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A Short History of African Philosophy

Barry Hallen

Publication Year: 2002

In this accessible book, Barry Hallen discusses the major ideas, figures, and schools of thought in African philosophy. While drawing out critical issues in the formation of African philosophy, Hallen focuses on the recent scholarship, current issues, and relevant debates that have made African philosophy an important key to understanding the rich and complex cultural heritage of Africa. Hallen builds upon Africa's connections with Western philosophical traditions and explores African contributions to cultural universalism, cultural relativism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, and Marxism. Hallen also examines African challenges to Western conceptions of philosophy by taking on questions such as whether philosophy can exist in cultures that are significantly based in oral traditions and what may or may not constitute philosophical texts. Among the figures whose work is discussed are Ptah-hotep (Egypt, 3rd millennium BCE), Zar'a Ya'aqob (Abyssinia, 17th century), Anton Wilhelm Amo (Ghana, 18th century), Paulin Hountondji, V. Y. Mudimbe, Oyeronke Oyewumi, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Kwasi Wiredu.
This clearly written, highly readable, and concise work will be essential for students and scholars of African philosophy as well as readers with a wide range of interests in African studies.

Published by: Indiana University Press

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pp. 1-2

To potential readers, who perhaps are not familiar with the subject matter of African philosophy, I would say that this text has been written— certainly in part—with you in mind. Philosophy in any cultural context is not likely to be the easiest subject in the world. But its presentation can make it seem excessively technical and obscure in nature (at least in this author’s opinion), and can frustrate or deter understanding unnecessarily. ...

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1. The Historical Perspective

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pp. 3-12

The characterization of Africa’s precolonial indigenous cultures as significantly ahistorical in character has been dismissed as patently false. The significance of the word “primitive,” as originally used by non-Africans to type Africa’s cultures, was that those cultures could serve as contemporary exemplars of how human beings had lived in primeval and pristine times, “before” recorded history (Kuper 1988). ...

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2. Twentieth-Century Origins

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pp. 13-18

Academic philosophy in Anglophone Africa arose in a conservative yet turbulent intellectual climate. Conservative because philosophical paradigms in the English-language academy derived principally from the analytic tradition, which provided for a comparatively more narrow conception of the discipline than its European Continental counterparts. Turbulent because ...

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3. Rationality as Culturally Universal

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pp. 19-34

The debate about the nature of the African intellect marked a kind of watershed in the history of Anglophone African philosophy. It incited the scholarly momentum, the motivation, that led to a coalescing of philosophical discussions, debates, and endeavors in Africa that would result in an autochthonous, independently minded analytic tradition. Many philosophers in the African context felt that religious studies and anthropology ...

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4. Rationality as Culturally Relative

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pp. 35-49

A number of philosophers in and of Africa contend that there are elements to African cognition that are sufficiently unique or distinctive to somehow set it apart. Their major complaint against the so-called universalists is that by placing undue emphasis upon the supposedly common or universal elements of African cognition, these uncommon features are underrated and fail to receive the recognition they deserve and the credibility they ...

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5. Ethnophilosophy and Philosophical Sagacity

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pp. 50-55

Paulin Hountondji is another major figure in contemporary African philosophy whose influence spans the Francophone-Anglophone divide. He is from the Republique du Benin (formerly Dahomey) and for years has been professor of philosophy at the University of Cotonu. Hountondji is best known for his critique, African Philosophy: Myth and Reality (1996), of philosophers in and of Africa who propound what he calls “ethnophilosophy.” ...

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6. Phenomenology and Hermeneutics

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pp. 56-71

Contemporary African academic philosophy is as noteworthy for the variety of methodological approaches it evidences as it is for the diversity of views that are consequential to application of those methodologies to a variety of topics and problems. Up to this point, the only mainstream methodological approach to the discipline that has been explored in any detail is that conventionally referred to as analysis, or analytic philosophy. ...

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7. Socialism and Marxism

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pp. 72-89

African philosophers, intellectuals, and political figures who identify themselves as socialists or Marxists constitute yet another category of philosophical thinking. The non-Western socialist and Marxist philosophical tradition with specific reference to Africa has a distinguished Caribbean and South American, as well as African, ancestry and may be associated with some of the most brilliant and radical thinkers who address the issues ...

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8. Philosophy and Culture

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pp. 90-107

An issue that at one point or another concerns virtually every contemporary contributor to African philosophy is how to do African philosophy justice when doing it using a methodology that originated, or at least was formalized, by a non-African culture. In other words, can cognitive frameworks that have been crafted and elaborated by one culture really and truly be used to achieve an accurate understanding of another? One could also ...

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9. Histories, Anthologies, Introductions to African Philosophy, Journals, and Web Sites

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pp. 108-111

In addition to the individual philosophers whose views we have explored, there are a substantial number of publications on and of African philosophy that are of a more diverse nature—usually because they incorporate the writings of a variety of African philosophers and intellectuals within a single text. At least some reference should be made to them here, for several ...

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pp. 112-113

One of the commentators on this manuscript in its earliest stages suggested that the conclusion discuss what might be in store for African philosophy in the future—which directions it might take. But, after assessing the contents of the preceding chapters, that would seem an unnecessary exercise. For, if anything, this narrative—incomplete and fragmentary as it may be—serves to demonstrate how dynamic, eloquent, and original a field ...


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pp. 115-130


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pp. 131-133

E-ISBN-13: 9780253003485
E-ISBN-10: 0253003482
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253341068

Page Count: 144
Illustrations: 1 index
Publication Year: 2002