African philosophers you may not have heard of

African philosophers

When we think of philosophers, names such as Socrates, Nietzsche and Sartre quickly spring to mind. The insights of African philosophers, however, are rapidly gaining attention.

For someone who grew up in the West, surrounded by that culture, African philosophy can be somewhat difficult to understand. Nigerian philosopher Sophie B. Oluwole believes that the biggest difference is that the Western way of thinking is based on contradictions, ‘either/or’, in other words.

The reason is that since the time of Socrates, Westerners assume that there are two sides to reality: matter 
on one hand, and non-matter on the other. Put simply, there is the tangible, and the non-tangible (an idea, our minds or energy, for example). Our entire way of thinking is based on this dichotomy; something is either good or bad, or of the body or mind, or is true or false. This is referred to as an exclusive way of thinking. As such, in the Western world, we always assume that there is a contrast between individuals and the common good for example, or between nature and what is man-made.

In the African way of thinking, everything is one, yet has two sides. It is inclusive and complementary. This means that it’s all about both/and. A person is a complete entity, and our bodies and minds are two sides of the same coin. A table is not just matter, but also energy and spirit. Men 
and women are not opposites, but can complement one another. The same 
applies to young and old. And this is why, according to Oluwole, good and evil are an inseparable pair. Wealth can be good and bad, for example, depending on what you do with it. Everyone has good and bad experiences during their lifetime because good and evil always go together.

  • The complete story about African philosophers can be found in Issue 26.

Text Sjoukje van de Kolk Photography ©Paul Tessier/Stocksy United