Method, Substance, and the Future of African Philosophy
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Method, Substance, and the Future of African Philosophy

Edwin E. Etieyibo

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eBook - ePub

Method, Substance, and the Future of African Philosophy

Edwin E. Etieyibo

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About This Book

This book takes stock of the strides made to date in African philosophy. Authors focus on four important aspects of African philosophy: the history, methodological debates, substantive issues in the field, and direction for the future. By collating this anthology, Edwin E. Etieyibo excavates both current and primordial knowledge in African philosophy, enhancing the development of this growing field.

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© The Author(s) 2018
Edwin E. Etieyibo (ed.)Method, Substance, and the Future of African Philosophy
Begin Abstract

1. Introduction

Edwin E. Etieyibo1
Department of Philosophy, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Edwin E. Etieyibo
End Abstract
This multi-authored volume is a welcome addition to the growing literature in African philosophy. Its principal focus is the invigoration of efforts towards the excavation of knowledge (both extant and primordial) in African philosophy . It does this by the different ways in which the contributions attempt to develop further some important aspects and subthemes in the field. Insofar as the edited collection does this, it contributes to a number of contemporary endeavors aimed at straddling the fine and subtle lines between methodological and substantive issues in African philosophy , on the one hand, and the history of African philosophy as well as the debates about the future direction of African philosophy , on the other hand.
As part of developing and discussing these sub-themes, the book is divided into four parts. Part 1 (African Philosophy and History ) include chapters that examine the history of African philosophy generally construed. The chapters in Part 2 (Method in African Philosophy ) discuss some methodological issues in African philosophy . In Part 3 (Substance of African Philosophy ), we have chapters that are focused on some substantive issues in African philosophy . The final part of the book, Part 4 (African Philosophy and its Future), brings together chapters that discuss to some degree a couple of issues in relation to philosophical theorizing of African philosophy in the context of its future or direction.

1 Part 1 (African Philosophy and History)

In Chap. 2, “African Philosophy in History, Context , and Contemporary Times,” Edwin Etieyibo discusses a number of issues in the context of the history of African philosophy and the progress that has been made following the metaphilosophical debate that began in the 1970s. Two of the standout issues that he sought to address include: does one’s origin as an African place an obligation on one to work in African philosophy, and who is an African philosopher ? In addition to this, Etieyibo discusses two areas in which progress can be said to have been made in African philosophy and six areas where sufficient progress has not been made or where African philosophy seems to lag behind.
The next chapter (Chap. 3), “The Journey of African Philosophy,” is by Barry Hallen . Hallen traces the history of African philosophy in the Anglophone Africa contemporary times beginning from around the early 1960s when African philosophers attacked some of the controversial stereotypes of Africa’s intellectual heritage vis-á-vis rationality or the rational in African philosophy culture or philosophy. As Hallen notes, part of the motivation of these African philosophers was not only to point out the untruths embedded in these stereotypes but to reclaim “their own territory when with both word and deed they reasserted the prerogative of their discipline to define the ‘rational’ in the African cultural context.” As part of this biographical note on the journey of African philosophy down the years, Hallen suggests the importance of openness to different methodologies and approaches to doing philosophy. And along the way he expresses his desire to see more work in African philosophy done in the mold of Kwasi Wiredu’s linguistic analysis approach to philosophy.
Dismas A. Masolo’s essay (Chap. 4), “History of Philosophy as a Problem: Our Case,” builds on some of the ideas that Hallen suggest about the significance of openness to different methodologies and approaches to doing philosophy. In this chapter, Masolo invites African philosophers to consider the importance of seriously engaging with one another and on issues concerning indigenous African beliefs, conceptions, values , and experiences. As he notes: “Sustained discourses among locals give traditions of thought their identities.” This sort of engagement, Masolo points out, will help sustain the “debate among ourselves about the conceptual-theoretical implications of our own beliefs and experiences.” The engagement will also ensure that much of the contemporary work in African philosophy that has been done by African philosophers will be located in place and time, and part of what it means to be located in place and time is that one writes not exclusively for an audience outside of Africa but one in Africa —an exercise that may sometimes require writing in Africa’s indigenous languages . Masolo argues that while some of the work that had been done previously is good, much of it is in mere response to Western scholars, namely correcting them on their “gross misunderstanding or misrepresentation of our beliefs and practices.” The problem with this is that we have not developed what, according to him, Wiredu calls, “a tradition of philosophy,” which “is built on highlighting a discursive sparring among ourselves about our own specific conceptions, beliefs or experiences in a manner that would be called philosophical.” As part of highlighting what it will take to build a tradition of philosophy and to engage in philosophical issues and experiences that is located in time and place, Masolo uses the example of Shaaban Robert who wrote in the indigenous language of his people (Kiswahili ) as part of his larger goal of writing for his people and engaging with them. Part of the appeal of Shaaban Robert is that he provokes us to the thought of what partly constitutes a good writer, which according to Masolo, is one that shares with her or his people temperaments, feelings, and aspirations about values and what matters, reflectively being aware of what these values are and what captures the attention of her or his people.
The essay (Chap. 5) “The State of African Philosophy in Africa ” by Edwin Etieyibo and Jonathan Chimakonam concludes this part of the book. In this chapter, Etieyibo and Chimakonam embark on a stock-taking project with regard to the state of African philosophy in Africa . Their stock-taking project can be construed as arising out of the need to bring to the attention of African philosophers the importance of responding to the call for transforming the academy or institution of higher learning in Africa . Stated differently, the motivation and the measure of the importance of their project lies in the fact that it constitutes a preliminary framework as part of the general and overarching response to the debates on the “lack of transformation in universities in Africa and the need to Africanize or decolonize the philosophy curriculum in universities in Africa.” Since such a stock-taking project involves a lot of moving parts, Etieyibo and Chimakonam limit themselves to a couple of issues: firstly, those relating to the number of universities/philosophy departments in sub-Saharan Africa that offer courses in African philosophy and African philosophy-related content; and secondly, some general tendencies and habits to the doing of contemporary African philosophy.

2 Part 2 (Method in African Philosophy)

The chapter (Chap. 6), “Questions of Method and Substance and the Growth of African Philosophy,” by Simon Mathias Makwinja begins Part 2 of the book. Makwinja here takes the view that the preoccupation in contemporary time by scholars of African philosophy with what methods and content are appropriate or not for the discipline is a problem for it. In particular, he argues that such approach to doing African philosophy is a hindrance to its development. In his view, this is partly because so much energy is dissipated on “issues that have either been settled or will better be defined while engaging with substantive issues.” If Makwinja is right in this, then as he himself points out his argument can be taken to destabilize any attempt to make the discussion of methodologies and apposite problems in African philosophy a center of African philosophy. The conclusion he draws from this then is that until African philosophers spend much of their time on “substantive philosophical problems, African philosophy will always be” on the margin of the philosophical enterprise and discourse.
In Chap. 7, “Between the Ontology and Logic Criteria of African Philosophy,” Lucky Uchenna Ogbonnaya argues primarily that the most enduring question about the existence and future direction of African philosophy is the “cri...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Front Matter
  3. 1. Introduction
  4. Part I. African Philosophy and History
  5. Part II. Method in African Philosophy
  6. Part III. Substance of African Philosophy
  7. Part IV. African Philosophy and Its Future
  8. Back Matter