I would like to learn more about non-Western philosophy. I've already explored some of the Eastern philosophies (there are many books, websites,... on this subject), but it seems harder to get started with African philosophy.

I know next to nothing about African philosophy. I would like to know the following:

  1. Is there such thing as "African philosophy"? By this, I mean: (a) is there "real philosophy" in Africa (non-mythical and non-religious attempts to explain reality, find an ethical framework,...) and (b) can we speak of an African tradition like we do in Western philosophy (responses to and criticism of earlier philosophers,...)?

  2. Who are some of the notable thinkers and what were their philosophies? How did "African philosophy" develop over time?

  3. Which texts are must-reads and/or good introductions?

  • An interview here with Nigerian philosopher Ada Agada has some discussion of major figures and trends in 20th century African philosophy.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 18:23

1 Answer 1


The wikipedia entry on African Philosophy has the Kenyan philosopher Henry Oruka distinguishing "what he calls four trends in modern African philosophy: ethnophilosophy, philosophical sagacity, nationalistic–ideological philosophy, and professional philosophy...(Oruka later added two additional categories: literary/artistic philosophy, the work of literary figures such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Okot p'Bitek, and Taban Lo Liyong, and hermeneutic philosophy the analysis of African languages in order to find philosophical content.)"

whereas the SEP entry on Africana Philosophy says this is "the name for an emergent and still developing field of ideas and idea-spaces, intellectual endeavors, discourses, and discursive networks within and beyond academic philosophy that was recognized as such by national and international organizations of professional philosophers, including the American Philosophical Association, starting in the 1980s. Thus, the name does not refer to a particular philosophy, philosophical system, method, or tradition. Rather, Africana philosophy is a third-order, metaphilosophical, umbrella-concept used to bring organizing oversight to various efforts of philosophizing—that is, activities of reflective, critical thinking and articulation and aesthetic expression—engaged in by persons and peoples African and of African descent who were and are indigenous residents of continental Africa and residents of the many African Diasporas worldwide."

The only philosopher of african descent in the European tradition that I have read is Franz Fanon who remains a major theoretician of post-colonialism.

I imagine there is a great deal to discover and understand in their oral traditions when surveyed with an open mind. For example, in a non-philosophical but related area, that is in African Technology the Haya people of East Africa had discovered Steel well before mainland Europe:

Archaeologist Peter Schmidt discovered through a literalist combination of archaeology and oral tradition that the Haya had been forging steel for around 2000 years.

This discovery was made accidentally while Schmidt was learning about the history of the Haya via their oral tradition. He was led to a tree which was said to rest on the spot of an ancestral furnace used to forge steel. A group of elders were later tasked with the challenge of recreating the forges.

At this time they were the only ones to remember the practice, which had fallen into disuse due in part to the abundance of steel flowing into the country from foreign sources.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .