Academic journal article South African Journal of Philosophy

The Ideal of African Scholarship and Its Implications for Introductory Philosophy: The Example of Placide Tempels

Academic journal article South African Journal of Philosophy

The Ideal of African Scholarship and Its Implications for Introductory Philosophy: The Example of Placide Tempels

Article excerpt

Abstract

Thinking of an academic discipline in terms of a 'social practice' (MacIntyre) helps in formulating what the ideal captured in the slogan 'African scholarship' can contribute to the discipline. For every practice is threatened by the attractiveness of goods external to the practice - in particular, competitiveness for its own sake - and to counter this virtues of character are needed. African traditional culture prioritizes a normative picture of the human person which could very well contribute here to upholding the values internal to scholarship. I argue, contrary to Matolino, that for these purposes Tempels' notion of the transactional process of becoming more of what you are by virtue of the human insertion in nature, is a useful starting point. But the dominant way philosophy is framed today, the human person outside of 'nature', omitting the key notion of presence-to-self, disallows this dialogue between the dominant tradition and African thought culture. I show, by interrogating what I take to be an impoverished understanding of objectivity in the dominant philosophical approach, how the idea of personal, subjective, growth is crucial to introductory philosophy if the project of African scholarship is to find purchase. As an example I look at rival ways of understanding the value of justice, procedurally or, alternatively, substantively and hence foregrounding participation.

Thinking of an academic discipline in terms of a 'social practice' (Maclntyre) helps in formulating what the ideal captured in the slogan 'African scholarship' can contribute to the discipline. ? For every practice is threatened by the attractiveness of goods external to the practice - in particular, competitiveness for its own sake - and to counter this virtues of character are needed. African traditional culture prioritizes a normative picture of the human person which could very well contribute here to upholding the values internal to scholarship. I find this idea beginning to be developed in Tempels' pioneering work on African traditional thought (Section 2). Contrary to Matolino, I find his notion of the transactional process of becoming more of what you are by virtue of the human insertion in nature, is a useful example of African scholarship (Section 3). It has links with a Thomistic philosophical framework but adds something to this in bringing out the intersubjective conditions for the augmentation of any particular 'force' (Section 4). Section Five then interrogates the lack of clarity in the dominant modern philosophical framework on 'objectivity', which cripples its capacity to facilitate dialogue with other cultures, specifically the African. I conclude with an example of the usefulness of this kind of scholarship in challenging the dominant understanding of justice.

I.Philosophy as a Social Practice

There is a normative tradition in any academic discipline, which we can best understand as a social practice, a 'coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity'. This notion (After Virtue 1981: 175) is central to Maclntyre's attempt to recapture some objectivity in ethical discussions. Key here is the idea that the practice has objective standards gauging the quality of the performances of the participants: these, continuing the definition above of a practice, are specified as 'goods internal to that form of activity [which] are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity'. In other words you can't be a proper participant without understanding those 'internal goods' and appreciating them as of true value. If a child learning the internal goods of playing chess, learning to enjoy it, then cheats, 'he or she will be defeating not me, but himself or herself (1981: 176). 'Defeating' here means that one diminishes oneself somehow by cheating. The difference is between winning a game and winning a life. …

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