African philosophy has been a subject of discussion for many years. Western philosophy is what many people are familiar with because Western civilization originated from Western philosophy. We have the likes of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero, and many more philosophers to thank for promulgating Western philosophy. With regards to African philosophy, who do we have to thank for it? Are there philosophers at all? What are their values and beliefs? Are their philosophies followed by anybody? Before we get in depth to give you some answers to these questions, we first need to examine what African philosophy is and what it entails.
What is African Philosophy?
A Nigerian-born philosopher, Professor K.C. Anyanwu in his writing defined African philosophy as follows “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.” African philosophy is philosophy produced by the Africans for the Africans. It comprises of the beliefs they have as a community. Thus, the theory ought to become part of the everyday life of every individual in the African community. You should note that African philosophy is not only restricted to African people. Philosophy developed by African philosophers can be found in various academic fields such as epistemology, political philosophy, metaphysics, and so on. Those topics are not limited to the African people. They are meant for everybody in the world. The history of western philosophy can be traced. However, what is the history of African philosophy?
History of African Philosophy
Usually, philosophy begins with wonder at humans and how they reason. African philosophy, on the other hand, did not start like that. It began out of frustration at what was happening in the society. The historical events then such as slavery, racism, colonialism, and much more made Africans frustrated. This frustration led to Africans angrily questioning what was happening and seeking answers by all means. When this happened, a lot of them started debating what was going on among themselves. This action led to even more questions. From then on, an ongoing barrage of questions and answers began within Africans. European scholars had dubbed Africa as culturally naïve and intellectually passive. They even went as far as insinuating that Africans were rationally unsound. These notions contributed to the frustration and led many Africans that studied in Europe and other foreign countries to return to Africa and start philosophizing the happenings then. The people that propounded African philosophy include but are not limited to Kwame Nkrumah, William Abraham, John Mbiti, Leopold Senghor, and much more.
Schools of African Philosophy
African philosophy is divided into schools based on each philosopher and their era. These schools follow just one line of reasoning which anybody can adopt. Here are some of them:
- Ethnophilosophy School: This school of thought developed in the early period of African philosophy. It happens to be one of the first schools in African philosophy. The propounders likened African philosophy with a system of thought that is culture bound. As a result of this, many other philosophers scornfully mocked the school as substandard. This is what gave birth to the name “ethnophilosophy.”
- Nationalist/Ideological School: This school was mainly concerned with what could be used to combat colonialism. The best idea they came up with was using nationalist philosophical patriotism for this purpose. This school also saw the creation of political philosophy and ideology for Africans from the traditional system of government.
- Philosophical Sagacity School: The main proponent of this school is Odera Odeku, an intelligent Kenyan philosopher who explained that regular philosophical discourse existed in the past and it still exists in traditional Africa. However, this discourse can only be discovered through sages and sagacious conversations. With time, this school of thought became flawed. The main reason for this was that other philosophers reasoned that you could only have a discourse with sages through oral interviews. The disadvantage is that these sages cannot be verified. Hence, the so-called philosophical discussion is flawed once there is no verification for a sage.
- Hermeneutical School: Theophilus Okere and Okonda Okolo are the leading proponents of this school. The school of thought believes that if you want to study African philosophy, the best way to approach it is by interpreting oral traditions and philosophical writing that are just emerging. The flaw of this school was that they did not reckon with ethnophilosophy. They blatantly rejected it. That created a problem because the majority of the texts that could be interpreted were ethnophilosophical in nature. Writers have said that this school is an example of the movement called Afro-constructionism.
- Professional School: As the most controversial school that has ever been in existence, this school contends that all the previous schools of thought laid down have imbibed the concept of ethnophilosophy one way or the other. They argue that for there to be a standard African philosophy, such thought must be a critical individual discourse. Some members of this school are Kwasi Wiredu, Paulin Hountondji, and much more.
- Conversational School: This school is a new school that is just emerging with the ages and time we are in. Some of the famous members of this school are Pantaleon Iroegbu, Jonathan Chimakonaim, Ada Agada, and much more. This school believes it is necessary to have a vigorous discourse while fulfilling the belief of the traditional people that a good and thorough African philosophy will be erected from our well thought out African systems. It is this school that presents African philosophy as a tradition which projects individual dialogues from the thought system of Africa. Conversational school happens to be the movement that promotes the movement of Afro-eclecticism and the movement of conversationalists respectively.
Despite all the arguments that have been raging on for years, research has shown that Africa does have a philosophy. There can be no school of thought without a belief in one philosophical thought or the other. The truth is African philosophy might not be as widely accredited or famous like Western philosophy. But, it is undeniable that this continent believes firmly in philosophy, and they have propounded theories as a guide.
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