-Who is Ada Agada, what do you do and what is your background?
AA: Ada Agada is a Nigerian philosopher and researcher based at the Conversational School of Philosophy, Calabar, Nigeria, and currently an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen. I have a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I am the author of CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title (OAT) award-winning book Existence and Consolation: Reinventing Ontology, Gnosis, and Values in African Philosophy. The OAT recognises some of the finest academic works published in English and reviewed by CHOICE in conjunction with the American Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). The OAT award is highly sought after by authors and their publishers.
-Why an interest in philosophy and what got you into it?
AA: My interest in Philosophy peaked in my late teens. The human being is privileged to observe the universe. And as an observer, the human being is a questioning being. My interest in finding answers to questions of who I was and what I was doing in this vast universe irreversibly led me to philosophy. Indeed, I abandoned my undergraduate Biochemistry studies to focus on Philosophy. My interest in Philosophy was existential. The human dimension, the passionate search for truth, or meaning, remains pivotal even today.
-What is African philosophy? Is this a new field of thought? How is it different to, say, western philosophy?
AA: Good question here. It must be noted early that African philosophy as a written tradition emerged late. Its written history is just about a century old. The attempt to link African philosophy as we know it today with ancient Egyptian intellectual heritage and North African Christian philosophy is, in my humble opinion, not convincing. This said, the relative youth of African philosophy places it in a position of disadvantage compared to the dominant Western philosophy which has been around for several millennia.
African philosophers fought a long battle to win recognition for the discipline. It is now widely agreed that there is a history of intellectual engagement focused on the black African interrogation of the human condition and the universe. This history of intellectual engagement constitutes African philosophy. Our starting point is Africa, or black Africa, if you wish. Then we universalise our inspiration. The discipline is both old and new. It is old to the extent that Africans have always had an unwritten worldview that is philosophically viable. In fact, what the most productive African philosophers like L.S. Senghor, John Mbiti, Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Gyekye, Segun Gbadegesin, Mogobe B. Ramose, and Innocent Asouzu have done in the modern writing era has been basically the systematisation and universalisation of the philosophy implicit in our traditional African worldview.
Yes, African philosophy is different from Western philosophy. And similar too in a manner that makes comparison possible. Both intellectual traditions have different histories of the evolution of key philosophical concepts. The two traditions are also similar to the extent that it is the same human reason that is questioning reality and seeking answers. This similarity makes intercultural and comparative philosophy possible.
-Is it linked to other regions in Africa or region/culture specific?
AA: Well, African philosophy is sometimes broadly understood as involving not only ancient Egyptian thought and the thought of early North African Christians like St Augustine but also Arabo-Islamic philosophy. I have earlier expressed reservations about including ancient Egyptian and early North African Christian thought in the history of African thought. I now express reservations about including Arabo-Islamic philosophy because the Arabs have their own distinct philosophy and history and will themselves not be keen to closely align Arabo-Islamic philosophy with African philosophy. We do not have to be sentimental here. All the same, both Christian and Islamic philosophy can be studied as areas of thought under African philosophy in view of our colonial past and encounter with Islam.
-Is it well understood area or still quite esoteric?
AA: Nothing esoteric at all. African philosophy has gained wide acceptance across the world even though the well-noted Western bias remains, the intellectual insularity of the West premised on the belief that anything non-Western is not universal or cannot be. In this regard, Asian and Latino philosophies are equally victims.
-Western philosophers are very popular in the literary world, from Plato and Socrates down to Hegel. Since African consciousness and civilisation preceded all others, would you say that African philosophy is the progenitor of western philosophy?
AA: As you are aware, I want to avoid the ancient Egypt sentiment as the connection with modern Africa has not been conclusively demonstrated. In any case, I prefer that we look forward to the future from the past that we are familiar with, that is, our precolonial Africa. This is enough for us. I will, therefore, not want to historically link African philosophy with Western philosophy.
-Does African philosophy have implications for economic development or is it purely academic? Is economy even a feature of philosophy?
AA: This is a question that philosophers in all traditions face. William James, an American philosopher, noted about a century ago that public scepticism about philosophy arises mainly because it is seen as not baking bread, as too abstract and not practically applicable like mathematics, another abstract discipline. Philosophical heritage is like artistic and literary heritage. Arts and literature too do not directly bake bread. They are relevant because we make them relevant. Philosophy poignantly reveals the excruciating exertions of the human spirit in our search for meaning. In any case, I identify two areas where philosophy, and African philosophy in particular, is relevant in our daily life. First, African philosophy will provide individuals with the critical tools and intellectual orientation to be better scientists, better academics, better doctors, better lawyers, better teachers, and even better janitors. Philosophy sharpens the mind and equips it with the intellectual awareness to recognise problems and solve them creatively. Secondly, African philosophy addresses human beings in their moral and personal dimensions. African philosophy seeks to help individuals grapple with the questions of who they are and their place in the community and the vast, intimidating universe. African philosophy can help stem the tide of fraud, election rigging, killings, inferiority complexes, suicide, gender violence, and other social ills affecting us.
There is a branch of philosophy called philosophy of development which addresses economic and social issues.
-What are the core benefits of African philosophy? How can we leverage this in our societies?
AA: As I just noted, African philosophy is relevant as a core aspect of our heritage and an interpreter of the black man’s intellectual aspirations. African philosophy can also lift the inferiority complex which colonialism inflicted on black people, the consequences of which are visible in our excessive respect for Western culture and their phenomena. A sure way of leveraging African philosophy is for African nations to establish African Philosophy Centres and adequately fund them, in the same way that the ever forward-looking Chinese government is establishing Confucius Centres to push through a Chinese agenda. African Philosophy Centres can play the role of masterminding an African cultural-cum-intellectual revolution. We can also immediately integrate African philosophy into our primary and secondary school curricula. Recently, the Philosophers Association of Nigeria (PAN) called on the Federal and state governments in Nigeria to make the teaching of philosophy compulsory in primary and secondary schools. If we start studying philosophy early then our economy, and national life in general, will benefit greatly.
-Is Afrikan philosophy fixed or is it dynamic…does it change over time?
AA: African philosophy is not a rigid discipline. Our colonial history means that African philosophy is necessarily intercultural. We are always interested in dialoguing with the West and Asia and the Latino world. In the process we learn from outsiders. In the beginning, Western philosophy itself communed with ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures. The purist sentiment is unknown to African philosophy.
-Is there any appreciation for African philosophy in the commercial sense? Is there a literary appetite?
AA: Unfortunately, not quite. Tragically, our people have always looked to the West for solutions to their problems. This attitude is traceable to colonialism. There are still many black philosophers who either do not believe there is an African philosophy or do not care about it. The persistence of this inferiority complex is the greatest evil of colonialism. I am a Nigerian philosopher who has received major international recognition for the originality of thought but in Nigeria I am unknown and cannot even work full-time on a tenure track in a Nigerian university. My first book was published in the US and my current research will be published in Europe as a monograph. If Nigerian philosophers are not reading my book, is it the layman who will read it? But I am still hopeful that there will someday be a literary appetite for African philosophy in Nigeria and other African countries. African philosophy is our supreme intellectual heritage. It is to us what Western philosophy is to Westerners. We must jealously guard what is ours and break the shackles of racial inferiority. African philosophy holds the master key to ths liberation.
-Do you feel those in political positions are guided by African philosophy? Should they?
AA: They should but so far they are not. Even South African politicians who preach the virtue of Ubuntu philosophy appear not to have internalised Ubuntu philosophy. African political philosophy espouses accountability, transparency, and strong commitment to the common good. Politicians have not exhibited these traits.
-How can we utilise African philosophy in our educational system and what impact would it have for the future?
AA: It is simple. Factor African philosophy in its logical, historical, and ethical dimensions into primary and secondary school curricula. Make African philosophy, not just philosophy –which invariably means Western philosophy–a core course for first year undergraduate students. The action will mastermind an intellectual revolution in the future by breaking the shackles of inferiority complex and instilling a critical, questioning attitude in our shockingly complacent population.
-Could you comment on a possible connection between religion and philosophy?
AA: Philosophy, science, religion, and arts are all related as they seek to respond in one way or the other to the human conditions and transform this condition by making human life better and creating hope to counter our fears. Like religion, philosophy seeks to address human fears and evaluate human hopes. Unlike religion, philosophy overlooks faith and embraces reason as the supreme arbiter of claims and propositions.
-Following the introduction and imposition of foreign religion during colonialism, it is my belief that this has had a suppressive effect on African spirituality and consciousness. I would also go on to say that this has also conversely downplayed the interest in or knowledge of African philosophy? What are your comments on that?
AA: Well, well, I would not think the impact has been decisive. This is the case because philosophy by its very nature is critical and dependent on reason. African philosophy has gone beyond the basic level of worldview (ethnophilosophy) and has branched into metaphysics, ethics, logic, epistemology, social and political philosophy, intercultural philosophy, etc. While its tie to African consciousness remains strong, the tie to African traditional religion (if this is what you mean by ‘spirituality’) has all but evaporated. The tradition is open to all persons of all faiths and persuasions, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, etc.
-What is the future of African philosophy in your opinion?
AA: Very bright. New and exciting thinkers continue to emerge who have broken the shackles of colonialism-inflicted inferiority complex and who are constructing philosophical systems rooted in African traditions that make claims to universal applicability. I am excited that my fellow Africans and I are establishing a true African intellectual culture. If we are not recognised in our lifetime, we will be honoured when we are no more, by a more enlightened posterity. This eventuality is enough incentive to work even harder.
-What advice would you give to young people who want to embark on a journey of discovery with African philosophy?
AA: They should be intellectually brave, have a genuine passion for the exploration of the depths of the human intellect, and see themselves as intellectual champions of worthy African causes in the context of a broader humanity that transcends Africa.
-Are you working on any projects you want people to know about and where can we find your work?
AA; I am currently writing a monograph funded by the German scientific organisation, the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung. The work seeks to clarify my philosophical system of consolationism which formed the focus of my first book. Consolationism is a theory I propounded as an African thinker. I am working to simplify complex concepts and decisively root my thought in the African life-world. I want to paint a clearer picture of consolation philosophy for an expert audience. A general book on consolationism will be available in the future. I am also currently editing a book on ethnophilosophy and the search for a wellspring of African philosophical concepts. Some of my articles and interviews can be found at:
-Could you give an example of African philosophy?
AA: Afro-communitarianism, philosophical universalism, philosophical particularism, Ubuntuism, complementarism, consolationism, ezumezu logic, proto-panpsychism, etc, are examples of tendencies and currents in African philosophy.
-Name some African philosophers we need to know about? Who is the most important and why?
AA: L.S. Senghor, Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Appiah, M.A. Makinde, H. Odera Oruka, Kwame Gyekye, C.A. Diop, Innocent Onyewuenyi, Innocent Asouzu, Mogobe B. Ramose, Bruce Janz, Thaddeus Metz, Edwin Etieyibo,Segun Gbadegesin, Barry Hallen, J.O. Sodipo, Kwame Nkrumah, J.O. Chimakonam, Elvis Imafidon, Ademola Fayemi, Jim Unah, Leonhard Praeg, Sanya Osha, Bernard Matolino, Fainos Mangena, etc.
I include a number of Western thinkers who have devoted a significant part of their research to African philosophy.
In my opinion, the most important among the senior philosophers are Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Gyekye, Innocent Asouzu, Thaddeus Metz, H. Odera Oruka, Ifeanyi Menkiti, Mogobe B. Ramose and Kwame Appiah. These thinkers produced landmark works and ideas in African philosophy. As for the younger generation, I will withhold my judgment for now.
-What does it take to be a philosopher, can anyone do it?
AA: Anyone can do it but only as an amateur. To engage in philosophy and earn respect from peers you have to study it for years. At least a university degree is necessary these days. To be an expert you will need a minimum of a master’s degree in philosophy. Philosophy is not an all-comers affair. It is a very rigorous discipline. You have to study it keenly for years before doing it well. Otherwise, you will end up an amateur at best and a charlatan at worst.
The views expressed in this interview belong exclusively to Dr Ada Agada. They do not in any way reflect the opinions of the Conversational School of Philosophy. (CSP).