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Black Philosophers and Philosophies [Copy link] 中文

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African Philosophy I

The time has come to take ourselves seriously

There was a time when European philosophers were convinced that the way in which they perceived the reality was the only true one. When the first travellers and explorers came to Africa, they noticed that the people were different from the Europeans in many ways. Not only in their skin colour, but also in the way they dealt with life. This led European philosophers like G. F. Hegel to believe that Africans were not able to think logically.

How did he come to this conclusion? He argued that culture was a manifestation of ther human mind. European explorers, who returned from Africa, maintained that Africans had no culture, because what they saw in africa, did not correspond to European culture. Basing himself on this wrong information, the philosopher Hegel, who never went to Africa, argued that, as a consequence, Africans had no reason, no religion and no history. He thought that they lived in a state of natural innocence, unconscious of themselves. Hegel lived in Germany from 1770 to 1831, and therefore might be forgiven for his views on Africa, because he did not have much information about the continent.

At the beginning of last century, a strong defender of Hegel's ideas with regards to Africa was the French anthropologist L. Levi-Bruhl. He spoke of the 'pre-logical' mind of the Africans, similar to the mind of small children. He divided human societies into two types: the civilised [Europe] and the primitive [Africa]; or the healthy on one side, and the sick, savage and inferior on the other. Later on, the alleged cultural superiority of Europe and the West served as justification for colonialism. Europe considered it as its moral duty to raise Africa and the Africans to the level of the West.

African Philosophy

Now let us turn to African philosophy. How old is it? What time span does it cover? We cannot give exact dates. There has always been an oral tradition of popular myths and proverbs, which express the collective wisdom of an ethnic group. African philosophy, however, is more than a critical understanding of popular myths, proverbs and customs: it is, in fact, a product of the modern age.

The introduction of writing played an important role, because writing helps us to pin down ideas, and makes them thus available for later use. The first one to write a book on Bantu Philosophy was not an African, but a Belgian missionary working in the Congo: the Franciscan Fr. Placid Tempels. Basing himself on his own observation, he wrote around 1930: "To declare that primitive peoples are completely lacking in logic, is simply to turn one's back on reality. Every day we are able to note that primitive peoples are by no means just children afflicted with a bizarre imagination". Full of sympathy for the Bantu, but in a somewhat patronising way, Tempels wrote for European readers and missionaries. His famous book, Bantu Philosophy, was a kind of guide to understand the Bantu soul. He explained that for the Bantu, all beings â€â?#339; human, animal, vegetable, and inanimate â€â?#339; have their 'vital force'. Among the created beings, the human being stands in the centre. Human beings include the dead with whom the living maintain a constant relationship. God has created the inferior forces in order to help the humans to increase their force, for example by eating the meat of animals.

Tempels wanted to show that it was wrong to think of Africans as uncivilised and primitive, that their behaviour was guided not by the absence of logic, but by the use of a complex logic, which differed from Western logic. Who, after all, has the right to believe that one's own way of thinking is the only right way? Unfortunately, this was the attitude of the West for centuries.

African philosophers today make great efforts to liberate Africa intellectually from the West and to stand on her own feet. Gone are the days when African philosophy was seen just as an inferior form of European philosophy. The Kenyan philosopher D. A. Masolo, who taught at the University of Nairobi, writes in his recent book, African Philosophy in Search of Identity, that the debate on African philosophy today is the African response to the Western discourse on Africa, which means the distorted image that the West has created of Africa. Unfortunately, even many educated Africans have adopted this view of Africa as a primitive and uncivilised continent. They often look at their African mother tongue as inferior, and prefer to speak English or French.

African philosophers of today, like D.A. Masolo and P. Hountondji, from Benin, K. Appiah from Ghana, T. Serequeberhan from Ethiopia, and especially V.Y. Mudimbe from the Congo, to name but a few, are united in their struggle for a search of a true identity, which will of course vary according to the different cultures and traditions. It is a struggle quite similar to the struggle for political independence of Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, Leopold Senghor and Julius Nyerere. African philosophy, which originated as a response to the distorted Western representation of Africa, no longer feels the need to try to assert itself in the face of the powerful European system of thought. As Hountondji says, "the time has come to take ourselves seriously". Indeed! This struggle of ideas will hopefully put to rest the idea of Africa as one of the 'primitive sisters' of Europe.

Fritz Stenger, M.Afr. ... y-philosophers.html
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African Philosophy II

Bantu Philosophy

In this article I like to speak about the beginning of African philosophy. There always existed of course philosophical thoughts and ideas within the many African cultures. Just think about the many sayings and proverbs, which exist in all African languages. They often express the collective wisdom of a people or language group. All Swahili speakers know for example the saying: "Polepole, ndio mwendo". Literally translated it means: "Slowly is indeed movement". At first, this seems to be a contradiction, but it expresses the experience that things done too hastily may be counter-productive. Another example: The Babemba in Zambia say: "Kwapa takucila kubea". The armpit is never above the shoulder. It means that a son or daughter, though they may be fully grown, can never admonish their father. Children must never be above their parents. It also means that one must never try to live above one's means.

Although these proverbs express deep wisdom, we would not yet call it a philosophy, because philosophy is not just a collection of proverbs and wise sayings, but it is a system of thought that is written down. Let us then turn to the beginning of professional African philosophy.

Father Placide Tempels

Fr. Tempels, a Belgian missionary, who worked in the 1930s among the Baluba people in the Belgian Congo, wrote a book called "Bantu philosophy" His main intention was to prove to Europeans, that the Africans, among whom he worked, were thinking in a logical way, a fact that until then was not generally accepted. He wrote in "Bantu Philosophy" first published in his mother tongue Flemish in 1945:

"Anyone who claims that primitive peoples possess no system of thought, excludes them thereby from the category of human beings. Every day we notice that these people are by no means just children afflicted with a bizarre imagination". [p.16]

Tempels fought against the idea, held by many Europeans, including missionaries, that Africans were like immature children, because their way of thinking was different from that of Europeans. Fr. Tempels defence of African thinking met a lot of opposition, even from his own Franciscan brothers, who thought that he had gone too far in his appreciation of African thinking.

How did Fr. Tempels describe the thinking of the Baluba?

First there is a belief that all beings - human, animal, vegetable or mineral - have or are forces; and that there is a constant interaction between them.

This interaction, which is passive and needs to be activated, unites all beings.

Human beings alone, by virtue of their intelligence, are able to do this. They can determine the result of the interaction, which can be either good, as in the case of protective medicine, or evil, as in the case of killing by magic. Morally bad act create disorder in the relations of forces.

Among the created beings, the human being stands in the centre. This includes the dead with whom the living maintain a constant relationship.

The inferior forces have been created by God in order to help human beings to increase their forces.
Wisdom then means the knowledge of these forces and of their effects.
The Bantu's human behaviour is guided by their knowledge of being as force.
Fr. Tempels claimed that not only the Baluba in the Congo, but all Bantu are guided in their activities by this philosophy, of which we have only given some major points.

[To be continued] -- Fr. Fritz Stenger ... y-philosophers.html
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African Writing Systems

Writing_Systems/Adinka Symbols -  A Philosophical Writing System ... /Adinkra_page1.html


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Maxims of Ptah-Hotep

One of the earliest works of political philosophy was the Maxims of Ptah-Hotep, which were taught to Egyptian schoolboys for centuries.

The Maxims of Ptahhotep or Instruction of Ptahhotep is an ancient literary work assembled during the sixth dynasty, ca. 2350 BC, and attributed to Ptahhotep, a vizier under King Isesi of the Egyptian Fifth Dynasty.

ref.: Nicholas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, 1992 Blackwell Publishing, p.79

It is a collection of maxims and advice on human relations that are directed to his son. The work survives today in papyrus copies, including the Prisse Papyrus which dates from the Middle Kingdom and is on display at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. There are considerable differences between the Prisse Papyrus version and the two texts at the British Museum.

ref.: M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.I, p.61

In the introduction the author explains the reason for writing the instruction, namely his having reached old age and wanting to pass on the wisdom of his ancestors who had, in his words, listened to the gods.

The Maxims are conformist precepts extolling such civil virtues as truthfulness, self-control and kindness towards one's fellow beings.

Learning by listening to everybody and knowing that human knowledge is never perfect are a leitmotif.

Avoiding open conflict wherever possible should not be considered weakness. Justice should be pursued and in the end it will be god's command that prevails.

Some of the maxims refer to one's behaviour when in the presence of the great, how to choose the right master and how to serve him. Others teach the correct way to lead through openness and kindness.

Greed is the base of all evil and should be guarded against, while generosity towards family and friends is praiseworthy.

Rise in the social order should be accepted as a gift from god and could be preserved by accepting the precedence of one's superior.
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African history writing was largely dictated by Eurocentric or outright racist scholarship

Long-standing prejudice against particularly black Africans has meant that until recently African history writing was largely dictated by Eurocentric or outright racist scholarship.

African history has been a challenge for researchers due to the scarcity of written sources in large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, and also because of conflicting opinions on what is and is not African.

Scholarly techniques such as the recording of oral history, historical linguistics, archeology and genetics (to trace the movement of peoples) have been crucial to writing the history of many regions that in the past often have been dismissed as lacking a meaningful history altogether.

(From wiki)
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