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AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY While philosophy by its very nature is a universal experience that needs no justification for existence among any racial group, there is the contribution of every culture to the universal themes of philosophy . It is
this cultural contribution that distinguishes philosophy as European, African, Chinese / Indian and so on . According to John S. Mbiti, philosophy of one kind or another is behind the thinking and acting of every people, and a study of traditional religions for example brings us into those the philosophy behind. According to German philosopher, George Hegel, history is a progression/movement consisting of events, and this progression is a consequence of human activity, which directs it towards the attainment of a goal., which according to him was freedom. The driving force of history is reason; ‘reason governs and has governed the world’. History was therefore a process of change through the intervention of reason in the world. Hegel compared the contribution of different regions of the world to history on this basis, and located Africa South of the Sahara at the bottom of the ladder. Referring to it as ‘Africa proper’ ,the distinguishing characteristic of SSA was its innocence of reason-it did not have it at all. It therefore did not have a history , incapable of development and culture( since culture was the actualization of reason). Levy Bruhl,in his text The primitive mentality (1923) advances the idea that the African mind is pre-logical, and so is not conceptual. It can therefore accommodate contradictions with ease. Africans were thus seen as people who were not capable of the conventional methods of philosophical inquiry and activity. It is against the background of such negative western attitudes to the African mind that Africanist scholarship emerged to affirm the philosophical competence of the African mind and enumerate its contribution to human civilization. Two major strands of thought, Egyptology and afrocentricity, have been particularly forceful in this endeavour. Egyptologists believe that ancient Egyptian thought systems and culture greatly influenced Greek thought which in turn was the root of western thought and civilization. Afrocentricity areas of African life where, through word and action we may be able to discover
Afrocentricity generally views western scholarship as hitherto a one-sided communication , a monologue aimed at killing authentic African cultural expression and historical values. It is a frame of reference wherein phenomena are viewed from the perspective of the African person...it centers on placing peoples of African origin in control of their lives and attitudes about the world. It seeks to study ideas and events from the standpoint of Africans as the key players rather than victims, empowering Africa to assert itself intellectually and psychologically, to decolonize the African mind as a prerequisite for liberation in all other areas of life. The Afrocentrist asks the question, “What would African people do if there were no white people?” In other words, what natural responses would occur in the relationships, attitudes toward the environment, kinship patterns, preferences for colors, type of religion, and historical referent points for African people if there had not been any intervention of colonialism or enslavement? Afrocentricity answers this question by asserting the central role of the African subject within the context of African history, thereby removing Europe from the center of the African reality. In this way, Afrocentricity becomes a revolutionary idea because it studies ideas, concepts, events, personalities, and political and economic processes from a standpoint of black people as subjects and not as objects, basing all knowledge on the authentic interrogation of location. One of the key assumptions of the Afrocentrist is that all relationships are based on centers and margins and the distances from either the center or the margin. When black people view themselves as centered and central in their own history then they see themselves as agents, actors, and participants rather than as marginals on the periphery of political or economic experience. Using this paradigm, human beings have discovered that all phenomena are expressed in the fundamental categories of space and time. The need to create an Africa-centered perspective that takes Africa as a point of departure for African studies stems from the understanding that in the history of intellectual thought, the Eurocentric paradigm has often assumed a hegemonic universal character, and European culture has placed itself at the center of the social structure, becoming the reference point, or the yardstick, by which every other culture is defined. For instance, the Western definition of civilization has become the standard of what constitutes a civilization. The Eurocentric worldview has become so dominant in the contemporary world that it has overshadowed other worldviews. The Afrocentric perspective seeks to liberate African studies from this Eurocentric monopoly on scholarship and thus assert a valid worldview through which Africa can be studied objectively Relevance of afrocentricity to African development
There are numerous aspects of Africa's indigenous traditions and collective historical past that can be recovered, reclaimed, and reconstituted by African peoples today as they struggle to reproduce their lives and livelihoods. The indigenous does not engender ignorance nor "backwardness." On the contrary, it provides avenues for creativity and cultural sources of power that African men, women, and children should reclaim and reconstitute for the benefit of their respective societies and communities. Africans everywhere must begin to appreciate the variety and richness of their past histories, culture(s), and traditions. -Africans cannot modernize if they internalize the western allegation of their backwardness. What people can do and be is largely dependent on the representations that they have of themselves .if they define themselves in enhancing terms, the likelihood is that they will set themselves great goals and believe that they have what it takes to realize them. -Modernization cannot result from the total assimilation of Africans, i.e, the complete eradication of their historical past. By passively importing western ideas and institutions, Africans can only approximate imitations of westerners. If modernity is defined as the rise of innovative spirit, the passive imitation of the west does not promote modernization, instead it postpones it. Reviving and adapting useful elements of African tradition is therefore to promote creativity and originality -To the extent that afrocentrism seeks the liberation of oppressed and marginalized groups through promoting their agency (freedom) in improving their conditions of existence, it is consonant with the goals of social development. -Afrocentricity is relevant to communitarian approaches to social development. This is the view that social development is best promoted by people themselves working together harmoniously within their local communities. Advocates of this strategy believe that people and communities have an inherent capacity to organize themselves to ensure that their basic needs are met, their problems are solved and opportunities for advancement created. In this way, they are able to exert greater control over their own affairs .Afrocentricity emphasizes on the importance of local autonomy as a prerequisite for agency and authentic progress . -One of the central themes in the Afrocentric worldview is that of collective responsibility and mutual help. As Mbiti pointed out, Africans historically have been socialized to define themselves by their social obligations to the wider community (1982). The responsibility of citizenry included providing communal forms of labor at any time when called upon by the traditional polity (e.g., road construction), as well as making compulsory financial and
nonfinancial contributions to assist bereaved families in burying the dead. Death, burial, and bereavement are community affairs, and the close examination of the conduct of funeral ceremonies illustrate both collective responsibility and information sharing within traditional African communities. Collective responsibility is an important asset that if enhanced ,would contribute as well to collective efforts aimed at social development Afrocentricity is characterised by an emphasis on the interconnectedness of all things; Within the cosmological perspective of the African-centered worldview, all elements of the universe-people, animals, and inanimate objects-are viewed as interconnected. Because they are dependent on each other, they are, in essence, considered as one. The unity of the African cosmos is like a spider web; its least element cannot be touched without making the whole vibrate. Everything is connected, interdependent. These relationships provide individuals with a sense of purpose and connection with families and community. Moreover, the maintenance of harmonious social relationships supports the development of positive self-esteem and social competence. Social problems and human dysfunction arise when people become alienated and disconnected from their human relationships. The human being is never an isolated individual but always the person in the community. The community defines the person, as Mbiti (1970) explained, "I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am" (p. 141).This communalistic ethics is essential for alleviating the ills associated with distorted capitalist development that are increasingly being experienced in Africa today, such as alienation, inequalities, crime, etc. An Afrocentric worldview emphasizes inclusiveness and commonalities rather than differences.This is elaborated below The concept of African communalism The term African communalism underlines the importance that africans traditionally attach to group life. This is a life based on a firm family foundation in which every member voluntarily cooperates and is proud and much obliged to help any other member of his or her community. In his book A humanist in Africa ,Kenneth Kaunda provides three properties characteristic of traditional Africa and hence by extension, of African communalism. These are:
-That traditional Africa is a mutual society i.e it is fundamentally aimed at satisfying the basic human needs of all its members and so individualism is discouraged. Among the Chewa of Malawi to be a loner is to be less than human. This is captured in their proverb that says; “that which is one is a beast but those that are two are human”. This idea suggests the importance of others as a means of enabling individuals cope with the various challenges that life throws at them. Being with others is a resource and enhancing the fulfillment of both material and emotional needs. -Traditionally Africa is said to be an accepting community . By this is meant that traditional societies accommodate all kinds of people who are valued not for what they could(or can) achieve but because of their presence. While their contribution, however limited to the material welfare of the village, is acceptable, “it is their presence not their achievement is appreciated”. -Traditional Africa is an inclusive society in that the web of relationships which involve some degree of mutual responsibility is widely spread. For example , the title father is not restricted to biological parents . The father’s brothers are equally reffered to as fathers and brothers would include not only the male children of a father’s brother but also even member of the same clan with whom one has no blood relationship at all. In this sense being absolutely orphan is unlikely. No old person is likely to end his days outside a family circle . Ethno philosophy Ethnophilosphy is one of the schools of African philosophy. Also known as Bantu philosophy it holds that there is an African philosophy reflecting a system of ethnic thought that matches the major categories of western philosophy. Ethnophilosophers argue that African philosophy consists of a body of logically coordinated thought on the nature of the universe, of existence, of humans and the things that surround them. This thought is obtained from the interpretation of basic cultural beliefs to reveal their interconnectedness and giving them a theoretical form and unity. It holds the view that African philosophy is identified with the totality of customs and common beliefs of a people. It is the philosophy understood and accepted by everyone. In his book Philosophy and an African culture, Kwasi Wiredu has sought to distinguish between African philosophy as folk thought preserved in oral tradition on the one hand(i.e., ethnophilosophy), and African philosophy as critical, individual reflection, using modern logical and conceptual techniques, on the other. He argues that traditional African philosophy was
essentially unanalytic, intuitive and unscientific. He observes that the deficiency of African philosophy in critical and logical analysis and experimental procedures is largely responsible for the weaknesses of traditional technology, warfare, architecture, medicine, etc. He further identifies three characteristics of ethnophilosophy in Africa which are obstacles to development in Africa. These are; a) Anachronism-the failure to discard practices, beliefs or ideas that have outlived their usefulness b) Authoritarianism-Social arrangements that glorify unquestioning obedience to authority against one’s will, thereby undermining originality and independence of thought. He defines authoritarian situations as any human arrangements that entail a person being made to do or suffer something against his/her will, or if it leads to any person being hindered in the development of his/her own will. c) Supernaturalism-The predominance of fatalism which immobilizes humans from seeking to realize their potentialities or manipulating their environment to improve their condition.
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