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The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

Discourse about Values in Yoruba Culture

Barry Hallen

Publication Year: 2000

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful
Discourse about Values in Yoruba Culture
Barry Hallen

Reveals everyday language as the key to understanding morals and ethics in Yoruba culture.

"This contrasts with any suggestion that in Yoruba or, more generally, African society, moral thinking manifests nothing much more than a supine acquiescence in long established communal values.... Hallen renders a great service to African philosophy." -- Kwasi Wiredu

In Yoruba culture, morality and moral values are intimately linked to aesthetics. The purest expression of beauty, at least for human beings, is to possess good moral character. But how is moral character judged? How do actions, and especially words, reveal good moral character in a culture that is still significantly based on oral tradition? In this original and intimate look at Yoruba culture, Barry Hallen asks the Yoruba onisegun -- the wisest and most accomplished herbalists or traditional healers, individuals justly reputed to be well versed in Yoruba thought and expression -- what it means to be good and beautiful. Posed as an outsider wanting to gain understanding of how to speak Yoruba correctly, Hallen engages the onisegun and has them explain the subtleties and intricacies of Yoruba language use and the philosophy behind particular word choices. Their instructions reveal a striking and profound depiction of Yoruba aesthetic and ethical thought. The detailed interpretations of everyday language that Hallen supplies challenge prevailing Western views that African thought is nothing more than acquiescence to long-established religious or communal values. The philosophy of ordinary language reveals that moral reflection is indeed individual and that evaluations of action and character take place on the basis of clearly and logically delineated criteria. With the onisegun as his guides, Hallen identifies the priorities of Yoruba philosophy and culture through everyday expression and shows that there are rational pathways to both truth and beauty.

Barry Hallen has taught philosophy at the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife) in Nigeria. He is a Fellow at the W. E. B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard University and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Morehouse College. He is coauthor (with J. Olubi Sodipo) of Knowledge, Belief, and Witchcraft: Analytic Experiments in African Philosophy.

Ordinary Language and African Philosophy
Moral Epistemology
Me, My Self, and My Destiny
The Good and the Bad
The Beautiful
Rationality, Individuality, Secularity, and the Proverbial
Appendix of Yoruba-Language Quotations
Glossary of Yoruba Terms

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

Since the origins of this book date back to 1973, the list of individuals and institutions that have made it possible is a long one. But they all deserve mention here, because without their contributions and support itwould never, and could never, have been written. I begin by expressing my enduring gratitude to the Central Research Committees of the Uni-...

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A Note on Translation

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pp. xiii

A text such as this, which purports to discuss the abstract ideas of one culture (Yoruba) with the language of another (English), is well advised to say something explicit about the issues involved in translations between potentially radically different language cultures. Many of these theoretical and methodological questions, and the more practical problems that fol-...

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1 Ordinary Language and African Philosophy

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pp. 1-12

...analysis of ordinary, everyday language usage in non-Western, particularly African, cultures can prove to be of fundamental philosophicalvalue. The methodological inspiration for this kind of analysis derives, most obviously, from ordinary language philosophy as enunciated by anglophone philosophers during the mid–twentieth century. In my own...

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2 Moral Epistemology

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pp. 13-36

... one synonym for “epistemology” is the “theory of knowledge,” then the process by which people claim to “know ”someone’s moral character becomes an essential prerequisite to whatever moral values they thereafter attribute to that person (selfish, honorable, unreliable). KBW undertook the systematic study of Yoruba epistemological discourse. Ap-...

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3 Me, My Self, and My Destiny

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pp. 37-64

Narratives of African world views often claim that the distinction between as in the West. The African consciousness is said to be steeped in, suffused with, a supra-sensory sensitivity. This sensitivity is more crudely portrayed by some scholars as a diverse population of deities, spirits, and personified natural forces that sustain the irvitality because of their partici-...

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4 The Good and the Bad

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pp. 65-112

I have suggested that it is helpful to use epistemological concerns, asarticulated in discourse, as a wedge or key or vantage point with which toAs such the epistemological could amount to nothing more than an expository tool, a narrative device. It may provide a point of view from which to tell the story, but that needn’t mean it represents the bread than d...

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5 The Beautiful

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pp. 113-138

Use of the word “values” to describe normative beliefs in a culture is less fashionable these days. Perhaps it is because this term suggests the subjective and the relative, a ‘loose’ collection of qualities that are preferred that places a pronounced emphasis upon reasoning and evidence: “principles,” “criteria,” “standards,” “prescriptive judgments,” and so forth. I...

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6 Rationality, Individuality, Secularity, and the Proverbial

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pp. 139-148

Both in Africa and overseas, more conferences, either specifically on or including African philosophy, are taking place than ever before. This is as it should be if the substance of academic philosophy is to be both profitably applied to and enriched by the relatively neglected intellectual heritage of this remarkable subcontinent...

Appendix of Yoruba-Language Quotations

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pp. 149-174

Glossary of Yoruba Terms

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pp. 175-178


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pp. 179-198


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pp. 199-201

E-ISBN-13: 9780253108470
E-ISBN-10: 0253108470
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253338068

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2000