​Does an African philosophy exist?


This is the second last chapter in Diop’s Civilization or Barabarism. This is one of the chapters I liked the most in the book. 
He writes

 in the classical sense of the term, a philosophical thought must bear at least two fundamental criteria:

1. It must be conscious of itself, of its own existence as a thought;

2. It must have accomplished, to a sufficient degree, the separation of myth from concept. 

He limits his enquiry to Pharaonic Egypt and the rest of Black Africa. 

What these philosophies are/ were are not the interest of this particular post. 

A French Egyptologist, Amelineau, quoted by Diop, wrote

One was right to admire the speculating genius of the Greek philosophers in general, and of Plato in particular, but this admiration that the Greeks deserve without any doubt, the Egyptian priests deserve even more, and if we give them credit for the paternity of what they invented, we would only be committing an act of justice.

Egypt had inaugurated, from the first Egyptian dynasties onward and probably before that, a system of cosmogony that the first Greek philosophers, Ionian or Eleatic, reproduced in its essential lines, and from which Plato himself was not loath to borrow the basis for his vast speculations, which Gnostics, Christians, Platonists, Aristotelians and Pythagoreans all did only decorate with more or less pretentious names and concepts, whose prototypes are found in Egyptian works, word for word in the case of both the ennead and the ogdoad and almost that of the hebdomad.

Between (Aristotle’s) doctrine, Plato’s doctrine and that of the Heliopolitan priests, I could see no difference other than a difference of expression.

Elsewhere, our author quotes Strabo (58BC to 25CE), a Greek scholar, who wrote

We saw over there [in Heliopolis] the hallowed halls that were used in the past for the lodging of the priests; but that is not all; we were also shown Plato’s and Eudoxus’s dwelling, for Eudoxus had accompanied Plato here; after arriving at Heliopolis, they stayed there for thirteen years among the priests: this fact is affirmed by several authors. These priests, so profoundly knowledgeable about celestial phenomena, were at the same time mysterious people, who did not talk much, and it is only after a long time and with skillful maneuvering that Eudoxus and Plato were able to be initiated into some of their theoretical speculations. But these Barbarians kept the best part to themselves. And if today the world owes them the knowledge of what fraction of a day ( of a whole day) has to be added to 365 whole days in order to have a complete year, the Greeks did not know the true duration of the year and many other facts of the same nature until translators of the Egyptian priests’ papers into the Greek language popularized these notions among modern astronomers, who have continued, up to present time, to draw heavily from this same source as they have from the Chaldeans’ writings and observations. 

Towards the end of the chapter, Diop reflects on the death of classical philosophy and offers hope for a new philosophy. He writes

[..]All of the above shows that classical philosophy, as promoted by men of letters, is dead. A new philosophy will rise from these ashes only of the modern scientist, whether a physicist, a mathematician, a biologist or anything else, ascribes to a “a new philosophy”; in the history of thought, the scientist up to now, has almost always had the status of a brute, of a technician, unable to extract the philosophical importance from his discoveries and his inventions, while this task always fell to the classical philosopher.

Philosophy’s present misery corresponds to the time interval that separates the death of the classical philosopher and the birth of the philosopher; the latter undoubtedly will integrate in his thought all of the above-signaled premises, which barely point to the scientific horizon, in order to help man reconcile man with himself. 

Concerning reason or the ability to reason, he writes

Thus there is reason and its content of the moment, or more correctly, the aptitude, the ability to reason, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the more or less consistent, provisional materials brought to light by the sciences which are affected by this ability to reason; there is reason’s permanent structure and its always outmoded content, directly caused by scientific progress and which condition the operating rules of the logic of the moment. Only, reasoning reason is permanent, its content becomes modified with time. 

Writing on the bahaviour of modern man, he writes, in part, that

Ecology, defending the environment, tends to become the foundation of a new ethnic of species, based on knowledge: the time is not far off when the pollution of nature will become a sacrilege, a criminal act, even and mainly for the atheist, because of the one fact that the future of humanity is at stake; what knowledge or “the science of the epoch” decrees as harmful to the whole group thus becomes progressively a moral prohibition. 

As I have written elsewhere, this book is a good read. It, in my view forms the basis for further research on African anthropology for the interested scholar and maybe through such study, a work will be produced that will paint Africa not as the dark continent, as we have been made to believe, but as a pinnacle if not as civilization worthy of respect just as we have been taught of other world civilizations now dead.

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

13 thoughts on “​Does an African philosophy exist?

  1. […] via Does an African philosophy exist? — Random thoughts […]

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  2. john zande says:

    If a new philosophy is going to rise, it’s going to be raised up on panpsychism, even though its roots lie in antiquity. It will resemble Buddhism, will promote pacifism and self-regulation, but it will be drawn from hard physics, not ethereal metaphysics (which has not produced a single truth in its formal 2,500 year history).

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  3. […] we are about to have. Africa interests me in many ways than one. In an earlier post, I did ask if an African philosophy exist? Today I want us to revisit the topic by addressing a different question, the challenge to African […]

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