Fermented Ph.D. Dump: "What is African Philosophy" Series Introduction

A Tactical Recap to the Fermented Ph.D. Dump

Dump I | Dump II | Dump III | Dump IV | Dump V

The new year is here, classes are already starting. The module I am teaching is beginning soon and I have loads of preparation work to do. What better way to prepare than to write? And thus started the idea that I am pursuing here: I want to prepare and create via writing. The Ph.D. dump acts as a dump of my brain but also one that sharpens my pen so to speak. I am making my notes on the Obsidian note-taking app which uses markdown. I am thus going to share my notes here on Hive. But as usual, due to copyright and all of that stuff, my notes will be in a different verbiage. One without all the academic jargon. This will help me understand my own notes and work but it might also lead to creating ways of expressing an idea which again might lead to something better or different.

So without further ado...

Welcome to the "What is African Philosophy" Series: An Introduction

In this series, a sub-series in the Ph.D. dump main series, I will introduce this often neglected philosophical tradition and give various reasons as to why this is the case, that is, why for some reason western and contemporary philosophy neglects African philosophy and philosophers hailing from the African continent.

For years, there raged debates of whether those hailing from the African continent could actually practice philosophy, or whether African philosophy constituted real philosophy. These were predominantly identity questions, that is, what is African philosophy type questions and who could practice African philosophy.

However, these questions have since died out, or no one really asks them any longer because they are inherently supporting the very structure that kept African philosophy marginalized and excluded in the first place. That is, by asking, for example, Is African philosophy real philosophy?, one already presupposes that there is an understanding of what real philosophy is. And due to western hegemony that ruled the academic space for so long, more often than not, those who laid the groundwork for what philosophy is fell in the hands of western philosophers. In effect, African philosophy was not seen as real philosophy because it did not meet the standards of what western hegemonic philosophers deemed to be real philosophy.

This is basically a very long way to state that identitarian questions support the structure that excludes in the first place.

But in an ingenious way, African and decolonial philosophers turned the tables around: rather than use this dichotomous and hierarchical thinking to try and state that African philosophy is indeed real philosophy thus supporting the hierarchy or hegemonic status of western philosophy, they started questioning "What is western philosophy?". Because once you start digging a little bit deeper into what exactly western philosophy is, the narrative that has been told for the last 100 or so years starts crumbling down.

Using just one example to showcase this, every first-year philosophy student will know the familiar story: Thales was the first western (Greek) philosopher. Recent scholars have been questioning this narrative by using ancient Greek texts. Thales was not even held as the first philosopher in ancient Greek texts, neither was he even classified as a philosopher. (Unfortunately, the link above is behind a paywall. However, I will be using many of these texts in the subsequent posts so you do not have to access them!)

And this is where this series will take its point of departure: the so-called western philosophy that ruled for so long in academia is starting to crumble as many cracks are being uncovered. It has gone so far that the very notion of western philosophy is being questioned by decolonial and African philosophers. (This is an upcoming seminar/conference. Unfortunately, my abstract and one of my colleague's abstracts got rejected.)

An Overview of What is to Come

One might begin by stating that the term "African philosophy" is itself a western philosophical construct. However, for convenience, it will be better to stick with this term but with a big asterisk: African philosophy is not a homogenous field of philosophies that one can bunch together and call it African philosophy. That would be to perpetuate the very thing we are critiquing, that is, western philosophy and the obsession to neatly classify things. One might state that rather than try and tell a pure and unadulterated narrative, African philosophy already inherently accepts multiplicity and difference.

So what is to come in this series?

In the next couple of Ph.D. dumps, I want to introduce basic terminology and concepts to actively destabilize the very notion of western philosophy and its hegemonic use in academic space. Various decolonial and African philosophers will help me do this.

I want to then use these new linguistic capabilities of us to situate or place African philosophy in contemporary philosophy. This is an arduous task because as we noted, using the very concepts that marginalized and excluded in the first place cannot be used; it will merely perpetuate the problem.

It thus becomes imperative that we think in new concepts, or before even thinking in new ways, we need to create those new ways of thinking. How we do this leads to the next section in which we will actively problematize racist philosophies that still permeate contemporary philosophy and to showcase how the concepts that are endemic/particular to western philosophers cannot be universalized so that everyone can understand their situation through the lens of western philosophical concepts.

An initial end to the series will be to discuss various methods or ways in which one can practice African philosophy to facilitate creating new ways of understanding and talking about the abovementioned without perpetuating the very problem we are trying to get rid of.

Postscriptum, or Going Back to the Particular by Rejecting the Universal

By going back to the particular, that is, how we experience things in our own framework and traditions, we can destabilize universality as such. I will end with a brilliant quote by African poet Aimé Césaire:

"Provincialism? Not at all. I am not burying myself in a narrow particularism. But neither do I want to lose myself in an emaciated universalism. There are two ways to lose oneself: walled segregation in the particular or dilution in the “universal.”
My conception of the universal is that of a universal enriched by all that is particular, a universal enriched by every particular: the deepening and coexistence of all particulars."

In due course, I will explain this quote in more depth. For now, basically what it calls for is a multiplicity of being and pluralism of ways of living.

I hope that you will join me on this course if you want to find out more about African philosophy.

All of the photographs are my own, taken with either my Nikon D300 or iPhone. The musings are my own, unless hyperlinked to or stated otherwise. I hope you are well. Happy learning.

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