Understanding African Philosophy: A Cross-Cultural Approach to Classical and Contemporary Issues

Understanding African Philosophy: A Cross-Cultural Approach to Classical and Contemporary Issues

Understanding African Philosophy: A Cross-Cultural Approach to Classical and Contemporary Issues

Understanding African Philosophy: A Cross-Cultural Approach to Classical and Contemporary Issues

Synopsis

Bell introduces readers to the complexity of Africa, the legacy of colonialism, and the challenges of post-independence Africa, and other developments. He also discusses the concepts of negritude, African socialism and race.

Excerpt

What have we done, we, the wretched black men of the earth, for these Whites to hate us so? What have we done, Brother Depestre, to weigh so little on their scale?

—René Depestre, “The Bath at Dawn”

In this chapter and the next we identify several moral issues in which, in Kwasi Wiredu’s words, African philosophy is making contributions to general conceptual understanding. To see how these moral issues are being articulated and debated in the African context and to place them into the larger stream of cross-cultural conversation show that particular African concerns speak to universal human problems. The moral issues are, first, the relationship of individual identity and community and emergent views of justice surrounding liberal individualism and communitarian thinking. This discussion explores whether there is a different sense in which the concept of “justice” in the African context is being used, distinguishing between individual “rights-based” and more communal “compassion-based” moral thinking and implications of each for rethinking civic order. The second set of moral issues has to do with the philosophical significance of suffering and poverty in the African context, and how these two concepts affect our thinking about justice and human development. It is argued that these concepts play a more important ethical role in the African context than in most other parts of the world, especially in the fact of giving voice to gross injustices, and by focusing attention on some of the great problems of evil embedded in the twentieth century.

Finally, in chapter 5 we continue to explore the meaning of the concept of “justice” in the African context, but do so with specific reference to the South African “Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).” Here we consider whether truth and reconciliation may contribute to an understanding of justice and civic responsibility in the transition from an immoral apartheid regime to a majority democracy. Criticisms as to whether “justice” has been served by the TRC process are evaluated.

Although each of these moral issues could be taken up as separate issues it is argued that in specific African contexts (and these contexts are relatively widespread) a moderate form of communalism provides a moral

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