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African philosophy, Anglophone

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Z007-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

Contemporary African philosophy is in a state of flux, but the flow is not without some watersheds. The chief reason for the flux lies in the fact that Africa, in most part, is in a state of transition from a traditional condition to a modernized one. Philosophically and in other ways, the achievement of independence was the most significant landmark in this transition. Independence from European rule (which began in Libya in 1951, followed by Sudan in 1956, Ghana in 1957 and continued to be won at a rapid pace in other parts of Africa in the 1960s) did not come without a struggle. That struggle was, of necessity, both political and cultural. Colonialism involved not only political subjection but also cultural depersonalization. Accordingly, at independence it was strongly felt that plans for political and economic reconstruction should reflect the needs not only for modernization but also for cultural regeneration. These are desiderata which, while not incompatible in principle, are difficult to harmonize in practice. The philosophical basis of the project had first to be worked out and this was attempted by the first wave of post-independence leaders. The task of devising technical philosophies cognizant of Africa’s past and present and oriented to her long-term future has been in the hands of a crop of professional philosophers trained in Western-style educational institutions. Philosophical results have not been as dramatic as in the case of the political, but the process is ongoing.

The political figures that led African states to independence were not all philosophers by original inclination or training. To start with only the best known, such as Leopold Senghor of Senegal, or Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, were trained philosophers, but others, such as Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, brought only an educated intelligence and a good sense of their national situations to the enterprise. In all cases they were rulers enthusiastically anointed by their people to chart the new course and lead them to the promised land. An example of how practical urgency can inspire philosophical productivity can be found in the way that all these philosophers propounded blueprints for reconstruction with clearly articulated philosophical underpinnings. Circumstantial necessity, then, rather than Platonic selection made these leaders philosopher-kings. It is significant, also, to note that all the leaders mentioned (and the majority of their peers) argued for a system of socialism deriving from their understandings of African traditional thought and practice, and from their perceptions of the imperatives generated by industrialization, such as it had been. Concern with this latter aspect of the situation led to some flirtation and even outright marriage with Marxism. But, according to the leaders concerned, the outcome of this fertilization of thought had enough African input to be regarded as an African progeny. Accordingly, practically all of them proffered their theories and prescriptions under the rubric of African socialism. No such labelling is possible in the work of African philosophers, but there are some patterns of preoccupation.

Citing this article:
Wiredu, Kwasi. African philosophy, Anglophone, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Z007-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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