HEGEL & AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Sat Dec 31 01:37:03 MST 1994


HEGEL AND AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY

Today I skimmed a new book:

Masolo, D.A.  AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY IN SEARCH OF IDENTITY.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

There is some discussion of Hegel in chapter 1, mostly having to
do with Hegel's abysmally racist notion of Africans.  However,
Hegel pops up in other contexts too.  Two schools of thought
debated for a couple of decades over the legitimate definition of
philosophy -- whether traditional African cosmologies,
metaphysics, belief systems could be considered properly
philosophical, whether in their original state or put down on
paper and formalized -- hence over the criteria and porperties of
genuine philosophy.  First there arose the school of
"ethnophilosophy" and then a school to combat it.  I read about
all this stuff many many times but never paid attention to any
mention of Hegel.  Anyway, in this book I discovered that in
arguing against ethnophilosophy, M. Towa brought in Hegel's
conception of philosophy to show how the ethnophilosophical school
fell short of real philosophy.  Not that you care, but the
reference is to ESSAI SUR LE PROBLEMATIQUE DANS L'AFRIQUE ACTUELLE
(1971).

Given my erstwhile remarks about Catholicism, it was interesting
to read the claim that Vatican II was heavily influenced by
phenomenology.

This is not the forum to get into African philosophy, so I'll be
brief.  The whole problem with African philosophy is right there
in the title.  That's what 99% of it is -- in search of identity.
Which means that each new person comes along to rehash the history
and come to either new conclusions about what is to be done or
none at all.  The first wave of people that had a history of this
sort to critique -- a synthesis and antithesis, so to speak, to
work over -- advocated modern, scientific thought of one kind or
another, analytical philosophy here, Marxism there, etc.  However,
with the increasing sophistication of time and new intellectual
wares to assimilate, not to mention the postcolonial failure of
African revolutions, another wave has come along in recent years
-- for lack of anything better we might as well call it
postmodernist.  They are the Afro-Rortys, who have no ontological
position to take other than to keep the meaningless, pointless
flow of hot air -- ooops, philosophic conversation --- going.  So
now they deconstruct themselves into oblivion, constantly
reviewing their positions and never advancing to make any positive
claims about reality, other than to continually defend their
existence, which is not hard to motivate, given that all of their
historical existence was given over to defending their capacity
for intellectual thought against European racism.  So it's come to
the point that the discourse exists for the sake of having a
discourse to have.  O Brave new world, that has such discourse in
it!

Well, now they've proven their equality to Europeans; they are as
inane and useless as their former colonial masters.  Of course,
the francophone Africans are even more off the deep end than their
anglophone counterparts.  (Are you happy now, Larry?)

The one redeeming feature of this genre is that each time the
whole history is subjected to review, new stuff gets put into the
analysis, so that the dissection of ideas gets more and more
sophisticated.  But as far as something new is concerned ---
whooops, was I about to use the word "progress"? -- I've got to
hand it to the Africans.  They've already achieved the permanent
revolution in philosophy that Rorty could only dream of -- to keep
yourself going forever without ever taking a step forward.


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