​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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African origin of civilization

Myth or reality

After the brief interlude, we are back to Africa. There are still some commenters who have stuck to the line Africans as a whole are not intelligent. They insist this deficiency explains the problems facing Africa. As far as I can tell the source of this information is Rushton, a guy a friend of mine would do well to dip himself in a barrel full of acid. Enough of that for the moment.

I am on a journey. A journey through time. My interest is the history of the Luo/ Lwoo. I will look at what has been written on the contribution of Africans to civilization. I don’t think I will post a lot in between. 

I will be reading Dr. Diop about whom it was written by Immanuel Wallenstein thus

Perhaps the most ambitious attempt to reconstruct African history has been the numerous writings of Cheik Anta Diop. Diop has a theory that there is a basic global division of peoples into two kinds: the southerners(or negro-Africans) and the Aryans(a category covering all Caucasians, including Semites, Mongoloids, and American Indians). Each grouping has a cultural outlook based on response to climate, the difference between them being that the Aryans have had a harsher climate.

The Aryans have developed patriarchal systems characterized by the suppression of women and a propensity for war. Also associated with such societies are materialist religion, sin and guilt, xenophobia, the tragic drama, the city state, individualism, and pessimism. Southerners on the other hand are matriarchal. The women are free and the people peaceful; there is a Dionysian approach to life, religious idealism, and no concept of sin. With a matriarchal society come xenophilia, the tale as a literary form, the territorial state, social collectivism and optimism.

According to Diop’s theory, the ancient Egyptians, who were negroes, are the ancestors of the southerners. This bold hypothesis, which is not presented without supporting data, has the interesting effect of inverting Western cultural assumptions. For, Diop argues, if the ancient Egyptians were negroes, then European civilization is but a derivation of African achievement.

I think it will be an interesting read. Keep it here, don’t touch that button 🎼

Phocion

Here was a statesman whose stature measures to that of Solon, Themistocles, Lycurgus among others who was sentenced to death by his countrymen because he was too good for them! Plutarch writes

Phocion and he may be well compared together, not for any mere general resemblances, as though we should say both were good men and great statesmen. For, assuredly, there is difference enough among virtues of the same denomination, as between the bravery of Alcibiades and that of Epaminondas, the prudence of Themistocles and that of Aristides, the justice of Numa and that of Agesilaus. But these men’s virtue, even looking to the most minute points of difference, bear the same colour, stamp, and character impressed upon them, so as not to be distinguishable. The mixture is still made in the same exact proportions whether we look at the combination to be found in them, both of lenity on the one hand, with austerity on the other; their boldness upon some occasions, and caution on others; their extreme solicitude for the public, and perfect neglect of themselves; their fixed and immovable bent to all virtuous and honest actions, accompanied with an extreme tenderness and scrupulosity as to doing anything which might appear mean or unworthy; so that we should need a very nice and subtle logic of discrimination to detect and establish the distinctions between them.

A man moderate in his temperament, cool-headed and just. And a good teacher of discipline. Plutarch tells many examples of his justice and temper such as once when he had to take the Greeks to war and one young soldier feeling so brave left his rank and shortly after seeing the enemy developed cold feet, he reproached him thus

Young man, are you not ashamed twice in one day to desert your station; first than on which I placed you and second the one that on which you placed yourself.

On another occasion, one of his friends warns him that by running counter to the people they would kill him, he says

that will be unjust of them if I give them honest advice, if not, it will be just of them.

His wife says in response to a court jester

for my part, all my ornament is my husband Phocion, now for the twentieth year in office as general at Athens.

There are several more examples of instances of his justice, vision, temper and good sense in Plutarch’s lives. The world would be a better place if were ruled by such statesmen.

Phocion

Camillus, Pericles, Fabius Maximus

Camillus was five times chosen dictator, triumphed four times, and was styled a second founder of Rome, yet never was so much as once consul.

During his censorship one very good act of his is recorded, that, whereas the wars had made many widows, he obliged such as had no wives, some by fair persuasion, others by threatening to set fines on their heads, to take them in marriage; another necessary one, in causing orphans to be rated, who before were exempted from taxes, the frequent wars requiring more than ordinary expenses to maintain them.

He got himself banished from Rome for being too powerful. These Romans and Greeks were interesting people. Anytime someone appeared to have so much power, they banished him from the state. I wish we could do this now.

Pericles is a man who was beyond corruption. He, for reasons unknown to us, led to the death of many Athenians in the Peloponnesian war by failing to ratify the peace treaty that the  Lacedaemonians had offered could satisfy him.

Most of his laws are not extant today, or rather, were not extant in the time of Plutarch.

He adorned Athens with grand buildings. And when the citizens complained that he had drawn a lot of money from the public treasury, he asked that the buildings to be charged to his account and have the inscriptions in his name. The citizens on hearing this pleaded with him to draw from the public account and do as he pleased either to bring down or to build whatever monument or building he thought good for the public good.

He was frugal. There is a report that his household was not amused at his exactness with regards to spending. He even had an “accountant” whose duty was to ensure there was no waste in the family.

Of his head, a poem is written thus

And here by way of summary, now we’ve done,

Behold, in brief, the heads of all in one.

I know you know that great speech by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, Pericles paying tribute to those who had lost their lives in war said

For, we do not see them themselves, but only by the honors we pay them, and by the benefits they do us, attribute to them immortality; and the like attributes belong also to those that die in the service of their country.

His greatest failure, if we can call it that, was to let personal difference between him and Cimon and Thucydides use his power to have them ostracized.

After the loss of his legitimate sons, he asked that a law that stated only lawfully begotten children could be considered citizens be repealed so

so the name and race of his family might not, for absolute want of a lawful name and race of his family might not, for absolute want of a lawful heir to succeed, be wholly lost and extinguished.

A request the people granted arguing his suffering deserved their pity and even indignation, and his request was such as became a man to ask, and men to grant.

Fabius we are told was the son of Hercules and nymph.

He was five times consul, and in his first consulship had the honor of a triumph for the victory he gained over the Ligurians, whom he defeated in a set battle, and drove them to take shelter in the Alps, from whence they never after made any inroad nor depredation upon their neighbors.

During his reign, Hannibal attacked Italy and for a long time he tried to avoid direct combat with him arguing that with time Hannibal would be forced to retire and return to Carthage. Many of the Romans thought this strategy was because of a lack of courage on his part.

As testament to his honour and wisdom, we have Minucius, a young general who had been given as much power as Fabius address his troops in this manner

To conduct great matters and never commit a fault is above the force of human nature; but to learn and improve by the faults we have committed, is that which becomes a good and sensible man.  Some reasons I may have to accuse fortune, but I have many more to thank her;for in a few hours she hath cured a long mistake, and taught me that I am not the man who should command others, but have need of another to command me; and that we are not to contend for victory over those to whom it is our advantage to yield.  Therefore in everything else henceforth the dictator must be your commander; only in showing gratitude towards him I will still be your leader, and always be the first to obey his orders.

We find ambition and rivalry made him oppose the campaign of Scipio to Carthage, a campaign that in the end saw the defeat of Hannibal and Carthage come under Rome, a victory Fabius did not live to see for he died shortly after Hannibal left Italy for Carthage after being recalled to attend to matters at home.

Themistocles

A vain Grecian who annoyed their sensibilities by becoming too powerful, got himself ostracized had to run for his dear lives first to those he had treated badly and finally to Xerxes or his son [the biographer is not certain] who he had defeated in war. Such was his desperation.

He saved the Athenians from the Persians by uniting all or most of the Greek cities, helped end the civil wars among them, encouraged the Athenians to invest in marine warfare which at the decisive moment saved them from being overran by the Persians.

He decided to take his life instead of being of assistance to the Persians on their expedition against the Greeks which gained him much respect from the King of Persia who was taken aback by the Greeks for they send away the bravest among them.

And that my friends is where we stop with his story.

Lives of the noble Grecian and Romans

In this post and a few subsequent posts, I will write about the lives of some nobles of Greece and Rome as recorded by Plutarch in his book by the same title and list a few of the laws these fellows made or their systems of government. I will not write of their failures, call it bias, but that is not my interest for the moment. Anyone interested can write about that.

In the next posts, I will have for the title of the blog post, just the name of the particular leader and followed by his laws.

For this post we will cover Solon and Lycurgus

One of the laws of Solon I agree with is where he forbade dowries to be given; the wife was to have three suites of clothes, a little inconsiderable household stuff and that was all for he would not have marriages contracted for gain or an estate but for pure love, kind affection and birth of children.

He at the same enacted a law that no man for the future should engage the body of his debtor for security.

Now about Lycurgus,

here is a man who resigned a kingdom.

He caused his citizens to cast away their gold or silver and abandon costly furniture and rich tables.

He instituted communal eating places.

He instituted strict education for the youth.

I will mention one other regulation he instituted touching on burials. To cut off all superstition, he allowed the citizens to bury their dead within the city and even round their temples, to the end that their youth might be accustomed to such spectacles and not be afraid to see a dead body or imagine that to touch a corpse or tread upon a grave would defile a man.