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CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
Philosophy as a discipline deals with knowledge and it is also a second order discipline, which looks into the fundamental aspects of life and evaluate other knowledge claims held by different disciplines. Epistemology is a branch in the study of philosophy that deals with knowledge. As one would expect, African epistemology is a branch of African philosophy which is an infrastructure of discipline. In order to really comprehend the contents of African philosophy is, and without much ado, it is stated that African philosophy is highly metaphysical, that is, they go beyond the physical realm in order to do philosophy.
In the process of trying to understand what African philosophy is African epistemology is automatically understood, as it is embedded in African metaphysics. Although the nature of African Philosophy is metaphysical, one cannot completely separate metaphysics from epistemology, the question of reality from the question of Knowledge. Hence, authentic African philosophy (which is metaphysical) touches on epistemological matters. We cannot therefore claim to have metaphysics which is not at the same time epistemology of metaphysics. Whatever the area of inquiry, when fully constituted and ideally achieved, is certainly contain a built in epistemology. Hence, epistemology is the central thing in all act of philosophizing. Airoboman and Asakhauno (2012) write that as the theory of knowledge, epistemology is a universal concept which implies that it inquiries into the possibility nature, origin, scope, validity and limits of human knowledge. From the classical accounts, for anyone to key claim of knowledge, such claim must be true and believed with justification. For centuries, until the twentieth century when it faced serious objection ignited by what is now known as the “Getter Problem”, indicating that one’s claim could be true, believed and justified but does not count as knowledge.
Knowledge also involves familiarity, awareness or understanding of a particular thing such as facts, information which is acquired through experience or discovering knowledge can also refer to theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skills or expertise) or explicit (as with theoretical understanding of a subject). It can be more or less formal or systematically.
There seems to be a tacit agreement amongst African Scholars about a people’s concept of knowledge without a prior examination of the underlying principles of their world views. This view is in line with Munyaradzi’s (2011) philosophical notion that:
The corruption of man (knowledge) is always linked to a particular conception of being and science and therefore the assertion of philosophers especially with regard to the origin of knowledge require a prior examination of their view on science and philosophy so that the accuracy and relevance of their solutions to questions concerning the nature of knowledge can be evaluated in light of these more basic assumptions. (p.7)
In order to investigate human knowledge, it is important to inquire into the formation of knowledge for without examining these foundations, it is very easy to reach wrong conclusions about how the Africans know. Jimoh (2004) writes that human beings know the way they are, or individuals on the level of human/kind know in accordance with their levels of being. This is why it important to consider the foundations of human knowledge in order to understand how human beings know.
Philosophers in the likes of David Hume describes Africans as “Tabula rasa”, a people with no reason/rationality. Hence without a history and wise still philosophy (Munyaradzi, 2011). These philosophers tend to underscore the fact that prior to colonialism, Africans as every other people with common identity and culture had their peculiar way of attaining knowledge and confronting life issues. However, with the drawn of western expansionism, western oriented mode of behaviour and knowledge acquisition become objectified and universalised. Consequently any form of knowledge that does not conform to western model is deemed irrational and unworthy of scholarship. Since the ostensible decolonisation of the continent after independence, education in Africa remains western oriented, outside as well as some Africans dismiss African orientation of epistemology as being unscientific and delusory. Westerners consider Africa as a Clark continent (Mbiti, 1969). They despise African traditions, customs, belief system and indigenous knowledge system is describes as diabolic, barbaric and primitive.
Furthermore, like African metaphysics, African epistemology is deeply rooted in African traditions. Originally, the tradition of a people is the effect of their experience, it follows that African literature, traditional arts, fables, proverbs, idioms, rituals, music, dance, folklores and myths are the content of African epistemology.
African epistemology is metaphysically and transcendentally inclined. The tradition in African thoughts relates more with the spirit and supernatural elements in nature which give emotional and aesthetic satisfaction to the average African person. Thus, the ideal life as exemplified by African epistemology is to coexist as one with nature. In doing this, great emphasis is placed on spiritually and an understanding of the world through a spiritual world and the non-experiential world as causally related.
African epistemology also enforces beliefs in a basic assumption about reality. It expresses the fact that reality is beyond the empirical world of space and time that everything which exists is changed with life forces or spirit i.e. all beings possess a spiritual backing. It also presents the hierarchical order of life forces, which is God, divinities, ancestors, spirits, man, animals, plants and minerals. The superior forces have a direct influence the higher forces indirectly through spiritual works or otherwise.
Although, the debasement of African epistemology has become somewhat obsolete, mainstream epistemological considerations rely hugely on Western oriented and universalised form of knowledge acquisition. It is very important to consider some issues on African epistemology and hold a ground through which African knowledge is based.
A general discussion of human knowledge which include the criteria of human knowledge sources of human knowledge: a western discourse and also sources of human knowledge from an African perspective which entails situating knowledge discourse in African culture, sources of knowledge in African indigeneous perspective. Furthermore, a critical evaluation of indigenous sources of human knowledge which entails the process of knowledge acquisition, an African perspective of human knowledge and knowledge objectivity, practicability of human knowledge from an African perspective. All these are examined as structures of the work.
Regarding the facts that African epistemology has a metaphysical and religious background that is particular of the African. Some specific challenges automatically evolve and some of these are analysed below. Most of the beliefs underlying the traditional experience of the Africans are said not to be rational. The very fact that the experiential knowledge of the Africans is based on a basic assumption about reality tends to place him in a very tight position of having to relate all that happen to him to the vital forces and spiritual hierarchies peculiar of African existence. The implication of this is that, there would be a very high tendency of the African person to uphold the determinist claim that the entire affairs of his life is subjectively dependent on him and objectively dependent life force superior in being to him. Within a more empirically based environment, we can see that most of the problems and challenges of life are practical, and can thus be solved by empirical procedures. In other words, the metaphysical religious mentality of the African would be a barrier in his way to making him differentiate between those issues that are purely an empirical and pragmatic one, as well as those that really need a spiritual solution.
In African philosophy various efforts have been made to establish criteria for judging the sources of knowledge in the African context.
One of the aims of the study is to systematically look at the criteria for human knowledge, what makes a given set of knowledge valid. For a given set of knowledge to be valid it can either be from sense perception or reason. For Plato, in his theory of knowledge he claimed that the senses cannot lead us to true objective knowledge because they sometimes deceive us. For him it is only through reason that one can acquire or attain true objective knowledge, this means that the objectivity of sense perception are not suitable or fixed they are always changing but objects of true knowledge of reason are stable immaterial and eternal.
Another aim is also to show that Africans are capable of knowing in the sense that it projects to the outside world that indeed African is not a “Tabula rasa” and that even before the coming of the westerners, there is a knowledge base in Africa, Africans are aware of their sense of dignity, they are aware of their sense of belonging.
Finally, the sources of knowledge as regards the Africans is on a shaky foundation in the sense that one cannot base true knowledge on myths, storytelling etc. since knowledge has a paramount role to play in our reasons and life at large. This study therefore aims to take our mind from the African perspective to the sources of knowledge to the western views on knowledge and to build a solid foundation to the sources of human knowledge.
This work is done in philosophy which is basically concerned with African philosophy and most specifically African Epistemology. This work discusses other areas of African philosophy which are connected to African epistemology such as the sources of human knowledge in African perspective, criteria for knowledge and types of human knowledge.
Again, it is important to know the process of knowledge acquisition, objectivity in knowledge etc. all these are important areas to be considered in this work.
Knowledge is regarded as a universal concept and man has this desire to know as this is what makes them different from all other creatures or lower animals. This work would be of importance to individuals in the sense that gives a clearer definition to the sources of knowledge and this enables them to know that Africans has a specific way of knowing and apart from the African way of knowing there is a western way of attaining true knowledge.
Again, this work is of relevance to epistemologists in the sense that it removes a dogmatic notion from them. Since they believe that there is a specific sources of knowledge, with this work, they are made to understand that there are other sources of knowledge, with other sources of knowledge. This source of knowledge which is predominant in African should be accepted by them.
Finally, this work is of paramount importance to the indigenous people of Africa in a way that superstitious belief is removed in the sense that what they see a knowledge appears mythical and this study is set to across the veil of myths from the Africans so that they would be able to bring every knowledge claim to rigorous scrutiny.
The source of Knowledge in Africa brings about contradiction asto what constitute the main or real sources of knowledge. For clarification, this work is based on the method of analysis which enables us to break down ideas for easy understanding. This method of analysis involves a critical and logical construction of argument and relevant ideas. This method houses the descriptive and expository approach and it is useful to the success of this work.
This helps in breaking down some key concepts in this work. This method also helps in bringing together scholars’ views in order to achieve our aim. With this method, the African perspective to the sources of knowledge are classified
Epistemology is Concerned with the theory of knowledge knowing which is derived from a knowledge made up of concepts and criteria peculiar to a particular culture. A study on African perspective to the sources of human knowledge requires an in-depth analysis of scholar’s view. Onyewuneyi (1976) in his writings on African epistemology, traces the foundation of knowledge to a divine realm, which presupposes the idea of rational cognition. In his words:
A person is said to know or have wisdom in as much as he approaches divine wisdom. One approaches divine knowledge when one’s flesh becomes less fleshy, to use Leopold Senghor’s expression…. The ancestors have more wisdom followed by the elders, dead or living…. This kind of wisdom is different from book knowledge, which is not regarded as wisdom in the strict traditional sense. (pp.525)
Onyewuenyi ascribes wisdom to dead relative through the beliefs that those who died at old age would have accumulated much wisdom over many years. He bases his view of human knowledge in African continent on the basis of empirical facts. In this way, he believes that the knowledge possessed by a person is determined by the events the individual has experienced. In this regards, his view can be linked to John Locke’s “Tabula rasa” which means blank slate. John Locke sees the mind to be empty at birth and without knowledge. In this way, man tend to gain knowledge from his experience of the world.
Onyewuenyi underscores an important point which should be given more consideration, which is the fact that experience is not all that guarantee’s Knowledge. Even on the African context, metaphysics cannot be under rated. This is because, there are claims to revealed knowledge by the oracles or gods, the knowledge cannot be gained from experience in this physical world and are not determined by the length of a persons years, but are sometimes gotten from recision. This is the point Onyewuenyi missed it.
In view of the above, it is important to note that the African Metaphysical understanding especially its emphasis on the concept of being is clearly noted in a system of apriori epistemological conceptions. Azenabor in his Modern Theories in African Philosophy states that:
The aforementioned principle of understanding reality in African Philosophy differs profoundly from that of western is essentially atomistic. One basic aim of the holistic tradition in African philosophy as we have already shown, is to bring things together and try to understand them, in the broadcast relationship. (p.85)
In the view of Azenabor as stated above, it is seen that African philosophy is highly metaphysical that one cannot completely separate metaphysics from epistemology and the question of reality from the question of knowledge; it is seemingly necessary for one to ask question about how one knows. For African philosophy to be seen as authentic, it must be based on epistemological matters. An African metaphysics is an effort to see facts and ideas, man and universe etc. in such a way that when taken together makes more sense rather than taken individually.
The collective way of knowing or acquiring knowledge limits the individuals mind in such a way that there are no critical evaluation of matters which are generally claimed as mattes of fact. Metaphysics sees things only from the outside never in relations. It separates what the African mind connects African thought does recognise that there is in fact a world of differentiation.
This is not to say that African des not grasp the empirical differences of things. Hence he fails to put the individual mind into consideration. Africans do not work only the knowledge of the universals alone but also the particulars. This is because, universal phenomena are meaningless without the existence of the particular ones. Hence, there are still some acts of knowing that involves the individuals alone.
According to Senghor, the epistemological level, there is an influence of Africans exhibition of strong sensibility and emotional deposition. The African apart from his effective participation in the object, does not draw a clear cut distinction between himself and the object. Hence he states that (African) does not hold it at a distance, nor does he merely look at it and analyses it, as the European would do, rather he touches it, feels it, smells it. Senghor argues that the subject and object enter into an organic and dynamic relationship and in which intense perception through the senses reaches its climax in the conscious apprehension of reality in his words:
The life surge of the African, his self-abandonment to the other is thus actuated by reason. But Here, reason is not the eye reason of the European, it is the reason by embrace, which partakes more of the nature of logos than ratio… classical European reason is analytical and makes use of the object African reason is intuitive and participates in the object. (pp. 33-34)
Again he asserts that the Negro African sympathises, abandons his personality to become identified with the others, dies to be reborn in the other. He does not assimilate: he is assimilated. He lives a common life with the other; he lives in a symbiosis. (72)
He therefore unavoidably proclaims that “Emotion is African, as a reason is Hellenic” i.e. as relating to the ancient Greek. He one is left in doubt that senghor was prepared to allow two forms of reason between European and African. Whereas European reasons, according to him, is analytical, African reason in intuitive.
Again, he argues that modes of knowledge or forms of thought as constituted by each race are different since they are rooted in the makeup of each race. Thus, the cartessian dictum “I think therefore I am” is applicable to the Africans who says “I smell, I dance, Hence I am”. Base on the African sensual participation in the object, which singular acknowledge as the best mode of knowledge. As it is expected, Senghor’s claim that European reasoning is analytical, using reason and argument by utilization, African reasoning is intuitive by participation, “though contradictory and ambiocelent, no doubt generated a lot of controversy and dislike from African intellectuals who felt thoroughly embarrassed by such reckless statement which has no basis in experience and theory. The outward consequences of Senghor’s statement above are obvious. Apart from denying African any capacity for engagement in rational discourse and a reduction of the African mode of knowledge to sensuality and emotion, it also unwillingly justifies, in a in a poetic manner, Lary Burhl’s ascriptions of childlike and prelogical mental frame to the Africans.
According to Makinde (2010) in his African Philosophy: The Demise of a Controversy:
One important way of knowing in African traditional philosophy is usually associated with the Yoruba doctrine of Ifa…. Angels of God. It is therefore a diety identified with “Orunmila”, the owner or possessor of wisdom and knowledge. Through if a Orunmila, brought wisdom and knowledge into the world. Such knowledge consist of several branches: science of nature (physics) animals (biology), plant (botany), medical plant (herbalism), oral incantation (Ofo) and all the sciences associated with healing thus derived. (p. 19)
In the view of Makinde it is clear that Ifa is the controller of languages, culture, philosophy and religion. It is also known that Ifa is the preservation of knowledge. Knowledge is acquired move from our daily study of Ifa. There is this zealous nature of the people in a society to know, therefore studying Ifa guarantees for more knowledge.
The measure of such knowledge is unclear probability. This kind of knowledge is regarded as imperfect in the sense that the desire to know about the causes and effects about the future is not reliable. Knowledge here is limited. The limited nature of knowledge claim gives us reason to question this kind of revealed knowledge because it is open to empirical investigation. The gods are infinite being without ending while humans are finite being who by nature do exist only but for a period of time. How then is it possible for a finite being who by nature do exist only but for a period of time. How then is it possible for a finite being to receive knowledge from an infinite being? The possibility of the truthfulness of these knowledge claims will be highly probable if since it has no empirical standpoint.