Abstract

The still-nascent academic discipline of African philosophy has spent most of its energy and ink wrestling with issues of authenticity (what makes it “African”) and validity (what makes it “philosophy”). In this article, I argue for a reconsideration of these categories—“African” and “philosophy”—by tracing the closely related history of their development. Then, on the basis of this genealogy and after critiquing some of the most influential academic attempts to engage with African religious/intellectual traditions (by Evans-Pritchard, Horton, Wiredu, Appiah, Hountondji, and Mudimbe), I propose an alternative framework for approaching and understanding the intellectual traditions of the continent. Drawing on Pierre Hadot's work on ancient philosophy, I argue that the vast majority of religious/intellectual traditions in Africa are better described by the “philosophy as a way of life” paradigm exemplified by the ancient Greeks and Neoplatonists than the “philosophy as written, rational discourse” model of the Enlightenment. I conclude by exploring the implications of this reconsideration of “African philosophy” for our academic approach to African religious/intellectual traditions, theory, and methodology in the social sciences and humanities, and our understandings of race, rationality, progress, and development.

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