The dynamic conception of African metaphysics as proposed by Placide Tempels has been seen by many thinkers as an ontological framework that adequately captures the nature of reality in the African context. Tempels was a Belgian missionary who asserted that there is a rich reserve of philosophical resources in African culture using the Bantu tribe of Congo as his case in point. The historical significance Tempels’ idea is that it had a legitimizing effect on African philosophy against scandalous claims made by Enlightenment philosophers like David Hume, Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel and so on who doubted the possibility of philosophical resources in African culture. This work attempted to look into the nature of the metaphysics that Tempels discovered in African culture and philosophy.
Since logic is the tool of philosophy, this research used Innocent Asouzu's complementary logic in proving that the Tempelsian legacy is an inadequate model for the explanation of being in the African context. This is because it has a polarizing effect on the perception of being. This work argued that a complementary notion of being better captures the way reality presents itself in the African universe of discourse.
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- African philosophy
- Complementary logic
- Vital force
It is a legitimate question to ask whether Tempels ‘discovered’ or ‘invented’ his idea of African metaphysics. If it was a discovery, then the legitimacy of his efforts can be justified by the ethno-philosophy trend which is an orientation in African philosophy marked by an acceptance of the descriptive methodology as the appropriate method of extracting African philosophical materials from the cultural beliefs of the African people. This is why Tempels’ work is often seen to place him as one of the early pioneers of ethno-philosophy which sees African philosophy to be more particular and less universal. Particularity in this sense means being rooted firmly in African culture.
Apart from the descriptive approach to philosophy which finds support in ethno-philosophy, it is well known that philosophy can as well be prescriptive in approach. This involves moving beyond ‘what is’ in an attempt to have some understanding of what ‘ought to be’. In this sense if ‘what is’ are the facts, what ‘ought to be’ are values and the concern of the philosopher is an attempt to bring values to bear on the facts before him or her. This prescriptive approach finds sup- port in the professional trend of African philosophy which emphasizes that philosophy and specifically, African philosophy ought to stand above in order to critically and creatively engage African culture. Professional African philosophers hold that the only way that ethno-philosophy can qualify as ‘philosophy’ is for her to critically analyze the raw materials gotten from culture as it is not enough to merely gather information on what African ancestors and traditional societies believe in and tag such information as ‘philosophy’. Without proper critical analysis being brought to bear on these raw materials of culture, professional philosophers see them to be non-philosophical. The fact that these two approaches to African philosophy (ethno-philosophy and professional philosophy) qualify as ‘philosophy’ points to the fact that African philosophy is both Universalist and particularist in nature. This can be traced to the symbiotic nature of the relationship between philosophy and culture.
Culture is a highly contested concept in respect of its definition. O’Hear defines it as
“...those aspects of human activity which are socially rather than genetically transmitted” (1). For African philosophers of the professional and Universalist persuasion, philosophy must be regarded as an independent arbiter of culture.
Philosophy’s role is to help people to think about and assess culture and traditions – what culture takes for granted, what constitutes culture and even whether culture or way of life is worth preserving or not. Inspired by the commitment to reason and proof, a number of philosophers saw their role as importantly one of judgment and critique – challenging the values and traditions of cultures and institutions, calling to question their claims of legitimacy, and casting doubt on normative principles within culture.
In opposition to the view that philosophy can transcend culture and by so doing evaluate her objectively, is the particularist position which holds that culture is the root and source of philosophy. Tempels belongs to this persuasion. Here philosophy is considered to be a product of culture as culture gives philosophers a language and values and sets up specific sorts of problems and questions that philosophers pursue. Culture influences the kind of material environment in which such questions are raised as well as economic production that permits the creation of goods and the opportunities for leisure in which philosophy is done. Culture seems to determine as well, what counts as philosophy since it influences not only the language in which philosophical questions are expressed and answered but what counts as a satisfactory philosophical answer. Thus, for an ethno-philosopher like Tempels, philosophy is clearly rooted in culture and there is a strong case for the claim that culture provides and imposes the discourse in which philosophical enquiry is pursued. This view is not just a peculiarity of African philosophy. With respect to Western or Greek philosophy for instance, Dewey has said that without Greek religion, Greek art, Greek civic life [all of which are aspects of Greek culture] Greek philosophy would have been impossible” (19). What this means is that even Plato and Aristotle, in their philosophies reflected the meaning of Greek culture and tradition.
This work holds that there is a symbiotic relationship between philosophy and culture. What this implies is that though the philosopher and the non-philosopher may inherit the same culture, the philosopher is not wholly bound by culture since he or she has an autonomous standing for the reflective criticism of his or her culture. This is the sense in which Russell sees philosophers as both effects and causes. For him,
“...philosophers are effects of their social circumstances and of the politics and of institutions of their time; causes, if they are fortunate of beliefs which mold the politics and institutions of later age” (7).
What Russell means is that there is a reciprocal causation between culture and philosophy. The circumstances of men’s lives (culture) do much to determine their philosophy but con- versely, their philosophy does much to determine their circumstances. This is why Tempels’ effort is that of discovery, not invention since he only aspired to document the account of being that he saw in Bantu culture. The point of relief is that his work was an effort at holding up African philosophy at a period in time when “the idea of ‘African Philosophy’ was considered to be an oxymoron” (Eze, 4). Bhatt has said that “every system of thought (philosophy) is an outcome of felt needs of an age and a cultural milieu. Philosophical reflections do not originate in a cultural vacuum or void. To be meaningful and useful, they have to be rooted in culture-specific experiences. But this does not mean that they cannot have universal relevance or utility” (Bhatt, 221). Innocent Asouzu on his part, maintains that “just as philosophers are products of their environments, they are still reformers of those contexts from which they draw their inspirations” (Complementary Logic 278).
This work will now look into the Tempelsian legacy.
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