An immediate worry is that not all reflection and questioning is philosophical; besides, if African philosophy were to be defined purely in terms of philosophic sagacity, then the thoughts of the sages couldn.t be African philosophy, for they didn.t record them from other sages. Also, on this view the only difference between non-African anthropology or ethnology and African philosophy seems to be the nationality of the researcher.
Ethnophilosophy involves the recording of the beliefs found in African cultures. Such an approach treats African philosophyas consisting in a set of shared beliefs, a shared world-view -- an item of communal property rather than an activity for theindividual.Philosophic sagacity is a sort of individualist version of ethnophilosophy, in which one records the beliefs of certainspecial members of a community. The premise here is that, although most societies demand some degree of conformity of belief andbehaviour from their members, a certain few of those members reach a particularly high level of knowledge and understanding of theircultures' world-view; such people are sages. In some cases, the sage goes beyond mere knowledge and understanding to reflection andquestioning -- these become the targets of philosophic sagacity.An immediate worry is that not all reflection and questioning is philosophical; besides, if African philosophy were to be defined purely in terms of philosophic sagacity, then the thoughts of the sages couldn.t be African philosophy, for they didn.t record them from other sages. Also, on this view the only difference between non-African anthropology or ethnology and African philosophy seems to be the nationality of the researcher.The problem with both ethnophilosophy and philosophical sagacity is that there is surely an important distinction between philosophy and the history of ideas. No matter how interesting the beliefs of a people such as the Akan or the Yoruba may be to the philosopher, they remain beliefs, not philosophy. To call them philosophy is to use a secondary sense of that term, as in 'my philosophy is live and let live'.
The notion of ubuntu, hunhu or botha is particularly in use in Southern Africa. In West and East Africa, we come across the notion of communalism, by which the intersubjective aspects of ubuntu are expressed in a similar way, although the more comprehensive philosophical horizon of ubuntu is missing here. It is well-known that this notion is used by Leopold S. Senghor, a leader in the struggle for independence and the first President of Senegal, to characterise the specific mode of African socialism. According to Senghor, the traditional African societies show harmonious forms of life without any antagonism of classes, as it is presupposed in the Marxist type of theory. There is an ethics of mutual help and of caring for each other. The absence of private ownership of the land or other means of production leads to inequality among the members of the society. That is the core of what he calls communalism. He points out that a direct way is possible from the communalism of these societies to communism and the classless relations in industrialised socialist societies. This implies that African socialism does not presuppose any dictatorship, as does Marxist theory for the period of transition from class society to communism. It can combine socialist politics with freedom and humane relations between people (Senghor 1964). Theories of this kind can also be connected to other political leaders during the struggle for independence, e.g. Nkrumah from Ghana, Kenyatta from Kenya, Nyerere from Tanzania, Kaunda from Zambia and others (Nkrumah 1970; Kenyatta 1938; Nyerere 1968; Kaunda 1966). The idea of communalism implies a way of decisionmaking which is based on consensus. And the consensus is found through dialogues. In a meeting where political decisions are taken, everybody has to participate and to speak. Julius Nyerere has given a well-known formulation for that: ‘We talk until we agree’.
Through this more comprehensive explanation of ubuntu in its ontological and epistemological dimension it becomes understandable that ubuntu can be regarded as a specific approach to African philosophy in its different disciplines. We have already seen how this is valid for disciplines such as philosophical anthropology, social and political philosophy, and by the same token for ontology and epistemology. Other disciplines, such as metaphysics and philosophy of religion, logic and ethics, philosophy of medicine, philosophy of law and philosophy of economy, including problems of management, are taken into account, as is philosophy of art, although this latter subject is not treated in Ramose’s book.
In these fields of philosophical thought there are contributions from African philosophers, which differ in a very characteristic way from Western thinking. Therefore in a dialogue on these themes a special enrichment of Western philosophy is possible. In the following text I want to clarify this possibility by concentrating on two notions, which have a specific meaning in the context of African philosophy. To discuss the notions of ubuntu and communalism means working out some important aspects of the second theme. The community spirit in African theory and practice is philosophically concentrated in notions such as ubuntu and communalism. But the concept of vital force, which is mentioned in the first theme, will play a certain role, too. We find the stem –ntu, which expresses the concept of vital force in many Bantu-languages, also in ubu–ntu. For a more detailed explanation of ubuntu, I will depend mainly on Mogobe B. Ramose’s book, which gives the most comprehensive explanation of the philosophical impact of this notion (Ramose 1999). The concept of communalism is explained in the context of the political philosophy of Leopold S. Senghor and other political leaders of African countries in the struggle for independence (Senghor 1964). A vehement critic of that theory is a Kenyan political scientist, V.G. Simiyu (Simiyu 1987). For a philosophical evaluation of this controversy I will refer to the articles and books of Maurice Tschiamalenga Ntumba, Joseph M. Nyasani, and Kwame Gyekye, dealing with the relation between person and community (Ntumba 1985 and 1988; Nyasani 1989; Gyekye 1989 and 1997).
Offering a philosophical clarification and interpretation of the concepts in the ontology, philosophical psychology, theology, and ethics of the Akan of Ghana, Gyekye argues that critical analyses of specific traditional African modes of thought are necessary to develop a distinctively African philosophy as well as cultural values in the modern world.
Offering a philosophical clarification andinterpretation of the concepts in the ontology, philosophical psychology,theology, and ethics of the Akan of Ghana, Gyekye argues that criticalanalyses of specific traditional African modes of thought are necessary todevelop a distinctively African philosophy as well as cultural values inthe modern world.
The proverbs, as I have argued in detail in my book An Essay on African Philosophical Thought, are not unlike the fragments of the early ancient Greek philosophers in respect of the laconic and elliptical linguistic forms in which they are expressed.
Philosophy and Culture Sources of African Philosophical Thought Collective and Individual Thought Language and Philosophical Thought On Defining African Philosophy: Some Proposals 3.
During my efforts to set up dialogues between Western and African philosophies, I have singled out quite a number of subjects on which such dialogues are useful and necessary. Recently I have stated in an essay that three themes in the African way of thought have become especially important for me:
1.1 The basic concept of vital force, differing from the basic concept of being, which is prevalent in Western philosophy;
1.2. The prevailing role of the community, differing from the predominantly individualistic thinking in the West;
1.3. The belief in spirits, differing from the scientific and rationalistic way of thought, which is prevalent in Western philosophy (Kimmerle 2001: 5).