African Philosophy and the Quest for Autonomy

A Philosophical Investigation


As academic subject African philosophy is predominantly concerned with epistemology. It aims at re-presenting a lost body of authentic African thought. This apparently austere a-historical concern is framed by a grand narrative of liberation that cannot but politicise the quest for epistemological autonomy. By “politicise” I mean that the desire to re-cover an authentic African epistemology in order to establish African philosophy as autonomous subject, ironically re-iterates Western, enlightenment notions of the autonomous subject. Here, in the pursuit of an autonomous subject the terms of historical oppression are necessarily duplicated in the terms of liberation. In this study I use the term disfigurement to refer to the double-bind - peculiar to post-coloniality - in which the African subject finds itself when it has to establish and affirm a sense of apartheid (in order to confirm the assumption of difference) by inventing its own autonomy in a way that ironically conflicts with an African conception of the autonomous subject. The transcendental concern with epistemological authenticity and autonomy - indicative of an oppressive desire for Western style autonomy - necessary as it may be in a post-colonial context, is placed in an ethical framework that seeks to remain faithful to the African dictum of identity and autonomy “I am because we are”. Whereas the first three chapters are concerned with the transcendental question ‘what is African philosophy?’, the fourth and last chapter situates the ethical framework within which this question arises in the context of the recently “completed” South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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Chapter I: The Social Contract - a Meta-Narrative
A. The Four Narratives
1. The State of Nature
2. The In(ter)vention of Reason
3. The Founding Narrative
4. The Narrative of Return
B. Linguistic Conventions as Social Contract
1. Leviathan and the Right to Self-Defense
2. Speaking Precisely
3. The Representational Contract
Chapter II: The Discursive Invention of Africa
A. Missionary Orthodox Speech
1. The Classification of Missionary Speech
2. The Order of Missionary Speech
B. The Leviathan: A Politics of Return
1. The “return” of Christianity
2. The “return” of New-racism
3. The “return” of Ethnophilosophy
C. Speaking Precisely
1. The Representational Contract
2. Embracing the Difference
Chapter III: African Philosophy
A. A Political Undecidability
1 Leviathan: In(ter)vention in the State of Nature
2 Nation as Narration
3 Ethnophilosophy Revisited
B. An Epistemological Undecidability
.1 Similarities that are Different
.2 The Currency of Anthropology
C. A Representational Undecidability.
.1 The Universalist Dream
.2 The Use of Useless Knowledge
.3 Ethnophilosophy as Cargo-cult
.4 The Autonomy of African Philosophy
Chapter IV: Truth and Reconciliation: A Social Contract
A. Narrating the Social Contract
1. A State of Apart-heid
2. Narrative: Commodification or Etical Imperative?
B. Nationalism: Narrating the Social Bond
1. A Calculus of Exchange
2. Calculating the True and the Just
3. The “Useless” as Surplus Value
C. Christianity: Koinonia as Social Bond
1. On Liberation and Redemption
2. De-liberating Redemption
D. Africa: Ubu(ntu) and the Truth Commission.
1. Another Forgiveness
2. The Narrative of Knowledge-Liberation
3. Post-coloniality and Justice
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