I,too

Is a poem by Langston Hughes. He writes

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.
So while I am an African, and maybe proudly so, that poem is relevant in the discussion 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 philosophy. As Hughes says in his poem, I want to say with him that tomorrow, Africa will be part of humanity and history and that her philosophy will be worthy of study.
In the Journal of African Studies Vol 1, Taiwo argues that Africa’s philosophy is haunted by the ghost of Hegel. This ghost is to be found in his, Hegel’s, seminal work, the Philosophy of History in which he claimed to treat the philosophy of the world.
Hegel’s work begins thus
The subject of this course of Lectures is the Philosophical History of the World. And by this must be understood, not a collection of general observations respecting it, suggested by the study of its records, and proposed to be illustrated by its facts, but Universal History itself.
And one might think with such a bold introduction, the world does not mean northern Europe alone but the everywhere he human spirit is to be found. This however is not the case with Hegel. To Hegel, Europe is absolutely the end of History.
According to Hegel, we are told
Africa must be divided into three parts: one is that which lies south of the desert of Sahara–Africa proper–the Upland almost entirely unknown to us, with narrow coast-tracts along the sea; the second is that to the north of the desert–European Africa (if we may so call it)–a coastland; the third is the river region of the Nile, the only valley-land of Africa, and which is in connection with Asia
And I think it is this view of Hegel that has lived on to present day, where pundits talk of Sub Saharan Africa. In Taiwo’s view, Hegel does this to make Africa safe for History. Since Egypt is no longer in Africa but the middle East, it can now be considered as making part of history. While placing Egypt in Middle East, North Africa is in Europe!
If Hegel is to be believed, the Negro
“exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state and has no knowledge of an absolute Being, an Other and a Higher than his individual Self.
One wonders then why others writing about Africa argue that it is littered with gods. That the Yoruba have a pantheon of 400 plus 1 gods if he, the Negro, has no knowledge of anything above his individual self. One wonders if this lack of knowledge is what led the colonialists to argue the African had no religion.
Taiwo concludes his piece thus
Until it is taken for granted that Africa is part of History, that the study of anything cannot be complete unless it encompasses this significant part of the world, no amount of iteration of what Africans have done will move the victims of Hegel’s ghost. Until they get rid of the voice of the Hegelian ghost whispering in their inner ear that Africa is not worth it, that Africa has nothing worthwhile to offer, they will continue to botch the challenge that Africa poses to philosophy.
Africa interests me also in its paradoxes; so rich yet so poor. Take DRC for example. It is a mineral rich country yet so poor in terms of human development, infrastructure, is insecure and has leadership challenges or Kenya for example where the ruling class are thieves and the ruled are idiots, following the thieving class blindly without question.
The second question then is what must Africans do to change their situation? My first answer is education. And no, I am not saying we are not educated, that isn’t it. Our education has failed to produce engaged citizens, thinkers and revolutionaries. It has failed to produce a people that demand accountability of their leaders. It is an Africa where the wife of a 90 year old president can proudly say the country will, if it comes to that point, be led by her dead husband. It is a shame.
The second solution, is that Africa must become less religious and more skeptical. The idea that whenever calamity strikes, everyone from the president to the poor fellow in the village hopes some god will do something must change. We must begin to question what is it in our system of doing things makes us so vulnerable. We must ask why our leaders, our research and development institutions are not coming up with solutions to some of these problems. Drought should not mean we start starving. Why are we not investing enough in foodstuff. We have a storm and floods everywhere in our cities. Why have not improved the drainage systems and so on.
On the economic front, Africa must demand fair trade agreements with her bilateral partners. Trade between African countries must go up and finally, value addition. Africa must manufacture. It must industrialize. It cannot produce cocoa and import chocolate from whatever or produce coffee beans and import processed coffee at double or three times the cost. That must change. This is the Africa I want.
Lastly, I dream of an Africa where Africans will emigrate not because of conflict but because they can afford to live elsewhere. They will not be looking for work or security but maybe for bad weather, you know like cold climes or tornadoes and such.
A man can dream.

To the question what made life worth living 

Anaxagoras answered

Contemplating the heavens and the total order of the cosmos.

The philosopher Nietzsche says there is no dignity in existence nor in man. That to exist is an expiation.

He says also that only the Greeks could philosophise since only them had culture. 

He asks what does man know about himself?

To the question what is truth, he answers they are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions; worn out metaphors which have become powerless to affect the senses; coins which have their obverse effaced and now are no longer of account as coins but merely as metal.

He writes,  if I make the definition of a mammal and then declare after inspecting a camel, “ behold a mammal,” then no doubt a truth is brought to light thereby, but it is of every limited value and does not contain one single point which is true-in-itself, real and universally valid, apart from man. 

And finally, does the infinite exist?

Consolation of Philosophy

By Boethius

This book is in five sections [books];

Book 1: The sorrows of Boethius

Book ii: The vanity of fortune’s gifts

Book iii: True and false happiness

Book iv: Good and ill fortune

Book v: Freewill and God’s foreknowledge

Boethius, for those who do not know him, was a Roman consul during the reign of Theodoric the Great. He was born in 480CE and executed in 524CE. He wrote the above tract, while exiled in Pavia, and shortly before his execution by Theodoric.

Boethius laments his fall from royalty and the impending death over his head. He feels wrongly accused by the senate and also that his other accusers, for lack of a better word or vagabonds. His mistress, Philosophy visits him in Pavia to lighten his burden. She starts by reassuring him that the likes of Zeno, Socrates, Anaxagoras, Seneca were brought to destruction for no other reason than that, settled as they were in my principles, their lives were a manifest contrast to the ways of the wicked.

In his lament he asks philosophy if the cruelty of fortune against him I not plain enough. He asks if the exile is the recompense of his obedience.

On the vanity of Fortune’s gifts, philosophy tells him, her very nature, is caprice. She tells him it is not to humans to lament the gifts of Fortune for these are hers to give and take. Boethius laments the greatest sorrow for him is to have been happy.

Philosophy tells him nothing is wretched, but thinking makes it so and conversely every lot is happy if borne with equanimity.

She tells him

If then, thou art master of thyself, thou wilt possess that which thou wilt never be willing to lose, and which Fortune cannot take from thee. And that thou mayst see that happiness cannot possibly consist in these things which are the sport of chance, reflect that, if happiness is the highest good of a creature living in accordance with reason, and if a thing which can in any wise be reft away is not the highest good, it is plain that Fortune cannot aspire to bestow happiness by reason of its instability.

Philosophy tells him that riches, honesty, beauty are all things from without. That they do not in themselves make one happy. She tells him, for example, it is a true saying that they want most who possess most, and, conversely, they want very little who measure their abundance by nature’s requirements, not by the superfluity of vain display. Philosophy tells him this is true also of power, rank, glory and fame. Philosophy argues that if there were any natural and proper good in rank and power, they would never come to the utterly bad, since opposites are not wont to be associated. She says nature brooks not the union of contraries.

Philosophy tells him thet ill Fortune is of more use to men than good Fortune. She says good fortune when she wears the guise of happiness is always lying, ill fortune is always faithful, since, in changing, she shows her inconstancy. The one deceives, the other teaches.  Lastly she tells, when good fortune goes, she takes her friends but leaves you with thine own and that in true friends, one has found the most precious of all riches.

Philosophy tells him that all created beings seek happiness as their end. She says they seek this end through acquisition of wealth, rank, fame, pleasure, glory. She says all these means do not bring the seeker of happiness to their goal for each of them is accompanied by some want or anxiety. Philosophy tells him this happiness is god. That to be happy or rather to possess happiness is to be godlike. That happiness and good are one and they are found in god.

Following Anslem, she tells him god is the greatest good beyond which nothing can be thought. She tells him god is omnipotent.

Boethius asks if god is omnipotent can he do evil. And Philosophy answers in the negative.

He says, herein is the very chiefest cause of my grief- that, while there exists a good ruler of the universe, it is possible that evil should be at all, still more that it should go unpunished. Philosophy tells him this is not so. That the good are always strong, the bad always weak and impotent; that vices never go unpunished nor virtues unrewarded, that good fortune always befalls the good, and ill fortune the bad.

The argument here is that, if the chief end of all human action is towards good, then, the bad do not achieve this aim. She argues that the good make the doer god. In this sense then, those actions called bad do not attain the aims for which the perpetrators intended.

Philosophy tells him, it is clear Plato’s judgement was true: the wise alone are able to do what they would, while the wicked follow their own heart’s lust, but cannot accomplish what they would. For they go on their willfulness fancying they will attain what they wish for in the paths of delight; but they are very far from its attainment, since shameful deeds lead not to happiness.

To conclude, philosophy argues that freedom of choice is an attribute of reason and that god’s foreknowledge does not in any way interfere with the actions of humans. She argues that knowledge depends not on the thing known but on the faculty of the knower. That god’s foreseeing doesn’t in itself impose necessity, any more than our seeing things happen makes their happening necessary. She argues no creature can be rational, unless they be endowed with freewill. For that which hath the natural use of reason has the faculty of discriminative judgement and of itself distinguishes what is to be shunned or desired.

She argues there is no such thing as chance in a world rule by god. Chance, she says, as defined by Aristotle is when something is done for the sake of a particular end and for certain reasons some other result that the designed ensues.

She tells him god is eternal, that is, god possesses endless life whole and perfect at a single moment. The world, however is everlasting, that is, it has a prolonged existence.

I think, the current breed of apologists would do well if they were to adopt some of the arguments advanced in this book for example those tackling the problem of evil. What they will not be able to prove is what god is, and how this god, whatever they think it is, is the particular Middle Eastern apparition.

The argument for freewill is also good though it suffers the weakness all others suffer, that the proponent fails to define what they mean. I think by calling it freedom of choice, the proponent only shifts the burden further for we now must ask for the definition of choice.

I think the arguments against fortune make sense. That because they are her gifts to give, we shouldn’t lament so much when we lose them. I must say I agree with Boethius that the saddest thing in the loss of the gifts of fortune is to have been happy.

Lastly, I recommend this book to both theists and atheists alike. Read it, form your own judgements, but at least read it.

Free will: do we have it?

In his blog post, free will and the perfect pool table, my friend Steve concludes we do. I don’t think he has demonstrated that we actually do we have freewill. I also contend he has failed to give a coherent definition of what he means when he says we have free will.

He writes

But now let us add the real-world pool table items back in. If we were to just add the pockets back, some of the balls would leave the table by falling into the pockets and the balls that remained would have to have paths that repeated themselves and which didn’t involve colliding into a pocket. If the felt is added back, so is friction and the balls in motion will then stop at some point due to that friction. Also, the not perfectly elastic bumpers will absorb some of the energy of the balls colliding with them. We end up with an imperfect, non-deterministic game, one in which the result of any balls being set in motion becomes quite uncertain. The only thing we can say for certain is the balls will come to a stop after each “play.” The motions are somewhat but not perfectly predictable, which allows for the skills of elite pool players.

Every time the cue ball is struck (the cue ball being made slightly larger than the other balls so it strikes them ever so slightly above the equator, minimizing the chances of a ball being hit slightly below the equator which can result in the struck ball flying off of the table (now you know)), the table ends up in a new state, that is the positions of the balls involved in collisions is almost guaranteed to be different as well as somewhat unpredictable.

and I find this is analogous to human life. The individual is any one of the balls. The friction on the billiard table are the different are the social constraints, the mental environment we live in and the push from the cue stick the different motives pushing us in different directions. If, for instance, the player was a professional and we observed how their play, we would tell almost accurately where the ball would go every time it was hit. So it is with humans; if we could carefully map every situation, we would, with accuracy, tell what the person would do. The outcome, given the same conditions would be the same.

I disagree when he writes

[..]So, decisions have to be made. Should I try to sink this ball or that ball? If I sink that ball, will the cue ball be in a position to sink another ball (or the next numbered ball in the sequence) and, if it won’t be properly positioned, can I make it properly positioned by some skill of my possession.

the decision of which ball to sink is not arbitrary. For a person who hasn’t played pool, I would be trying to sink any ball. For a professional player, with years of experience, this will not be the case. This is the effect of training. The play is not arbitrary.

While it is true that

 two different pool players will sometimes play a particular situation differently.

it is not true this is because of freewill. The differences in their play is as a result of differences in training, experience and abilities. And it is the same with other human affairs. Given the same scenario, different people will act differently because of differences in training, genetic make up and the motives.

And as reader Shinashiz said, this

And occasionally state that “they don’t know why they chose the route they did” or they felt more confident “in the moment” in that path, or…. And sometimes they get frozen in a state of indecision, that is they have two paths forward that they cannot distinguish between and they get “stuck” not being able to decide

doesn’t support freewill. To be undecided is to say, in a deterministic universe, that motives are matched up. That acting on any will almost bring a similar result. The moment one motive outweighs the other, in this case, the chances of a score increases for one against the other, the player will proceed and play. This cannot be, in my view, be called freewill, especially since we can see the immediate effect of the environment at play.

I agree with Steve when he writes

I think much of the debate about the existence of free will is based upon a faulty definition.

and I would have expected him to give us a proper definition. I do think that if a definition was coherent, much of this debate would have ended. My definition of freewill is quite simple and you are free to disagree with it.

Freewill means our actions are uncaused. 

Steve then says

The reason free will is important is that if we do not have the ability to make our own choices, that our response to situations was either hardwired into our brains or programming in by social conditioning, then we are not responsible for our actions, our engineers and programmers are. How could we punish criminals or send sinners to Hell without them having the ability to do other than what the situation triggers? How indeed?

While I don’t want to dismiss this very important challenge, I first would want to say, a human being is not responsible for their make, nor their thoughts. All these come to them from outside. Outside here could be a book, a tree, another person but never their own. And much as it is hard to accept, we are products of social conditioning, biological makeup[ temperament] and training. And our actions are driven by different motives that we are not the originators.

That we should be punished for our actions, is in my view, a religious idea and the main reason the churches, especially those that preach hell exist. They wouldn’t justify their hell if they accepted the fact of determinism. And we should change our motives for punishment. As a determinist, I believe, training is a better way to modify behaviour. Jails have failed to achieve this. We should bring down those walls. We should improve human societies. An unequal society breeds discontent.