African philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Z018-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 24, 2017, from

Article Summary

In order to indicate the range of some of the kinds of material that must be included in a discussion of philosophy in Africa, it is as well to begin by recalling some of the history of Western philosophy. It is something of an irony that Socrates, the first major philosopher in the Western tradition, is known to us entirely for oral arguments imputed to him by his student Plato. For the Western philosophical tradition is, above all else, a tradition of texts. While there are some important ancient philosophers, like Socrates, who are largely known to us through the reports of others, the tradition has developed increasingly as one which pays careful attention to written arguments. However, many of those arguments - in ethics and politics, metaphysics and epistemology, aesthetics and the whole host of other major subdivisions of the subject - concern questions about which many people in many cultures have talked and many, although substantially fewer, have written outside of the broad tradition of Western philosophy. The result is that while those methods of philosophy that have developed in the West through thoughtful analysis of texts are not found everywhere, we are likely to find in every human culture opinions about some of the major questions of Western philosophy. On these important questions there have been discussions in most cultures since the earliest human societies. These constitute what has sometimes been called a ‘folk-philosophy’. It is hard to say much about those opinions and discussions in places where they have not been written down. However, we are able to find some evidence of the character of these views in such areas as parts of sub-Saharan Africa where writing was introduced into oral cultures over the last few centuries.

As a result, discussions of African philosophy should include both material on some oral cultures and rather more on the philosophical work that has been done in literate traditions on the African continent, including those that have developed since the introduction of Western philosophical training there.

Citing this article:
Appiah, K. Anthony. African philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Z018-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2017 Routledge.

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