Notes for Bruce B. Janz Philosophy in an African Place
Key concepts: dwelling, festival, milieu, philosophical practice, place, platial, practiced place, production of space, provenance, sojourning, space, spatial, theoros, topeme, tradition.
Related theorists: Peter Bodunrin, Jacob Boehme, Michel de Certeau, Wendy Chun, Derrida, Gemma Corradi Fiumara, Foucault, Gadamer, David Gross, Kwame Gyekye, Arto Haapala, Heidegger, Paulin Hountondjii, Henri Lefebvre, Raphael Madu, Jeffrey Malpas, Merleau-Ponty, Damian Opata, H. Odera Oruka, Paul Ricoeur, Watsuji Tetsuro, Stephen Turner, Joseph Weizenbaum, Kwasi Wiredu, J. Macgregor Wise.
WHERE IS PHILOSOPHY'S APPROPRIATE PLACE?
Nowhere of obsolescence is correlated for philosophy of computing to nowhere of oblivion and derivativeness problematizing African philosophy; compare to Latour claim we know foreign tribes better than local technological cultures.
The history of African philosophy has been the history of struggle to
find a place, or to claim a place, or to assert the entitlement to a
place, in the face of those who have maintained that it has no place.
. . . Not the nowhere of transcendence, nor the nowhere of
primordiality, or memory, or promise, but rather the nowhere of
oblivion, or at best derivativeness.
(2) In each case, a hermeneutic of suspicion breaks apart philosophy's pretensions to uniquely access the universal, and if it has no more access to universals, its raison d'etre dissipates.
(2) Is this what is behind imagining a geography of philosophy, a breakdown or dissipation of philosophy? I do not think so. . . . Placing philosophy in a geography suggests that it has contingent but not arbitrary interests, that it responds to and shapes a particular set of conditions of reflection.
(3) The recognition afforded philosophy by other disciplines is such that philosophy has been given a territory in relation to other territories, with disputed borderlands to be sure, but with a kind of integrity.
(3) how could we tell the difference between our abstract image of philosophy and the one we have inherited from others in the West who have also identified themselves as part of this enterprise?
Nowhereness like OGorman remainder; can there be a philosophy of computing, if so, for whom?
(3) Africa has always labored under the accusation of the West that
it is incapable of generating a philosophy. Even now, African
philosophy is as likely to be seen as a species of cultural or
postcolonial studies, or of “self-studies” areas such as
(4) The frustration is understandable, and points to the effort wasted on justifying one's existence, and the insult implied in answering someone else's challenge.
Asking why using philosophical reason comparable to asking why think by working code; goal should be creative production, not justification.
(4) One might ask what it is, from any given culture, that a person feels the need to use philosophical reason to analyze or reflect.
(5) But if philosophers are the only ones who reflect on themselves, they are in the presumptuous and uncomfortable position of believing themselves to be, in a practical sense, above method and disciplinarity, the self-thinking thought, the view from nowhere.
(6) Jeffrey Malpas, in Place and Experience, argues that our sense of self, space and time, agency, objectivity are all tied to our sense of place. These central aspects of human experience, then, the ones which have been of intense interest to philosophers, must take place seriously.
(7) Questions such as these already assume an essentialist stance. They assume that an identity will be found, or at least posited, so that the task of reflection can take place. The task of this book is to survey the ways in which such essentialism has caused problems for African philosophy.
(7) The question of African philosophy needs to be re-asked, not from an essentialist but from a phenomenological and hermeneutical point of view.
Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty suggest importance of milieu for making types of knowledge possible.
Heidegger, perhaps, gives the first systematic glimpse into place,
but it falls to Merleau-Ponty
make the concept the centerpiece of a philosophical system. One might
take his notion of embodied knowledge as requiring a sense of place
for fulfillment. The two together, along with any mediating devices
(such as technology) that make the connection between body and palce
possible, we will call the “milieu.”
When we ask about place, therefore, we ask about the type of
knowledge that is made possible in a particular milieu. To a certain
extent, the knowledge itself will be a function of the milieu, and
both the palce and the body that knows the place will find their
identity in the kind of relationships possible in the milieu.
(8) It is not abstracted reflection, which severs the ties between meaning and structure; it is universal reflection, in which the goal is not day-to-day coping but rather the larger project of self-conscious reflection on and maintenance of the milieu itself.
(11) In various ways, to address place we must also address identity, history, memory, aspiration, family and social connection. . . . Place is important also because it is the site for the meeting between incommensurables—materiality and idea, part and whole, self and other.
PLACE OF PLACE
(12) Philosophy-in-place is more than the philosophical analysis of the concept of place. It turns the concept back on the practices of philosophy itself.
Rigorous, open-ended creation of new concepts afforded by platial analysis.
(12) Standard philosophical conceptual analysis needs to come with reflectiveness on the place of those concepts. . . . Ultimately, platial analysis makes possible rigorous, open-ended creation of new concepts, ones which make universals available (that is, allow us to recognize and build on connections across cultural, disciplinary, and other boundaries), and also clarifies and establishes one's own identity.
Question of the Topeme
Topeme as smallest intelligible unit of place.
(13) The “smallest intelligible unit of place” question (which I
am calling the “topeme”) also raises the issue of the exclusivity
(14) The question of the topeme also raises the issue of the distinction between space and place. . . . Place is like a language, but that language is not reductionist. Indeed, even as there are topemes, there are assemblies, or aggregations, which allow philosophical traditions to respond to the promises and threats of new places while remaining true to the debts and duties of the present place.
(14) In other words, my interest is not in proposing an analytics of place, but in establishing that philosophy which attends to its place is faced with the ways in which its concepts are produced, in particular the ways in which fecund concepts are produced (that is, concepts that lead to the production of more concepts, rather than rendering philosophical reflection arid and uninteresting).
Question of Scale
Question of Borders
(17) The idea of the milieu stands in contrast to the idea of the center. A center is static, and centripetal. A milieu is fluid, and centrifugal, that is, its coherence comes not from identifying and preserving itself, but from reenacting itself in new forms.
(17) Philosophy-in-place begins from what matters, whatever that may be.
(18) In fact, though, platial thinking would look for intensities, the locations of difference across borders that offer the possibility of creative production. . . . Aristotle's sense of place assumed that it was static, a resting point; this assumption about place is one that must be resisted as we tie philosophy to place.
(19) Even more importantly, the questions we can ask come out of provenance. This is important to realize in all areas of philosophy, especially since we tend to think that our questions come from no-place.
of Self and Other
(20) Place must remain both an irreducible other to the self, and a constitutive part of the self.
(20) Any place, then, will be something of a mystery, a foreign place, in its irreducible otherness. There is no interrogation without otherness.
of Listening and Speaking
(21) In fact, though, the metaphor of textuality is less useful for philosophy-in-place than the metaphor of speaking and listening. Philosophy-in-place is a topic, a discourse on something, or perhaps more usefully, a discourse somewhere.
(21) What would it mean for us to create new concepts, to come to the expressed problems of society in a manner that did not start with philosophical categories, but with the skills of listening, the ability to “list,” to alter ourselves in a direction, or alternately, to organize and order? We may then have a true topic, a place for listening and speaking where people meet.
Question of the Trace
De Certeau space as practiced place, suffused with meaning of practices, trace of divine: try thinking with respect to spaces and places where one worked and works code, such that even simulacral, virtual realities emanate practices; relate to Ulmer mystory.
to space as “practiced
or place that has had the meaning of practices imposed upon it.
(22) And, place may be understood as the trace of the divine.
(23) Heidegger's most important legacy may just be that he pointed us to the significance of questions not just for justifying our knowledge, but for recognizing our human experience as such. Questioning, as he says, builds a way.
(23) While other disciplines have reflected on their place, intellectually, historically, and in relation to their subjects, philosophy has not done this to any great degree. . . . Derrida's question, “where does [philosophy] today find its most appropriate place?” has not been answered, or even taken very seriously.
(24) It is the intention of this book to give one example of an appropriate place for philosophy, and in some significant sense its “most appropriate” place. Perhaps surprisingly (to some), this place is African philosophy. The second of the two parallel projects is to work through this place, this African place, as one which is appropriate for philosophy and always has been.
Compare appropriateness of place for philosophizing with computers; dismissal of programming languages and any specific run time instances or manifestations as unphilosophically unlike critical textual artifacts to start philosophy of computing from creative well of critical programming studies.
(24) Africa is a good starting point for this study precisely because
of the history of its dismissal.
(25) The nature of textuality and its relationship to philosophical discourse is a live issue with practical consequences for African philosophy, in different ways than may be the case for Western philosophy. . . . African philosophy has tended to focus on subject matter outside of itself, and not seen its own work as supporting philosophical reflection.
(25) it is at the point of a new kind of self-consciousness, the kind that happens when a group of scholars move from justification or legitimation of their activities to a hostile world, to the ability to generate new insights for their own purposes.
(26) My argument here is that the question itself has distracted scholars from moving to a more creative and less defensive posture, one which can truly examine the interesting and useful ideas that might come from the sages, from the proverbs, or from the academy.
Difficulty of obtaining philosophy written in Africa like difficulty of obtaining source code and other documentation of technological undertakings, although Internet and especially floss ethic has reversed this and invites a second look.
(27) There is no special virtue of having written in Africa itself;
however, that is a group that has been systematically ignored, if
only because their work is often so difficult to obtain.
(27) I believe African philosophy has a great deal to contribute to philosophy in general, which the rest of the world has not yet had the ears to hear.
THE ARGUMENT OF THE BOOK
Redirection of concepts initially deployed spatially instead of platially, with aim of generating new concepts rather than justifying the field of African philosophy.
in an African Place is
structured dialectically, recognizing the paradoxical argument I wish
to make. The dialectic is between the concept of place itself and a
set of concepts in African philosophy. In this introduction, I have
tried to sketch out a schematic of place that I believe is useful in
uncovering African philosophy. Then, for the bulk of the chapters, I
consider a set of concepts within African philosophy which have been
used “spatially” instead of “platially,” that is, they have
been used to establish and/or defend a territory known as “African
Philosophy” rather than generate new concepts within African
philosophy. The intention is not to reject those concepts, but to
the final chapter of the book I return to the question of the nature
of place, with a new set of concepts provided by African philosophy,
and consider what has been made available by the redirection of
(29) Philosophy could be imagined as a territory which has been mapped. . . . We know where the borders are, we know who the citizens are, and within the nation of philosophy, we know the rules, customs, traditions, languages and local dialects.
(30) However, the problem comes when we believe that maps are neutral tools, even in this metaphorical form, and that the result achieved can convince anyone that territory has been legitimately claimed.
Traditional and modernist maps.
(30) Before the modern Western impulse to exploration and
colonization, maps tended to be records of significant
(30-310 Now, maps are of God's pursuits, made possible through the auspices of scientific method (another mapping technique) and the universal pretense of modern life.
(31) African philosophy has proceeded as if it is drawing a modernist map.
(32) My intention is not to undermine them, but to undermine their essentialist, “mapping of space” function. I wish to retain the dynamic, creative nature of these concepts, as they transform themselves into adequate concepts for particular thought-lives.
Tradition in the Periphery
(38) Gyekye's Tradition and Modernity is, in a way, the most explicit treatment of an attitude to tradition that he has exemplified in the rest of his work. The issue he faces, simply put, is this: How is it possible to take cultural specificity, especially that which shows some endurance, as philosophically interesting?
THE USES OF TRADITION
Tradition as related to encoded meanings and values extensible to programming practices and more adequately addresses materiality of code than Floridi and Tanaka-Ishii: that which is unexamined.
(42) With the dawn of modernity, tradition progressively is seen as
“that which is unexamined.”
(43) The significance of the difference between history and tradition should not be overlooked. . . . One way to make the distinction is that history tends to be related to events and people, while tradition tends to be related to meanings and values as coded in ritual and story.
(45) There is a reason for starting with the question of the uses of tradition instead of the definition. It serves to root the concept in a particular set of practices and in a particular kind of discussion.
(45) In short, conceptual analysis itself has a history, has a politics, and cannot be considered a neutral way of doing philosophy.
Western provenance of tradition as counterposed to modernity.
Tradition is a concept with a provenance, specifically, a Western
provenance. . . . Tradition makes sense only counterposed to
(47) With the rediscovery of history in nineteenth-century Germany, tradition takes on a different role. It becomes the collection of stories that form the march to the present.
(47) Indeed, tradition takes on all the marks of a Hegelian Aufhebung—it is something that needed to exist at a particular time, but it also needed to be overcome.
(48) Whether “tradition” is used explicitly or not, supposing that we can identify the cultures that have a “pure” version of the term already imbeds the Western sense of the debate.
(49) Paul Ricoeur addressed the question of tradition in Time and Narrative. . . . We are always caught up in traditionality, Ricoeur maintains (following Gadamer), but we are not necessarily caught up in any particular tradition, thus enabling the critique of traditions themselves (following Habermas), including ones that undergird our rational accounts of the world.
(50) But, as Robert Piercey has argued, traditionality and tradition are not as easy to separate as it seems.
TRANSMISSION OF TRADITION
(50) Stephen Turner, in The Social Theory of Practices, argues that it is very difficult to generate a scientific social theory out of the notion of tradition.
(50) The split between explanation and understanding is an old and contested one. Ricoeur thinks it is the most unfortunate turn hermeneutics took.
(51) The problem becomes more acute as we realize that tradition amounts to the unexaminable values we hold. Even if no value is ultimately unexaminable, tradition assumes that something escapes the direct rational gaze. . . . Tradition does not escape the rational gaze, but is in its peripheral vision.
Tradition as mode of thought relating to cultural competence; challenge of navigating micro-cultures of modern societies.
(51) None of this means that philosophers should not subject
everything in a culture to the rational gaze, but it does mean that
we have to recognize that tradition is a mode of thought, not an
object of thought. It is what makes cultural competence possible. The
problem with modern societies is not that they do not have
traditions, but that competence in those cultures is so much more
varied, and there are so many more micro-cultures to navigate.
(52) There is the illusion that meaning resides in the past, rather than in a continuum between the past and the future.
(52) Secondly, the transmission of tradition is not plagiarism of the past.
(52) Third, the transmission of tradition is not the transfer of some discrete objects from one time to another.
(52) Fourth, the transmission of tradition is not the consumption of tradition.
(52-53) Finally, the transmission of tradition is not passive or non-rational. . . . If tradition is what is peripheral to the rational gaze in the competent engagement with culture, we can see that it must always be present and part of the act of interpreting culture.
(53) what difference does it make to think in terms of orality rather than writing in the transmission of culture?
Gadamer festival theoros engaged spectator, rethinking through representation, reflective appropriation by new generation: consider with respect to SCA, programming cultures, and finally machine cognition.
Gadamer points out that “theoros”
to “someone who takes part in the delegation to a festival”
(124). That spectator engages in theoria,
participating through presence.
(54) The festival is very much like the tradition, as used in the context of African philosophy. The transmission of tradition may be seen as the basis of theoria. The “spectator,” who is the participant in the reenactment of the festival known as communal life, engages in the process of re-thinking through re-presentation. So, it is not just that elements are placed at the disposal of a new generation. Their appropriation is itself an act of reflective thought.
(56) African philosophy that has as its foundation the rational study of tradition runs the risk of simply replicating current systems of domination, even as that philosophy ties to extricate Africa from those systems.
(56) But how it it possible that, as Benjamin and McCole argue, tradition is something other than “goods that can be possessed”? What is needed is not a theory of how the “contents” of tradition can be used in the present, but rather how they very concept of tradition can itself be re-appropriated.
David Gross reclamation of sense of otherness of tradition via current practices and written records more applicable to history of computing than African philosophy.
preference is to remember what is significant about tradition—its
sense of otherness.
(58) Gross sees two basic sources to make this reclamation possible—the traces of tradition that exist in current practice, but have been largely forgotten, and the written record. It is interesting to note that neither of these may be very useful to the African philosopher concerned about the recovery of tradition.
(59) Interestingly, both agree that tradition is an irruption, an aporia. For Gross, it is an aporia in modernity, and for Benjamin, in history.
(59) The possibility that tradition is disruption is itself a disruptive thought.
(59) Tradition as disruption must disrupt not only unreflective Western modes of power/knowledge, but also the hyper-theorized postcolonialims that essentially withdraw the traditional from the tradition.
Tradition as mode of thought mediates liminal area between rational gaze and its periphery, even in ultrarational activities like programming, engineering, integration.
Tradition brings up the liminal area between thought and its other,
or between the rational gaze and its periphery.
(60) This is where African philosophy gets interesting. Places are certainly traditional, but tradition is also a place, one which is never unambiguous or pure, but is also not reducible to an abstraction. People cannot choose to live or not live in tradition; rather, tradition becomes a particular kind of useful story about a place that one inhabits, and more than that, the context for rational thought. Tradition, then, is not (solely) an object of thought but a mode of thought.
Apply tradition as mode of thought mediating liminal area between rational gaze and its necessary peripheries to philosophical studies of computing and programming, in which embodied thinking necessarily interfaces and potentially programs as it addresses situatedness in places; Janz sense of philosophy respecting tradition requiring taking debts and duties seriously well expressed by protocol distributed control operation, and vice versa, working through Galloway, Tanaka-Ishii, Berry, going beyond emergence from subterranean streams to directedness of technological mastery that is nonetheless peripheral to philosophical gaze. That the electronic domain, as opposed to print literacy, is truly executable where the latter only ascribes to be, causes a disruption with human philosophical traditions, giving a new meaning to thought thinking itself as machine cognition, not merely the technological nonconscious with which human cognitive embodied processes intermediate, but potentially nonhuman technological conscious.
(61) What happens when the reflective
scholarly work on tradition is turned back on the culture and becomes
part of its life? What happens when philosophy takes seriously the
debts and duties it has to the place(s) from which it comes? Under
these conditions, we have the potential for new ideas that spring
(61) Liminality is different in different places, and part of the platial task of philosophy is to identify both the lived meaning of the participants, and also to turn back on itself and recognize its own place in that meaning. This is truly thought thinking itself.
QUESTIONS ABOUT REASON
(64) This pattern can be found in other African philosophers, who proceed as if the “African” part of African philosophy refers to the focus of analysis rather than the nature of the tools doing the analysis.
(66) In fact, this conflict between rationalism and empiricism required much more than recognizing different starting points.
(67) Thus, true philosophy cannot emerge without science emerging, or at least some disciplined attempt to move away from mythical. Gadamer says something similar to this, in “The Power of Reason.” . . . Nevertheless, the question for African philosophy remains open: to what extent does this path from myth to science to philosophy hold true, and if it is true, where does that leave African thought?
(67) One hallmark of philosophy that everyone seems to agree on is that philosophy must be critical, reflective, and analytic.
(68) Yet, do we not then fall into the problem that reason must be exactly what the Western Enlightenment said it was? This is true only if we take reason to be something static—an attribute of the mind, or of a culture. Reason in the West, has a history. It developed the way it did due to a set of questions and requirements being posed.
(69) Reason, then, has a dual position: it is both inside and outside the demands of its time. And this model is useful for spatially distributed reason, just as it is for temporally distributed reason. Platial consciousness need not be relativist any more than historical consciousness need be historicist.
THE RATIONAL PATH
MAPS: TAXONOMIES OF AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY
(74) What is “true” African philosophy, and what would it have to include in order to qualify as truly African, and also as truly philosophical?
(75) As in any philosophy, defining African philosophy is the same as doing it. Many people do not realize this, and want to get a neat definition from the start.
(77) As I have already suggested, the best way to think of African philosophy is in terms of its questions. In fact, the question is the key to philosophy—concepts or claims (usually the focal point of philosophical argument) are contingent on the kinds of questions we ask. . . . Identifying a good (appropriate, incisive, critical) question must come before any other methodological consideration.
(77) The assumption has been that the ability to provide a taxonomy of philosophical styles or movements, and argue for their merits, is enough to legitimate African philosophy as a real branch of world philosophy.
Oruka's First Taxonomy: “Trends”
Oruka's Second Taxonomy: “Schools”
A. Smet and O. Nkombe
(81) Lucius Outlaw sees this plethora of taxonomies as the deconstructive moment in African philosophy.
(83) Most philosophers assume that philosophy is a universal enterprise, and geographical designations simply point out historical contingencies, not essential differences.
(83-84) African philosophy needs to go beyond claiming intellectual territory by simply mapping it. Mapping is a structural activity, which always suffers from over-determination and ambiguity.
Shortcoming of mapping as inherently structural activity.
(84) This is the core of my concern with the strategy of defining and describing African philosophy. While the map may give the feeling that understanding has been achieved, it is not necessarily so. Like Foucault's description of animals in the Chinese encyclopedia, there is always another way of sorting out the world, and the fact that the new way may be unfamiliar does not in itself mean that it is wrong.
QUESTIONS ABOUT REASON
(85) If, however, we do not immediately grant that reason is a-historical and a-cultural, but that it is rooted in human concerns, we can frame the issues in Africa more fairly, and (I believe) retain a version of universality that will allow Africans and others to more fairly address local concerns while maintaining rational and critical discourse across cultural boundaries.
What is the goal of reason?
(86) Raising the question of the other of reason allows us to see that reason in any place is pressing against non-reason, however that is conceived, and is seen as the solution to social problems.
(87) To deny the possibility of working through tension and contradiction by requiring that African philosophy always take modern Western scientific rationality into account, is to deny the possibility of the production of new concepts, a possibility that the West itself has benefited from greatly.
How are the uses of “reason” linked?
reason and order necessarily linked?
(89) More importantly, though, the interrogation of questions must always interrogate the questioner at the same as it interrogates someone else.
does reason find its proper place?
(90) The tools of universalized reason are still important, but what is often not noticed is what goes into preparing claims for rational reflection. . . . The rataional question in African philosophy is not, then, over whether it is reasonable to accept “witchcraft,” but rather, what are the meaningful experiences that we collect under the heading, and how belief at various levels and in various forms might become rational.
has reason developed in different places or for different
(91) Just as the methods of rational inquiry in the West benefited from both materialist versions of empiricism as well as quasi-theistic versions of German dialectical philosophy, so too African philosophy should be allowed to rigorously reflect on its intellectual roots and the concerns that have animated it, and it should furthermore be allowed to interrogate other traditions, and allow their formative questions to come to the surface.
particularism in connection with reason equivalent to
(92) Generative rationality takes seriously the philosopher's mandate to provide judgment, but it takes descriptive rationality seriously by recognizing that such judgment lies as a task rather than as something already included in a set of rules or principles.
reason and philosophy co-extensive terms?
(93) I am less interested in arguing for non-rational moments in philosophy (others have taken this route) than suggesting that disciplines have developed different strategies of rationality that can inform philosophy.
(94) The key is for philosophy to recognize that anthropology is not the same as it was at the beginning of African philosophy. . . . In fact, though, social anthropology has become much more sophisticated since the time it was dominated by structuralist and functionalist approaches.
Is reason reducible to method?
Compare to Deleuze and Guattari on the concept.
(95) Philosophy is not positivist science. Being disciplined in philosophy must mean something different than just the practice of confirming what we know and then building on it.
“Wisdom is Actually Thought”
(99) Just as it would be difficult to avoid mentioning sage philosophy in a respectable survey of African philosophy, it would be difficult to not start from Oruka's trends, even if only to improve on them.
(102-103) Yet, the same is a disadvantage here. The sage knows the wisdom of the culture, while the Western trained philosopher knows now reason and disciplined inquiry are supposed to work. But, in making the reasonable positions of the sages manifest, it is quite possible that the positions are simultaneously being made Western.
(103) Sage philosophy can be seen as an attempt to address the central problem in both ethnography and ethnophilosophy—the African is not involved as a peer in a cooperative project of construction or discovery, but remains a mute text, unable to recognize, resist or even comment on coercive readings imposed upon him or her.
(104) I would like to focus on three crucial issues within the process: the nature of wisdom, the nature of critique, and the conversation in which the sage is invited to be philosophical. . . . If they are taken seriously, the sages themselves will have a truly critical capacity—the ability to critique sage philosophy itself—and will open the door to a truly African philosophy-in-place.
CONCEPTS: WISDOM, CRITIQUE, CONVERSATION
(107) Wisdom is not defined objectively but recognized intersubjectively.
(107) The intersubjective understanding of wisdom is a hermeneutic moment, dependent on platial knowledge.
(110) A truly African philosophy-in-place would have the critique placed so that the unexpected could find a voice.
(110) As it stands, the charge that sage philosophy is not far from ethnophilosophy is substantially true. The folk sage is simply the person who can articulate the beliefs of a people (e.g., Ogotemmeli), and the philosophic sage is the one who is able to comment on those beliefs. But the lived experience of the people may have still been missed.
(113) Socratic dialogues attempted to raise questions of meaning, perhaps paradoxically by pushing the question of identity (the forms) as far as they would go. This is not occurring in the sage philosophy interviews.
(115) And, the fact that the questioner must have some common horizon with the sage is never interrogated. It is not enough to ask what the beliefs are, or even to push the question of their logical consistency. The question of their meaning has to be raised, and the inequality of power has to be addressed, before sage philosophy can move from being technique to philosophy.
(115) In the reliance on a method, the production of knowledge has become technologized, a regularized process designed to guarantee the outcome of the identification and classification of sages.
(117) African thought must be addressed not just as a first order activity, in which the belief structures of individuals or groups are interrogated, but as second order as well, in which the process of truth-making becomes an object of thought as well. . . . The terms of understanding must be generated from all the peer conversations available to African philosophy, rather than from foreign conversations.
Culture and the Problem of Universality
(123) The point is that the given-ness of culture needs to be subject to inquiry.
MYTH OF PURITY
(123) While the ability to govern one's own philosophical agenda and destiny is a laudable goal, there are a number of questions or issues that arise with this notion of purity, and its accompanying notion of decolonialization.
(129) One criticism of both negritude and Afrocentrism is that they spend more time focused on the oppressive forms of thought that they are rejecting, than on African thought itself.
on Cultural Universals
(132) Universals get their initial Greek statement from Aristotle, and become one of the central issues throughout the medieval period.
(133) [Kwasi] Wiredu asserts the existence of cultural universals (and Oruka agrees at this level) because this will establish the possibility of knowledge across cultures. But, just as with the medieval version of the problem, the gain of a coherent epistemology comes at the expense of an incoherent metaphysics.
(134) Unlike Dewey, he argues for interpreted knowledge at the individual as well as the social level. We do have a kind of “bodily intelligence,” which can be seen in the various actions the body performs without conscious direction, and the body's ability to “know” its environment. Merleau-Ponty argues that our sense of self and the world is traceable back to this kind of knowledge, and not to conceptual thinking.
(134) Indeed, as many feminists have convincingly argued, biology does not imply necessity, much less universality.
(136) The existence of talk is not enough to establish that communication also exists. It is certainly not enough to require that cultural universals exist.
(138) Wittgenstein gives us the most devastating critique of this sort of notion. He argues in the Philosophical Investigations (sections 65-77) that we use terms as if they have a constant meaning across different domains. In fact, they do no not.
(139-140) Perhaps truth (universals) does not precede meaning (cultural understanding), but meaning precedes truth. If universals are found in what humans strive for, and more specifically in their attempts to communicate, then we may see the universal as arising from human interaction. It will then be the earned manifestation of human existence, rather than the presupposition of communication.
(140) Oruka is correct when he says that many of the advances in philosophy are not due to logical rigor, but something like intuition. . . . One might also look to C. S. Peirce's notion of “abduction,” a very similar concept to Oruka's “intuition.”
(140) The fact that intuition exists does not tell us anything about intuitions in particular.
(141-142) But the fact that his [Husserl's] phenomenology has been largely revised does not detract from his basic observation that intentionality must be a component of all discourse on human experience. . . . Intentionality is the first step away from that view of language, and toward a view that does not attempt to separate language from issues of culture and selfhood.
(144) It is a Western rationalist prejudice, inherited in the modern age from Descartes, that our minds are a repository for concepts which are separated from the world of human action.
(145) Indeed, I am ultimately resisting metaphysics itself with this move, and not simply suggesting that an inhabitant of this category in fact does not belong there. Communication does not depend on the reification of any particular notion, whether that is a concept, an intuition, or a cultural universal.
(145) The question moves from metaphysics to phenomenological hermeneutics.
(146) But, as with feminism, there must come a time when one realizes that everyone that is going to be persuaded already has been, and now it is time to move past the attempts at self-justification.
(146) The problem is that we cannot start from the assumption that communication exists, and that we simply have to account for it.
(146) Earlier I mentioned the idea that we might focus on already shared meanings as the basis for communication. This idea clearly has its roots in Heidegger, Gadamer, and Ricoeur, and has been critiqued by various post-structuralists such as Derrida, as well as thinkers such as Foucault and Habermas.
(147) Wiredu's intuition (to use Oruka's addition) that there must be something connecting dialogue partners is correct.
(147) Perhaps the key is to recognize that the universal is the result of dialogical reflection, not the presupposition of it.
(147) Philosophy has been founded on the utterance, or the claim, and has forgotten the other side of this communicative act.
(148) What if the hearer is taken as significant in the act communication? . . . It could be that the dialogue itself conditions the kinds of subjects that can take part in it.
(149) Wiredu indeed does go on to consider ways in which nokware has senses of truth connected with it. However, this is done on the basis of conceptual analysis, not on the basis of finding out the shared meaning within the culture. I am arguing that we should take a statement like this on fact value, and if we find discrepancies with what we expect, this should serve to throw a light on our expectations as much as it does on the terms in conflict. The light, alas, does not shine on expectations in this account.
(150) Philosophy itself must be rooted in local soil, and listening holds forth the possibility that not only foreign concepts, but also foreign metaphysics and definitions may be questioned.
Listening to Language
(155) African philosophy by and large has seen language as a conduit of, rather than a hindrance to philosophy. . . . African philosophy, on the other hand, must deal with both written and spoken “texts.”
LANGUAGE AND WORLD VIEWS
Listening to language: do not be put off by programming languages.
(156) The intention of Sapir-Whorf linguistic relativism was
laudable—it was to break the anthropological hierarchy of cultures
which placed the West at the top. However, particularizing the
thought of cultures by their language also meant that those cultures
remained isolated, objects of investigation by the rational social
(157) The point here is simply that the hope that language will, in some direct manner, lead to philosophy-in-place, will not be borne out. Language is, of course, a central aspect of philosophy, but the analysis of its structure alone will not yield a self-reflective philosophy.
AS THE BASIS OF PHILOSOPHY: KAGAME
(159) Are we asking about the difference that language makes, or are we asking about what difference a different language makes?
HALLEN AND SODIPO
(161) But Western philosophy tended not to pay a great deal of attention to the problem of translation as a philosophical issue.
(162) There is no comparativist agenda at work here. Translation is rather a positive philosophical method designed to sharpen philosophical categories within Yoruba, as well as correct errors in the English translation of specific terms.
(162-163) I believe, though, that Quine's indeterminacy thesis is actually a positive step in phenomenological investigation, rather than a negative limit on knowledge. . . . In other words, Quine's thesis becomes a philosophical method rather than a philosophical claim. Difference creates the opportunity for questioning. If one begins from the position of misunderstanding (at least, recognizing that misunderstanding has taken place), one beings from a place.
(165-166) The form of dialogue that happened with the onis e gun uncovered not only beliefs about the world through the uses of words in natural language, but also served to acquaint Hallen and the other researchers with that synthetic understanding of the place in which those beliefs made sense. . . . The project could easily absorb self-reflective questions, and as such, it has the potential to create new ideas because it is open to them.
PROVERBS AS THE BASIS FOR AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY: GYEKYE, WANJOHI, MADU
Argument for Proverbs as the Basis for African Philosophy
(167) The impetus to look to proverbs, as mentioned earlier, comes as a positive need to ground “true” African philosophy in indigenous soil, and as a negative need to resist writers who argue that philosophy must be based on written texts, must be critical, and must not be anonymous.
Limitations of Proverbs as a Basis for African Philosophy
(170-171) All of this suggests that proverbs are not so much philosophy, as the occasion or impetus for philosophy. They may, along with speeches, songs, diaries, business contracts, political addresses, constitutions, and a host of other linguistic events, be the occasion for philosophical reflection to take place. . . . In other words, the questions themselves are the location of philosophy, and the proverbs become philosophical to the extent that they answer or are involved with philosophical questions.
Another Approach to Proverbs: Raphael Madu
How Could Proverbs be Relevant to Philosophy?
Philosophy does not inhere in its artifacts, which are instead traces of philosophy occurring; as thought questioning itself, it is a present concern.
Philosophy does not lie in its artifacts. These are just shells,
carcasses if you will, that give evidence that there might have been
philosophy present at one time.
(179) What is the difference? Philosophy, as Hegel put it, is “thought thinking itself” (or in my formulation, thought questioning itself). As such, it is a present concern.
(179) What if the proverb scholars gave up the search for a pure source of African philosophy? What if they gave up the search for the metaphysical anchor-point of African philosophy? It might seem as if everything is lost. I would like to argue that, in fact, it is at this point that African philosophy can begin.
(180) Even if Plato's Republic could be interrogated philosophically, but also in a variety of other ways; conversely, it has been the genius of theorists to show how fashion (Barthes), clinics (Foucault), diaries (de Beauvoir), cinema (Deleuze), and a host of other artifacts of culture might have philosophical import.
Same play for approaching ECT philosophically from various disciplinary methods that address particular technologies or practices.
(180) The African philosopher must necessarily draw on research from those who have used various disciplinary methods to address proverbs. That includes paremiologists, anthropologists, semioticians, literary and religious scholars. None of these are philosophical, necessarily, but they all inform philosophical questions.
Practicality: African Philosophy's Debts and Duties
CAN PHILOSOPHY BE PRACTICAL IN AFRICA? PHILOSOPHY AND ITS COMMUNITIES
PRACTICALITY AND SOME PHILOSOPHERS
(194) The practical necessity for mankind that he identifies is the elimination of poverty. It is a practical necessity because without it, nothing else can reasonably happen.
Four missions of philosophy for Oruka: truth, aesthetic, communicative, moral.
(195) While Oruka explicitly talks about practicality toward the end
of the essay [ “Achievements of Philosophy and One Current
Practical Necessity for Mankind: The Question of the Present and
Future of Humanity”], I would like to argue that the most
interesting section concerning practicality comes at the beginning,
where he talks about four “missions” (a word he takes as the
equivalent of “achievement” in the paper's title) of philosophy:
the truth mission, the aesthetic mission, the communicative mission,
and the moral mission.
(197) The fifth problem is in the core assumption of practical philosophy, which is that people act based on sets or systems of ideas, and that action can be changed by altering an existing system or proposing a new one.
Connect notion of judgment to critical programming to avoid reduction to technical reason, also crucial to Weizenbaum.
(198) Humanism itself, for some a value so obvious it is hardly worth
arguing for, has been subjected to intense scrutiny by a number of
recent philosophers, as carrying with it moral imperatives that
marginalize various voices, both present and past, and valorizing a
dominant intellectual tradition at the expense of other lesser known
streams of thought.
(199) Again, why should this matter? In part, because Kant wrote three critiques. . . . If you consider practical reason by itself, you cannot determine whether you actually are speaking of technical reason, that is, rules of skill which are technically practical, or morally practical, which are founded on the principle of freedom. A new feature of human life is needed, judgment, that can tell us which is which.
(200) Without the notion of judgment, the philosopher seems stuck between providing technical advice or providing commentary on ends, neither of which truly gets at the issue of practice.
(201) Perhaps the common problem is this: both the ad hoc version of practicality and the radical version assume a linear relationship between theory and practice. If we get our theory straight, or in the radical case, the conditions for the possibility of our theory, then the practice will follow. There is little or no provision to see theory as dependent on practice. . . . To extend Ngugi's comment, what is needed is not a practical philosophy, and not a philosophy of practice, but a philosophical practice.
(202) Irele's answer to the question of how philosophy can be relevant in Africa revolves around maintaining the dual roles of giving detailed social analysis as well as critique. The philosopher must “dirty his hands” with non-philosophical material, and engage other disciplines. At the same time, the philosopher still must be the one who produces larger frameworks of “how things hang together.”
(203) What of the possibility that philosophy might not be practical?
(204) “Philosophy as Pivot,” from the title of his paper, refers to the function of philosophy as the point of orientation for other disciplines. The pivot does not move in space, but rather simply turns, allowing other disciplines to move.
(205) And, more recently in South Africa, discussion over the meaning of ubuntu has, in part, been a question of the practicality of the concept within a changing society.
(205) To paraphrase Derrida, Africa's communities are, in part, those to whom philosophy owes its debts.
Following Derrida, philosophy must speak back to places that gave it voice.
In case of computing to speak back to places that gave philosophy voice suggests reentering 1980s personal computer culture to better understand current Internet age.
Philosophy owes a debt to the society in which it finds itself. It is
not only materially sustained by the institutions of these societies,
it also finds its material for reflection in these communities. . . .
There is at least the debt, then, that philosophy must “speak
the place that gave it voice.
(206) Philosophy's unique ability (as opposed to other disciplines) is to analyze and account for thought-lives, to develop and apply the conceptual tools that show the communities what they are like. . . . Even those aspects of Western philosophy that pretend to be culture-free (that is, not reflecting on the concerns of a specific community) are in fact developing the reflective tools that various communities use to reflect on themselves. The most abstract logician in the West is, to that extent, doing “Western philosophy” in that he or she is showing forth a certain set of reflective possibilities that in turn makes the culture what it is. That logic may well form the basis of computer science, for instance, which gives the culture a particular self-understanding.
(206) In Africa, philosophy develops tools that, explicitly or implicitly, allow a culture to show itself for what it is and, as importantly, allow it to create new concepts adequate to its circumstances.
(207) Attending to the community means paying attention both to the source of one's philosophical ideas, as well as their audience, use and results.
(207) The mistake is in thinking of this only as a burden. This is not simply guilt. Responsibility to a community means engaging with that community to come to self-understanding. . . . Philosophy's practicality lies not only in showing society for what it is, and what it can be. This is what I am calling philosophical practice.
(207) One example of this is Odera Oruka's notion of sage philosophy. Recall his “four missions”: if they are taken together, they point to a sense that philosophy is always already part of a community.
(208) Sage philosophy, then, can be seen as an exercise in true practical philosophy on at least two levels. First, the project recognizes the connection between thought and the community, and the responsibilities that lie on both parties. . . . Second, the project is practical in that the “professional” philosophers are attending to the communities outside of the academic world, and helping to develop the thought of the sages.
Practical outcome of re-imagining world, recovering the important and addressing current problems suitable objectives for critical programming.
(209) In the end, philosophy's practicality in Africa will only be evident in its accomplishments. . . . Perhaps the greatest outcome of philosophy's activities is to enable people to re-imagine their world, to recover what is important while addressing current problems.
Locating African Philosophy
(213) The argument has been that these concepts have largely been used to support spatial philosophy, that is, the tendency to regard philosophy as establishing and defending an intellectual territory. Each concept has been shown to be inadequate to that task, and thus, the project of guaranteeing that African philosophy is both truly African and truly philosophical cannot be accomplished in this way. . . . If, however, we as “What is it to do philosophy in this place?”, a platial question, the ground shifts from the defense of territory to the explication of place, that is, the consideration of the relationship between concepts and the places that give them life, produce them, and refine them. Concepts then are not used to guarantee anything, but rather are used creatively, to produce new concepts through asking new questions.
(214) In the chapter on tradition, instead of using tradition as a guarantee of the African-ness of African philosophy, we asked how tradition is transmitted, and how that transmission is a philosophical issue.
(214) The chapter on reason raised a host of questions, meant to get past the debate over whether reason in Africa is the same as elsewhere in the world or is different in some important way.
(215) The chapter on wisdom was meant to specifically consider the sage philosophy project.
(215) The chapter on culture undermined the idea that cultures are pure, but even with that, questions still remain.
(215) The chapter on language addressed the idea, present since at least Kagame, that African languages can undergird African philosophy.
(216) The second half of the chapter dealt with the question of one “artifact” of language, the proverb. This section argued that proverbs can be the occasion for philosophy, but not the basis for philosophy.
(216) Finally, the chapter on practicality addressed one widespread concept in African philosophy, that for philosophy to be truly African it must be applicable to African problems and needs.
(216-217) I have posed them as emerging from a kind of negative project, that is, to show how the concepts are not adequate to undergird spatial philosophy. That is their provenance, tied to the attempt to clarify the project of African philosophy at a fairly abstract level. But for these concepts to become truly creative, the questions that engender them will have to be critiqued and rethought by those who inhabit other thought-lives.
(217) I hope that others will take this book as a call to identify the place of concepts, and to create new concepts appropriate to the place, which can then also serve to transform the place. I, however, would like to turn back to the schematic sense of place offered in the introduction. Now that we have worked through a set of concepts, I am interested in developing a fuller sense of place, informed by a philosophy-in-place as outlined in this book to this point. . . . How is it that the concepts that are central to African philosophy not only can be thought platially, but they also contribute to a renewed and more robust understanding of place?
PLACE OF QUESTIONS
(217) One way to understand various traditions in philosophy is to see them as answers to historically contingent questions. German philosophy, for example, has no essential core (there are no specific claims or concepts that all German philosophers must hold in order to be considered German philosophers), but it does have a history of disciplined dialogue.
Think about motivating platial, fluid and persistent questions to which texts respond.
(218) The key is the think about the motivating questions to which texts respond. The questions are platial, that is, they are contingent but “viscous,” that is, they are both fluid and persistent. It is rare, though, that much time is spent on the dialogical effort of determining whether questions are the same, and how one's own questions might contain limitations and blind spots.
Goal of generating questions seems applicable to unthought philosophies of computing.
African philosophy has, by and large, not thought carefully enough
about its own questions, but has allowed its questions to be defined
by a skeptical and dismissive West. . . . The goal of African
philosophy should be to generate and create new questions, which will
make possible new concepts.
(219) Questions come from places. They are not transcendental, but rather are rooted in ways of reflectively existing that occur throughout the world. In this sense, viable and stable populations must have some level of philosophy.
(220) What happens when philosophy comes into contact with other disciplines? Questions in literature, for example, or in politics are not the same as questions in philosophy. Working at the edges of different kinds of questions does not necessarily dilute those questions.
(221) Philosophical traditions have places because questions have places, and the more we are able to recognize them as coming from places, the more we will be able to put them in constructive conversation, and generate new questions, and new concepts.
(221) One good example of taking questions and place seriously comes not from African or Western philosophy, but from Japanese. Watsuji Tetsuro's best known work is Fudo ningen-gakuteki kosatsu, translated into English as Climate and Culture.
(221) It is not apparent at the beginning of his study, but his real question is “What does it mean to be Japanese?” He means that as a philosophical question, not a political or social one. His analysis of contextualized human existence—existence in climate—begins from a Japanese experience of the world, even though it uses Heidegger as one of its inspirations.
(221) A more direct example, again using Heidegger, is in Arto Haapala's analysis of different traditions' treatments of Heidegger's “The Origin of the Work of Art.” Haapala makes the case that philosophical traditions (located platially and linguistically) have differed on their understanding of the context of Heidegger's work, and thus asked different questions of the text.
(222) My argument here is that, as such platial philosophical traditions are constructed, their encounters with each other can shed light on their own questions, and in that way allow a much more creative, higher order (although not more abstract) philosophy.
(222) Differences of interpretation are really windows into the differences about the places from which we come. Kant's texts, like any texts, make our places available to us.
of the Topeme: The Legibility of African Philosophy
(223) The question of the topeme is really a question of legible place. An -eme is a unit of the construction of meaningfulness. It is the element of pre-grammar, re-used to create words, and out of words sentences. Language is assembled from phonemes, word variants are assembled based on lexemes, and myths are assembled from “mythemes.” In each case, there is order, meaning, and legibility that comes possible because atomic regularized units are available.
See Deleuze and Guattari What is Philosophy on concept assemblies; Lefebvre production of space simultaneously perceived, conceived, lived.
Philosophers' grammar always exists in two places, at both the level
of the explication of life-worlds, and at a more abstract or formal
level of concept manipulation. The assembly of concept manipulation
uses nothing but the topemes for its constructions. . . . Henri
this clear—in accounting for the “production
he recognized that we simultaneously exist in perceived space,
conceived space, and lived space. . . . These three form a
“trialectic” for him. . . . The problem comes when we do not
realize that they are all present, when we think that place is just
lived, or just thought.
(224) My argument is that the third location has been largely ignored, and with it the recognition that African philosophy is produced in the relationship between its ground and its thought, and that this relationship is something apart from either of those.
of Aggregation: African/a Philosophy
(225) My argument is not that we should not use the term “African/a,” but rather that its use should be a task rather than an assumption, and one which (as I will discuss in a moment) needs to attend to the differences of intensitites.
(225) I want to suggest ways in which the place of African and African American philosophy is very different, and that a constructive dialogue between the two rather than an identification under a larger umbrella is preferable.
(228) The central question of philosophy must be asked anew in both these areas. That question is not “Does African (or African American) philosophy exist?” but rather, “What is it to do philosophy in this place?” Unlike African philosophy, African American philosophy does not so clearly have a platial designation. . . . It is more likely to refer to the identity of a group of people or a culture (which is how the term is normally used) than to an identifiable place.
(228-229) When we sojourn, we tarry in a place, but it is not home. . . . When we dwell, on the other hand, we are at home in a place.
Philosophy as explication of tension between dwelling and sojourning.
Philosophy is the explication of that tension between dwelling
The contours of that are different for African philosophy than they
are for African-American, no less real, but different. My contention
is that culture is that kind of tension between dwelling and
sojourning, that is, a meaningful set of practices for those who
engage in them, but a task nonetheless.
(229) Why is race more of an issue than it is in African philosophy? Because place itself is defined differently, and through place, culture and identity.
of Scale: Internationalism
(230) Is place a subdivision of space or is space an aggregation of place? With only these two options, a philosophy-in-place faces problems. Either we begin with space and deduce places (essentially, the universalist position), or we first have places and then have to determine how they relate to each other.
(230) Both of these options lead to “internationalism” in philosophy. In October of 1997, the journal Metaphilosophy published a special issue on the question of internationalism in philosophy.
Lens focal point variation versus other layer models.
(231) The question of scale is related to the question of the topeme.
What do we take as a “unit” of philosophical context? . . . To
what extent is any coherent philosophy a unity or identity, and to
what extent is it an aggregation? And if an aggregation, what are its
terms, that is, what is the topeme? This becomes a little like a
lens, which has different focal lengths. We can choose to bring into
focus some point on the scale, which necessarily renders points
nearer and further as indistinct, as organized around the focal
(232) Philosophy-in-place is always a matter of scale. Issues of scale are buried in philosophical assertions, and exist as questions placed at the edge of differences. Focusing on one level of scale allows the questions of another level to recede into the background, but they do not disappear.
of Borders: Whose Place Is It?
(232) Places are never univocal, and to make the concept of place pivotal in the construction of philosophy requires that we deal with historically unequal, often coercive relationship.
Embed issues of voice in hermeneutic discussions.
(235) The key is to embed issues of voice in the hermeneutic discussion. Hermeneutics of suspicion and of trust must operate simultaneously, and every speaker, including me, is susceptible to questions about motives, assumptions, and intentions, as well as questions about the strength of arguments.
(236) Our living describes our set of possibilities, not the other way around. In other words, space does not precede place, but place precedes space.
(236) As J. Macgregor Wise puts it, . . . [quoting] Indeed, the subject is an expression of the territory, or rather the process of territorialization. Identity is territory, not subjectivity.
(237) Intensities point to difference within concepts, not between concepts. The point, then, is to recognize the ways in which concepts contain tensions, and make those tensions productive by recognizing that they always refer back to the contradictory existence that we have.
(237) African philosophy does not emerge from its resistance to European thought, then, but from its resistance to its own spatialized and essentialized forms, as well as its recognition of difference within itself.
(237) Provenance refers to the recognition that all present theory is implicated by its own history, that is, it stands with traces of past questions, and past forms of reason.
(238) Provenance does not depend on shared goals in conversation to be true.
of Self and Other
(240) Otherness has many faces: [fascination, repulsion, desire, dependence, smugness, appropriation/subsumption, marginalization, horizon, domination, foil, mirror, body]
How may faces of the Other in computing be characterized presupposes place.
(241) The point is that African philosophy is defined by its ability
to set for itself others for it to understand. The Other of
(neo-)colonialism is an important one, but not the only one. There is
the other of culture, as Theophilus Okere argues. There is the other
of its own tradition, of other world traditions of philosophy, of
religion. The other may be relatively benign, as the trope of the
mirror or the foil may suggest, or it may be insidious, as the trope
of domination may suggest.
(241) The result is a move to the construction of coherence with the realization of complexity, the hope of repetition with the realization of power/knowledge, and the possibility of action with the realization of fallibility.
(241) And, in this way, the self/other relationship presupposes the construction of place.
of Listening and Speaking
(242) The call for dialogue itself betrays a position of power, as terms such as “agreement” and “cooperation” raise questions about whose terms that agreement will take.
(243) The problem is that dialogue is embedded within tradition and reason, it does not rise above it.
(243) Because of these problems, it is more useful to focus on listening and speaking. And, in the same way that I have tried to re-orient philosophy toward questions rather than claims, I would like to re-orient philosophy primarily toward listening, rather than speaking.
Focus on listening and speaking; tie to Chun on reading.
Listening suggests inclination, and an active ordering capacity,
rather than simply the passive act of reception.
(243) Little attention has been paid to listening in philosophy. The most important work on listening is by Gemma Corradi Fiumara. The Other Side of Language treats listening as dialogic, having as its goal unity.
(243) Listening cannot presuppose accord, nor does it necessarily have accord as its goal. Rather, it open space for understanding to occur.
(244) To a much greater degree than Western philosophy, African philosophy occurs within social communities. If we accept that the telling of stories or proverbs could be the site for philosophy (although they themselves may not be philosophy—it depends on the questions we ask of them), then we must recognize that stories and proverbs are communal activities. They must be spoken, and as importantly, they must be listened to. Listening means more than hearing. Listening suggests engagement.
(244) Therefore, while many philosophers have argued for the importance of writing in the establishment of philosophy, I believe that the oral situation allows thought to continue to be connected to place, while attaining the level of theory.
(244) In academic philosophy, it is frequently the case that theories are constructed first, and then applied to new situations. . . . One might argue that these cases are just examples of philosophy poorly done, but in fact, any prior theorization amounts to speaking before listening, and will always necessarily cover over more than it uncovers.
(245) But unlike dialogue, listening must include an aspect of questioning. It is not just the act of filling an empty container with content. Listening is not passive absorption. It involves Gadamer's “genuine question.”
of the Trace: Explicating and Creating the Space of Thought
(246) A “space within which something can take place” is a meaningful space, a space that is not simply a range of abstract possibilities but one of meaningful possibilities, along with prereflective constraints. But these meaningful possibilities convey more than a list of options, even viable ones.
(247) [Damian] Opata's discussion of place/space gives us an opening to discuss philosophy-in-place, and in particular the question of the trace.
(247-248) The point is to argue that anywhere, Europe, Africa, or anywhere else, philosophy begins from the lived experience of people, and from there constructs abstractions and concepts which are useful, but which are artifacts of philosophy, or the evidence that philosophy has passed this way.
EXHAUSTION OF PLACE
(248) Clearly, though, if we take seriously the idea that places are topemes, assembled from sub-significant elements, that they have scale, borders, and form a milieu and operate as intensities formed by self/other and speaking/listening relationships, that they have provenance and leave traces that lead us to understand what has currency, we are faced with the question of limit cases.
(248) Jacob Boehme, the Lutheran mystic, wrote in 1623 of “gefassete,” a neologism for him that was a combination of the German word “Gefäß,” or container, with the verb “fassen,” or grasping. He believed, in a proto-Nietzschean manner, that entities (including conceptual ones) came into being when they produced their own containers, or shells. The difficulty, though, is that those shells can ossify, and they can also be mistaken for the vital life within, which required shells to be manifest, but was also limited by them.
(249) Are there places that are so changing, so desperate, unpredictable and inhuman, that they hardly qualify as places, and thus concepts can barely take hold? Can one do philosophy in a concentration camp? In a refugee camp? In a famine? What would it mean for concepts to live up to the debts and duties of these places?
(249) Place, then, is not a universal philosophical solution. . . . It does not abolish the need for spatialized philosophy, but puts it in its rightful place, as a codifier of concepts but not a creator of concepts. It is a starting point and guide for questioning. Derrida's challenge from the beginning of the introduction, then must also complete this study: “Where does the question of the right to philosophy take place? Where does it today find its most appropriate place?”
Janz, Bruce B. Philosophy in an African Place. Lantham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009. Print.