knowledge in traditional african perspective: a critique

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knowledge in traditional african perspective: a critique


In our examination of the nature of African Epistemology, we shall more or less be following the analysis of Temples, Ruch, Anyanwu, Abanuka, Onyewuenyi and other African scholars who in one way or the other have written philosophical treaties about African Epistemology. There seems to be a tacit agreement amongst the above mentioned philosophers, which a discussion of a people’s conception of knowledge without a prior examination of the underlying principles of their thought world views taking to fishing in water with a broken basket.1
This view is in line with the generally acceptable philosophical notion that:
The conception of man (knowledge) is always linked to a particular conception of being and science, and therefore the assertion of philosophers especially with regard to the origin of knowledge, require a prior examination of their view on science and philosophy so that the accuracy and relevance of their solutions to questions concerning the nature of knowledge can be evaluated in light of these more basic ssumptions.2

In order to investigate human knowledge, it is important to require into the foundations of knowledge for without examining these foundations, it is very easy to reach wrong conclusions about how the Africans know. Human knowing follows closely on human being. In other words, beings know the way they are, or individuals on the level of humankind know in accordance with their levels of being. 3 This is why it is importance to consider the foundations of human knowledge in order to understand how human beings know. In this connection says Abanuka, human knowledge must be viewed in the background of its three foundations, namely the ultimate reality, the community and the individual.4?
African theory of knowledge as a branch of African philosophy is a recent phenomena. The dearth of written documentation is a factor militating against the progress of this branch of African philosophy.
However, we shall be consulting some authors whose works directly or otherwise have something to do with African notion of knowledge.
The first work to be reviewed here is authored by B. Abanuka, A New Essay on African Philosophy, (1994). Recent works on African philosophy takes three major orientations: Skepticism concerning African philosophy itself, ethno philosophy, which proclaims the collective philosophy of a group and methodological works that outline canons for accepting any philosophy as African.
This book does not take any of the above orientation. The book makes a critical yet sensitive philosophical inquiry into the African Universe. In the background of the African folktales, myths signs and symbols, the author gives an all- inclusive account of the principles of African philosophy. Then in a clear and systematic manner he proposes a new interpretation of ancestors and presents a forceful explanation of knowledge, human life and action.
The second book under review here is co-authored by E.A. Ruch and K.C. Anyanwu African philosoph, (1981). Essay 1 in this book titled “the African World-view and theory of knowledge is very relevant for our research. Ayanwu elaborated his thesis of the primary of epistemology over other disciplines. He argues that the philosophical questions are these. How do the Africans know what they claim to know? What method must the mind follow in order to arrive at what African accept as a trustworthy knowledge of reality?
According to Anyanwu, if we know these, then we can claim to understand why he behaves the way he does, why he thinks and acts the way he does. Anyanwu equally entered into the debate concerning the epistemology status of Rationalism and Empiricism and arrives at the conclusion that knowledge for the African could not be sub-ordinated to reason or the sense alone. Imagination, intuitive experience and feelings are also modes of knowing.
The next book to be reviewed here is authored by P. Temples, Bantu philosophy (1958). Temples defines African concept of knowledge (Wisdom) as “how deeply he understands the nature of forces and their interaction”. True wisdom lies in ontological knowledge; it is the intelligent forces of their hierarchy, their cohesion and their interaction.5
Finally the fourth work under review is the unpublished doctoral dissertation of Ukagba, “A philosophical Examination of African concept of man with reference to the Igbo of south East of Nigeria” (1993)
Ukagba argued forcefully here on the primacy of being before knowledge. He agreed with Temples that “true wisdom lies in Ontological knowledge” the African know in accordance with his nature. It is therefore only at the level of individual and community that African knowledge become possible. The ultimate knowledge which forms the basis of community and individual knowledge equally exist but at the transcendent level.
The African experience of the universe is characterized by unitary views.6 in this connection, the least statement we can make about that which is said to be real is that it is not anything. In talking about the real, one is saying that there is at least one thing.
In other to have a more all-embracing understanding of reality as a whole. We must conceive it not as consisting of the sum total of particular things but as comprising all particular things which exists and the ultimate support or source of these particular things.
Ultimate reality considered as the origin or support of all things can also described as the center of all things in so far as it contains in itself all he characteristics, which are manifested in varying degrees in particular.
Ultimate reality therefore is the first, in the sense of the ultimate foundation of knowledge. This is clear, for ultimacy is the principle of the origin or source and support of all things. In as much as the ultimate reality is the first beginning or origin of being and action of all things and this includes individual on the level of human kind, it is the first foundation of human knowledge. Without the ultimate reality, individual knowledge can neither be nor act as knowledge to one of human actions or operations”?
That the ultimate reality is the source or the first foundation of human knowledge can be understood from the consideration of the nature of reality. The ultimate reality (ultimate vital force) contains all the characteristics manifested in varying degrees in all things (in terms of the vital force which he distributes to all beings in the hierarchy of ‘being’). Since knowledge is characteristic manifests in individuals on the level of human kind, it must be founded on the ultimate reality. In other words, since all beings on African metaphysics derive their force from the ultimate force, human knowledgei must have its first beginning or foundation in the ultimate reality considered as the first reality is a remote foundation8.­
The community is the second source or origin of knowledge. In African philosophy, community is only a relational being as it is a congregation of men living together, bounded together by close tie in order to realize existential ends.
The individual is a member of his community. Consequently, the individual lives and acts as a member of a given community. From one first moment of his existence in the community, the individual is influenced by the life and experiences of the community. These influences are very important factors in the development of human knowledge in the individual. In so far as the society influences human knowledgei, from the first moment of the existence of the individual in the community, it is a mediate foundation of human knowledge, for the community provides the folktales, myths and symbols which are indispensable forms of human knowledgei and understanding.9


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