African philosophy is the philosophical discourse produced by indigenous Africans and their descendants, including African/Americans. African philosophy presents a wide range of topics similar to its Eastern and Western counterparts. African philosophers may be found in the various academic fields of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, moral philosophy, and political philosophy. One particular subject that many African philosophers have written about is that on the subject of freedom and what it means to be free or to experience wholeness.Philosophy in Africa has a rich and varied history, some of which has been lost over time. One of the earliest known African philosophers was Ptahhotep, an ancient Egyptian philosopher. 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. 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.
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century CE editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.
Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.
There is some debate in defining the ethnophilosophical parameters of African philosophy and identifying what differentiates it from other philosophical traditions. 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., 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 that takes differences, historical developments, and social contexts seriously. According to Edwin Etieyibo and Jonathon O. Chimakonam in their article “African Philosophy: Past, Present, and Future”, historical context plays an important role in African philosophy. History provides the framework in which we can inspect philosophical problems. In terms of African philosophy, one must look at the whole picture through the lens of African history. “There are no facts without history."
Ethnophilosophy is the study of indigenous philosophical systems. The implicit concept 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. An example of ethnophilosophy is African philosophy.
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.
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.Like Western philosophy, African philosophy contemplates the perceptions of time, personhood, space and other subjects.
Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature was the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science.
Western philosophy is the philosophical thought and work of the Western world. Historically, the term refers to the philosophical thinking of Western culture, beginning with Greek philosophy of the pre-Socratics such as Thales and Pythagoras, and eventually covering a large area of the globe. The word philosophy itself originated from the Ancient Greek philosophía (φιλοσοφία), literally, "the love of wisdom".
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 Ptahhotep, which were taught to Egyptian schoolboys for centuries.
North Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Mauritania in the west, to Egypt's Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the east. Others have limited it to the countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, a region that was known by the French during colonial times as "Afrique du Nord" and is known by Arabs as the Maghreb. The most commonly accepted definition includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Sudan, the 6 countries that shape the top North of the African continent. Meanwhile, "North Africa", particularly when used in the term North Africa and the Middle East, often refers only to the countries of the Maghreb and Libya. Egypt, being also part of the Middle East, is often considered separately, due to being both North African and Middle Eastern at the same time.
Today, there is some debate regarding ancient Egyptian philosophy and its true scope and nature. Several of the ancient Greek philosophers regarded Egypt as a place of wisdom and philosophy. Isocrates states in Busiris that "all men agree the Egyptians are the healthiest and most long of life among men; and then for the soul they introduced philosophy’s training…" He declares that Greek writers traveled to Egypt to seek knowledge. One of them was Pythagoras of Samos who "was first to bring to the Greeks all philosophy," according to Isocrates.
The Maxims of Ptahhotep or Instruction of Ptahhotep is an ancient Egyptian literary composition based on the Vizier Ptahhotep's wisdom and experiences. The Instructions were composed by the Vizier Ptahhotep around 2375-2350 BC, during the rule of King Djedkare Isesi of the Fifth Dynasty. The text was discovered in Thebes in 1847 by Egyptologist M. Prisse d'Avennes. The Instructions of Ptahhotep are called wisdom literature, specifically under the genre of Instructions that teach something. There are four copies of the Instructions, and the only complete version, Papyrus Prisse, is located in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. According to William Kelly Simpson, some scholars debate that the Instructions of Ptahhotep were written during the twelfth dynasty, Middle Kingdom. The earlier copies of the text were altered to make them understandable for the Egyptians of the New Kingdom. The text presents a very good picture of the general attitudes of that period. The Instructions of Ptahhotep addresses various virtues that are necessary to live a good life and how to live accordingly to Maat, which was an important part of the Egyptian culture.
Ancient Egypt have several philosophical texts that have been treated by scholars in recent years. In the 2018 podcast "Africana Philosophy", the philosophers Peter Adamson and Chike Jeffers devoted the first eight episodes to Egyptian philosophy.The American Philosophical Association (APA) has published a text on the classical text "The Immortality of Writers" ("Be A Writer"), ca. 1200 BCE. The Blog of the APA article also covers “The Dispute Between a Man and His Ba” of 19th century BCE; “The Teaching of Ani”, 13th century BCE, which gives advice to the ordinary man; “The Satire of the Trades” by Khety; and the text of Amennakht (active in 1170–1140 BCE) from Deir El-Medina, whose teaching states that “it is good to finish school, better than the smell of lotus blossoms in summer.”
Peter Scott Adamson is an American academic who is professor of late ancient and Arabic philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He has written articles, monographs and edited books, mostly on philosophy in the Islamic world and ancient philosophy. He is the host of the weekly podcast "History of Philosophy without any gaps", which by 2014 had more than four million downloads and led to the publication of a book series. He received the Philip Leverhulme Prize in 2003, for "outstanding research achievements of young scholars of distinction and promise based in UK institutions" and received a grant from the same institution in 2010.
The American Philosophical Association (APA) is the main professional organization for philosophers in the United States. Founded in 1900, its mission is to promote the exchange of ideas among philosophers, to encourage creative and scholarly activity in philosophy, to facilitate the professional work and teaching of philosophers, and to represent philosophy as a discipline.
The Immortality of Writers is an Ancient Egyptian wisdom text likely to have been used as an instructional work in schools. It is recorded on the verso side of the Chester Beatty IV papyrus held in the British Museum. It is notable for its rationalist skeptical outlook, even more emphatic than in the Harper's Songs, regarding an afterlife. The scribe advises that writings of authors provide a more sure immortality than fine tombs. The text is dated to the transition period between the 19th dynasty and the 20th dynasty.
...Those writers known from the old days, the times just after the gods. Those who foretold what would happen, whose names will endure for eternity. They disappeared when they finished their lives, and all their kindred forgotten. They did not build pyramids in bronze with gravestones of iron from heaven. They did not think to leave a patrimony made of children who would give their names distinction, rather they formed a progeny by means of writing and in the books of wisdom they left...
They gave themselves [the scroll as lector]-priest, the writing board as loving son. Instruction are their tombs, the reed pen their child, the stone surface their wife.....Man decays, his corpse is dust. All his kin have perished; But a book makes him remembered through the mouth of its reciter. Better is a book than a well built house...
Ancient Egyptian philosophers also made important contributions to Hellenistic philosophy and Christian philosophy. According to Busiris by the ancient Greek philosopher Isocrates, the senior of Plato, “all men agree the Egyptians are the healthiest and most long of life among men; and then for the soul they introduced philosophy’s training…”
Isocrates declared that Greek writers traveled to Egypt to seek knowledge; one of them Pythagoras of Samos who “was first to bring to the Greeks all philosophy.”
In the Hellenistic tradition, the influential philosophical school of Neoplatonism was founded by the Egyptian philosopher Plotinus in the 3rd century CE.
The most prominent of West Africa's pre-modern philosophical traditions has been identified as that of the Yoruba philosophical tradition and the distinctive worldview that emerged from it over the thousands of years of its development. Philosophical concepts such as Omoluabi were integral to this system, and the totality of its elements are contained in what is known amongst the Yoruba as the Itan. The cosmologies and philosophies of the Akan, Dogon, Serer and Dahomey were also significant.
In pre-colonial Senegambia (modern Gambia and Senegal), the 17th-century philosopher Kocc Barma Fall stood out as one of the renowned philosophers in Senegambian history. His proverbs are still recited by Senegalese and Gambians alike, including in Senegambian popular culture - for example in Ousmane Sembene's films such as GuelwaarOther notable philosophical thinkers include the Gambian historian Alieu Ebrima Cham Joof, and the Malian ethnologist Amadou Hampâté Bâ.
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 Walda Heywat.Yacob in his writings discusses religion, morality, and existence. He comes to the belief that every person will believe their faith to be the right one and that all men are created equal.
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 the said regions, with the development of the philosophy of Ubuntu as one notable example emerging from this worldview.
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.
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.
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. 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 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.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 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.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 This is even if the specific philosophical questions prioritized by individual national or regional philosophies may differ. Some African philosophers classified in this category are Paulin Hountondji, Peter Bodunrin, Kwasi Wiredu, Tsenay Serequeberhan, Marcien Towa and Lansana Keita.
Nationalist and 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. Examples include African socialism, Nkrumaism, Harambee and Authenticite
Although Africa is extremely diverse, there appear to be some shared moral ideas across many ethnic groups.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". 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. 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.
While many traditional African societies are highly religious, their religions are not revealed, and hence, ethics does not center around divine commands.Instead, ethics is humanistic and utilitarian: it focuses on improving social functioning and human flourishing. 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. In general, African ethics is social or collectivistic rather than individualistic and united in ideology. Cooperation and altruism are considered crucial. African ethics places more weight on duties of prosocial behaviour than on rights per se, in contrast to most of Western ethics.
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 ]
This is a list of notable philosophers who theorize in the African tradition, as well as philosophers from the continent of Africa.
A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term "philosopher" comes from the Ancient Greek, φιλόσοφος (philosophos), meaning "lover of wisdom". The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.
Analytic philosophy is a style of philosophy that became dominant in the Western world at the beginning of the 20th century. The term can refer to one of several things:
Christian philosophy is a development in philosophy that is characterised by coming from a Christian tradition.
A world view or worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the whole of the individual's or society's knowledge and point of view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.
Anton Wilhelm Amo or Anthony William Amo was a Ghanaian philosopher from what is now Ghana. Amo was a teacher at the universities of Halle and Jena in Germany after studying there. Brought to Germany by the Dutch West India Company in 1707 as a child, and given as a gift to the Dukes of August Wilhelm and Ludwig Rudolf von Wolfenbüttel, he was treated as a member of the family of Anthony Ulrich, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Amo was the first African known to have attended a European university.
Kwame Akroma-Ampim Kusi Anthony Appiah is a British-Ghanaian philosopher, cultural theorist, and novelist whose interests include political and moral theory, the philosophy of language and mind, and African intellectual history. Appiah was the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, before moving to New York University (NYU) in 2014. He currently holds an appointment at the NYU Department of Philosophy and NYU's School of Law.
Paulin Hountondji is a Beninese philosopher, politician and academic. Since the 1970s he has taught at the Université Nationale du Bénin in Cotonou, where he is Professor of Philosophy. In the early 1990s he briefly served as Minister of Education and Minister for Culture and Communications in the Government of Benin.
Kwasi Wiredu is an African philosopher.
Emeritus Professor Kwame Gyekye was a Ghanaian philosopher, and an important figure in the development of modern African philosophy. Gyekye was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Ghana, and a Visiting Professor of Philosophy and African-American studies at Temple University.
Bantu Philosophy is a 1945 book written by Placide Tempels which argues that the people of Sub-Saharan Africa have a distinctive philosophy, and attempts to describe the underpinnings of that philosophy.
William Sweet is a Canadian philosopher, and a past president of the Canadian Philosophical Association.
Henry Odera Oruka was a Kenyan philosopher who is best known for "Sage Philosophy". It was a project started in the 1970s in an attempt to preserve the knowledge of the indigenous thinkers in traditional African communities.
The traditional African religions are a set of highly diverse beliefs that include various ethnic religions. Generally, these traditions are oral rather than scriptural, include belief in a supreme creator, belief in spirits, veneration of the dead, use of magic and traditional African medicine. The role of humanity is generally seen as one of harmonizing nature with the supernatural. According to Lugira, "it is the only religion that can claim to have originated in Africa. Other religions found in Africa have their origins in other parts of the world."
Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze was a Nigerian-born American philosopher. Eze was a specialist in postcolonial philosophy. He wrote as well as edited influential postcolonial histories of philosophy in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Influences in his own work include Paulin Hountondji, Richard Rorty, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant.
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?
Africana philosophy is the work of philosophers of African descent and others whose work deals with the subject matter of the African diaspora.
Zaki Naguib Mahmoud was an Egyptian intellectual and thinker, and is considered a pioneer in modern Arabic philosophical thought. Best known with "The philosopher of authors and author of philosophers" as Abbas Mahmoud al-Akkad called him. Mahmoud adhered to logical positivism and adopted science interpretation with social motivations to reconcile the Arab tradition with modernism. Mahmoud defines the "Arab tradition" as the configuration of techniques by which our ancestors lived. And he viewed logical positivism as the spirit of "Modernism".
Ajume Wingo is a Cameroonian political and social philosopher who is an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Much of his work has focused on the analysis of non-liberal or corrupt democratic states with particular focus on contemporary African states. He has also published articles on African art, aesthetics, and culture, often juxtaposing these with western practices and customs.