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On the Condition for the Existence of Odera Oruka's Philosopher

Anthony Onyemaechi Chukwu


What are we asking with the question is there an African philosophy? At issue is the universality of philosophy. In Western philosophy, philosophy's universality has been approached from the two positions of universalism and the pragmatism. The universalists not only hold that philosophy is universal, they further equate Western philosophy with universal philosophy. In opposition, the pragmatists claim that every philosophy has a cultural origin and is ethnocentric. In African philosophy, it is the universalists and the traditionalists who debate over the nature of philosophy. While the traditionalists hold that African philosophy can be extracted from African worldviews, the universalists believe that philosophy has a universal character marked by rigorous inquiry and delineated by a body of written texts. Odera Oruka is a universalist who breaks rank with his fellow universalists on two grounds: one, he does not accept that lack of written texts is proof of a lack of philosophy, and; two, he believes that philosophy is an upshot of rational thinking which is not beyond the capacity of Africans. In trying to ground African philosophy on African sages rather than written texts, Oruka not only shows who can be a philosopher, he also underscores the condition for the existence of a philosopher. This essay takes a critical look at his condition for the existence of a philosopher.


Philosophy; Condition; Existence; Philosopher; Universalism; Pragmatism; Traditionalism; Ethnocentrism

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Journal on African Philosophy. ISSN: 1533-1067 (online).
Editor: Olufemi Taiwo.

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