Central Issues in African Philosophy

Compiled by Bruce Janz

1. Is there an African philosophy? E.g., the recent exchange in Philosophy of the Social Sciences, between Carole Pearce, L. D. Keita, and Gary Trompf (24:2, June 1994). See also: Asike, Joseph I. “Contemporary African Philosophy: The Search for a Method or Rediscovery of its Content?” Indian Philosophical Quarterly 19:1 (January 1992): 23-39; Oladipo, Olusegun, “The debate on African philosophy: A critical survey.”Indian Philosophical Quarterly 19:1 (January 1992): 42-51.

2. Hybridity: The appropriation of theory in African philosophy: What is the relationship between African philosophy and other traditions? How can that relationship be theorized? See Kimmerle, Heinz, “Non-Africans on African Philosophy: Steps to a Difficult Dialogue” Quest 6(1), 69-77, June 92.

3. The person and the self in African thought: Along with the discussions of self in particular systems, the topic of negritude could also fit here. See recent papers on this: Okolo, Chukwudum B. “Self as a Problem in African Philosophy.” International Philosophical Quarterly 32:4 (December 1992): 477-485; Okolo, Chukwudum B. “The African person: A cultural definition.”Indian Philosophical Quarterly 16:1 (January 1989): 67-74; and in IPQ 15:1 (January 1988): 99-107; Oshita, Oshita O. “Some Aspects of Person in an African Tradition Thought System.” Journal of Social Philosophy 24:2 (Fall 1993): 235-242; Washington, Johnny, “A Commentary on Oshita O Oshita’s Analysis of the Mind-Body Problem in an African World View” Journal of Social Philosophy 24:2 (Fall 1993): 243-247; Person and Community, Wiredu, Kwasi (ed); Gyekye, Kwame (ed). CRVP, Washington 1992; Kimmerle, Heinz, ed. I, We and Body: First Joint Symposium of Philosophers from Africa and from the Netherlands. Atlantic Highlands Gruner, 1989; Shutte, Augustine “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu: An African Concept of Humanity.” Philosophical Theology, 39-54, Fall 90.

4. Bernal/Lefkowitz debate (or Diop’s thesis). Wamba-Dia-Wamba suggests a critique of Diop as a good starting point for African philosophy. See Wamba-Dia-Wamba, Ernest. “Philosophy of African Intellectuals.” Quest, 4-17, Je 91.

5. Sage philosophy: New method or ethnophilosophy?: There have been various isolated assessments of sage philosophy (most of them collected in Oruka’s Sage Philosophy); maybe the discussion needs to be fanned a bit. Other than Oruka’s work, see Oseghare, Antony S. “Sagacity and African philosophy” International Philosophical Quarterly 32:1 (March 1992): 95-104; Hoffmann, Gerd-Rudiger “Afrikanische Weisheitphilosophie und Philosophiebegriff.”Conceptus, 22, 77-91, 1988.

6. Phenomenology and hermeneutics of the everyday in African thought: How can lived experience be described and understood, without making it the object of a method that invalidates it?

7. The essayest as philosopher: Chinua Achebe, Okot p’Bitek, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Nadine Gordimer, and other African novelists are also essayists, and their writings pick up quite philosophical issues. How might literary work be a particular form of philosophical practice in Africa?

8. Philosophical systems: e.g. Akan, Yoruba, Igbo, Luo, Dogon: What sense does it make to talk of a system which is related to particular ethnic groups? How can this avoid the charge of ethnophilosophy? See the work of Barry Hallen, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Gyekye, Wiredu, Oruka. Gbadegesin, Segun African Philosophy: Traditional Yoruba Philosophy and Contemporary African Realities. Lang, New York 1991

9. Ethics in African philosophy: There have been a number of contributions to the question of what is African about ethics. This could focus on ethics in the contemporary scene, or on “traditional” systems of ethics (don’t want to get too close to anthropology, though). See Kudadjie, J N “Towards Moral Development in Contemporary Africa” in Person and Community, Wiredu, Kwasi (ed), CRVP, Washington 1992; Eze, Emmanuel “Truth and Ethics in African Thought”Quest 7(1) 4-19, Je 93; Gbadegesin, Segun “Bioethics and Culture: An African Perspective” Bioethics 7(2-3), 257-262, Ap 93; Kwame, Safro. “The Case of Ghana: How Not to Solve Moral Problems in a Developing Economy.” Continental Philosophy, 24-28, Mr-Ap 90.

10. African philosophy and women/feminism: What can each learn from the other? Why are there so few women in African philosophy? Where are the points of tension? See Kwame, Safro “On African Feminism: Two Reasons for the Rejection of Feminism.” International Journal of Applied Phil, 1-7, Fall 90; Harding, Sandra, “The curious coincidence of feminine and African moralities” in Women and moral theory, Kittay, Eva Feder (ed), 296-315.

11. South Africa after apartheid: What are the unique philosophical challenges in a country that has emerged from colonialism by more or less democratic means?

12. The relation between African philosophy and the African diaspora (US, Caribbean, European, South American Africans): How can we describe this relationship?

13. How can philosophy be socially relevant in Africa? See Kimmerle, Heinz. “The Question of Relevance in Current Nigerian Philosophy.” Quest, 4(1), 66-73, Je 90; Sogolo, G. S. “Options in African Philosophy.” Philosophy, 65(251), 39-52, Ja 90.

14. African philosophy and the legacy of colonialism. How does colonialism continue to cast a shadow over African philosophy?

15. Reconsidering Franz Fanon. See: Tsenay Serequeberhan, Hermeneutics of African Philosophy, and Lewis Gordon, et. al., eds. Fanon: A critical reader. Blackwell: 1996.

16. V. Y. Mudimbe and gnosis: An assessment. See Diawara, Manthia “Reading Africa Through Foucault: V Y Mudimbe’s Re-affirmation of the Subject.” Quest 4(1), 74-93, Je 90; Apter, Andrew, “‘Que Faire’? Reconsidering Inventions of Africa”Critical Inquiry 19(1), 87-104, Autumn 92.

17. Other African philosophers who could be a focus for research: Janheinz Jahn, John Mbiti, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cabral, Placide Tempels, Molefi K. Asante, Cornel West, etc.

18. African political & economic philosophy. Consciencism, Ujamaa, etc. Variations on socialism, Marxism, & right-wing democracy. What is a nation in Africa? See Tsenay Serequeberhan, Hermeneutics of African Philosophy; Gyekye, Kwame. “Traditional Political Ideas, Their Relevance to Development in Contemporary Africa” in Person and Community, Wiredu, Kwasi (ed). CRVP, Washington 1992; Eboh, Marie. “Democracy with an African Flair” Quest, 7(1), 92-99, Je 93

19. Is there a unique African metaphysics or epistemology? See Dukor, Maduabu “African Cosmology and Ontology.” Indian Philosophical Quarterly, 16(4), 367-391, O 89.

20. Punishment, torture, and the prerogatives of government in Africa. Human rights. The concept of genocide. Odera Oruka, Punishment and Terrorism in Africa.

21. The representation of African thought in the history on philosophy. See Emmanuel Eze, forthcoming anthology on race and the history of philosophy; Moellendorf, Darrel F “Racism and Rationality in Hegel’s Philosophy of Subjective Spirit” History of Political Thought 13(2), 243-255, Summer 92; Neugebauer, Christian “Hegel and Kant–A Refutation of their Racism.”Quest 50-73, June 91; Eze, Emmanuel, “The colour of reason: The idea of “race” in Kant’s anthropology” in Postcolonial African philosophy, Blackwell, 1997.

22. Mbiti claims that there is a particular African view of time and history. What do we say about this claim? See Van Zuylekom, Ruud M “The Notion of Time in African Thinking: A Survey of Some Approaches” in I, We and Body: First Joint Symposium of Philosophers from Africa and from the Netherlands Atlantic Highlands Gruner, 1989.

23. Linguistic philosophy and African thought: What can the analysis of African language tell us about philosophical thought in Africa? Is this different from ethnophilosophy, and in what ways? See the work of Wiredu, particularly.

24. Philosophy and traditional or Western religion in Africa. Phenomenology of African religion.

25. African philosophy and art — how do we understand African art? Is there an African aesthetics? See Anyanwu, K C “The idea of art in African thought” in Contemporary Philosophy, Floistad, Guttorm, ed., Dordrecht, Nijhoff, 235-260; Nzegwu, Nkiru “Are western aesthetic theories relevant for the understanding of African art” in The reasons of art, McCormick, Peter (ed), 173-177; Degenaar, J. J. “Art and Culture in a Changing World” S Afr J Phil, 12(3), 51-56, Aug 93.

26. The role of narrative. This could focus on narrative in various forms (oral tradition, the making of national mythologies, identity politics) as a philosophical practice. See Bell, Richard, “Narrative in African philosophy.” Philosophy 64 (July 1989): 363-379.

27. [P. Zisman] Critical philosophy, or in a post-modern vein, how philosophies deconstruct themselves. I’m thinking about how Eurocentric philosophies are resisted, or reconstituted.

28. [P. Zisman] Appiah also writes about the place of communal ties and tribal wisdom that provides sustenance to a community but replicates the universalizing tendency of Western ideologies once it is passed off as a “philosophy.” I’m extrapolating wildly from his book, In My Father’s House. But he does raise the issue of communal ties versus individualism that is plaguing the West. My interest in the list is too open up my thinking go other cultures and bring back some new ways of thinking in my context as a professor who is training teachers and preparing them for the global multicultural informational age lying in wait around the corner.

29. [Gloria Emeagwali] Natural Philosophy has often grown out of the wombs of religious philosophy. I would place the Ifa Divination system and accompanying oral text within this category.

30. [Zos Imos] What about the influences of Islam and Christianity on African philosophies?

31. [Zos Imos] The issues list read like these were all sub-saharan Africa … what about north Africa, Mediterranean? And what about the relationship of Egypt-Sudan and Ethiopia to the rest of the continent?

32. [Zos Imos] And what after all is “African philosophy” — surely it’s plural, not singular and with a time depth of thousands of years, has its own special complexities?

33. What is the relationship between philosophy and tradition in Africa? Is there a tension between tradition and modernity, or is there a way of recognizing the traditional nature of African philosophy without making it conservative or reactionary? (See K. Gyekye, Tradition and Modernity)

34. What is the relationship between African philosophy and reason? Is there a particular kind of “African reason”, say, negritude? Is reason universal, or particular?

35. Are there cultural universals? Are there concepts that transcend cultures, and therefore can form the basis of conversation between cultures?

36. How could one do inter-cultural philosophy? Is it possible to consider another philosophical system from the standpoint of one’s own?

37. Can philosophy be based on practice? What practice(s) would African philosophy be based on?

38. Is there a foundation for African philosophy?

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