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, Zar'a Ya'aqob, Anton Wilhelm Amo, 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. (shrink)
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 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 of Knowledge, Belief, and Witchcraft: Analytic Experiments in African Philosophy. Contents 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. (shrink)
Consensus has been highlighted by African philosophers as an element essential to African societies, past and present, that has not been assigned the importance it deserves. The philosophers involved have done this in part by drawing upon firsthand experience of their own indigenous cultures. Consensual governance presents a rather different view of the constitution of indigenous African societies and what should be their most appropriate form of political order today. A legitimate concern, therefore, is why this element supposedly foundational to (...) sub-Saharan African societies came to be underrated. (shrink)
Theories regarding the nature and achievement of personhood in a communitarian context appear to differ in significant respects in the writings of several contemporary African philosophers. Ifeanyi Menkiti seems to regard ethnic differences as sufficient to warrant a national accommodation of multiculturalism with respect to moralities and attendant beliefs. Kwasi Wiredu argues that there is a substantive universal moral principle that undercuts such apparent and relatively superficial diversity. Communitarianism also seems to provide a better framework for explaining how a human (...) being becomes a person than classical liberal theory as enunciated by someone like John Rawls. (shrink)
The meaning of the term “ethnophilosophy” has evolved in both a significant and controversial variety of ways since it was first introduced by Paulin Hountondji in 1970. It was first challenged by the Kenyan philosopher, H. Odera Oruka, as based upon Hountondji’s unfair appreciation of Africa’s indigenous cultural heritage. Barry Hallen and J. Olubi Sodipo, using a form of analytic philosophy as foundational, thereafter argued that Yoruba ordinary language discourse also served to undermine Hountondji’s critique. The later work of the (...) Ghanaian philosopher, Kwame Gyekye, and the Kenyan D. A. Masolo have further legitimized the epistemological status of elements of African culture that once would have been labeled as of no genuine philosophical significance because they were ‘ethnophilosophical’ in character. The end result of this debate seems to be that both the form and content of philosophy in culture generally must be relativized. The most significant consequence of this would be that African and non-Westernphilosophy generally would finally be culturally liberated from the oppressive influence, indeed dominance, of what has conventionally come to be known as ‘mainstream’ philosophy. (shrink)
Ordinary language analysis can be used to illustrate usage that is involved with morality in an African culture and thereby systematic thinking about ethical issues that are relevant to academic philosophy.
African philosophy today is a complicated and dynamic discipline. This presentation will concentrate on two topics that are currently of special interest. One concerns the meaning of the term when it is used to express a defining characteristic of Africa's cultures. The other concerns the reactions on the part of African philosophers and scholars to the movement that has come to be known in Western academia and culture as.
Today the study of African aesthetics constitutes one of the most exciting and dynamic subdisciplines in African and intercultural studies. Yet, because it is also a discipline in which African meanings must of necessity be translated into and expressed by one of the few ‘world’ languages (English, French), it is in the interests of all concerned—Africans and non-Africans—to work together to ensure that the highest possible professional standards are maintained. For it is intercultural dialogue based upon reciprocal language fluency that (...) will best enable researchers to see where Western and African values and beliefs overlap and where they diverge. (shrink)
Africa's indigenous cultures evidence cosmologies that are diverse and still evolving. A comparison is made of those found in the Yoruba (Nigeria), Maasai (Kenya), and Ki-Kongo (DRC) cultures to demonstrate this.
Reading Wiredu is the first comprehensive overview of the philosophical thought of Kwasi Wiredu. Born in Ghana in 1931, Wiredu, an important observer and critic of philosophy generally, remains an original and penetrating African thinker. Interrelating Wiredu's philosophical writings from across decades, Barry Hallen sets forth the basic tenets and the defining features of his philosophy. Wiredu's thought is divided into five distinct but interconnected areas: his response to the philosophy of Quine on issues of logic and ontology, issues of (...) language in philosophical reflection, the nature of truth as a practical and philosophical concern, the principle of sympathetic impartiality that all human beings must live by to survive as a group, and finally, consensus building as rooted in intentional, negotiated, and rational exchanges that are part of everyday life. Reading Wiredu explores the scope and depth of Wiredu's philosophical thought, which can be framed through what he calls a genetic methodology-a methodology that privileges environmental considerations in the production of various forms of thought. Hallen's overview is intended to assist scholars and students in grasping Wiredu's complex philosophical thought. (shrink)
Philosophy can encompass almost all of the other disciplines without being told it is misbehaving. The ability to interrelate disciplines that ordinarily function independently can make positive contributions to African studies in particular.
The assumption that witchcraft is a universal phenomenon does not do justice to the category of persons known as the "aje" in Yoruba culture. The aje evidence behavior and skills that make them into a special class of human beings in their own right. Evidence of the danger of treating some Western concepts as universals.
The meaning of the term “ethnophilosophy” has evolved in both a significant and controversial variety of ways since it was first introduced by Paulin Hountondji in 1970. It was first challenged by the Kenyan philosopher, H. Odera Oruka, as based upon Hountondji’s unfair appreciation of Africa’s indigenous cultural heritage. Barry Hallen and J. Olubi Sodipo, using a form of analytic philosophy as foundational, thereafter argued that Yoruba ordinary language discourse also served to undermine Hountondji’s critique. The later work of the (...) Ghanaian philosopher, Kwame Gyekye, and the Kenyan D. A. Masolo have further legitimized the epistemological status of elements of African culture that once would have been labeled as of no genuine philosophical significance because they were ‘ethnophilosophical’ in character. The end result of this debate seems to be that both the form and content of philosophy in culture generally must be relativized.The most significant consequence of this would be that African and non-Western philosophy generally would finally be culturally liberated from the oppressive influence, indeed dominance, of what has conventionally come to be known as ‘mainstream’ (Western) philosophy. (shrink)
A Short History of African Philosophy discusses major ideas, figures, and schools of thought in philosophy in the African context. While drawing out critical issues in the formation of African philosophy, Barry Hallen focuses on recent scholarship and relevant debates that have made African philosophy critical to understanding the rich and complex cultural heritage of the continent. This revised edition expands the historical perspective, takes account of recent discoveries and new canonical figures, highlights new discussions about gender as a cultural (...) and philosophical phenomenon, clarifies issues regarding indigenous cultures and human rights, and builds on the notion that African philosophy shares methods and concerns of philosophy worldwide. This short reference is an essential resource for students, scholars, and general readers. (shrink)
Because it focuses on the general usage of terms, the ordinary language approach to African philosophy has sometimes been labeled a form of ethnophilosophy in that it simply records or describes meanings in the way ethnographers describe cultures. That misses the point that linguistic philosophy in general has to be concerned with terminology that is shared and is able to do it in ways that are philosophically valuable.
In an effort to explain the Yoruba concept of "emi" or self, an elder uses the metaphor of a house with many tenants--such as memory and imagination, and then says the 'key' to accessing them is self-consciousness. A consideration of impressive contextual dexterity.
This is a paper about philosophical methodology or, better, methodologies. Most of the material that has been published to date under the rubric of African philosophy has been methodological in character. One reason for this is the conflicts that sometimes arise when philosophers in Africa attempt to reconcile their relationships with both academic philosophy and so-called African '‘traditional’ systems of thought. A further complication is that the studies of traditional African thought systems that become involved in these conflicts are themselves (...) products of academia– of disciplinary methodologies. (shrink)