mars 2, 2024

So You Want to Teach Some Africana Philosophy?

20 min read
1684885008 So You Want to Teach Some Africana Philosophy | StirlingPhilosophy

This is the fifth in a series of posts on the APA Blog aimed at helping philosophy instructors include authors, texts, and topics that lie outside the traditional teaching canon. Previous blog posts by Peter Adamson, Jonardon Ganeri, Karyn Lai, and Alison Stone have offered suggestions for teaching Islamic, Indian, and Chinese philosophy, as well as women philosophers of 19th century Britain. In this instalment we give you some tips on how to include Africana philosophy in your teaching.

As in the other posts, the idea here is not to tell you how to construct a whole course on Africana philosophy, though perhaps one could do that by combining some of our suggestions into a single syllabus. Rather the thought is that you may already be teaching a course on, say, ancient philosophy or epistemology, and want to devote just one or two sessions to Africana philosophy, that is, philosophy from Africa or by authors of the African diaspora.

If you’ve read this far, then probably you are at least open to that idea. But it may nonetheless be worth saying something about how Africana philosophy can contribute to enriching a philosophy course on just about any theme or historical period. We will leave aside the important, but by now fairly familiar, arguments that have to do with expanding the teaching curriculum to include non-European cultures, and highlighting the work of non-white, non-male authors. Instead we will briefly sketch some of the distinctive points that Africana philosophy in particular can bring into the teaching of the subject.

One of these has to do with what may seem to be one of the biggest problems facing the study of Africana philosophy, namely the absence of recorded philosophical writing from Africa until relatively recently. Actually, this absence should not be exaggerated. As we mention below, there are ancient Egyptian works that are clearly philosophical, available in English translation, and suitable for reading with students. There are also written philosophical works from pre-modern or early modern Ethiopia and from a range of Muslim authors active in Africa. But the phrase “African philosophy” has most often been used to refer to philosophy in oral traditions, as reconstructed through research into proverbs, social structures, and the like. This “ethnophilosophical” project has been criticized, not least by modern-day African philosophers; see our selections under “Metaphilosophy” below. But the whole enterprise pushes at the boundaries of what philosophy is, or could be, in a way that is very useful for students coming to the subject of philosophy for the first time. These issues could also be raised for other cultures of oral philosophy, for instance with regard to Native Americans, but Africa is probably the context for which they have been debated longest and with greatest sophistication. Thus in a sense, the absence of a earlier written record of philosophy from many African cultures becomes a strength, rather than weakness.

Furthermore, it has often been argued that African cultures (before, during, and after colonialism) had or still have special characteristics that reward philosophical exploration. A prominent example has been the claim that these cultures, or at least some of them, are “communitarian” in nature. This observation has been taken so far as to claim that in Africa (or again, among some peoples of Africa), personhood itself is defined in terms of community relations; we mention reading on this topic under Metaphysics below, and under Political Philosophy explain how related ideas about community deliberation have been held up as a distinctive and fruitful political model. Wiredu’s views on truth, listed under Philosophy of Logic below, provide another example of a philosopher arguing that shifting to an African perspective can illuminate a debate that is familiar from the usual teaching curriculum.

Another distinctive feature of Africana thought is that so much of it has been produced by authors with a first-hand experience of oppression. The legacy of slavery and racism, not infrequently linked to sexism, led Africana thinkers to explore issues of injustice from the eighteenth century onwards, if not earlier. This is most obviously relevant to topics like political philosophy and feminist philosophy, but as our suggestions show, also has relevance to themes like epistemology, phenomenology, and the philosophy of law.

Finally, but placed first in our list of topics below, courses devoted to periods in the history of philosophy can also be enriched by Africana readings. A class on Ancient Philosophy that begins with an Egyptian work like The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant will both start far earlier (chronologically speaking) than is typical, and forestall worries that the study of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy is necessarily eurocentric. As we note, as a bonus, Egyptian philosophical texts also pair well with dialogues by Plato. Early modern philosophy is now increasingly approached in a more diverse way by teaching texts by women; that same ambition could be further pursed by teaching the Ethiopian author Zera Yacob or the Ghanaian thinker Anton Wilhelm Amo, both of whom explore ideas we typically associate with the European Enlightenment.

In short then, there are many opportunities to include Africana philosophy in your teaching curriculum; indeed it should be possible for just about any topic you might name. We hope that the following information makes this both easier and more common, but would be glad to suggest further ideas if readers would like to contact us.

In each section we suggest one primary reading and one secondary source to assign to students, along with further readings that could be consulted by the instructor in preparation to teach the class (or recommended to students who want to read further). We have tried to offer selections that are relatively self-contained, in the sense that you could choose just one topic and integrate it in whatever thematic course you are working on. Thus if you are, say, teaching philosophy of language you can go straight to the suggestions for that topic and ignore the rest of the list. In some cases however we do note resonances and natural pairings between readings suggested under different headings.

General orientation

To orient yourself for teaching this sort of material it would be worth consulting M. Mitchell, The Dimensions of Diversity: Teaching Non-Western Works in Introductory Philosophy Courses.

The podcast series History of Africana Philosophy includes episodes on most of the topics mentioned below.

Introductions and handbooks to the topic include:

A. Afolayan and T. Falola (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of African Philosophy (New York: 2017).

L.R. Gordon, An Introduction to Africana Philosophy (New York: 2008).

S.O. Imbo, An Introduction to African Philosophy (Lanham: 1998).

C. Jeffers (ed.), Listening to Ourselves: A Multilingual Anthology of African Philosophy (Albany: 2013).

T. Serequeberhan (ed.), African Philosophy: The Essential Readings (New York: 1991).

K. Wiredu (ed.) A Companion to African Philosophy (Malden: 2004).

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Africana Philosophy

Ancient

Typically courses on ancient philosophy begin with the Presocratics, but ancient Egypt produced philosophical literature that is far older. We have here suggested The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant which raises important issues about “justice” or “truth” (two possible translations of ma’at); this could be brought into conversation with such works as Plato’s Republic. The work consists of speeches embedded within a literary narrative, another resonance with Plato. On which point, note that below, under Philosophy of Mind, we suggest reading for another ancient Egyptian work that is in dialogue form.

Primary text: R.B. Parkinson (ed.) The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant (Oxford: 1991).

Secondary Text:

C. Jeffers, “Embodying Justice in Ancient Egypt: The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant as a Classic of Political Philosophy,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 21 (2013), 421-42.

Teacher readings:

A. Graness, Writing the history of philosophy in Africa: where to begin?

A.K. Fayemi, Teaching ancient African philosophy

R.B. Parkinson, The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant: A Reader’s Commentary

Z. Zeyad El Nabolsy, Using the Concepts of Hermeneutical Injustice and Ideology to Explain the Stability of Ancient Egypt During the Middle Kingdom

Philosophy in the Islamic World

Many philosophers of the Islamic world lived or worked in Africa, including for instance the theorist of history Ibn Khaldūn and the greatest medieval Jewish philosopher, Maimonides. Here though we suggest looking at Muslim authors who were active in West Africa. A set of responses for a ruler composed by ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Maghīlī discusses the nature of the obligations that arise from Islamic Law and the question of how Muslim rulers should treat “pagan” Africans. The Islamic tradition in Africa also includes texts bearing on the issue of slavery, including notably a work by Aḥmad Bābā.

Primary text: J.O. Hunwick, Sharīʿa in Songhay: the Replies of al-Maghīlī to the Questions of Askia al-̣Hājj Muammad (Oxford: 1985).

B. Barbour and M. Jacobs, “The Miʿraj: a Legal Treatise on Slavery by Ahmad Baba,” in Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa, ed. J.R. Willis (London: 1985).

Secondary texts: J.O. Hunwick, “Ahmad Baba on Slavery,” Sudanic Africa 11 (2000), 131–39.

Teacher readings:

O.O. Kane, Beyond Timbuktu: an Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa

D. van Dalen, Doubt, Scholarship and Society in 17th-Century Central Sudanic Africa.

Early Modern

Anton Wilhelm Amo was an early 18th century thinker who was taken from the “Gold Coast” (later day Ghana) and brought to Europe, where he pursued philosophy at several German universities. His Philosophical Dissertations react directly to dualist theories of mind and body like those of Descartes, and have recently been given a brilliant translation and commentary, making this a perfect work by an African thinker to include in a course on early modern thought.

Primary Text: S. Menn and J.E.H. Smith (trans), Anton Wilhelm Amo’s Philosophical Dissertations on Mind and Body (Oxford: 2020).
Secondary Text: C. Meyns, ”Anton Wilhelm Amo’s Philosophy of Mind,” Philosophy Compass 14 (2019), 1-13.

Teacher readings:

A. Krause, Anton Wilhelm Amo’s Ontology

D. Lewis, Anton Wilhelm Amo: The African Philosopher in 18th Europe

A. Olivier, Contextual identity : the case of Anton Amo Afer

K. Wiredu, Amo’s Critique of Descartes’ Philosophy of Mind

Primary Text: The Hatata of Zera Yacob, in C. Sumner, Ethiopian Philosophy, Vol. II: The Treatise of Zärʾa Yaʿǝqob and of Wäldä Ḥǝywat: Text and Authorship (Addis Ababa: 1976).

Seconday Text: C. Sumner, “The Light and the Shadow: Zera Yacob and Walda Heywat: Two Ethiopian Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century,” in K. Wiredu, A Companion to African Philosophy (Malden: 2004), 172-82.

Teacher readings:

See the advice and links here.

Philosophy of Law

Ida B. Wells’ blistering critique of lynch law in the American South raises questions about epistemic injustice and the principles that make legal punishment legitimate. Her work also stages a fundamental critique of the way that law and punishment, as well as punishment outside the law, can be used to enforce, and reinforce, oppressive social structures.

Primary Text: Ida B. Wells’ Red-Record (1895). [One can excerpt chapters based on what principles of rule of law one wishes to focus on]

Secondary Text: L.K. Bright, “Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s The Red Record,” in E. Schliesser, Neglected Classics of Philosophy (Oxford: forthcoming).

Teacher readings:

L. Balfour, Ida B. Wells and “Color Line Justice”: Rethinking Reparations in Feminist Terms

L.O. McMurry, Keep the Waters Troubled: The Life of Ida B. Wells

B. Kruse et al, Remembering Ida, Ida Remembering: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Black Political Culture in Reconstruction-Era Mississippi

Metaphysics

One of the more famous ideas to emerge from the study of philosophy in Africa, often summarized with the saying “I am because we are,” is that individuals truly become people only through their social connections. Drawing on proverbs and other cultural material, Gyekye presented this idea in an influential discussion of the Akan; later thinkers have nuanced and debated this “communitarian” conception of personhood.

Primary Reading: K. Gyekye, “The Akan Concept of the Person,” International Philosophical Quarterly 18 (1978), 277-87.
Secondary Reading: K. Flikschuh, “The Arc of Personhood: Menkiti and Kant on Becoming and Being a Person,” Journal of the American Philosophical Association (2016) 437-55.

Teacher readings:

H.M. Majeed, A Critique of the Concept of Quasi-Physicalism in Akan Philosophy

O. Oladipo, The Yoruba Conception of a Person: An Analytico-Philosophical Study

A. Wingo, Akan Philosophy of the Person

K. Wiredu, The concept of mind with particular reference to the language and thought of the Akans

Epistemology

One of the unfortunate characteristic experiences of black people in the diaspora, perhaps especially black women therein, has been that of being ignored, dismissed, or under-valued as a knower. This was both an expression of and a causal contributor to the systems of racist oppression which were put in place to maintain black people’s subordinate status. Recent work by black feminist epistemologists has done much to explore this theme; we suggest starting with the influential work of Kristie Dotson.

Primary Reading: K. Dotson, Conceptualising Epistemic Oppression, Social Epistemology 28 (2014), 115-38.

Secondary Reading: B. Toole, From Standpoint Epistemology to Epistemic Oppression, Hypatia 34 (2019), 598-618.

Teacher readings:

A. Bailey, The Unlevel Knowing Field: An Engagement with Dotson’s Third-Order Epistemic Oppression

P. Giladi, Epistemic Injustice: a Role for Recognition?

K. Dotson, A Cautionary Tale: on Limiting Epistemic Oppression

C. McKinnon, Epistemic Injustice

A somewhat different direction for an epistemology course might focus more on ideas about propaganda and ideology. The Africana tradition has, after all, been much vexed by the question of how it is that people came to believe such false and pernicious things about Africans and African descended peoples. There is hence a well established tradition of thought on this topic. Here one might draw on such readings as:

Primary Reading: T. Shelby, “Ideology Racism, and Critical Social Theory,” Philosophical Forum 34 (2003), 153-88.

Secondary Reading: O.O. Táíwò, “The Empire Has No Clothes,” Disputatio 51 (2018), 305-30.
Teacher Readings:

K. Dotson and E. Ertler, When Freeing Your Mind Isn’t Enough

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Shape of Fear

D. Kinney and L.K. Bright, Risk Aversion and Elite Group Ignorance

Charles Mills, White Ignorance

C.G. Woodson, The Miseducation of the Negro

Philosophy of Religion

One of the debates that emerged from approaching traditional African cultures as bearers of philosophy has concerned the question whether these cultures are recognizably “monotheistic.” This may come as a surprise, given that some peoples like the Yoruba are famous for having elaborate pantheons of God, but it has been suggested that in Africa we find a phenomenon that E. Bolaji Idowu called “diffused monotheism,” that is, acknowledging a single dominant God over many divinities or even worshipping these divinities as aspects of a single God. But the very application of such European concepts as monotheism and polytheism has been a matter of contentious debate. Thus introducing African ideas can help a course on Philosophy of Religion address the many forms theism can take.

Primary Reading: K. Wiredu, “Towards Decolonising African Philosophy and Religion,” African Studies Quarterly 1 (1998), 17-46.

Secondary Reading: O. Ogunnaike, ”African Philosophy Reconsidered: Africa, Religion, Race, and Philosophy,” Journal of Africana Religions 5 (2017), 181-216.

Teacher Readings:

A. Agada, The apparent conflict of transcendentalism and immanentism in Kwame Gyekye and Kwasi Wiredu’s interpretation of the Akan concept of God

M. Carman, A defence of Wiredu’s project of conceptual decolonisation

K. Gyekye, Relationship between Religion and Science: An Overview

K.L. Luyaluka, African Indigenous Religion and Its Ancient Model Reflections of Kongo Hierarchical Monotheism

M. Motsamai, Critical Reflections on Gyekye’s Humanism: Defending Supernaturalism

Olupona, African Religions

Not directly related, but Anna Julia Cooper’s essay The Gain from a Belief is a nice expression of the pragmatist argument in favour of religious belief, found as the last chapter of her book A Voice From the South.

Ethics

It is rather unpleasant to be oppressed. As such it tends to produce feelings of rage, shame, despondency, and much else besides. Ethicists have explored how these feelings invoked by oppression should be channelled and responded to by those who suffer it. Some, such as Cherry, argue that they can be a valuable resource for those seeking to overcome oppression. Others, such as Táíwò, believe they are better held at a bit more of a distance. The readings here are designed to give the class a quick way into the modern iteration of this fascinating and longstanding debate.

Primary Reading: M. Cherry, “Love, Anger, and Racial Justice,” in A. Martin (ed.), The Routledge Handbook on Love in Philosophy (London: 2019).

Secondary Reading: O.O. Táíwò, Stoicism (As Emotional Compression) Is Emotional Labour, Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 6 (2020), 1-25.

Teacher readings:

Cherry, On James Baldwin and Black Rage

Cherry, Political Anger

Hirji, Outrage and the Bounds of Empathy

Webster, Making Sense of Shame in Response to Racism

Phenomenology

Chapter 5 of Fanon’s Black Skins, White Masks is by this point a recognised classic of phenomenology and probably already appears on any introductory syllabus. Rather than design the week around this, therefore, our recommendation here is built around Sylvia Winter’s interpretation and use of that classic. Along with some metaphilosophical reflections on what role distinctively Africana phenomenology has in the field, this forms the basis of reflection on what it is that one learns especially from the experience of the black outsider-insider.

Primary Reading: S. Winter, “Towards the Sociogenic Principle,” in M. Durán-Cogan and A. Gómez-Moriana (eds) National Identity and Sociopolitical Change (Minneapolis: 1999).

Secondary Reading: P. Henry, Africana Phenomenology: Its Philosophical Implications, CLR James Journal 11 (2005), 79-112.

Teacher readings:

Henry, Lewis Gordon, Africana Phenomenology and the Crisis of European Man

Gordon, Phenomenology and Race

Paris, “One Does Not Write for Slaves”: Wynter, Sartre, and the Poetic Phenomenology of Invention

Political Philosophy

One of the most immediate effects of colonialism was to destroy, disrupt, or displace modes of political life that had been developed by various African polities down the centuries. When formal decolonisation came it very largely occurred by African states adopting modes of government familiar from their former colonial masters, or inspired by the Soviet model. An obvious question for the post-colonial philosopher is therefore: what was lost in this displacement of African tradition, and what might be gained by drawing from it anew? Wiredu takes up this question, and attempts to develop and defend a model of consensus based non-party democracy that perfects and extends traditional government systems of the Akan peoples of West Africa. The readings of this week outline this political model and debate its merits. (Note that this topic could be combined with consideration of the communitarian understanding of personhood mentioned above under Metaphysics.)

Primary Reading: K. Wiredu, Democracy and Consensus in Traditional African Politics, Centennial Review 39 (1995), 53-64.

Secondary Reading: E.C. Eze, Democracy or Consensus? A Response to Wiredu, online at Polylog.

Teacher readings:

Inusah, Wiredu and Eze on consensual democracy and the question of consensual rationality

Lauer, Wiredu and Eze on Good Governance

Matolino, The Nature of Opposition in Kwasi Wiredu’s Democracy by Consensus

For a book length treatment of the system of government Wiredu bases his ideas on see The Position of the Chief in the Modern Political System of Ashanti – K.A. Busia

And because Liam likes them so much you should also read James, Every Cook Can Govern and Du Bois’ “On The Ruling of Men,” in Darkwater.

Aesthetics

A central debate around the time of the Harlem Renaissance concerned the purpose of art, including but not limited to literary art: should it always perform a political function? This was the view taken by Du Bois, who provocatively declared, “I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda.” Or is art valuable, perhaps even valuable in the way distinctive of art, on purely aesthetic grounds regardless of its social effects? The latter position embracing “art for art’s sake” was defended by Alain Locke, who also developed a sophisticated theory of aesthetics in his work as an academic philosopher.

Primary Reading: W.E.B. Du Bois, Criteria of Negro Art, The Crisis (1926).

Secondary Reading: A. Locke, Art or Propaganda? Harlem (1928).

Teacher readings:

Castronovo, Beauty along the Color Line: Lynching, Aesthetics, and the Crisis

Harris, The Great Debate: W. E. B. Du Bois vs. Alain Locke on the Aesthetic

Miller, W.E.B. Du Bois and the Dandy as Diasporic Race Man

Schyler, The Negro-Art Hokum

On Locke’s aesthetic theory see his essay “Values and Imperatives,” included in Molesworth, The Works of Alain Locke, at 452-64; on the topic see also MacMullan, Challenges to Cultural Diversity; Williams, Absolutism, Relativism and Anarchy.

T. MacMullan, “Challenges to Cultural Diversity: Absolutism, Democracy, and Alain Locke’s Value Relativism,” Journal of Speculative Philosophy 19 (2005), 129–39; N.W. Williams, “Absolutism, Relativism and Anarchy: Alain Locke and William James on Value Pluralism,” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 53 (2017), 400-24.

Mind

Another fascinating philosophical text from ancient Egypt is the Dispute Between a Man and His Ba, a dialogue in which a human discourses with his own ba, a principle comparable to a soul or guardian spirit, about whether it is worth living or one should look forward to death. The work is ambiguous in its conclusions but evokes a theory of mind in which the self is complex, either psychologically, ontologically, or both. (Note that the suggestions listed above under Metaphysics could also be used in a course on philosophy of mind.)

Primary reading: H. Goedicke, The Report about the Dispute of a Man with his Ba: Papyrus Berlin 3024 (Baltimore: 1970).

Secondary reading: J. Assman, “A Dialogue Between Self and Soul: Papyrus Berlin 3024,” in A. Baumgarten et al. (eds), Self, Soul and Body (Leiden: 1998), 384-403.

Teacher readings: Allen, The Debate Between a Man and His Soul

Metaphilosophy

As noted above, one of the most distinctive contributions of Africana philosophy has come in the form of debates over the study of philosophy without writing. There has been intense question about using such material as traditional proverbs as a source for studying philosophical ideas. Among the issues that arise here are: must philosophy be explicitly argumentative? Can philosophy be ascribed to groups, peoples or communities, or only to individuals? Do individual languages imply philosophical theories? (On the latter see also under “Philosophy of Language” below.)

Primary Text: K. Wiredu, “How Not To Compare African Traditional Thought with Western Thought,” Transition  75/76 (1997), 320-27.

Secondary Reading: Chapter 5 of K.W. Appiah, In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (New York: 1992).

Teacher readings:

Dotson, How Is This Paper Philosophy?

Hallen, Indeterminancy, Ethnophilosophy, Linguistic Philosophy, African Philosophy

Iniobong Udoidem, Wiredu on How Not to Compare African Thought with Western Thought: A Commentary

Jeffers, Do We Need African Canadian Philosophy?

Flikschuh, Philosophical Racism

Philosophy of Science

For much of scientific history scientific racism was the dominant mode of studying African peoples deployed by European and settler colonial centres of inquiry. Perhaps naturally enough, this led W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the leading scientific figures of the Africana tradition, to develop and defend a model of scientific inquiry which attempted to rule out a priori all such pernicious hostile evaluations of black people. This he did by giving a novel defence of what is now called the Value Free Ideal for scientific inquiry, which is the idea that it is never legitimate for your moral or political evaluative judgements to influence what inferences you draw or conclusions you reach. This set of readings provide contemporary summaries of, and responses to, Du Bois’ version of the value free ideal and his reasons in favour of said ideal.

Primary Reading: L.K. Bright, “Du Bois’ Democratic Defence of the Value Free Ideal,” Synthese 195 (2018), 2227-45.

Secondary Reading: G. Lusk, “Does democracy require value-neutral science? Analyzing the legitimacy of scientific information in the political sphere,” Studies in history and philosophy of science 90 (2021), 102-10.

Teacher readings:

Besek, Greiner, and Clark, W.E.B. Du Bois and Interdisciplinarity

Du Bois, The Study of the Negro Problems

Griffin, Black Feminists and Du Bois: Respectability, Protection, and Beyond

Philosophy of Language

Related to the concerns raised under “Metaphilosophy” above is the importance of doing philosophy in African languages: what effect does translation have on philosophical ideas, and what can philosophers learn from the features of African languages? A possible extension of this topic would be to look at John Mbiti’s notorious proposal that the study of African language (especially verbs) shows that traditional Africans had no conception of a remote future.

Primay Reading: F. Ochieng’-Odhiambo, “What’s in a Name? Four Levels of Naming Among the Luo People,” in C. Jeffers (ed.), Listening to Ourselves: A Multilingual Anthology of African Philosophy (Albany: 2013).

Secondary Reading: A.K. Fayemi, The problem of language in contemporary African philosophy: some comments,” Inkanyiso 4 (2013), 1-11.

Teacher readings:

Hountondji, African Philosophy: Myth and Reality

Kebede, The Ethiopian Conception of Time and Modernity, in Listening to Ourselves

Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy

Wiredu, Time and African Thought

Philosophy of Logic

Wiredu’s influential study of truth in the Akan language suggests that there are some philosophical questions that make sense only in some languages (he calls them “tongue-dependent”). In particular he argues that the “correspondence theory of truth” when rendered into Akan becomes tautologous, whereas other accounts of truth could be expressed as meaningful and substantive proposals in this language. (These readings could be naturally paired with those just mentioned under Philosophy of Language.)

Primary Reading: K. Wiredu, “Truth in an African Language,” in L.M. Brown (ed.), African Philosophy: New and Traditional Perspectives (Oxford: 2004).

Secondary Reading: J. Wyatt, Truth in English and Elsewhere, in J. Wyatt et al. (eds), Pluralisms in Truth and Logic (Cham. 2018), 169-96.

Teacher readings:

Kayange, The Chewa Logical Concept of Truth

For a more positive view see Wiredu, “Truth as Opinion,” Ch.8 of Philosophy and an African Culture—With responses by Oruka, Truth and Belief, ch.4 of Hallen’s Reading Wiredu, and Wiredu’s Truth – A Dialogue, which can also be found in Philosophy and an African Culture.

Philosophy of Race

One of the singular contributions of the Africana tradition to contemporary thought is the development of a social constructivist account of race. No course on social ontology nowadays would be complete without some acknowledgement of the idea. We recommend introducing it historically, starting with Du Bois’ groundbreaking essay and then moving on to Appiah’s critical revival of its central argument in the 80s.

Primary Reading: W.E.B. Du Bois, On The Conservation of Races.

Secondary Reading: A. Appiah, “The Uncompleted Argument: Du Bois and the Illusion of Race,” Critical Inquiry 12 (1985), 21-37.

Teacher readings:

Harris, W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Conservation of Races”: A Metaphilosophical Text

Jeffers, The Cultural Theory of Race: Yet Another Look at Du Bois’s The Conservation of Races

Mills, “But What Are You Really?”: The Metaphysics of Race

Moses, W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Conservation of Races” and Its Context: Idealism, Conservatism and Hero Worship

And for more on the political implications of this debate:

Hall, Race, Articulation, and Societies Structured in Dominance

Haslanger, Studying While Black: Trust, Opportunity and Disrespect

Feminist Philosophy

We here suggest two alternative (and mutually illuminating) approaches, one centering on Crenshaw’s notion of intersectionality:

Primary Reading: K. Crenshaw, “Demarginalising the Intersection of Race and Gender,” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1 (1989), 139-67.
Secondary Reading: P. Hill Collins, ”Intersectionality’s Definitional Dilemmas,” Annnual Review of Sociology 41 (2014).

Teacher readings:

Bernstein, The Metaphysics of Intersectionality

Carasthathis, The Concept of Intersectionality in Feminist Theory

Hill Collins, Gender, Black Feminism, and Black Political Economy

Karera, Black Feminist Philosophy and the Politics of Refusal

The other on work regarding fluid conceptions of gender in African societies, as explored by Oyèrónké Oyěwùmí:

Primary Reading: O. Oyěwùmí, The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses (Minneapolis: 1997).

Secondary Reading: Oyěwùmí, “(Re)constituting the Cosmology and Sociocultural Institutions of Òyó-Yorùbá,” in African Gender Studies: a Reader (New York: 2005), 99-119.

Teacher readings:

Amadiume, Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society

Kent, Gender in African Prehistory

Peel, Gender in Yoruba Religious Change

Philosophy of Disability

Continuing the theme of intersectionality, Africana philosophers of disability have made an extensive case that understanding race and how it affects one’s experience is required for a full understanding of the nature and social function of disability. Some good introductions readings on that theme are as follows:

Primary Reading: D. Valentine, ”Technologies of Reproduction: Race, Disability, and Neoliberal Eugenics,” Journal of Philosophy of Disability 1 (2021), 35-55.

Secondary Reading: A. Vernon, ”The Dialectics of Multiple Identities and the Disabled People’s Movement,” Disability and Society 14 (1999).

Teacher readings:

Hall, Critical Disability Theory




Liam Kofi Bright

Liam Kofi Bright is an assistant professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He received an MSc and PhD in Logic, Computation, and Methodology from the Philosophy department at Carnegie Mellon University. Before attending CMU, Bright completed an MSc in the Philosophy of Science at the London School of Economics in the Department of Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method. In 2020 he was the recipient of the Philip Leverhulme Prize. Prior to the LSE, he completed a BA in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.


1684884998 12 So You Want to Teach Some Africana Philosophy | StirlingPhilosophy


Peter Adamson

Peter Adamson is Professor of Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. He is the author of « Al-Kindi » and « Al-Razi » in the series « Great Medieval Thinkers » and has edited or co-edited many books, including « The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy » and “Interpreting Avicenna: Critical Essays. » He is also the host of the History of Philosophy podcast, which appears as a series of books with Oxford University Press.