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Ethnophilosophy, African

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Z009-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Ethnophilosophy refers to bodies of belief and knowledge that have philosophical relevance and which can be redescribed in terms drawn from academic philosophy, but which have not been consciously formulated as philosophy by philosophers. These bodies of belief and knowledge are manifested in the thoughts and actions of people who share a common culture.

Most of the literature on ethnophilosophy is written about African cultures. Ethnophilosophy’s most immediate African antecedents include Leopold Senghor’s philosophy of négritude and the writings of the Belgian missionary to the Congo (later Zaire), Placide Tempels. Ethnophilosophy examines the systems of thought of existing and precolonial African communities in order to determine what can be the ideal forms of ‘authentic’ African philosophy and praxis in the emerging postcolonial situation. In addition to the pioneering work of Senghor and Tempels, this school is represented in the writings of philosopher Alexis Kagamé (1956) and theologian John Mbiti (1969) among others, many of whom were regarded as Tempels’s disciples.

The central themes of the work of these disciples include assertions that there is a unified ‘Bantu philosophy’ and that its fundamental categories are manifested in features of language such as grammar, or features of culture such as cosmology and ritual. According to many of these authors writing about Bantu philosophy, the boundaries between self and other are not as rigid as in Western philosophy. Also, interdependence rather than competition is a primary social value and the human and nonhuman world is animated by a ‘vital force’, which underlies the perception of reality.

Citing this article:
Karp, Ivan and D.A. Masolo. Ethnophilosophy, African, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Z009-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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