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Philosophy for a Common Folk

10 January 2010 10 January 2010 Tags: , , , No Comment Print This Post Print This Post

"African Philosophy" by James Noel *

For me the time after the New Year is always a strange time: hopes mixing with dis-illusions seem to be a common thread of it. And it is also a quite reflective time. This takes me directly to the issue at hand: how much philosophy is able to help us, common folks, to succeed in everyday lives. What makes it harder for us is that we tend to connect our personal philosophy to our circumstances. Not surprisingly the persons that are financially independent and those starving tend to have diametrically different philosophies of life.  So many of us, however, are not aware of the fact that role of philosophy is not to be waved by our circumstances but rather to shape them.

For some time now, I believe that the philosophy is the next big hope in our global experience, but also, it is becoming a crucial force in life of the African continent. I hope also that the saying “the philosophy of one century is the common sense of the next” will be mostly correct for this one.

Not being a scholar, I determined recently that there are four main trends in the contemporary African philosophy. They all have quite fancy names but, luckily, they can be explained in more digestive terms.

Paulin Hountondji

First contemporary African philosophy trend gathers ideas that represent diverse African peoples under an unified system of knowledge. This trend tends to be most applicable to lives of common folks because it is mainly based on the stories, myths, folk-wisdom and the proverbs of the people. This trend is well represented by scholars such as Beninese philosopher and politician Paulin Hountondji (b.1942).

Kwame Nkrumah

The second trend of modern African philosophy is strongly related to national identity, familyhood, and social ideology that presses for a prompt social justice for those who are normally undeserved by a wider society. This trend tends to fuel politics and Ghanian Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972) comes to mind as representing it.

The third trend is more reflective than a common wisdom of folks. It seems to be mostly responsible for rationally critical ideas that often result in alternatives to the commonly accepted opinions and practices. This trend is mainly based on the evidence rather than tradition. This trend is linked to the Kenyan philosopher Henry Odera Oruka (1944-1995). (If you have photo of him, please let me know, I’ll add it here.) His practical observations emphasize facts and their relations such as that Anton Wilhelm Amo (1703-ca.1759), a German philosopher, was originally a black Ghanaian, who lived in and studied in Germany, from the age of 4 until the age of about 50, where he lectured and wrote his philosophical texts some years before Emmanuel Kant was known.

Kwasi Wiredu

The fourth trend, and the closest to the “pure” philosophy that needs, as some profess, to be concerned often with the general analysis and interpretation of reality. This trend involves constructive criticism and argument to form knowledge which may be judged apart from cultural environment, biases and existential situations. The Internet-age inter-cultural trends seem to be well grounded in this trend and the Ghanaian philosopher Kwasi Wiredu (b.1931) is considered a good representation of it.

Why, you may ask, I decided to go through a trouble of listing those four trends in this post? My short answer is that these four philosophies complement each others very nicely. After all, the philosophy, which drives directly our knowledge horizon, is all what we have outside of our relationships, careers and material possessions. Furthermore, our ideology is formed from our philosophy – often just for our own sense of edification and belonging; but, which is the main message here, only our actions, built on our philosophy and framed by our ideology, are what really can change change our life and lives of those around us.

Let’s then act, by combining those fours philosophies: respecting common wisdom, stopping to think, considering the objective evidence we gather, and armed with our common humanity make 2010 the best year to date. All that, in a balance, will allow us to make this world a little better place.

* The artwork image in this post is “African Philosophy
(mixed media on illustration board, 32″ x 40″) by James Noel
Written by Mark Bajkowski.
Mark, born in Poland, is a Jack of all trades, master of none, who lives in New York since 1979. Mark has an unusually wide range of interests and is known to relate well to the people half of his age. Since his early childhood, he felt a curious relation to Africa, which unavoidably brings up the controversial subject of multiple life experiences.

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