Eternal Return and Ilo Uwa-Nietzsche and Igbo African Thought Implications for Cross-Cultural Philosophizing

By Chukwuelobe, Matthew C. | Philosophy Today, February 2012 | Go to article overview
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Eternal Return and Ilo Uwa-Nietzsche and Igbo African Thought Implications for Cross-Cultural Philosophizing


Chukwuelobe, Matthew C., Philosophy Today


The idea of eternal return is not a unique innovation in thought. Although in the development of Western philosophy the concept is ascribed to Nietzsche, it can be traced back to Empedocles (Fragments, B 17 and 24) and Pythagoras (Simplicius, 732.23-24). But this idea is no more Nietzsche's than it is Igbo African. Thus its universality and perhaps indispensable nature provides us with an appropriate basis for a cross-cultural philosophical dialogue. Such an intercultural communication is possible to the extent that there is a cultural universal. l However, a cross-cultural dialogue is not meant to be a comparative study. Perhaps a comparison would be feasible, were both thoughts to emerge from the same historical and cultural background. On the contrary, however, these two thoughts arise from different perspectives - Western and African. Given the difference in language, which separates the two worlds of Nietzsche and the Igbo, how can we raise the question of eternal return? And what are its implications for cross-cultural philosophy? Undoubtedly, the danger of any dialogue is hidden neither in what is discussed nor in the way in which it is discussed. Rather it is hidden in language itself.2 Ultimately, philosophizing is to be done from one's own roots. In this respect, cross-cultural philosophy is meant to examine how different cultures develop and express their rationality. In other words, in crosscultural philosophizing, we intend to "investigate the precise manner of 'being rational' . . . and the precise ways in which the people meaningfully relate to one another in distinct cultures."3 In this way, cultures are "the trails that direct thinking back into the region of its source."4 The need, therefore, to philosophize from one's own background and origins does not rule out contact with other minds; such interaction, however, opens other perspectives, which otherwise would limit the thinker to his/her world and thereby impoverish his understanding and genuine approach to reality. Admittedly, more than any thinker in Western philosophy, Nietzsche is known as one who has shown great interest in cross-cultural philosophy. This interest finds expression in his statement that:

We ought to be learning from our neighbors precisely as the Greeks learned from theirs, not for the sake of learned pedantry but rather using everything we learned as a foothold which will take us up as high - and higher than our neighbor.5

In this way Nietzsche's initiative and insight provides a guideline and the basis for any genuine philosophy. Obviously, we only philosophize "when we enter into a discussion with philosophers. And this implies that we talk through with them that about which they speak."6

Though a dialogue does not necessarily imply that two individuals share a common view on a specific question, it requires that there should be a basis on which they establish their exchange. The eternal return expressly provides such basis for Nietzsche as well as Igbo African thought. For Nietzsche, eternal return is his abysmal thought (Gedanke) which claims that all aspects of life return innumerable times in an identical fashion. It is not "a theory of the world but a view of the self."7 Eternal return is therefore not only Nietzsche's attempt to replace some principles outside the physical world of flux and the notion of a beyond, it is his essential philosophical goal as an affirmation of the world. In other words, it is a path to yes, to amor fati, the love of the world as it is. Essentially, amor fati is Nietzsche's formula for the greatness of human being.8 For Igbo African thought, however, the term Ho uwa, which literally means "return to earth," is the process by which an ancestor returns and dwells with the living members of a particular community. Hence the ancestor, who continuously and interminably returns at regular intervals, remains the same principal actor. It is worth noting that the Igbo experience of Uo uwa does not in any way imply a reincarnation.

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