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Other continental traditions

What other continental traditions are new to Western philosophy?

Recent decades have seen renewed interest in African, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian philosophies among Euro-American philosophers. Some of this work has been called comparative philosophy because it seeks to relate themes that are well-established and well-developed philosophies in their continents of origin to traditional interests in Western philosophy. Japanese, Chinese, and Indian philosophies admit to the comparative treatment because they have long, well-established textual traditions. However, African philosophy is a less clear case, not because it fails to treat issues that in the Western tradition would without doubt be considered "philosophical," but because much of it has endured through oral traditions. Still, a broad recognition of African culture and its historical civilizations, after the 1960s, led to the Euro-American perspective of Afro-centrism among some members of the "African Diaspora."

Afro-centrism and African Philosophy

What are Afro-centrism and the African Diaspora?

In the United States, Afro-centrism begins with the premise that American slaves and, through inter-generational cultural inheritance—if not a now-untenable biological essentialism—their descendants, came from Africa. At the time when the original slave populations were kidnapped from Africa, Africa had fully developed religions, cultures, cities, and civilizations dating before ancient Western philosophy. The involuntary implantations of Africans, as slaves, in the Americas and Europe resulted in a forced scattering, or diaspora, from those African origins.

The reclamation of their African heritage on the part of African Americans results in a different perspective than the dominant white view that African slaves were forced immigrants without original cultures comparable to the cultures of those who enslaved them. Afro-centrism is thus a foundation for a new African-American pride, in both origins and contemporary identity, through cultural inheritance, for all groups and their members who are part of the African diaspora.

A new legitimate foundation of culture, complete with its own art, architecture, poetry, styles of clothing, food, and everyday habits, is therefore claimed. It needs to be emphasized that this is in contrast to the culture of slave cabins, slave field labor, or slave service in the homes of masters, complete with a loss of original names, on through the oppressively degrading conditions of segregation, disproportionate incarceration, ghetto living conditions, the destruction of traditional black nuclear families and neighborhoods, and a general sense of being both the cause and object of America's unique "race problem."

Afro-centrism is thereby a perspective of encouragement and racial uplift. Sources on Afro-centrism include Martin Bernal's Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (three volumes, 1987-2006), Lewis R. Gordon's Her Majesty's Other Children: Sketches of Racism from a Neocolonial Age (1997), and Molefi Asante's The Afrocentric Idea (1987).

Is there or has there been an African philosophy?

There is a millennially long tradition of oral African philosophy, as well as many active twentieth century African philosophers. Once this thought is presented in established Western philosophical terms, however, it does not so much support Afro-centrism as a perspective of racial uplift as it evinces a philosophy by asking questions about its own philosophical enterprise. That is, a great deal of contemporary African philosophy is itself concerned with the question of whether it is philosophy and what that means in an African, although not Afro-centrist, context.

The context is not Afro-centrist because Africans who remained in Africa and were not brought to Europe or the Americas had no need for the distinctive uplift of Afro-

What does Afro-centrism have to do with philosophy?

African philosophy is of interest to philosophers as a theoretical system of thought. Also, some philosophers have accepted the challenge raised by Afro-centrism that Western philosophy has excluded the intellectual perspectives of Africans.

centrism. Instead, the focus on Africa from an African perspective turns on the question of what the multiplicity of countries and cultures in Africa, each with distinct languages and traditions, have in common so that they can view themselves as African. They share a colonized past and poverty in the present world; they have been designated by biological race, though this is an illusion.

Contemporary philosophical sources for African philosophy include Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (1992); Kwame Gyeke, Tradition and Modernity (1997); Emmanuel Eze, editor, Postcolonial African Philosophy (1970); Paulin J. Hountondji, African Philosophy: Myth and Reality (1983); John Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (1970); Albert Mosley, editor, African Philosophy: Selected Readings (1995); H. Odera Oruka, editor, Sage Philosophy (1990); Tsenay Serequeberhan, editor, African Philosophy: The Essential Readings (1991); Kwasi Wiredu, editor, A Companion to African Philosophy (2004); and Richard Wright, editor, African Philosophy: An Introduction (1984).

 
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