African Philosophy

by David Week on 15 February 2016



Yesterday, I listened to an interview with Katrin Flikschuh of the London School of Economics.

Brilliant. Wonderful. It was as if a door opened on a new universe.

I’ve been working in international development since 1978.

In the late 1980s I began to realise that there was something amiss in our standard cultural understanding of “development”. In particular: we didn’t take into account that development was interchange between cultures. I later did a PhD which applied philosophical hermeneutics to the situation of a professional working in a foreign culture.

Because of differences in history, traditions, upbringing, social conditioning and life experience, people from different cultures have access to different ways of thinking and seeing. Some of these are not available to the Western tradition.

In development, we tend to stick to technical-rational modes of discourse: what’s called “instrumental rationality”—an invention of the West. Because we don’t take development conversations to a deeper, more open places, we miss an opportunities for innovation by drawing on other ways of seeing.

I knew from this from my dealings with villagers, government officials and professionals in other cultures that we were missing a major opportunity. However, I had no idea that these different ways of seeing had—at least in Africa—been examined by African philosophers. Why are philosophers important? Because philosophers examine the tacit assumptions and models behind our everyday ways of thinking. They do for cultures what psychologists do for individuals. I know have access to books by African experts who can teach me these ways of seeing.

That was the door that was opened.

Interview below.

Highly recommended.

Katrin Flikschuh on Philosophy in Africa

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