Why is African philosophy and thinking important

I. Introduction

The question of a global ethic is intensified today due to the new quality of mutual dependence of the individual states and regions based on a closely linked world economy and the global network of modern communication systems. This link can be seen most clearly in the networking of transnational corporations, whose production facilities are no longer tied to national territories.

The emergence of a global interdependence is not only related to economic developments or the new efficiency of communication technologies, but also to the possibility of ecological or military self-destruction of the earth by humans in this century. Or as the German philosopher Karl-Otto Apel puts it: “... the need for a universal ethics, that is to say binding for human society as a whole, has never been as urgent as in our age for one created by the technological consequences of science planetary unitary civilization. "(1) From the necessity of such an ethic, however, it cannot yet be concluded that it is possible. That is why the question of the possibility of a global ethics seems to me to be one of the most important of our time.

Various ethics projects, such as the discourse ethics in Germany or the liberation ethics in Latin America, have now attempted to establish an ethics claiming universal validity that transcends cultural, religious, political etc. differences. Such projects must be subjected to thorough scrutiny, including, above all, an intersubjective scrutiny of representatives of different cultural contexts. My thesis is that an ethics cannot claim universal validity as long as it has not been subjected to an intercultural examination, or as the Austrian philosopher Franz Wimmer puts it: “... do not consider any philosophical thesis to be well founded on its being established only people from a single cultural tradition were involved. "(2)

This "categorical imperative" of intercultural philosophy is of course not a sufficient criterion for determining the truth character of a theory, but it is an indispensable one. In such an "intercultural test" theories are to be tested for their relevance for different contexts and systems of orientation and with other theories from others Contexts are confronted. It's about finding answers to factual questions, solutions to conflict situations that can be applied to more than one context.

Since every universal ethic has to face the problems of the capitalist world economic system from its respective socio-historical context, analyzes of an Asian, Latin American, European or even African philosophy on a global ethics of responsibility are not only important for their own context. For this reason I would like to dedicate myself today to approaches from African philosophy.

II. Drafts of an African Ethics

Before I talk about African ethics projects and their relevance for global ethics, it is necessary to clarify a few uses of the term in order to avoid misunderstandings: When I speak of "African ethics" or philosophy, this is of course a linguistic abbreviation. Of course there is neither the African ethics, yet the African philosophy. If I use these expressions, I am referring to philosophy or ethics as it is produced today in philosophy institutes in sub-Saharan Africa.

Many drafts of African ethics are mostly characterized by the attempt to fall back on the approaches or decision-making processes of traditional, pre-colonial African societies. African philosophers are thus going a completely different path than many other ethics projects of our time. This is certainly due to the special history of contemporary African philosophy, which has taken a very independent path to self-understanding over the past 30 years. The focus was on the question of an "African identity" or the identity of an African philosophy and thus the attempt to overcome European prejudices, to create a positive counter-image and to point out ways that today, in the situation of post-colonialism (as an intersection of different These attempts are essentially characterized by the fact that 1. Africa, its history, values ​​and traditions are dealt with exclusively and 2. Africa was determined exclusively in relation to Europe and North America.(3) Only since the 1990s has a change become apparent, a turn to the burning problems of the continent, which also make a global and intercultural perspective necessary.

Many ethics projects are based on the specific African situation and aim to resolve the value crisis in contemporary African countries. The attempt is often made to use traditional moral views to create an ethic that does justice to today's problematic situation. The starting point for these considerations is that the imported system of Western democracy and Western values ​​are not adequate for African societies, as the ethnic abuse of the party system, the rise in crime, etc., evidently show. This incompatibility of Western systems is often justified by the fact that the idea of ​​the autonomous individual, which underlies these political and moral ideas, is alien to African thought and that the focus here is rather on the sense of community, the individual's responsibility for the harmony of the community. Whether these assessments are correct, whether a categorization of "Western" and "African" thinking makes sense and whether the systems are compatible or not will not be discussed further here. I am generally skeptical of such an approach. However, I consider it very legitimate to resort to approaches or social institutions from earlier times in an attempt to create new visions.

I would like to draw your attention to two ethics projects which, on the one hand, draw on traditional ideas, but at the same time lay claim to universal validity.

2.1. Wiredus consensus ethics

What seems to me to be an interesting approach to global ethics is what I call a "consensus ethic" at Kwasi Wiredu.(4) would like to call or what Bénézet-Bujo "Palaverethik"(5) calls to bid.

Both assume that decision-making in traditional Africa took place by consensus. In interpersonal relationships between adults, consensus as the basis of joint actions was viewed as axiomatic. This consensus was that every member of a particular council, group, or community could be persuaded of the best possible solution. The aim of every consensus was the reconciliation, the basis of the will to a harmonious coexistence. Such a consensus can only be achieved through long discussions and a long process of persuasion, the palaver. The wisest representatives of the people are called to a palaver when it comes to an important decision that affects the people as a community. These wise men do not belong to any official institution, only competence and experience count. They live with and among the people in everyday life, so that their arguments affect the interests of this people existentially and in detail. In order to find a solution, experiences are exchanged, the entire history of the clan is also taken into account, the interests of the living and the dead. This can be a lengthy process because the interests of all those concerned should be taken into account. The decision made is generalized and binding for everyone.

Wiredu considers it much easier to establish majorities through voting, as is customary in multi-party democracies.(6) In doing so, however, the minority's right of representation is suppressed. Substantial representation of the individual's will cannot be guaranteed in such a system. However, this is a fundamental human right and must therefore be secured by finding a consensus.

What is interesting about this project is the principle of consensus, which is also part of the basic principle of the discourse ethics of Apel and Habermas. However, a different way of establishing a consensus seems to be being pursued here. While Apel and Habermas are concerned with the establishment of a consensus between all those affected by means of a non-dominant, non-violent and equal rational discourse, in which everyone who cannot argue rationally is advocated, the consensus established through a palaver seems to be different be. Because here, according to Bénézet-Bujo, all ancestors and spirits are involved, who can hardly argue rationally. Bénézet-Bujo even explicitly criticizes advocacy as a principle of oppression. A very important point has certainly been made here, which is also very controversial within discourse ethics: How can the interests of all those who cannot argue rationally be represented, including the animal and plant world threatened by destruction.

Unfortunately, the previous statements of the consensus ethics by Wiredu and Bénézet-Bujo are not yet detailed enough to offer a controversial alternative to discourse ethics. But work on that should continue. More concrete research is certainly necessary to find out how consensus was established in traditional African societies and whether these methods are still applicable in our world today. In addition, considerations should be made as to which methods are possible to secure a substantial right to represent interests without resorting to the western principle of democracy.

2.2. The "Parental Earth Ethics" by H. Odera Oruka (Kenya)(7)

Similar to Apel, Odera Oruka assumes in his situation analysis of our time that the global survival of mankind is more threatened than ever before. Odera Oruka locates the cause of the self-destructive, albeit very successful, system of capitalism, which has not only led to social inequality, but above all to the edge of an ecological catastrophe, in Judeo-Christian individualism. According to Odera Oruka, this is a possessive individualism which destroys the "complex web of being" of which humans are a part, and thus the cause of the global environmental destruction we are confronted with today. For these reasons A change in the epistemological perspective seems to be necessary to a perspective in which humanity is viewed as part of nature. Odera Oruka calls this new perspective "Parental Earth Ethics".

While ethical concepts throughout history have mostly focused on the well-being of the individual, Odera Oruka's ethics are eco-centric rather than anthropocentric. His approach differs from such traditional concepts, in which nature only serves the satisfaction of the material needs of humanity, fundamentally through its concentration on the entire "network of being", the totality of nature. It is necessary, all anthropocentric, utilitarian conceptions Ora Oruka argues, and to find a holistic approach in which the 'interrelatedness' of the parts is taken into account, because the earth is a network in which no species can exist independently of the other Ethics "could now take into account the complexity and totality of nature and become the basis on which different cultures base their perception of the environment.

Odera Oruka uses the family metaphor to characterize our world situation today. A family is characterized by the fact that there is a common origin of the members. The different success of the children depends on different factors: the common family history, personal happiness, individual talents, etc.

According to Odera Oruka, there are two principles on which the relationships of the individual to the family are based:

1. The parental debt principle

2. The individual luck principle

These two basic rules can be broken down into further specific rules: 1. Rules that describe certain obligations that an individual has to his family and 2. Rules that protect individual property and the right to use personal surplus for his own benefit consume, serve. These rules are:

1a) family security rule, 1b) kinship shame rule, 1c) original guilt rule, i.e. no one is solely responsible for their misfortune, 1d) the individual and family survival rule. This rule allows the disadvantaged to ask for assistance.

2a) the rule of personal enrichment, 2b) rule of personal surplus, 2c) family disclosure rule.

In the event of a conflict, the "parental debt principle" always takes precedence over the individual rule of happiness. So while the second principle ensures that everyone can decide individually and freely what they want to do, how they want to live their life and spend their possessions, this restricts First principle this freedom on the basis of responsibility for the members of the family. "... fate and security (physical or welfare) of each of the members is ultimately bound up with the existential reality of the family as a whole."(8)

Or Oruka emphasizes that he chose the image of the family because without the element of kinship or the organic unity of nature none of the arguments of the current environmentalists would be binding for all people and nations.

Odera Oruka suggests the "Parental Earth Ethics" as a basic ethics, which offers an approach for global environmental protection and a global redistribution of the wealth of nations. Because the "Parental Earth Ethics" is more than an environmental ethics: first the interplay between social theories and the ecological Thinking does justice to the "complex web of being".

In Odera Oruka's article "The Philosophy of Foreign Aid" we find(9) from 1989 first attempts at a universal ethics. Based on the problem of development aid, the unequal distribution of goods and the problem of international justice, Odera Oruka outlines the principle of global justice. He assumes that an ethic that wants to do justice to a universalist claim must ensure justice, above all with regard to existential needs. Only at the level of a certain human minimum can people make moral decisions and are able to act morally. The absence of such a minimum makes participation in a decision-making process impossible. Since such a right to a human minimum cannot be based on principles of territorial justice, a new principle of global justice is necessary, which presupposes a new view of man and the world. Global justice is only possible if there is a change from the paradigm of equality to responsibility for others.

"For all human beings to function with a significant degree of rationality and self-awareness, they need a certain minimum amount of physical security, health care, and subsistence ... Below this minimum one may still be human and alive. But one cannot successfully carry out the functions of a moral agent or engage in creative activity. "(10)

I think with this formulation Odera Oruka intervenes in the debate about the possibility of a universal ethics. With his demand for a "human minimum", Odera Oruka formulates a very important basic principle for global ethics and at the same time an objection to the aforementioned project of discourse ethics: With its formal approach to global ethics, discourse ethics already moves on a level of "meatless abstraction "as the Mexican philosopher Enrique Dussel put it. In his ethics, Apel places argumentation as the ultimate, no longer obscure quantity. In doing so, however, he forgets that 75% of humanity is excluded from all relevant discourses, namely by the prevailing power relations and living conditions, which deny them the safeguarding of an existential minimum.Without this, however, one cannot take part in moral discourse.

The objection of the Latin American ethic of liberation, of which Dussel is one of the founders, seems to me to be well founded. The ethics of liberation does not start with the argument, but with the objection (interpellation) of the other, who must first assert the right to express an opinion.(11) Odera Oruka's argument that the safeguarding of certain existential conditions is the prerequisite for moral action in general reinforces the objection of liberation ethics to discourse ethics. But of course the questions that Odera Oruka, as well as the liberation ethics with its basic concept of "life", leave unanswered, e.g. what the "human minimum" is, who determines it, whether it is the same for all people and how could it be secured? Another question to be asked is how a new justice can be established, or the new awareness demanded by Odera Oruka about our integration into a complex "network of being". In addition to the family metaphor, which is certainly based on African ideas of the functioning of an "extended family" , Odera Oruka only briefly mentions approaches from other traditions that do justice to this integration (Indian philosophy, the cosmologies of Hawaii or the Dogon). Exactly these are to be examined more closely and made fruitful in order to lead to a change of consciousness in the sense of a "Parental Earth Ethics", a task that the Odera Oruka, who died far too early, can unfortunately no longer tackle himself.

With his approach that is explicitly aimed at protecting people and nature, Odera Oruka represents a model that should be considered by both discourse ethics and liberation ethics. This is an interesting opportunity not only for a north-south, but also for a long overdue south-south dialogue, but definitely for a fruitful polylog of traditions.