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Beginning African Philosophy

The Case for African Philosophy- Past to Present

Elliott Wreh-Wilson

Beginning African Philosophy explores the nature and central features of African philosophy from the perspective of African philosophers, analyzing and assessing the importance of African philosophy, its subject matter, its major themes and concerns, and how those themes and concerns compare to those of Western philosophy. Beginning African Philosophy surveys the best-known responses to the questions: What is African philosophy? What are its central themes and concerns? What does it have in common with Western philosophy?
This book is ideal for philosophy students and those who care about the social, moral, religious, and philosophical implications of African wisdom traditions, particularly those of the sub-Saharan region.


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General Introduction 1


general IntroduCtIon In 1994, Indiana University Press published D. A. Masolo’s book, African Philosophy in Search of Identity. In the book, Masolo describes African philosophy as a debate driven by a desire to respond to Western discourse in which “Africa was depicted as a ready example of the opposite of the desirable heights already attained by Europe.”1 Besides touting reason as a rare achievement of Europeans, Masolo writes: “The debate evolved as claims and counterclaims, justifications and alien- ations passed between the two camps: Western and non-Western.”2 Cognizant of these claims and counterclaims, the Ghanaian philosopher, Kwasi Wiredu, called for the need to clarify what African thinkers mean by ‘African philosophy’; this he did during a UNESCO-sponsored African Philosophy conference in Nairobi, Kenya (1981). Wiredu repeats this call in his book, Cultural Universals and Particulars (1996) and the African Studies Quarterly (1998). Because how one employs the expression ‘African philosophy’ does imply the existence of frameworks of thought or what he calls “communal philosophies,”3 some of which are unique to particular African groups, Wiredu writes: It is, accordingly, the responsibility of contemporary philosophers to delve beneath the communal beliefs to find underlying reasons wherever possible.4 Although not a philosopher in the traditional sense of the word, one European who may have anticipated Wiredu’s call to test the central question of the debate Masolo spoke of was Placide Tempels (1906–1977), a Belgian missionary who, in the 1930s and 1940s, was assigned to the Luba aka Baluba people...

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