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African philosophy is a course designed to debunk the bases of the Eurocentric scholars on the
question of philosophy, but the issue to be discussed in this work is not the question of an
African philosophy but the historic bases for the myth in the African philosophy. There is
philosophy in Africa and the Africans have philosophers for the singular virtue of the existence
of their philosophy.
There is a mythology in African philosophy and to this regard the myths must have a
historical base for existing as a part of the philosophy of the African man.
This may be in
contradistinction to !dera !ruka and "wasi #iredu$s suggestion that the mission of African
philosophy in the contemporary world is a practical one. %t is not even simply a conceptual
problem having much to do with the meaning of crosscultural concepts.
'odern African
thought, both in its imaginative ideological manifestations, have been largely conditioned by the
violent historical encounter of Africa with the west. The formal can be as a result of the division
between those advocating for a strong western orientation in African philosophy, those that held
that the African system of thought cannot pass as philosophy because of its lack of rigorous
nature and criticality and those taking a deviant route, advocating a strictly traditional and more
indigenous approach in the sense that their philosophical orientation is strictly African.
)p to the
present, ethnographers have denied all abstract thought to tribal peoples. *ultures may be dear to
the owners but the truth is dearest.
%n the course of my discussion in this term paper, % will state in elaboration what %
consider to be the historic bases for the existence of myth in the African philosophy but before %
proceed to the main concern of this work, it will be of relevance if % clarify the concept of this
term paper first, as to what each meant in its usage in this paper.
1 Olusegun Oladipo. Idea of an African philosophy, Hope Publications, Ibadan, Nigeria. 2000. pg 112.
2 Francis Ogunmodede (Ed.). African philosophy down the ages, Hope Publications Ibadan, Nigeria.
200. pg !"1.
! #. N$in%a&'u$in%a (Ed.) The African mind a journal of religion and philosophy in Africca, vol. 1 No.
1,1989. Orbitas Publis(ers. pg 12.
%n an attempt to clarify terms conceptually with regards to this term paper, % need to make
clarifications as to what is an African philosophy, what do % mean by a myth and a historic base. %
would say that the concept of an African philosophy is a philosophical practice of the African
people which to extents centers on or is faced with the issue of addressing the problematic of the
African mind. The question here is, African philosophy in this context, is it referring to a
particular group or division of African philosophers, as there are ethno philosophy, sage
philosophy, nationalistideological philosophy and the professional philosophy. African
philosophy is not +ust a cultural enterprise of the Africans, it is a discipline which constitutes the
description of the African worldviews and representing the African indigenous mode of thinking
or philosophi,ing. %t contradicts the notion that it is a description of mere African cultural
% state as a personal view that the myth in the African philosophy is not a constituent
of the four divisions of African philosophy. Taking for instance, the belief, philosophy and
thought system of the African professional philosophy is sub+ected to the realm of critical and
logic examination. .tating this as a premise, % do not see the reason why a myth should exist in a
critically and logically examined philosophy of the African professional philosophers. Myths are
stories of the event of ancient times especially the ones told to explain natural events or early
history of a particular people, place or culture. 'yths in the African context, offers insight to the
nature of reality.
African myths communicate an important paradox0 the cosmos grounded in a
fundamental order and characteri,ed by constant change and renewal. African mythology depicts
the cosmos as an entity1 they express values, identify morals and embody profound philosophical
reflection. 'yths retain their cultural importance, even after they had come under attack from
philosophers. 'ythology is linked to philosophy and other anthropology, it is a symbolic
narrative usually of unknown origin and at least partly traditional that ostensibly relates actual
events and it is always associated with belief. The historic bases, refers to those essential
dynamic elements, facts and forces that advocated or paved way for the mythical constituent or
'.F )siegbu and *.+. )gba,oba (Ed.). our decades of philosophy. Hope Publications, Ibadan,
Nigeria. 200-. pg .-.
/ 'icroso0t encarta 2001
for a mythology in African philosophy. Those are the forces that pushed it down from its origin
up to this contemporary period.
The influence of folklore elements straddles philosophical space in modern African
society. Although 2en !kri and Ayi "wei Armah represent a generation apart in modern African
society, their creative sensibilities in their texts tilt to a point of overlap when the contexts and
thematic thrusts are placed in the historical perspective. The two writers draw on the ancestral
cultural artifact and focus their creativity and vision in a way to reengage and textualise the
dilemma of the present realities while centrali,ing African experience in their philosophical
endeavors. The element of myths, legends and related oral texts that embed contemporary
African philosophical texts are sustained by the creative imagination and firm grasping of the
cultural order, skillfully invoked to energi,e the eloquence needed to articulate and engage the
memory of the post colonies.
2ut then, while each of these mythic representations of this aspect of African reality are
open to serious questioning and critical examination, this paper is concerned with a critical
examination of the basis of the claim that the existence of a distinct sense of theori,ation and
conceptuali,ation of +urisprudence that is African and not western is a myth. The several ways in
which these myths have been represented and pro+ected constitutes the basis of the present work.
The historicalbase for the myth in African philosophy resulted in a series of debates that ensued
with regards to knowing if there is actually an African philosophy or a mere story told, a myth.
The existence of myth in the philosophy of the African man is not as a result of ignorance, it is
clearly deliberate. #ith regards to the usual and exact sense of the term 4myth$, it clearly can be
said to have its origin from the African ancestors but the question here remains, what could be its
historicbase, the origin from which it emanated.
%n a personal opinion, after a clear and critical examination of some texts written about
myth in African philosophy, % will state below what % consider to be the historicbases of the
myth in African philosophy.
3 !kpewho, %sidore. 4'yth and 5ationality in Africa$. %n Ibadan Journal of Humanistic Studies, 6o. 1 7April8,
There are certain problems inherent in the African philosophy and these problems
contributed to the myth in the African philosophy thereby making it look as a nonexistent
philosophy. The issue here is the bulk of materials called African philosophy by their authors,
readers or researchers genuinely philosophy and genuinely African philosophy; .uch materials
include <. Tempel$s and A. "agame$s Bantu philosophy, =. 'biti$s African Religions and
Philosophy and other traditionally based narratives or accounts of African thought pattern.
%nclusive also are the political thoughts of .enghor, 6krumah, 6yerere, etc. are these African
philosophy in an authentic sense;
The works of the authors mentioned above are certainly meant to be an African
philosophy in the sense of showcasing the fundamental thought pattern, belief system and
rationale of the lives and actions of the African peoples. 6evertheless, their philosophical status
has been seriously challenged by authors like <. ?ountond+i, T.% !kere, #.A ?art, =.E #iredu,
<eter 2odunrin, and !dera !ruka.
The debate on the existence of African philosophy revolves around the intellectual
exchanges between those that argue that there is nothing like African philosophy and those that
argue contrary that there is an African philosophy.
The myth in African philosophy is as a result of the debate that ensued between the
ethnophilosophers and the professional philosophers as to what shape or form will what is today
referred to as African philosophy take. #hat determines the contents of an African philosophy1 is
it an integration of different traditional norms, values and beliefs systems as propounded by the
. Pantaleon Iroegbu. !nwisdomi"ation and African philosophy #two selected essays$. International
uni2ersit% press, 111. pg 121
ethnophilosophers, or is it a critical and logical analysis and debates about the African belief and
thought system.
As a matter of presentation, @the ethnophilosophers as termed by <aulin ?ountond+i are
those anthropologists, sociologists, ethnographers and philosophers who present the collective
world view of the African peoples, their myths and folklore and folkwisdoms as philosophy.
They try describing a world outlook or thought system of a particular or whole African society.
They perceive African philosophy as communal thought and give it emotional appeal as one of
its featuresA
. This is opposed and in contradistinction to seeing African philosophy as a body of
logically and critically argued thoughts and debate by individuals as propounded by the
professional philosophers of Africa. The professional philosophers took a universal view of
philosophy, arguing that it must have the same meaning in every culture though the sub+ect of
priority may be dictated by cultural biases and existential situations and conditions within which
a philosopher airs his views. .ome representative authors that wrote within the confines or
category of ethnophilosophy are Tempels, .enghor, 'biti and "agame. This argument of
consideration puts to question the real nature of what is called African philosophy.
"nowledge that is nothing short of contemptuous. % shall not be dealing with this attitude
however but shall concentrate on the substance of the argument. According to #iredu, @it was a
pervasive trait of this indigenous BAfricanC culture that enabled sparse groups of Europeans to
sub+ugate much larger numbers of Africans and keep them in colonial sub+ection for many years,
and which even now makes them a prey to neocolonialism. % refer to the traditional and non
literate character of the culture with its associated underdevelopment.A #iredu adds, for good
measure, that @a culture cannot be both scientific and nonliterate, for the scientific method can
flourish only where there can be recordings of precise measurement, calculations and, generally,
of observational data.A #iredu then goes on to distinguish between folk philosophy, written
traditional philosophy and modern philosophy. The first is called philosophy only in a loose,
broad sense, since without argument and clarification1 philosophy in the strict sense does not
exist. Dolk thought, is by far a preferable term for #iredu than philosophy, is hampered by non
%n Africa, so called African philosophy 7as distinguished from academic
- Paulin (ountond$i. %e mythe de la philosophie spontance. In cahiers philosophi&ues African . no 1
(lumbumbas(i, 11.2).
1 The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.&, no.(, 'arch &EE:
philosophy in Africa8 is nothing but traditional folk thought. Thus, for #iredu, the @African
philosopher has no choice but to conduct his philosophical inquiries in relation to the
philosophical writings of other peoples, for his own ancestors left him no heritage of
philosophical writingsA. <utting together this and similar discussions in the literature, we can
present the arguments against oral traditions that purport to be philosophy, that is, ethno
philosophy, including Africa$s, in the following way 7cf. $the three negative claims$ of ?. !dera
!ruka, xvxvi8. According to the argument, ethno philosophy is not philosophy because0
7a8 )nlike philosophy which is the product of an individual mind, ethno philosophy is
basically the work of the collectivity. %n this sense, we can speak of traditional African
philosophy in the same way we can speak of traditional %ndian philosophy and traditional
European or English philosophy, with this significant difference of course, that there is a second
order %ndian philosophy represented by the written meditations of the gurus which a modern
%ndian philosopher might rely on as a foundation for a 7third order8 discourse. The English
example is even more complicated by #iredu$s suggestion that in truth traditional English
philosophy might in fact refer to the philosophy of ?ume 7strangely enough a .cotsman8 and the
English empirical tradition. %n spite of all these foreign complications, the situation regarding
Africa as far as #iredu is concerned is fairly straight forward0 individuals do philosophy in the
true sense, the community or tribe does not1 since in Africa the traditional philosophy is the work
of the collective, it does not qualify as philosophy. Fet us for the sake of simplicity call this the
%ndividualist or .ub+ectivist argument.
7b8 Another reason why ethno philosophy is not philosophy is that the former is not
analytical, or expository or discursive, these three terms being used rather synonymously. A
collection of proverbs, sayings and other wisdom literature do not constitute philosophy. To
clarify the point0 #iredu states clearly that philosophy occurs where there is a thesis or
argument, and there is a discussion or clarification. 2ut as % shall be arguing below, this
statement is rather ambiguous. %s it the form 7prose8 that constitutes the defining criterion here,
or is it the structure 7thesiscounter thesisconclusion or first premisesecond premise or
10 2iakolo, Emevwo. @On the Theoretical oundations of Orality and !iteracy.A Research in African !iteratures,
Gol. (E, 6o & 7.ummer 199980 -&3/.
premisesconclusion8, that is, the syllogistic structure; %s each of these criteria that is form or
structure, sufficient1 is any necessary; #e shall call this the Dormal argument or argument from
7c8 The third argument may be called the Hisciplinary or Epistemic argument or thesis.
According to this argument, ethno philosophy is not philosophy because it does not follow, in the
words of 'asolo, the 4rules of the game$, that is the rules of philosophic discourse. .ome
questions immediately arise here0 7i8 what are these rules of philosophic discourse1 7ii8 who
makes them1 7iii8 are they the same as the formal or structural requirements of 7b81 7iv8 are these
rules universal such that anyone from any culture or language can recogni,e them, given an
adequate translation, or are these rules culturespecific but binding on all others in as much as
they come to the 4game$ of philosophy; To come to the bald point without further equivocation0
is philosophy a specifically #estern discourse or discipline as indeed ?egel and ?eidegger had
claimed; This is the critical question, the very heart of the debate. 2ut let us proceed in a more
systematic manner and take each of these arguments in the order above. The view that
philosophy is not a group or collective activity but a practice of individual investigators inquiring
into an aspect of truth or reality is a sub+ective thesis. %t is sub+ective in the ordinary sense that
philosophy is not out there, an anonymous intellectual event or process. %t is the expression of the
thoughts and ratiocination of a specific human sub+ect. And because it is the sub+ect who initiates
and carries out this activity, the content of the process is the expression of the sub+ectivity of the
inquirer. <hilosophy, in this view, expresses the identity of the inquiring sub+ect. #hat we call
philosophy is the discourse of a particular sub+ect who in and through this discourse expresses
his or her sub+ective identity. The arguments and clarifications, the thesis, even when they have
nothing to do with the actual workaday life of the sub+ect as such, are nevertheless the work, the
inner work of a sub+ect, and these cannot be expropriated from him or her. The sub+ect$s identity
is embedded in the very act of thesis formulation.
'an in his nature is a thinker and from his thoughts about his environment and otherwise,
he raises fundamental questions. The myths also results as a fact that the life of a society is
organi,ed according to what are accepted as the answer to the fundamental questions raised.
These answers may in fact be grounded in error and ignorance though they are usually not
11 ibid
12 ibid
questioned. 5arely do men turn around to critici,e them or feel the necessity to provide
+ustifications for these beliefs and thoughts without challenge. %n Africa, the challenge to the
traditional worldviews and belief system came chiefly from contact with western Europeans.
@Another factor, which stimulated the debate on African philosophy, had to do with the
process of social transformation in Africa. This process of moderni,ation, which, according to
"wasi #iredu, @entails change not only in the physical environment but also in the mental
outlook of our peoples
, generated a debate on the adequacy or inadequacy of African traditional
worldviews for contemporary existence. At issue here are the questions of the cultural and
epistemological requirements for economic growth and social development and the extent to
which the intellectual resources of traditional thought and culture could meet these requirements.
%t was the attempt to answer these questions, which led to the general discussion on the role and
direction of African philosophy. %t is this aspect of debate on African philosophy, which has
generated, at least for now, the most formidable literature in postcolonial African philosophy.
?ence, prior to the contemporary African scholars$ exemplar works or writings on what,
indeed, qualified to be African philosophy, mere descriptive accounts and typical generali,ations
about 4the traditional worldviews of African people, which were predominantly communal and
largely unwritten,$ were taken as African philosophy. %n fact, as #iredu puts it, the conception of
African philosophy, which is largely christened 4ethnophilosophy$, was @implicit in the life,
thought and talk of the traditional AfricanA. The statement of this conception of African
philosophy is found in the works of =ohn 'biti, who notes that @4African <hilosophy$ here refers
to the understanding, attitude of mind, logic and perception behind the manner in which African
peoples think, act or speak in different situations of life.
A This is the conception of African
philosophy challenged by !ruka, #iredu, 2odunrin, ?ountond+i and 'akinde etc. Arising from
this challenge is the debate on the possibility of African philosophy, a debate that took the central
1! 3sena% 4ere5ueber(an (ed.) African 'hilosophy( The !ssential )eadings. Ne6 7or, paragon (ouse.
1 86asi 9iredu, philosophy of an African culture. +ambridge uni2ersit% press, 11-0 pg :
1/ Olusegun Oladipo (Ed.). *ore issues in African philosophy, Hope Publication, Ibadan; Nigeria.200".
13 ?. !dera !ruka, "The undamental Principles in the #uestion of African Philosophy$, Second Order, Gol.
6o. 1, 19>/.
stage in the larger part of the 19>Es through to the 199Es
. The orientation of the contemporary
African philosophers is based on the assumption that philosophy is @a rational, critical study of
which argumentation and clarification are essential elementsA. ?ence, since the documentation
and records of African traditional thoughts, beliefs and worldviews do not share these essential
elements1 they are not 4African philosophy$. ?owever, this does not suggest the denial of these
thoughts, beliefs and worldviews as nonexistent, what is denied is that @the unanalytical
narratives of these 7thoughts, beliefs and8 world views given by the scholars of the first
orientation in African philosophy can produce an authentic modern African philosophyA.
The debate about African philosophy being a real philosophy or a myth is based and
primarily under the influence of what one understands to be a myth and a philosophy in the
actual sense of the terms as they are being used. ?ountond+i argued that philosophy is a scientific
inquiry based on formal logic, rational argumentation and systematic method. These are absent in
traditional African philosophy. African 7traditional8 philosophy is a myth and not a reality.
This is the need felt by the Africans of being dutybound to reconstruct the thoughts of
their fourfathers because the Europeans never expected anything from us in cultural terms
except that we should offer her our civili,ation as showpieces and alienate ourselves in a
fictitious dialogue with her over the head of our own people.
'otivated by the genuine need for
an African philosophy, they have wrongly believed that this philosophy lies in our past needing
only to be exhumed and then brandished like a miraculous weapon in the astonished face of
colonialist Europe. They did not see that African philosophy like African science or African
culture in general is before us not behind us and must be created today by decisive action.
6obody would deny that this creation will not be effected ex nihilo 7out of nothing8, that it will
necessarily embrace the heritage of the past and will therefore rather be a recreation.

1. The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.&, no.(, 'arch &EE:
1- ibid
11 Hountond$i, P. African philosophy, myth and reality, #ondon< Hubtc(inson uni2. #ib. 11., p.1.
20 Paulin Hountond$i. African philosophy. =road6a%, Ne6 sout( 9ales 200.. pg /2
21 Ibid, pg /!
%n an attempt to preserve the African believe and thought system, they were petrified and
mummified into myths and presented as philosophy and topics for external consumption. %t is an
ob+ective of describing the features of African civili,ation for the benefits of the European
counterparts to secure a respect for African originality. %n the proves of these, an African
philosophy concocted from extraphilosophical materials consisting of tales, legends, dynastic
poems etc were formed by aggressively interpreting these cultural data, grinding them down to
extract their supposedly substantive marrow, turning them over and over in order to derive what
is possible.
The 2antu philosophy of <lacide Tempels which is said to be the first formal philosophy
of the African was not and did not address the Africans1 it was rather focused to an European
audience. %n an attempt to rehabilitate the notorious 2antu philosophy and produce a philosophy
strictly African, myths were employed. %n trying to define the African thought system and trying
to codify a strictly African thought system, African philosophy literatures were written but in an
alienated form which did not even solve the problem created by the 2antu philosophy. The myth
is as a result of the need1 not +ust to talk about Africa but also to talk among Africans. There is
need to first and foremost write for an African public and no longer an European public.
Heviating from the inspirations of Tempels$ works, philosophic debates in Africa was divided
into different currents according to different authors. !lusegun !ladipo made divisions of what
he regarded as the analysts and traditionalists. Dor him, the traditionalists are those who uphold
the presence of philosophy in the African tradition in general, including religion, proverbs, folk
lore and myth.
#hile the analysts are those that held that philosophy is a special kind of
academic discipline that is not to be sought wherever there is culture. !dera !ruka made a
detailed division, while including the earlier mentioned two, expanded it to four, including ethno
philosophers 7traditionalist8, professional philosophers 7analysts8, nationalist ideologists and sage
philosophers. These are intellectual classifications in contemporary African philosophy
22 Ibid, pg /0
2! *. Obi Ogue$io0or. 'hilosophy and the African predicament. Hope Publication, Ibadan, Nigeria. 2001.
2 >. 7. 'udimbe, the intention of Africa( philosophy, +nosis and the order of ,nowledge, Indiana ?ni2.
press, 11--, pg. 1.!&1..
#hat Tempels and "agame present to us may be philosophy, but not African because
they are not Africans. They presented their philosophy as 2antu philosophy.
The post colonial era in African philosophy was a period of professionalism. Iet,
paradoxically, the philosophical doctrines of this period have been propounded by non
professionals than professionals. These philosophies of the nonprofessionals have influenced the
thought system of many Africans before and after independence, while those propounded by the
professionals after independence is still struggling to make its way to the African thought system.
'ost of the nonprofessionals are termed philosophers due to historical circumstances. The
philosophy thought by the nonprofessional philosophers before independence, had myths as a
constituting factor and one of the ma+or elements of it.
'yth in the African philosophy also is as a result of clarifying the origin of philosophy
whether philosophy originated from Jreek or ancient Egypt. This is a case for the myth of the
stolen legacy. Trying to explain and clarify the fact that philosophy actually started on the
African continent and specifically in Egypt. The formal is on the bases of the claim that
philosophy was taught in temples by ancient Egyptian priests were the first Jreek philosophers
are said to have studied.
There is no proper documentation of the ideas of African philosopher before
independence and immediately after independence for present and future purposes as a reference
point. This problem has motivated the denial of the existence of African thought system, belief or
The African philosophy as it is claimed to be African in nature is not always presented in
an African language but often presented in a foreign language. %f this is to be the case, nothing
authentic African would be presented because the language it is being presented is not African.
2/ 86asi 9iredu. *onceptual decoloni"ation in African philosophy. - essays. Hope Publication, Ibadan,
Nigeria. 111/. pg 11
African thoughts in foreign language seem more or less a nonAfrican1 it loses the African nature
of it.
#hat is believed to be a traditional African thought always does not follow the rules of
logic1 it always does not pass critical evaluation and rationality. !n the bases of this problem,
going with the formal principles of Aristotelian logic, 4it is the only way through which all
human experiences across cultures should be assessed and examined. )sing this as criteria to
+udge intelligibility and rationality, the human society is divided into those with primitive
mentality and those with civili,ed mentality. !n the bases of this, those who operate within the
principles and laws of formal logic are mentally advanced, and those who do not operate within
the principles of formal logic are not mentally advanced. .ince Africa obviously falls to the latter
group, the argument is that they are not mentally developed, they cannot be philosophical, they
can rather be mythological.
At the end of this examination of the historicbases of the myth in African philosophy, %
would say that African philosophy is an indepth of African realities and as they relate to others
has come down the ages to our contemporary time. The reflection includes environmental,
political, epistemological, religious and ethical aspects of the life of the African people.
These reflections provide the material ob+ects of wonder, responding and questioning the
challenges that are presented by reality. %n the history of the origins of African philosophy, time
has been taken to debate on the issue of whether there is an African philosophy or not. Authors
like <aulin ?ountond+i and !dera !ruka are not aware of what is present in African philosophy,
owing partly to Eurocentricism in their education and the stolen legacy of regarding what is
authentically African to be western oriental. The manner used by these authors in re+ecting
African traditional philosophy as being philosophy must be replaced by a more reasonable view
of philosophy as a discipline.
2" Pantaleon Iroegbu. !nwisdomi"ation and African philosophy #two selected essays$. International
uni2ersit% press, 111. pg 1"0
The debate was not totally useless as it made a deep inquiry in to the research of what is called
African philosophy. Even questioning the existence of an African philosophy, @is there an
African philosophy;A is a contribution to it.
2%A"!F!, E'EG#!. @On the Theoretical oundations of Orality and !iteracy.A Research in
African !iteratures, Gol. (E, 6o & 7.ummer 19998.
2. ibid
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