In ancient times, people held views that there was nothing like African philosophy. Africans could not think and make philosophical sense of their experiences.
But right from the legendary slave turned philosopher, Anton Wilhelm Amo, African intellectuals have proven that these thoughts are wrong, as they have produced the philosophy that presents African worldviews and can be found in the various academic fields of philosophy, such as epistemology, moral philosophy, metaphysics, and political philosophy.
In tribute to African philosophy, here are some great philosophers from Africa whose works have richly enhanced human thought.
The field of research of this Senegalese philosopher includes the history of logic, Islamic philosophy, African philosophy, history of philosophy and literature. Having received his academic training in France, Diagne has written numerous books such as La fidélité et le mouvement dans la pensée de Muhammad Iqbal (2001) and Léopold Sédar Senghor. L’Art africain comme philosophie (2007). The professor was once an advisor for education and culture for Senegal from 1993 to 1999 and has served on numerous boards related to mathematics and social sciences. He is the co-director of Éthiopiques, a Senegalese literature and philosophy journal, and on the editorial board of Revue d’Histoire des Mathématiques published by the Mathematical Society of France, Présence Africaine and more.
Having taught in the humanities department at Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar for 20 years, Diagne’s teaching interests include the history of early modern philosophy, philosophy and Sufism in the Islamic world, African philosophy and literature, and 20th-century French philosophy.
Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze
The Nigerian philosopher was a specialist in postcolonial philosophy, focusing much of his work on postcolonial thought in Africa and the Americas. Emphasising on the importance of difference and complexity in the practice of reason, he wrote and edited several influential postcolonial histories of philosophy in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Before his death in December 2007, he was the Associate Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University, where he also edited the journal Philosophia Africana. Born in 1963 and receiving education in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, his doctoral thesis from Fordham University was on “Rationality and the Debates about African Philosophy.”
He subsequently taught at Bucknell University and at Mount Holyoke College, and was a post-doctoral visiting scholar at Cambridge University from 1996 to 1997, where he designed the M. Phil. program in African Studies.
The Ghanaian philosopher is a professor of Philosophy at the University of Ghana and a Visiting Professor of Philosophy and African-American studies at Temple University. He has made key contributions to the debate on African conceptions of ‘person’, personhood and communitarianism and he mostly explores how the Akan people of Ghana conceive of a person. He uses this exploration to argue that there is an African philosophy and that African philosophy can be found in part in the traditions of the cultures of African people.
Gyekye has been a Fellow of the Smithsonian Institution’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and is a lifetime Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has several works to his credit, including The Akan Concept of a person (1978), The Unexamined Life: Philosophy and the African Experience (1988) and Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience (1997), which offers a philosophical interpretation and critical analysis of the African cultural experience in modern times.
She is an emeritus professor of African Philosophy and a world-leading expert in African history and cultural studies. Born in Igbara-oke, Ondo State, in 1936, Oluwole who is the first female doctorate degree holder in philosophy in Nigeria, has teachings and works that are generally attributed to the Yoruba school of philosophical thought, which believes that Yoruba (an ethnic group in Nigeria) tradition is more philosophical than the ones the whites had.
“I proved to them that Africans are more reasonable, more scientific, and it’s even on record. Yoruba Philosophy is better than Western Philosophy. Yoruba Science is better than theirs,” she said in a recent interview.
Now a qualified professor, the 82-year-old taught African Philosophy at UNILAG for six years between 2002 and 2008.
The Congolese philosopher, professor, and author of novels, poems, as well as books and articles on African culture and intellectual history, has impacted greatly on disciplines such as Sociology, Philosophy, Anthropology, History, Linguistics and Literature. The 77-year-old, who taught at Haverford College and Stanford University, and is now Professor Emeritus in the Program in Literature at Duke University focuses more on phenomenology, structuralism, mythical narratives, and the practice and use of language. He has also taught courses on these topics, and on ancient Greek cultural geography. His much-talked-about book, The Invention of Africa (1988), which is very crucial in the field of African studies, addresses the several scholarly discourses that are available (both African and non-African) with regards to the meaning of Africa and being African.
The brilliant Nigerian writer and political activist was the first African to win the Nobel Prize for literature. With over 50 pieces of work, his writing includes novels, poems, memoirs and essays that capture his cultural traditions and use rich language. The political activist who is much critical about happenings within Nigerian politics and Africa in general has writings and drama that truly reflect the goings-on in the cultural and political life of Africans. His philosophical plays include The Strong Breed(performed 1966, published 1963), The Road (1965) and Death and the King’s Horseman (performed 1976, published 1975).
The Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and philosopher told distinctly African stories from the perspective of African characters, bringing up literature that was independent of Europe. He did this across dozens of books and novels, essays and poetry and this gave him the description “the father of modern African literature”. In his popular novel, Things Fall Apart, he discusses some philosophical issues including the “struggle between social change and tradition, varying interpretations of masculinity, the legacy of colonialism in Africa, and the difficulties involved in cultural understanding and cultural representation.” He had during his university education written essays and letters about philosophy and freedom in academia, some of which were published in a campus magazine, The Bug.
The most prominent discussion of this Ghanaian philosopher who has been the Vice-President of the Inter-African Council for Philosophy revolves around the Akan concept of personhood. His other concern when defining African Philosophy is keeping colonialised African philosophy in a separate category from pre-colonised Africa. Arguing that African philosophy must not be compared to Western philosophy, his study of the still influential colonial accounts of African thought has led him to raise some critical questions about philosophy and culture and, specifically, about the philosophical conditions of inter-cultural dialogue. The 87-year-old has been a University Professor of Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy at the University of South Florida, Tampa. Some of his main works include Philosophy and an African Culture (1980 – this won him the 1982 Ghana National Book Award), Cultural Universals and Particulars: An African Perspective (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996) and Person and Community: Ghanaian Philosophical Studies [edd] Wiredu & Kwame Gyekye (1992).
Henry Odera Oruka
The Kenyan philosopher is best known for “Sage Philosophy”, a project started in the 1970s as part of efforts to preserve the knowledge of the indigenous thinkers in traditional African communities. Having received his education in Kenya, Sweden and the United States, Oruka distinguishes what he calls four trends in African philosophy: ethnophilosophy, philosophic sagacity, nationalistic-ideological philosophy, and professional philosophy.
Oruka who passed away in 1995 held several distinguished positions including being the founder-president of the Philosophical Association of Kenya (PAK); the secretary-general of African Futures Studies Association (AFSA); the secretary-general of the Afro-Asian Philosophical Association (AAPA); and the vice-president of the Inter-African Council of Philosophy (IACP).
Some of his major works include Ochieng’-Odhiambo, F: African Philosophy: An Introduction, Consolata Institute of Philosophy Press (1997), Odera Oruka, Henry: Ethics, Nairobi University Press (1990) OCLC23441714ISBN978-9966-846-04-4, Odera Oruka, Henry: Philosophy, Humanity and Ecology, African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) Press, (1994) ISBN 9966-41-086-4 and Odera Oruka, Henry: The Philosophy of Liberty, Standard Textbooks Graphics and Pub. (1996) ISBN9966-839-01-1