Existence of African Philosophy
Over the years, there has been a debate over the existence of African philosophy. And if there is, about its nature. Many scholars or philosophers deny the existence of African philosophy. This debate about the existence of African philosophy was known as the “Great debate”.
The term “trends of African philosophy “ was introduced by Henry Odera Oruka, a Kenyan philosopher. Henry Odera Oruka identified six schools of thought on the existence of African philosophy. The trends are ethno-philosophy, philosophic sagacity, nationalistic-ideological philosophy, professional philosophy, hermeneutic philosophy, and artistic or literary philosophy. The first four are the well-known trends of African philosophy or schools of African philosophy.
The term Ethno-philosophy is said to be first used by Kwame Nkrumah but was coined by Paulin Hountondji in 1970 as a fusion between Ethnicity and philosophy. Bodunrin(1984) as quoted by Chemhuru(2013) explains that “ Ethno-philosophy refers to the works of anthropologists, sociologists and ethnographer who interpret the ‘collective worlds views of African people’s, their myths and folk wisdom’ as constitutive of African philosophy. Ethno-philosophy is also the study of ethnic Africans and their culture. Ethno-philosophy is based on the collective world views of Africans. This school of African philosophy is of the thought that all Africans if not most Africans share a collective world view and that these views may be philosophical. So the idea is to gather these views and study them.
African sage philosophy or philosophic sagacity commonly refers to the body of thought produced by persons considered wise by their communities (Mosima,2016). Such persons are called sages. A sage is a person who is said to have achieved massive knowledge or exceptional wisdom in the community. Philosophic Sagacity is a research project by Odera Oruka. Odera Oruka began this project in the early 1970s with the aim of preserving the “philosophical” thought of traditional sages in Kenya. Odera Oruka was of the view that in Africa, philosophy was embedded in the minds of Individuals. Although some argued that Africa didn’t have a philosophy, Odera Oruka believed that African philosophy existed and in the form of tacit knowledge. Since the philosophy is tacit, he attempted to gather the thoughts and views of individual people in Kenya known for their exceptional wisdom and knowledge and pass them off as authentic and pure African philosophy.
This philosophy was born out of the ideologies of national liberation movements. According to Egbunu(2013), “Nationalistic ideological philosophy is an attempt at evolving a new or unique political theory on traditional African Socialism and family hood. It is also aimed at authentic mental liberation and return to true and genuine traditional African humanism as a symbol of meaningful freedom and independence as opposed to the Western conceptual systems”. Philosophers under this trend include Nkrumah, Nyerere, Senghor, Dubois and others.
Professional philosophy comes about when African writers write books, journal or any set of texts and label it as philosophical. Philosophers such as Menkiti, Wired, Gyekye, Oruka, Bodunrin and many others fall under this philosophy. Philosophers under professional philosophy are trained philosophers and disagree with the ideologies of ethno-philosophy. Egbunu(2013) agrees with this by stating, “ It is the view of universalist philosophers as opposed to particularist philosophers that philosophy must have some meaning in all cultures while the subjects and methods could be dictated by cultural differences or the existing operational environment of the philosopher”.
- Chemburu.O.H, 2013. Odera Oruka’s Four Trends in African Philosophy and their Implications for Education in Africa. Thought and Practice:Journal of the Philosophical Association of Kenya (PAK) New series, vol.5 No.2, December 2013, pp.39-55
- Egbunu.F.E, 2013. A Review of the Question of African Philosophy. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science vol 3 No 11: June 2013
- Mosima.P.M, 2016. Philosophy sagacity and intercultural philosophy! Beyond Henry Odera Oruka