms of North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, the Horn of Africa and Great Zimbabwe and the other major empires of Southern, Southeast and Central Africa.

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.

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' worldviews; 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 could not be African philosophy, for they did not 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.

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.[5] The argument is that 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. To call them philosophy is to use a secondary sense of that term, such as in "my philosophy is live and let live."

Professional philosophy[edit]

Professional philosophy is usually identified as that produced by African philosophers trained in the Western philosophical tradition, that embraces a universal view of the methods and concerns of philosophy.[2] Those philosophers identified in this category often explicitly reject the assumptions of ethnophilosophy and adopt a universalist worldview of philosophy that requires all philosophy to be accessible and applicable to all peoples and cultures in the world[2] This is even if the specific philosophical questions prioritized by individual national or regional philosophies may differ.[2] Some African philosophers classified in this category are Paulin Hountondji, Peter Bodunrin, Kwasi Wiredu, Tsenay Serequeberhan, Marcien Towa and Lansana Keita.[2]

Nationalist and ideological philosophy[edit]

Nationalist–ideological philosophy might be considered a special case of philosophic sagacity, in which not sages but ideologues are the subjects. Alternatively, it has been considered as a subcategory of professional political philosophy. In either case, the same sort of problem arises with retaining a distinction between ideology and philosophy, and also between sets of ideas and a special way of reasoning.

African ethics[edit]

Although Africa is extremely diverse, there appear to be some shared moral ideas across many ethnic groups.[6] In a number of African cultures, ethics is centered on a person's character, and saying "he has no morals" translates as something like "he has no character".[6] A person's character reflects the accumulation of her deeds and her habits of conduct; hence, it can be changed over a person's life.[6] In some African cultures, "personhood" refers to an adult human who exhibits moral virtues, and one who behaves badly is not considered a person, even if he is considered a human.[6]

While many traditional African societies are highly religious, their religions are not revealed, and hence, ethics does not center around divine commands.[6] Instead, ethics is humanistic and utilitarian: it focuses on improving social functioning and human flourishing.[6] On the other hand, social welfare is not a mere aggregate of individual welfare; rather, there is a collective "social good" embodying values that everyone wants, like peace and stability.[6] In general, African ethics is social or collectivistic rather than individualistic and united in ideology.[6] Cooperation and altruism are considered crucial.[6] African ethics places more weight on duties of prosocial behaviour than on rights per se, in contrast to most of Western ethics.[6]

Africana philosophy[edit]

Main article: Africana philosophy

Africana philosophy is the work of philosophers of African descent and others whose work deals with the subject matter of the African diaspora.[citation needed]

Africana philosophy includes the philosophical ideas, arguments and theories of particular concern to people of African descent. Some of the topics explored by Africana philosophy include: pre-Socratic African philosophy and modern day debates discussing the early history of Western philosophy, post-colonial writing in Africa and the Americas, black resistance to oppression, black existentialism in the United States, and the meaning of "blackness" in the modern world.[citation needed]

List of African philosophers[edit]

This is a list of philosophers who theorize in the African tradition, as well as philosophers from the continent of Africa.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Peter O. Bodunrin Philosophy in Africa: Trends and Perspectives (1985: University of Ife Press)
  • Paulin J. Hountondji African Philosophy: Myth and Reality (1983: Bloomington, Indiana University Press)
  • Samuel Oluoch Imbo An Introduction to African Philosophy (1998: Rowman & Littlefield) ISBN 0-8476-8841-0
  • Bruce B. Janz "African Philosophy" PDF
  • Christian B. N. Gade. A Discourse on African Philosophy: A New Perspective on Ubuntu and Transitional Justice in South Africa (2017: Lexington Books)
  • Safro Kwame Reading in African Philosophy: An Akan Collection (1995: University Press of America) ISBN 0-8191-9911-7
  • H. Odera Oruka [ed.] Sage Philosophy [Volume 4 in Philosophy of History and Culture] (1990: E.J. Brill) ISBN 90-04-09283-8, ISSN 0922-6001
  • Prof Nwala "Igbo Philosophy" , ISBN 978-245-453-2
  • Tsenay Serequeberhan [ed.] African Philosophy: The Essential Readings (1991: Paragon House) ISBN 1-55778-309-8
  • Placide Tempels, La philosophie bantoue (Bantu Philosophy), Elisabethville, 1945, Full text in French here.
  • Kwasi WireduPhilosophy and an African (1980: Cambridge University Press)
  • Kwasi Wiredu [ed.] A Companion to African Philosophy (2004: Blackwell)
  • Kwasi Wiredu Toward Decolonizing African Philosophy And Religion In: African Studies Quarterly, The Online Journal for African Studies, Volume 1, Issue 4, 1998
  • Olabiyi Babalola Yai, Guest Editor: African Studies Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue 4 (1998): Religion and Philosophy in Africa
  • Mubabinge Bilolo, Contribution à l'histoire de la reconnaissance de Philosophie en Afrique Noire Traditionnelle, (1978: Kinshasa, Facultés Catholiques de Kinshasa, Licence en Philosophie et Religions Africaines)
  • Mubabinge Bilolo, Les cosmo-théologies philosophiques de l'Égypte Antique. Problématiques, Prémisses herméneutiques et problèmes majeurs. Academy of African Thought, Sect. I, vol. 1, (1986: Kinshasa-Munich-Libreville, African University Studies)
  • Peter O. Bodunrin Philosophy in Africa: Trends and Perspectives (1985: University of Ife Press)
  • Babajide Dasaolu/Demilade Oyelakun The concept of evil in Yoruba and Igbo thoughts: Some Comparisons in: Philosophia: E-Journal of Philosophy and Culture – 10/2015.
  • Kwame Gyekye An Essay of African Philosophical Thought: The Akan Conceptual Scheme (1995: Temple University Press) ISBN 1-56639-380-9
  • Paulin J. Hountondji African Philosophy: Myth and Reality (1983: Bloomington, Indiana University Press)
  • Samuel Oluoch Imbo An Introduction to African Philosophy (1998: Rowman & Littlefield) ISBN 0-8476-8841-0
  • Bruce B. Janz "African Philosophy" PDF
  • Safro Kwame Reading in African Philosophy: An Akan Collection (1995: University Press of America) ISBN 0-8191-9911-7
  • Joseph I. Omoregbe "African philosophy: yesterday and today” (in Bodunrin; references to reprint in [E. C. Eze] [ed.] African Philosophy: An Anthology (1998: Oxford, Blackwell))
  • H. Odera Oruka [ed.] Sage Philosophy [Volume 4 in Philosophy of History and Culture] (1990: E.J. Brill) ISBN 90-04-09283-8, ISSN 0922-6001
  • Tsenay Serequeberhan [ed.] African Philosophy: The Essential Readings (1991: Paragon House) ISBN 1-55778-309-8
  • Placide Tempels, La philosophie bantoue (Bantu Philosophy), Elisabethville, 1945, Full text in French here.
  • Kwasi WireduPhilosophy and an African (1980: Cambridge University Press)
  • Kwasi Wiredu [ed.] A Companion to African Philosophy (2004: Blackwell)
  • Kwasi Wiredu Toward Decolonizing African Philosophy And Religion In: African Studies Quarterly, The Online Journal for African Studies, Volume 1, Issue 4, 1998
  • Olabiyi Babalola Yai, Guest Editor: African Studies Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue 4 (1998): Religion and Philosophy in Africa
  • K.C. Anyanwu (and E.A. Ruch) African Philosophy: An Introduction (1981: Catholic Book Agency)
  • Janheinz JahnMuntu : African culture and the Western world (1990: Grove Weidenfeld) ISBN 0802132081
  • Alexis KagameLa philosophie bantu-rwandaise de l'être (1966 Johnson Reprint)

External links[edit]

  1. ^ abcdeBruce B. Janz, Philosophy in an African Place (2009), pp. 74-79, Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books, https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0739136682
  2. ^ abcdefSamuel Oluoch Imbo, An Introduction to African Philosophy (1998), pp. 38-39, https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0847688410
  3. ^Peters, R.S. (1959). Authority, Responsibility and Education. London: G. Allen & Unwin. 
  4. ^Maurice Muhatia Makumba, An Introduction to African Philosophy: Past and Present (2007), p. 25, https://books.google.com/books?isbn=9966082964
  5. ^"OVERVIEW AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY", p. 172, One Hundred Philosophers, Peter J. King, Zebra, 2006
  6. ^ abcdefghijGyekye, Kwame (9 Sep 2010). "African Ethics". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Fall 2011 Edition. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  7. ^Okere, Theophilus. African Philosophy: A Historico-Hermeneutical Investigation of the Conditions of its Possibility. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983.

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African philosophy is a disputed term, used in different ways by different philosophers. In attributing philosophical ideas to philosophers of African origin, a distinction must be made between Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa, which was the home of Egyptian culture and of prominent Christian, Jewish, and Islamic philosophers such as Augustine of Hippo, Ibn Sab'in, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and Ibn Bajjah. Sub-Saharan Africa had no written language or sacred writings, so it is necessary to examine the religious beliefs and oral traditions of African peoples in order to understand their thought. This is complicated by the fact that approximately three thousand different tribal groups exist in Sub-Saharan Africa, each with its own language and religious and cultural traditions.

Surveys of the beliefs of hundreds of African peoples have shown that their religion is inseparable from their daily lives and cultural traditions. God is generally regarded as one Supreme Being, often at the top of a hierarchy of lesser divinities and spiritual beings. The African concept of time is not linear and focuses on the immediate present and the past; the future is not considered to exist because future events have not yet taken place. African religions do not include the concept of a future salvation or a restoration to a higher state. The afterlife is considered to be a continuation of earthly life, and death as a departure into a new stage of existence.

The study of African philosophy was taken up by West African universities during the 1940s and 1950s, and by East African universities during the 1960s and 1970s. There are a number of prominent modern African philosophers.

Defining African philosophy

Much of the literature about African philosophy is taken up with a debate concerning the nature of African philosophy itself. The African continent has two major divisions, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, with very different political and cultural histories. North African philosophers made significant contributions to Greek, Jewish, Islamic, and Christian thought, and left written works in several languages. Sub-Saharan Africa did not have a written language or sacred writings to preserve any kind of philosophical tradition. There are approximately three thousand different tribal groups in Sub-Saharan Africa, each with its own belief system, language and cultural traditions; many groups share similar concepts and traditions, but there is no single belief or idea which can be considered universally “African.”

One disagreement concerns whether the term "African" should be used to describe the content of the philosophy or the identities of the philosophers. If it describes the content, philosophy can be considered to be African if it involves African themes (such as distinctively African notions of time or personhood) or uses methods that are distinctively African; if it refers to the philosophers’ identities, African philosophy is any philosophy done by Africans (or sometimes, by people of African descent). Another issue is the definition of philosophy; is “philosophy” a scholarly methodology for examining logical truth, or is it a coherent set of beliefs about the nature of the world and the place of human beings in that world?

In the absence of written texts, one can gain an understanding of such a set of beliefs in two ways: by studying the religious and cultural beliefs of various peoples, and by examining their oral history and the proverbs which are repeated from generation to generation and regarded as being true.

Study of the philosophy of Sub-Saharan Africa

Early Western scholars of Africa advanced the idea that the beliefs, culture, and foods found there had come from or been influenced somehow by outside sources. They also promoted a theory of “religious evolution,” that religious beliefs evolved from a primitive form of animism or ancestor worship to progressively higher levels of relationship with the divine. Later scholars became more sympathetic to the idea that something of philosophical value existed in Africa, but it was only during the second half of the twentieth century that African philosophy began to be studied seriously.

The first group of European writers who tried to explain African philosophy concluded that it could best be understood by examining the fundamental assumptions about reality reflected in the languages of Africa. Placide Tempels argued in Bantu Philosophy (French 1945, English 1959) that the metaphysical categories of the Bantu people are reflected in their linguistic categories. J. Jahn, in Muntu (1958), defined four categories of being based on the linguistic stem –ntu which is supposed to encompass all categories of being: Muntu (god, spirits, departed, humans and certain trees); Kintu (all forces that do not act on their own but only under the command of muntu; plants, animals, minerals); Hantu (time and space); and Kuntu (“modality,” beauty, laughter, etc.).

A second group of writers attempted a systematic treatment of African religions by compiling the beliefs of different groups. A third group resorted to anthropological studies for a deeper understanding of African thought. Recently, African Americans have approached the study of African religious concepts in the context of Afro-American religions. Some African scholars have conducted studies of individual groups in depth. During the 1940s and 1950s, universities in West Africa took up the study of African philosophy and religion, followed by the East African universities during the 1960s and 1970s.

Religious beliefs in Sub-Saharan Africa

In the absence of written documents, the thought and beliefs of African peoples can only be studied through oral tradition, such as legends and proverbs, and through an examination of religious beliefs. Although there are several large collections of African proverbs, these cannot be regarded as a serious expression of a philosophical system. A more reliable understanding of African belief systems can be achieved by studying the general concepts which underlie the religious beliefs of many African peoples.

John S. Mbiti, in his book African Religions and Philosophy, constructed an overview of African religious concepts, based on a study of three hundred African tribal groups. African religions have no founders or reformers; they are an integral part of the daily life and customs of each tribe. Religion is not an individual matter, but is practiced as a community. African belief systems are homocentric; God is the origin of man and provides for man’s needs: immortality, rejuvenation, food, knowledge, doctors, medicines, animals, fire and light. Man is at the center, and everything else supports and sustains man. There are five categories of being: God; spirits (both non-human and people who died a long time ago); men who are alive or about to be born; animals, plants and the remainder of biological life; and phenomena and objects without physical life.

Concept of God

African concepts of God have arisen from a very close relationship with nature and a dependence on the land. Though perceptions of God vary widely among different peoples, God is generally recognized as one Supreme Being, at the top of a hierarchy of lesser deities and ancestors who are also thought to play a role in guiding and protecting men. In traditional African societies the representation of God is nature and the universe, and creation is believed to be the best evidence of God’s supremacy. God is associated with the sky or heaven, and sometimes with the sun. God is not conceived of as anthropomorphic, but is believed to transcend all boundaries. God’s essential nature is unknown and beyond human understanding, but He is thought to have a personality and a will. His power is often perceived through nature, and in phenomena that are beyond human control.

God is thought to be omniscient and omnipresent, to see and hear everything. God can be met everywhere. He is generally perceived as being merciful and providing for the needs of His creatures. God is also seen as an ultimate Judge who executes justice with impartiality. Most African religions include a belief that at some time in the distant past, man dwelt happily with God, but that a separation took place resulting in death, disease, and the loss of peace and a free supply of food. Different peoples explain the cause of this rift as the severing of the link between heaven and earth, an accident, or the disobedience of man to certain commandments given by God. There is no suggestion that this loss can ever be reversed, or that man will return to dwell closely with God again in the future.

Man is responsible to maintain unity and balance between God, man, and nature; failure to do this results in misfortune. Among many African groups there are certain people who are believed to have special power to affect this balance, such as rainmakers, mediums, medicine men, witch doctors, and tribal chiefs, who are sometimes regarded as symbols of divinity or prophets. Medicine men represent hope, since they have the power to reverse misfortune by curing disease.

There are several views of evil among African peoples. Most groups believe that God did not create evil, but there are some who think that God created evil and gave man the responsibility to choose between good and evil. Some peoples believe that evil is associated with spiritual beings other than God, or that evil is a divinity in itself. Spirits are often regarded as sources or agents of evil. Power in itself is not considered evil, until its use results in a bad consequence. Most groups believe that God punishes an evildoer during his earthly life, and many believe that a person can also place a curse on an someone who is evil. Every event, including natural phenomena, is thought to have a cause centered on man’s activity. There are two types of evil: "natural evil" such as accidents, disease, pain and famine; and "moral evil" which is an activity deliberately carried out by one man against another.

Concept of time

The Western concept of linear time is foreign to Sub-Saharan Africa, where time is a composition of events from past, present and immediate future. Since the events that will constitute the future have not yet taken place, the future does not exist. Events that are expected to occur in the near future, such as the coming of the rainy season, are regarded as a sort of “potential time.” Time is measured in retrospect and the focus is on events that have already taken place.

John S. Mbiti describes the African perception of time as being divided into Zamani (past) and Sasa (now). Events taking place in the immediate present gradually move into Zamani as those who experienced them pass away and the memory of the events is sustained only by oral tradition. When Christianity introduced the concept of the future and salvation, the result was a strong and immediate Messianic expectation and the appearance of many small religions focusing on messianic figures. (John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, pp. 15–28)

Destiny and immortality

African philosophy is concerned with the here and now. There is no distinction between the physical world and the spiritual world; the afterlife is regarded as simply a continuation of life on earth. With a few exceptions, most African religions do not posit judgment or punishment in the hereafter. There is no heaven or hell, and no desire for a closer contact or union with God. Belief in life after death is not associated with the hope for a better future or the idea of “salvation.” Death is regarded as part of man’s destiny, a departure in which the physical body decays but the spirit moves on to another state of existence.

The “birth” of a person is regarded as a long process which is not complete until puberty, adolescence, and in some groups, even until marriage and the birth of a first child. Only then is a man or woman considered a “complete” person. Immortality is associated with a person’s name and with the collective memory of their family. As long as there is someone alive who can remember a deceased person, that person is considered as part of the “living dead.” After no living person remembers the name of the deceased, he or she becomes part of a collective, community immortality. For this reason, marriage and children are very desirable, as many descendants ensure the immortality of an individual.

North Africa

Philosophy in North Africa has a rich and varied history, dating from pre-dynastic Egypt, and continuing through the arrival of both Christianity and Islam. One of the earliest works of political philosophy was the Maxims of Ptah-Hotep, which were taught to Egyptian schoolboys for centuries. Central to ancient philosophy was the conception of "ma'at," which roughly translated refers to "justice," "truth," or simply, "that which is right."

More recently, North African philosophers made important contributions to Christian and Islamic philosophy. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.) wrote his best known work, The City of God, in Hippo Regius, (now Annaba, Algeria), challenging a number of ideas of his age including Arianism, and establishing the notions of original sin and divine grace in Christian philosophy and theology.

In the Islamic tradition, the neo-Platonist Ibn Bajjah (twelfth century C.E.) taught that the purpose of human life was to gain true happiness, and that true happiness was attained by grasping the universals through reason and philosophy, often outside the framework of organized religion. The Aristotelian commentator Ibn Rushd (Averroes) established the philosophical school of Averroism. He taught that there was no conflict between religion and philosophy, and that there are a variety of routes to God, all equally valid; the philosopher was free to take the route of reason, while the commoners who were unable to take that route could instead elevate themselves by following the teachings passed on to them. Ibn Sab'in argued that true understanding required a different method of reasoning, and 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.

Modern African philosophy

The 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. (Oruka added two additional categories: literary/artistic philosophy, as expressed in 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.)

Ethnophilosophy involves the recording of the beliefs found in African cultures. 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; a uniquely African worldview. This is regarded as a communal philosophy rather than the philosophical thought of an individual. An example of this sort of approach is the work of E. J. Alagoa 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. Another more controversial application of this approach is embodied in the concept of Negritude promoted by Leopold Senghor, who argued that the distinctly African approach to reality was based on emotion rather than logic, worked itself out in participation rather than analysis, and manifested itself through the arts rather than the sciences.

Philosophical sagacity is an individualist version of ethnophilosophy, in which one records the beliefs of certain special members of a community. The premise is that a certain few of the members of a society, considered “sages,” reach a particularly high level of knowledge and understanding of their cultures' world-view. In some cases, these sages go beyond mere knowledge and understanding to reflection and questioning, and thus become subjects for philosophical sagacity. Critics of this approach note that not all reflection and questioning is philosophical, and that African philosophy can not be defined purely in terms of philosophic sagacity because the sages did not did not record the ideas which they acquired from other sages. This approach is difficult to distinguish from studies of anthropology or ethnology; there is also a distinction between philosophy and the history of ideas. A system of beliefs cannot necessarily be regarded as a philosophical system.

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.

Nationalist–ideological philosophy might be seen as a special case of philosophic sagacity, in which not sages but ideologues are the subjects; or as 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.

One of the first philosophers from Sub-Saharan Africa was Anthony William Amo (1703–c.1759), who was taken as a slave from Awukenu in what is now Ghana, brought up and educated in Europe (gaining doctorates in medicine and philosophy), and became a professor at the universities of Halle and Jena. Significant modern African philosophers include Kwame Anthony Appiah, Kwame Gyekye, Kwasi Wiredu, Oshita O. Oshita, Lansana Keita, Peter Bodunrin, and Chukwudum B. Okolo.

References

  • Bodunrin, Peter O., Philosophy in Africa: Trends and Perspectives. University of Ife Press, 1985.
  • Gyekye, Kwame, An Essay of African Philosophical Thought: The Akan Conceptual Scheme. Temple University Press, 1995. ISBN 1566393809
  • Hountondji, Paulin J. African Philosophy: Myth and Reality. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1983.
  • Imbo, Samuel Oluoch, An Introduction to African Philosophy. Rowman & Littlefield, 1998. ISBN 0847688410
  • Mbiti, John S., Ph.D. African Religions and Philosophy. Heinemann, 1989.
  • Omoregbe, Joseph I. “African philosophy: yesterday and today” (in Bodunrin; references to reprint in Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze) African Philosophy: An Anthology Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.
  • Oruka, H. Odera. "Sage Philosophy." Philosophy of History and Culture 4 (1990): E. J. Brill, ISBN 9004092838, ISSN 0922-6001
  • Safro, Kwame Reading in African Philosophy: An Akan Collection, University Press of America, 1995. ISBN 0819199117
  • Serequeberhan, Tsenay. African Philosophy: The Essential Readings, Paragon House, 1991. ISBN 1557783098
  • Tempels, Placide. La philosophie bantoue. Elisabethville: 1945. (Full text in French)
  • Wiredu, Kwasi. Philosophy and an African. Cambridge University Press, 1980.
  • Wiredu, Kwasi. A Companion to African Philosophy. Blackwell, 2004

External links

All links retrieved February 16, 2016.

General philosophy sources

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  • A part of this article is based upon Peter J. King's introduction to African philosophy (see link above), used with permission.

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