Why is African philosophy considered non-existent

Think with African philosophy

The ecological crisis has made us aware that we have to rethink our connection to nature as well as the limits of the Bacon Descartes model, since the conception of man as the “ruler and owner of nature” has become a positivistic scientific conception and a technical and mechanistic rationality guided. Nowadays, thinking about ecology not only means reconnecting with nature, but also with our cosmic state. The mechanistic revolution of the 17th century went hand in hand with the separation of nature and culture in the West and created a zone of non-being for all non-Western people, including all civilizations and worlds adapted to a “natural state”. In doing so, the West destroyed these worlds and imposed a unified world on them, his World. To rule was as opposed to the anthropoï the humanitas set up. This separated itself from nature and from life itself. A true "physiocide" took place, a submission of all living things. Nature and the cosmos were denied any philosophical sublimity, accompanied by an "epistemicide": the rejection of any knowledge that expressed itself differently than that which could establish itself in the West, whereby African cosmologies were also limited to the status of pre-philosophical mythologies.
The West objectified nature and thus made it a resource, to whose owner it rose, as it were, to itself, in order to then undertake the barbaric work of its submission with maximum presumption. It was about the colonization of the other and the earth. One of the justifications for colonization given in the legal guides was the lack of exploitation of the land by the local population. Through this process, the West transformed the earth into a rulership and divided humanity into peoples and nations, who holed up behind borders and declared nature to be barriers. Today rivers and mountains seem to separate us rather than connect us. Territory divides, divides humanity and creates categories of rejection (the other, the foreigner, the migrant, etc.), which also reduces empathy. So how can we re-root ourselves in the earth and strengthen it instead of exploiting it? How can we live in a culture that is not based on exploitation but on productive work?
Western modernity is also the era in which Copernicus decentralized the cosmos through the discovery of heliocentrism. One of the consequences of this discovery was the realization that the earth and thus also humanity were no longer at the center of the cosmos. To the Western man, this was a terrible narcissistic offense. The West was never really heliocentric. The identification of modernity with the gravitational pull of the earth was, as one could put it briefly, at the expense of the stars. Astrology gradually disappeared and the earth became the ultimate horizon of Western existence and knowledge. Basically, geocentrism is the soul of Western knowledge. In order to think about ecology and geography and to define a “geo-knowledge”, we have so far focused on the earth and ignored the planetary condition, the fact that we are part of a cosmos without which the earth cannot exist. It is all the more important that we step out of this night that surrounds us and start thinking about the sun, moon and stars again. The earth is not self-sufficient, which is why philosophy should be expanded again to a cosmology.
We are not just Earthlings, but also cosmic beings. All life on earth is astral in nature, and there is material and ontological continuity between the earth and the rest of the universe. The planet we call home is a celestial body. Astrophysicists have proven that we are the descendants of huge stars that exploded and in the process released the chemical elements (gold, silver, mercury, uranium, etc.) that make up us and our worlds. So our roots are less in the earth than in space. Neither form of vertical thinking makes sense in this regard; on the contrary, we should think about immersion. We do not live in a world outside of us; rather, we are right in the middle of it. To be immersed in something does not mean to be surrounded by something, but to participate in something that is also within us. To breathe in means to take in the world within us. To breathe out is to project ourselves into it. Immersion is an act of mutual penetration. In order to understand that our world, our universe is determined by interdependence and relation, an epistemological change is needed that invites us to think relationally or to develop a relational cosmology.
In contrast to western civilization, other civilizations - in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania - see themselves not only in relation to and interdependence with other people, but with all living beings, the earth and the cosmos. This connection is not only organic, but also spiritual, philosophical, sometimes religious and social. In South and Central Africa this relationship ontology manifests itself in the term “ubuntu”. Creating a common world means that everyone lives off the earth and can share everything that it offers us. According to Kwasi Wiredu, it is the case in traditional African cultures that “the land […] does not belong to individuals, but to the clans, and that individuals are obliged to exercise their right of use carefully so as not to forfeit similar rights for future members of the clans "1. This fundamentally questions the concept of property of the global capitalist system. Nelson Mandela - who raised the term "ubuntu", which means "I am because we are", to a philosophical concept - declared in his 1964 trial that his ideal of a classless society was based on the writings of Marx, but also “on [his] admiration for the structures and organization of early African societies in this country. The soil, at that time the most important means of production, belonged to the tribe. There was neither rich nor poor and no exploitation ”. Private property does not exist in this system. Wiredu explains, “For traditional Africans [...] the outer world includes other people, living and non-living beings and forms of existence, as well as extra-human beings of various degrees of power and intelligence, from superhuman to subhuman. They are all considered to be regular elements of the world order. It is therefore not a question of controlling or dominating the overall plan of things and living beings. "2
What are the consequences? Community must be expanded, not only to the ancestors and the not yet born, but to all living and non-living beings and forms of existence: There are “obligations to both, the ancestors and descendants, which in turn leads to ecological care and equal treatment of all Moving things "3. The rights of those who have not yet been born are of particular importance. This is not a theory, but a practice and also determines an ethic. This is the reason why the Kenyan philosophers Henry Odera Oruka and Calestous Juma “advocate an ecophilosophical approach that recognizes the holistic nature (spatial, temporal, spiritual and otherwise) of the relationships in nature”, because “there is a need for one Change towards a new epistemological attitude that understands humanity as part of a complex and systematic holistic nature "4. So there are two conceptions of nature, which in turn imply two conceptions of ethics, a Western anthropocentric and an African ecocentric.
The ecocentric notion assumes that we recognize the importance of relationality. A scrutinizing look at the cosmos reveals this. Let's take the example of virtual particles: They move between stable particles and only create the interaction between them. The virtual holds real power here. So the virtual particles teach us that things only happen through interaction. The world creates itself in interaction, which is indicated in Buddhism, for example, in the concept of voidness. This should stimulate us to think about relational ontology and relational cosmology.
According to Odera Oruka and Juma, we have to “adopt a holistic attitude in which everything is connected with everything. This connectedness requires a corresponding philosophical approach that takes a holistic view of nature and derives an ethic that reflects this attitude "5. This could lead to an eco-philosophy that, in contrast to environmental studies, which "have so far been limited to the study of the earth and its atmosphere, includes the entirety of man-made and non-man-made philosophies about nature and the universe"6.
Ecophilosophy invites us to justify a new ethic that takes into account the complexity and wholeness of nature. These “parental earth ethics” or original “earth ethics” would involve taking care of both people and non-human forms of existence. For Odera Oruka this is "a fundamental ethic that would provide the motivation for both global concern for the environment and global redistribution of the wealth of nations"7. This is particularly interesting because Odera Oruka has also worked on the issues of distributive justice and social justice. According to him, there is a connection between the way we think about the universe, the cosmos, and how we think about a fair society.
In the second half of the 20th century, African philosophy was constituted and defined in contradiction to African cosmologies and animism. The exploration of these traditional philosophies could be very terrible, because as the Senegalese economist and author Felwine Sarr writes in Afrotopia, the "conception of the universe that appears in the various African forms of knowledge and practices [...] is that of a cosmos that as large living being is understood. This living being is a totality, man is one of its emanations: He is one living being among others [...]. The human being is understood as a symbolic operator who connects heaven and earth. [The] ritual restoration [of the world] is one of the most meaningful symbolic acts through which man makes himself aware of his responsibility for the world ”8. These philosophical approaches could certainly provide us with a wealth of material with which we could come to the awareness that becoming human means helping life, any kind of vital force, to grow. One consequence of this would be the rejection of zones of non-being, as constructed by colonialism, because these are zones of "being little" in which life cannot develop any further. We only achieve our own incarnation, and that applies not only to humanity, but to all living things, if we inscribe ourselves in a cosmology of emergence.
This, like Souleymane Bachir Diagne in Bergson post-colonial writes, "the impetus to be better was given, whereby the horizon is what Senghor, as a die-hard partial Hardian, repeatedly referred to as civilization or the universal"9. The latter is not the standardizing force of colonialism that destroys. On the contrary, it is a pluralistic cosmic universal. Here, too, observing the living is a source of learning. It shows us that at the beginning there is a principle that is only produced and expressed in multiplicity: There is a cosmic principle that has fanned out this world, created it; the living can only exist in its multiplicity. In contrast to the colonial and imperial one of sameness, the cosmic one is that of diversity, of the multiverse. The universal is therefore fundamental - the source of the cosmos and of life - but can only exist in its own right in its plural form. Proceeding from this, what we have in common, what we have in common, is the horizon towards which we should orient ourselves. It obliges us to show a relationship ethic that strengthens being and enables us to realize ourselves or, in other words, not to be anxious to have more, but to strive for a better being, to which Souleymane Bachir Diagne in Bergson postcolonial persists.
This vitalistic ontology is evident in the cultures of the Bantu, Dogon or Serer, who insist on an ethics of action. Acting in harmony with everything that strengthens the life force. Evil diminishes the life force. According to Abdoulaye Élimane Kane, the good, the truth, always kept from destruction.10
Léopold Sédar Senghor discovered in the Bantu philosophy of the Belgian missionary Placide Tempels the thinking of a cosmology of emergence, as he had also found it with Teilhard de Chardin and Muhamad Iqbal. This vitalistic ontology brings relationships to the fore, which enable us to enter into connection without being bound, which emancipate and do not suffocate. In this regard, Souleymane Bachir Diagne holds in Léopold Sédar Senghor: l’art africain comme philosophie firmly: “According to Teilhard de Chardin, we can follow the path of egoism, which consists in the belief that the goal of every movement is within ourselves (as an individual or as a nation). This egoism is the origin of all 'egocentrism' and contains domination and colonization. On the other hand, we fully understand what it means to 'be born and evolve according to a cosmic current' and therefore feel obliged to continue striving to bring about more life, more being, by using the 'generative forces of the World 'to an ever larger unit. "11
Mere being-in-the-world is not enough. Rather, we must first be born into the world in order to become part of the movement of the world, in order to locate our bodies in it, in order no longer to remain in a relationship of exteriority or strangeness. This is an invitation to reconnect with the artificial “reason to embrace”, as Leopold Sédar Senghor called it, with that which embraces rather than separates and which places us in the heart of that object that is no longer in duality with Subject is defined. Souleymane Bachir Diagne explains: “As an embrace that forms an indivisible whole in a unified act of 'intuition' - this is how the common sense of the embrace works. Consequently, it does not place the object in front of the self, but rather itself within it as something that forms in its flow. We could say she 'dances' the object rather than thinking it. "12 Here, according to Diagne, lies "the true path to knowledge"13who made it possible for Senghor to "formulate the concept of a 'physical cogito", which consists of movement within the movement of things. "14 For Senghor, rhythm is "the fundamental element par excellence", "the architecture of being, the inner dynamics that give it form, the wave system that sends being towards the other, the pure expression of life force"15. Rhythm is the being of the object, that which defines its singularity. Consequently, it is possible to be in precisely this movement of the world, to be in and with the world, to be with the cosmos, which - as quantum mechanics teaches us - relies on an energy, more precisely, a basic energy that is impossible can be eliminated. This is the zero point energy. The rhythm is the very state of the universe. It establishes our universal and our cosmic being.


Translated by Gaby Gehlen


[1] Kwasi Wiredu, Philosophy, Humankind and the Environment, in: Henry Odera Oruka (ed.), Philosophy, Humanity and Ecology. Philosophy of Nature and Environmental Ethics. Nairobi 1994, p. 46.
[2] Ibid., P. 45.
[3] Ibid., P. 46.
[4] Henry Odera Oruka / Calestous Juma, Ecophilosophy and Parental Earth Ethics (On the Complex Web of Being), in: Philosophy, Humanity and Ecology, P. 115.
[5] Ibid., P. 117.
[6] Ibid., P. 119.
[7] Ibid., P. 128.
[8] Felwine Sarr, Afrotopia. Translated from the French by Max Henninger. Berlin 2019, p. 113.
[9] Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Bergson postcolonial. L’élan vital dans la pensée de Léopold Sédar Senghor et de Mohamed Iqbal. Paris 2011, p. 48f.
[10] Cf. Abdoulaye Élimane Kane, Penser l’humain. La part africaine. Paris 2015.
[11] Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Léopold Sédar Senghor: l’art africain comme philosophie. Riveneuve 2007, p. 129.
[12] Ibid., P. 82.
[13] Ibid., P. 104.
[14] Diagne, Bergson postcolonial, P. 22.
[15] Cf. Léopold Sédar Senghor, Negative and humanism. Düsseldorf / Cologne 1967.