African Philosophy (M.A. Course)

University of Nairobi
Department of Philosophy

African Philosophy (M.A. course)
1998-1999 Academic Year

Instructors: Prof. Bruce Janz
Dr. F. Ochieng’-Odhiambo
Prof. Gail Presbey

Purpose and Objective

This course aims at introducing the student to the general problems that are involved in conceptualizing “African Philosophy” within scholarship. Some concepts and world-views that are ordinarily considered to be “uniquely” African will be analysed. The course will seek to underscore the idea that philosophy is basically human, and not Western or Eastern.

Course Content

1. Conventional Concepts of the African Mind (Dr. Bruce Janz)

Two central questions will be addressed in this section: Where is Africa?, and Who is African? The first addresses images of Africa in the public mind and in the history of philosophy. We will look at the Renaissance preoccupation with exploration, and the Enlightenment notions of reason that undergirded colonization. Shakespeare (The Tempest), Montaigne, Hume, Kant, and Hegel will be considered, among others. The second question encompasses issues related to identity and race (including the emergence of “scientific” racism) as well as the problematic civilized/primitive and modern/traditional distinctions. We will also consider modern construction of notions of otherness. Readings: Emmanuel Eze, Race and the Enlightenment; Emmanuel Eze, “The Colour of Reason: The Idea of ‘Race’ in Kant’s Anthropology,” and Presbey, Gail, “Critics of Boers or Africans? Arendt’s Treatment of South Africa in the Origins of Totalitarianism,” both in Eze, ed., Postcolonial African Philosophy; handouts in class.

2. African Origin of Civilization (Dr. Ochieng’ Odhiambo)

Does (ancient) Africa hold the secrets to a proper understanding of the genesis of Greek philosophy and hence, of modern philosophy? Reading: G. James, Stolen Legacy; Stringer, Christopher and Robin McKie, African Exodus: The Origins of Modern Humanity; Asante, Molefi Kente and Abu S. Abarry, eds. African Intellectual Heritage: A Book of Sources; Bernal, Martin, Black Athena; Howe, Stephen, Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes; Lefkowitz, Mary, Not out of Africa: How Afrocentrism became an excuse to teach myth as history; Diop, Chiek Anta, Precolonial Black Africa; Diop, Chiek Anta,The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality?; Olela. Henry, “African Foundations of Greek Philosophy,” in Eze, E., African Philosophy; Crawford, Jeffrey, “Cheikh Anta Diop, the Stolen Legacy, and Afrocentrism,” and James, David, “The Instruction of Any and Moral Philosophy,” both in in Mosley, A., African Philosophy.

3. Logocentrism and Emotivism. (Dr. Gail Presbey)

How the debates over philosophy in Europe and the U.S. affected the context for debates in African Philosophy. A look at negritude, the Harlem Renaissance, and Pan-Africanism, and their roles in shaping issues that became important in African Philosophy debates. A look at the works of Cesaire, Blyden Garvey, Diop, Sartre and Fanon, and Jahn. Reading: Masolo, African Philosophy in Search of Identity, ch. 1, “Logocentrism and Emotivism.”; Outlaw, Lucius, “Deconstructive and Reconstructive Challenges,” in H. Odera Oruka,Sage Philosophy; Blyden, Edward, “Africa and the Africans,” and Seghor, “On Negrohood,” both in Mosley, A., African Philosophy; Masolo, D.A., book review of Lewis Gordon, Fanon and the Crisis of European Man.; English, Parker and Kibujjo Kalumba, African Philosophy, chapters 2,3.

4. Ethnophilosophy. (Dr. Gail Presbey)

Ethnophilosophy is the attempt to discern the world view and implicit philsophy of an ethnic group. We’ll look at the works of Tempels, Griaule (Ogotomelli), Kagame, and Mbiti, as well as look at criticisms of their works. Critics attacked the project of Ethnophilosophy in general as well as the specific analyses of the authors. We’ll look at whether ethnophiosophy or culture philosophy can be done properly in a way that avoids the criticisms leveled against the early ethnophilosphers. A look at Gyekye’s and Gbadegesin’s works. Reading: Masolo, D.A., African Philosophy in Search of Identity, chapters 2-5; English, Parker and Kibujjo Kalumba, African Philosophy, chapters 1,4,5,6,7.; Kwame Gyekye, An Essay on African Philosophical Thought: The Akan Conceptual Scheme.; Segun Gbadegesin, African Philosophy; Mosley, A., African Philosophy, sections I.A and I.B.

5. Professional African Philosophy (Dr. Bruce Janz)

Oruka’s general heading of “professional philosophy” encompasses many diverse thinkers. Perhaps the only unifying factor is that these thinkers adhere to Western definitions of reason, along with the general structure of Western philosophy. African versions of both Anglo-American philosophy (H. Odera Oruka, Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Gyekye, Paulin Hountondji, etc.) and Continental philosophy (Tsenay Serequeberhan, Theophilus Okere, Valentin Mudimbe, etc.) will be considered and critiqued. Central debates will be considered, such as those over the existence and nature of African philosophy, the existence of (cultural) universals, the place of tradition in philosophy, the nature of reason, etc. Readings: Masolo, African Philosophy in Search of Identity, ch. 5, 6, 7, 8; English, Parker and Kibujjo Kalumba, African Philosophy, Part III.; Mosley, A., African Philosophy, Section II; handouts in class.

6. Philosophic Sagacity (Dr. Gail Presbey)

Focussing on the works of Dr. H. Odera Oruka, this section will explore his sage philosophy project, which involved going into the rural areas and interviewing wise African sages. The section will also look at comparable approaches by Hallen and Sodipo, as well as critics and advocates of both approaches to African philosophy. Readings: English and Kalumba, African Philosophy, Part II; Odera Oruka, H., Sage Philosophy; Kresse, Kai and Anke Graness, Sagacious Reasoning; several articles by Dr. Gail Presbey, as well as by Dr. Janz and Dr. Ochieng-Odhiambo.

7. Pertinent Issues (Dr. Ochieng Odhiambo)

Some pertinent issues regarding the social and political realities and problems in Africa will be analysed.Readings: K. Nkrumah, Consciencism; J. K. Nyerere, Ujamaa. ; English and Kalumba,African Philosophy, Part IV; Eze, Emmanuel, African Philosophy, Parts 3,8; Asante and Abarry, African Intellectual Heritage, Parts 5,6; Hountondji, “Daily Life in Black Africa,” in Mudimbe, Surreptitious Speech.;Gyekye, Kwame, Tradition and Modernity.


The grade for this course will be calculated as follows: 30%: assignments, essays, presentations; 70%: Final exam. The first 30% will include the requirement of written work for the section of all three instructors.

Attendance and Late Papers

We expect regular attendance from members of the class. If you cannot be at a class, let one of the instructors know before-hand. We reserve the right to not accept assignments from students either if attendance has been a problem, or if a paper is seriously late without a legitimate (in the opinion of the instructors) reason. This includes any paper or graded activity in the course, including the final paper. We will only inflict this measure after having given a warning; however, if you simply never come to class, do not expect to get much sympathy at the end of the term when you want to hand in assignments.

Note on Plagiarism

The following definition of plagiarism is taken from the calendar of the University of Alberta, Canada: “No student shall submit the words, ideas, images or data of another person as the student’s own in any academic writing, essay, thesis, research, project or assignment in a course or program of study.” That means that you have to cite all your sources. If you don’t, you get 0 on the assignment (and maybe the course, depending how serious it is), and a letter from the Dean’s office. Plagiarism can carry a penalty as serious as expulsion. So take it seriously. If you’re having a problem with an assignment, come see the instructors instead, and we will help you to do it properly.


Asante, Molefi Kente. The Afrocentric Idea.

Stringer, Christopher and Robin McKie. African Exodus: The Origins of Modern Humanity.

Mudimbe, V.Y. The Surreptitious Speech: Presence Africaine.

Asante, Molefi Kente and Abu S. Abarry, eds. African Intellectual Heritage: A Book of Sources.

Howe, Stephen. Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes.

Eze, Emmauel. African Philosophy: An Anthology.

Eze, Emmanuel. Postcolonial African Philosophy: A Critical Reader.

English, Parker and Kibujjo Kalumba. African Philosophy: A Classical Approach.

Solomon, Robert C. and Kathleen M. Higgins. World Philosophy: A Text with Readings. (Chapter Eight: African Philosophy, Jacqueline Trimier.)

Gordon. Lewis R. ed. Existence in Black: An Anthology of Black Existential Philosophy.

Lefkowitz, Mary. Not out of Africa: How Afrocentrism became an excuse to teach myth as history.

Gordon, Lewis R. Her Majesty’s Other Children: Sketches of Racism from a Neocolonial Age.

Diop, Chiek Anta. Precolonial Black Africa.

Diop, Chiek Anta. The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality?

Eze, Emmanuel Chuckwudi. Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader.

Wiredu, Kwasi. Cultural Universals and Particulars: An African Perspective.

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