Exorcising Hegel’s Ghost: African’s Challenge to Philosophy

by Olufemi Taiwo

Introduction

Anyone who has lived with, worked on, and generally hung out with philosophy as long as I have and who, and this is a very important element, inhabits the epidermal world that it has pleased fate to put me in, and is as engaged with both the history of that epidermal world and that of philosophy, must at a certain point come upon the presence of a peculiar absence: the absence of Africa (1) from the discourse of philosophy. In the basic areas of philosophy (e.g.. epistemology, metaphysics, axiology, and logic) and in the many derivative divisions of the subject (e.g., the philosophy of …) once one begins to look, once one trains one’s eyes to apprehend it, one is struck by the absence of Africa from the disquisitions of its practitioners. Now, I don’t want you to get me wrong, for it is very easy to point out that Africa is neither the only region nor the only one whose discourse never shows on philosophy radar screens. It could be said that Indian, Chinese, Mayan, Inuit or Indonesian philosophies never appear either. That is true, but I would argue in what follows that although these others too may constitute an absence in the way that I have described it, they make their presence in other ways. It has always been the case that one might find references to Asian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, and the like in the philosophical taxonomy. This was never the case with African philosophy until very recently and such limited references as exist are the product of the last twenty, or at the most twenty-five, years. Even then, a good part of the current mention is preoccupied with issues of pedigree. Is African Philosophy philosophy? Or of the conditions of its possibility, or whether it ever was, is, or is a thing of the future? Perhaps others who know the comparative literature better can inform us whether or not questions of the sort just identified ever formed part of the discourse of Indian Philosophy or Chinese Philosophy. Worse still, even among those who are most generous in their deployment of the term “African Philosophy”, their purview does not extend beyond the corpus of work that has been produced by contemporary professional philosophers. So we are talking about a quite significant peculiar absence.

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