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You Know What?: The Pursuit of Knowledge, Part 2

By Dr. Josef Ben Levi

Presented by Omni-U Virtual University 

"Wisdom is the principal thing: therefore get wisdom:and with all thy mgetting  get understanding." Proverbs 4:7

Philosophizing is a universal experience. There is no agreement on the definition of philosophy among philosophers, particularly those who view themselves within the "continentalist" or Western European and American sphere which focuses on the works of the enlightenment and post-enlightenment thinkers. On the other hand, Protagoras, speaking for the Sophists, derived the etymology of the word philosophy from the Greek words "philo" (ϕιλο) and "sophos."

Jo 8th From the first part of the word, "philo," we get one of the Greek words   for "love," i.e., in the abstract sense. From the second word, "sophos" (σοφος), meaning "wise man," we get the word "sophisticated" or "worldly wise." Combined the word philosophy ,or "philosophia" (φιλοσοφια), is often translated as "love of wisdom." I tend to differ, slightly,with that definition. I argue that a more correct definition would come closer to 'love of the lady wisdom’ since the Greek word for wisdom is a feminine word and, as far as I know, there are no men named Sophia!

When African philosophers are mentioned, they are grouped with the Greco-Oriental philosophers or some version of "ethno-philosophy". Why is it that European philosophy is called simply philosophy, but African philosophy is designated as "ethno-philosophy"? By using "ethno", a  fallacious modification of philosophy, their legitimacy- in the public intellectual domain- is undermined. This, in turn, perpetuates the assumption that abstract thinking and reasoning are  exclusively European enterprises. This view creates the assumption that the Western philosophical approach has an analytical tradition which involves rigorous analysis of abstract and conceptual problems and writing of philosophical discourse based on exchanges and discussions in books, at conferences, and in learned journals.However, these European , American- and sometimes African and African American academic philosophers- do not acknowledge ,in particular, the contributions of ancient Egypt to "continentalist" philosophy.

Part of the problem, besides that of sheer arrogance; is that they have not engaged the African texts in such a way as to even consider the depth of African philosophical inquiry. This, of course, can be understood since the fundamental barrier to their understanding is a failure to comprehend the language(s). Most Europeans who study and teach philosophy do not even study Greek or Latin. Even worse they don’t appreciate African philosophy because it would require that they learn African languages including ancient Egyptian (mdw nTr) and for them that is a waste of time. It is much easier for them to stay within the Eurocentric academic notion of what in their minds, African philosophy. However, Africans of every persuasion who desire to engage in a serious study of Greek philosophy find it mandatory to have- at least some reading facility- in classical Greek. The same thing is true for an in-depth understanding of the sparse Roman literature. One has to know classical Latin. This is a requirement for Africans and African Americans who are serious about pursuing an academic career in philosophy. African philosophy, however, is different.

The argument is that there is no African philosophy to be found. However, these Western European and American philosophers do not acknowledge that Plotinus, who wrote works on philosophy- particularly the Ennead- and opened a school in Rome, was a native Egyptian from Lycon- in Egypt. Hypatia, the first woman philosopher recognized in the history of philosophy in the West, was from Alexandria and was murdered by 1 for her views. Names like St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, in Carthage, Origen, Cyprian, and Tertullian, the greatest minds in the early years of Church history were all Black Africans

The greatest rhetoricians of the Roman period were all Africans. 

In fact, if you wanted to win a case in ancient Rome over disputed property, for example, it was virtually mandatory that you get an African jurist from Carthage. Marius Victorinus was one such renowned jurist. There was also Marcus Cornelius Fronto, an African Stoic philosopher who was the teacher and best friend of Marcus Aurelius. If it had not been for the instruction of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, the "Meditations" may not ever have  been written by Marcus Aurelius. We cannot forget the African "Aesop" who is referred to in the writings of the Athenians Aristophanes, Xenophanes, Plato, Aristotle, and others. 

African philosophical ideas were adopted by the Greeks and Ionians who traveled to Egypt to study; or studied elsewhere under Egyptian-trained teachers. These included Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Herodotus, Socrates, Hippocrates, Anaxagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and others.

It does, however, provide a framework for future educational scholars and researchers who may be interested in African-Centered thought and educational praxis to have a roadmap from one who has been intimately involved in the process since the call went forth for an African-Centered educational philosophy. It will provide significant insights on the history of the African-centered movement and the notable personalities that were instrumental in engaging in the struggle for a different curricular and pedagogical approach that Ancestor, Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers (1994) called 'intellectual warfare." Dr. Carruthers explained that:

"No one is alarmed when White scholars become experts on Black thought because Whites are generally considered qualified to study Blacks. But when a Black scholar becomes an expert on White thought, a truly unique phenomenon will have arrived."

Those African, African American scholars and others will find here some of the primary tools and references they need to advance this research to another level. We are confronting an age where progressive school reform movements are challenging the old "factory model" of implementing education while at the same time allowing the "corporate/banking model" to subliminally market them into an environment where students, particularly African American students, will be repositioned further and further away from access to meaningful knowledge, i.e., where the only things that matter are that profit  and control remain in the hands  of the few. William Pinar said it best when he stated: 

"The conservatives' insistence upon the traditional school curriculum, a Eurocentric curriculum, can be understood as not only denial of self to African Americans but to European-American students as well. White students fail to understand that the American self - in historical and cultural senses - is not exclusively a European- American self, it is inextricably African."

Recommended Reading

Ancestor George G.M.James. Stolen Legacy.

George Orwell. 1984

Garfield, Simon. All the Knowledge in the World.

Al Gore. The Assault  on Reason.

Recommended Viewing 


Barnes, J. (1987). Early Greek philosophers. London: Penguin Classics Books.

Bell, R.H. (2002). Understanding African philosophy: A cross-cultural approach to classical and contemporary issues. New York: Rutledge.

Ben Jochannan, Y. (1970). The African origin of the major Western religions. Baltimore: Black Classics Press.

 Bernal, M. (1992). Animas versions of the origins of Western science. Isis, 83 (4), 596-607.

 Blyden, E.W. (1995). The call of providence to the descendants of Africa in America. In Fred Lee Hord & Jonathan Scott Lee (1995). I am because we are: Readings in black philosophy. Amherst: University of Massachusetts.  

Brown, P. (1969). Augustine of Hippo: A biography. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Carruthers, J.H. (1994). Black intellectuals and the crisis in black education. In Mwalimu J. Shujaa. Ed. (1994). Too much schooling, too little education: A paradox of black life in White societies. Trenton: Africa World Press.

DeGraft-Johnson, J.C. (1954/1978). African glory: The story of vanished Negro civilizations. Baltimore: Black Classics Press.

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Emery, W. B. (1961). Archaic Egypt. London: Penguin Books.

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Handford, S.A. (1986). Fables of Aesop. London: Penguin Classics.

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 Jeppie, S. & Diagne, S.B. Ed. The meaning of Timbuktu. Cape town: HSRC Press.

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Leiter, B., & Rosen, M. Ed. (2007). The Oxford handbook of continental philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Pagels, E. (1979). The Gnostic gospels. New York: Vantage Books.

Pinar, W.T. (1994). Autobiography, politics, and sexuality: Essays in curriculum theory 1972-1992. New York: Peter Lang.

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Verharen, C.C. (1977). "The new world and the dreams to which it may give rise": An African and American response to Hegel's challenge. Journal of Black Studies, 27 (4), 456-493.

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Wise, C. Ed. (2011). Tarikh al Fattash: The Timbuktu Chronicles 1493-1599. Trenton: Africa World Press.

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