Knowledge(s), culture and African philosophy: an introduction
CITATION: Waghid, Y. 2016. Knowledge(s), culture and African philosophy: an introduction. Knowledge Cultures, 4(4):11–17.
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In a previous work, entitled African Philosophy of Education Reconsidered: On Being Human (Waghid, 2014), a defense is offered for the notion of African philosophy as a reasoned and culture-dependent concept on the basis that any philosophical genre cannot be devoid of reasonableness and dismissive of culture. The premise on which the latter claim is built is two-fold: Firstly, any form of philosophizing involves (and ought to do so) an aspiration towards the attainment of what can be conceived as being reasonably justifiable – that is, reasons are offered and amended to elucidate meanings that can be convincing to others in the inquiry; and secondly, meanings are (re)constructed and deconstructed on the basis of people’s cultural stock (a term I borrow from Jane Roland Martin, 2013) – that is, people’s images, attitudes, backgrounds, symbols and other ways of seeing things in the world. Thus, as a combination, reasonableness and culture determine what constitutes African philosophy. In this way, it would not be implausible to embrace explications of African philosophy that connect with the reasons people offer on account of their ethical orientations, indigenous perspectives, and/or sagacious utterances. This is what makes African philosophy a reasoned and culture-dependent practice. But then, as with any form of philosophy, African philosophy foregrounds culture in so far as it provides the notion of knowledge with a distinctive form in relation to what Africa has to offer. Put differently, knowledge(s) are a manifestation of the ways in which philosophy organizes cultural understandings on the African continent. This article examines at least three ways in which culture is organized through an African philosophical discourse, and how knowledges are manifested in the practices of people on the continent: Firstly, African philosophy guides cultural practices in accordance with practices of communal interactions – that is, Ubuntu (human interdependence); and, when Ubuntu is under threat, ethnic conflict, political tension and strife seem to hold sway. Secondly, African philosophy orientates people towards an appreciation of an ethical life and, when the latter is tangibly at risk, destruction is perilously imminent; and thirdly, African philosophy inclines people towards some higher good, and when the latter is visibly absent, religious conflict seems to be hazardously omnipresent. My understanding is that Ubuntu, ethics and an inclination towards a higher good are cultural practices that give knowledge, as understood by Africans, a distinctively reasonable form. In short, the reasonableness of African knowledge(s) is guided by an appreciation of Africans’ cultures. And, when these cultures are at risk, the potential exists that African knowledge(s) will become misguided.