African philosophy encompasses the philosophical discourse produced by indigenous Africans and their descendants, such as African Americans. This philosophy is expressed in various academic fields such as metaphysics, epistemology, moral philosophy, and political philosophy. It has a long and varied history, with an early example being the ancient Egyptian philosopher Ptahhotep. During the 20th century, anti-colonial movements played a significant role in shaping a distinctive African political philosophy, with concepts like Ujamaa (African socialism) emerging in regions like Tanzania.
The definition and parameters of African philosophy, however, are debated, with one perspective positing that it is not universally applicable or accessible. Christian B. N. Gade and other scholars critique the static group property approach to African philosophy, advocating instead for a focus on differences, historical developments, and social contexts. Nigerian-born philosopher K.C. Anyanwu defines African philosophy as critical thinking by Africans about their experiences of reality and their place in the world.
African philosophy began formally in the 1920s, catalyzed by African individuals who had studied abroad and reflected on racial discrimination upon returning home. This gave rise to onuma, or a sense of frustration that fueled philosophical inquiries into African identity and contributions to humanity.
Criteria for African philosophy include a racial focus and a grounding in African cultural backgrounds. Traditionalists argue that African philosophy must be produced by African authors and express their worldview. Conversely, Universalists argue that it should entail analyses and critical engagement of and between individual African thinkers.
Three key methods of African philosophy are the communitarian, complementary, and conversational methods. The communitarian method emphasizes mutualism in thought and is commonly used by proponents of ubuntu philosophy. The complementary method considers all variables in historical and identity contexts, while the conversational method generates thought by assessing relationships between oppositional works, underscoring the interconnectedness of networks within reality.
African Philosophy has a rich and diverse history, evolving through different periods and regions. The North African philosophical tradition, notably from Egypt, has contributed to the origins of political philosophy and Hellenistic philosophy. Key concepts, like "ma'at" or justice and truth, are fundamental. Other ancient Egyptian works have also seen scholarly attention, contributing to a broader understanding of this philosophy.
West African philosophical traditions like the Yoruba philosophical system have been prominent, with integral concepts such as Omoluabi, Ashè and Emi Omo Eso. Pre-colonial philosophers from this region, such as Kocc Barma Fall, are still influential. The philosophies of the Akan, Dogon, Serer, and Dahomey are significant as well.
In the Horn of Africa, Ethiopian philosophy from the first millennium onwards has been noted, with 17th-century philosopher Zera Yacob being particularly significant. The Bantu philosophy from Southern Africa, which emphasizes the nature of existence, the cosmos, and human's relation to the world, has greatly influenced philosophical developments in the region.
Central Africa has seen philosophical traditions that have shaped worldviews, particularly in conceptions of time, the creation of the world, human nature, and the relationship between mankind and nature. Notable philosophies include Dinka mythology and Maasai mythology. The African diaspora has also produced philosophical traditions.
In the modern period, Kenyan philosopher Henry Odera Oruka outlined four trends: ethnophilosophy, philosophical sagacity, nationalistic–ideological philosophy, and professional philosophy. The last category, professional philosophy, is identified as philosophy produced by African philosophers trained in the Western philosophical tradition and adopts a universalist worldview of philosophy. A notable modern contributor to this professional philosophy is Achille Mbembe, who addresses a variety of subjects, including statehood, death, capital, racism, and colonialism.
Ethnophilosophy records beliefs found in African cultures, seen as shared beliefs, values, categories, and assumptions implicit in African cultures' language, practices, and beliefs. Philosophical sagacity, an individualistic form of ethnophilosophy, records the beliefs of certain special members of a community, known as sages. Critics argue that these approaches often blur the line between philosophy and the history of ideas. They also claim that the thoughts of sages should not be considered African philosophy if the sages themselves did not record these thoughts.
The text explores different facets of African philosophy, including nationalist and ideological philosophy, African ethics, and Africana philosophy.
In the realm of nationalist and ideological philosophy, ideologues instead of sages are subjects of focus. The challenge here is maintaining a clear distinction between ideology and philosophy, as well as between specific idea sets and unique reasoning methods. This category features African socialism, Nkrumaism, Harambee, and Authenticite.
African ethics, while diverse across the continent, seems to share certain common moral ideals. A person's character, reflecting their actions and conduct habits, is central to many African cultures' ethical understanding. This moral character is malleable and can change over a person's life. Many traditional African societies center their ethics on humanistic and utilitarian ideals rather than divine commands, emphasizing social functioning and human flourishing. The concept of "social good" that embodies values everyone desires, like peace and stability, is prioritized. The ethics are primarily social or collectivistic, with a strong emphasis on cooperation, altruism, and duties of prosocial behavior, contrasting with much of Western ethics which often focus on individual rights.
Africana philosophy, a relatively new field of thought since the 1980s, involves philosophers of African descent and those working on matters pertinent to the African diaspora. It's recognized by professional organizations such as the American Philosophical Association. Topics covered by Africana philosophy encompass pre-Socratic African philosophy, modern debates on the early history of Western philosophy, post-colonial writing in Africa and the Americas, black resistance to oppression, black existentialism in the United States, and the significance of "blackness" in the contemporary world.