P. 0. Bodunrin put this question in his essay, 'The Question of African Philosophy', Philosophy 56 (1981), 161. Setting aside primitive times, I am asking if there is anything specific that can be called modern African philosophy.

  • 2
    One place you might want to start is: plato.stanford.edu/entries/africana
    – virmaior
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 1:13
  • Of course, Alexandria is very important to philosophical history. And that's only one tiny part of Africa. Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 1:02
  • no matter the geographical location, wherever there is respect for obtaining knowledge, there is philosophy.
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 5:30
  • Onde idea coming in mind is Ubuntu.
    – rus9384
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 7:42
  • @rus9384 Ubuntu is a central theme of "The African Philosophy Reader" referenced below. However in light of conceptions of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Other_(philosophy), it is debatable whether Ubuntu is in fact a uniquely African doctrine.
    – christo183
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:11

4 Answers 4


The very question: "Is there an African philosophy?" is a subject of debate among philosophers from Africa. Upon investigation you will find the situation far more involved than a 'yes/no' answer. These are some of the most prominent names and a selection of books that exemplify African issues:

African Philosophy: Myth and Reality by Paulin J. Hountondji

Cultural Universals and Particulars: An African Perspective by Kwasi Wiredu

In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture by Kwame Anthony Appiah

The very African slogan "Black is Beautiful" and its meaning for the "Black concioussness movement" can be traced back to Steve Biko, the following is a collection of his writings (and an excellent opportunity to practice hermeneutics)

I Write What I Like by Steve Biko

An introductory historical overview:

A Short History of African Philosophy by Barry Hallen

Collective work used as textbook by the largest university in Africa, for "African Philosophy":

The African Philosophy Reader edited by P.H.Coetzee and A.P.J.Roux

Much of the material here is available in pdf from multiple sites.


You can try A Companion to African Philosophy by Kwasi Wiredu

And African Philosophy: An Anthology by Emannuel Chukwudi Eze

I haven't read either, but they are on my to read list.


We need to draw a number of distinctions. This extract from Polycarp Ikuenobe throws useful light:

In the past three decades, philosophers-especially African-born who are trained in Western philosophy-have engaged in a metaphilosophical debate over whether there exists an African philosophy and, if so, what its nature is. This debate regarding the nature and existence of African philosophy has culminated in two camps, which I shall call the universalists and the particularists. Wiredu characterizes the latter as the anti-universalists or the nationalists.' The former camp, represented by the works of Bodunrin, Wiredu, Appiah, and Hountondji, among others, argues that the concept of 'philosophy', in terms of the meth- odology and subject matter of the discipline, should be the same in both the Western and African senses. The latter camp, as seen in the works of Ayoade, Gyekye, Sodipo, and Onwuanibe, among others, argues that different cultures have different ways of explaining reality; hence Africans must have a philosophy that is essentially different from other philosophies. Perhaps it is along this line of trying to articulate the essential nature of 'African philosophy', Safro Kwame argues, that the metaphilosophical approach of the Western analytic tradition is not African, and as such, it is not and should not be a legitimate approach in African philosophy. Some of the people in this camp have thus questioned the use of the standards of Western philosophy as a comparative basis for determining the nature and even the existence of African philosophy.

The universalists distinguish between two different senses of 'philosophy'. The first is a formal or technical sense, which represents the discipline of Western philosophy that is studied in the curricula of most Western universities. The second is the folk or traditional or cultural sense, which represents the traditional ideas, worldviews, and myths of a group of people. According to the universalists, these two senses of philosophy are logically or conceptually distinct, which would suggest that one sense cannot imply or draw from the other. The particularists have tried to analyze the thought systems of certain groups of people (e.g., Akan, Igbo, and Yoruba) on such philosophical issues as the nature and concept of the 'person', 'immortality', 'self', 'time', and 'cause'. Thus, the particularists argue, either the methodology is basically African or the subject matter is, in that these works as representations of an African thought system are distinguishable from other thought systems.

From this debate, there have emerged four categories of what has philosophy, and three of these have been criticized by the universalists as unphilosophical. The universalists argue that, compared to their paradigm view of the nature of philosophy - that is, the contemporary analytic tradition of Western philosophy - African philosophy does not have the requisite features of a tradition of writing and a rigorous and critical analytical approach to debates over universal conceptual and abstract issues that are engaged in by individuals. However, it is my view that there are both universalist and particularist elements in African philosophy. In other words, although there are culturally determined philosophical ways of constructing meaning, these ways are not incommensurable. As such, we can use the 'known' universal (?) philosophical concepts and methods of one 'culture' to analyze and make understandable the philosophical beliefs and worldviews of another culture that may 'appear' arcane -
and this, in my view, is what many of the particularists have tried to do with African worldviews. This does not imply, as the universalists have claimed, that the beliefs and worldviews of one culture (Western) are comparatively superior to another philosophically, to the extent of denigrating one (African) as unphilosophical or denying its existence as a philosophical system. (Polycarp Ikuenobe, The Parochial Universalist Conception of 'Philosophy' and 'African Philosophy'', Philosophy East and West, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Apr., 1997), pp. 189-210: 189-90.)

  • This is a good conspective view. And may be aided/complemented with the etic emic distinction.
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 9:15
  • Thanks for comment. Point taken about the distinction. Best - G
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 9:46

Because I can’t yet add a comment I will give a short answer. And I will add I am not sure how it can be technically connected, but to me the African proverbs are wisdoms and that is philosophical, especially in reference to the culture and reality of Africa. I would start there. Egypt in itself is another source which from what I understand might be very religious but i am sure philosophies can be derived. And can from each and every country.

I am editing after finding the ‘internet encyclopedia of philosophy’ that states information about the authenticity of perhaps Greek philosophy originating from, or at least being heavily influenced by Egyptian culture. Very interesting because the world seems to have a prejudice about technology or ideas originations outside of ‘western documentation’, but my first reaction is to believe the Egyptians probably were well advanced enough to have pioneered many of these ideas themselves. And just because a culture does not explain itself anticipating future societies that does not mean philosophy was not as advanced if not more so in those times throughout Africa. The simplicity of genius in quotations are just as effective in African proverbs as they are by long drawn out explanations by a famed philosopher.

  • There is quite a number of African philosophers of the "long drawn out explanations" type, it's not all proverbs and folk wisdom.
    – christo183
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 9:29
  • I was remarking about ancient philosophy, if you know of a reference please add here.
    – Robus
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 15:43

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