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Trying to Understand Pre-Socratic African Philosophy (By Mr. Ogbule Chibuzo Isaac)

Updated: May 15

An old aged man staring on.

(Disclaimer: The guest posts do not necessarily align with Philosocom's manager, Mr. Tomasio Rubinshtein's beliefs, thoughts, or feelings. The point of guest posts is to allow a wide range of narratives from a wide range of people. To apply for a guest post of your own, please send your request to

Definitional Problem of Philosophy

The definition of philosophy has been a perennial philosophical issue or debate. There is no universally agreed-upon definition of philosophy. Some people define it as the critical examination of the ideas that people live by, while others define it as the study of the nature of reality and knowledge. Still others define it as the search for wisdom.

Philosophy is rooted in human experience, belief, conception, and thought. It is about the way we think about these things, and how they shape our understanding of the world. To think is to contemplate from a particular perspective, and our perspectives are always influenced by our own experiences, beliefs, and values.

The term ‘pre-Socratic’ refers to the philosophers who lived in Greece before Socrates. They are called ‘natural philosophers’ because they were primarily concerned with the nature of the physical world and its processes. Their inquiries can be classified into four categories: cosmogony, cosmology, zoogony, and zoology, and anthropology and physiology.

  • Cosmogony is the study of the origin of the universe.

  • Cosmology is the study of the structure and evolution of the universe.

  • Zoogony is the study of the origin of one particular animal.

  • Zoology is the study of all animals.

  • Anthropology is the study of human beings, their behavior, and their societies, both past and present.

  • Physiology is the study of the normal functioning of living organisms.

Towards a Definition of African Philosophy

Following from the above, we are now in a better position to answer our initial question: what is African philosophy?

It is true that there are as many definitions of philosophy, but it is possible, according to Staniland, to say that it is the critical examination of the ideas that people live by. In the same vein, it is a difficult task to give an accurate or faultless definition of African philosophy. However, be that as it may, we can identify some essential ingredients about what philosophy is.

For anything to be philosophical, it has to do with the reflection on the experience of a society, group, or an individual. This reflection has been necessitated by wonder about some compelling problems of life and existence. Another essential ingredient is that such reflection must be critical and logical. As long as anybody or group meets these requirements, such a person or group can be said to engage in what is called philosophy.

To that extent, for anything to qualify as African philosophy, it must meet the requirements stipulated above. Therefore, we submit that what African philosophy is involves the application of the above categories of conceptual analysis, logic, criticism, and synthesis to the reflections on issues that are of paramount importance to the African needs and ways of life.

In this context, "African" is not based exclusively on geographical unity, but also on certain shared values among Africans.

Absolutely, African philosophy is deeply rooted in the cultural experience, tradition, and history of the continent. It often emphasizes values like coexistence with nature, collectivism, and a spiritual orientation. This philosophy differs from Western philosophical traditions and highlights unique perspectives on life, ethics, and society.

What then is Pre-Socratic African Philosophy?

The claim that philosophy existed in Africa even before Greek philosophers began to philosophize is a topic of debate among scholars. Some argue that there might have been influences from Egyptian thought, but the extent and nature of these influences are not universally agreed upon. It is important to consider various perspectives when discussing the origins of African philosophy and its connections to other ancient civilizations.

The claim that Greek philosophers studied in Egypt is based on several factors.

One argument is that there are similarities between certain concepts in Greek and Egyptian philosophies, suggesting a possible cross-cultural exchange of ideas. Additionally, historical records indicate that ancient Greek scholars, like Pythagoras and Herodotus, traveled to Egypt for learning.

Some proponents of the Egyptian origin theory point to the significance of Egypt as a center of learning and knowledge in the ancient world. However, this idea is not without controversy, as scholars continue to study and debate the extent of influence and interactions between these civilizations.

Pythagoras and Herodotus are believed to have traveled to Egypt to acquire knowledge and learn from the ancient Egyptian culture. Pythagoras, the mathematician and philosopher, is said to have traveled to Egypt to study mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, visited Egypt during the 5th century BCE and wrote about his observations of the country's culture, customs, and history. Their travels to Egypt are often cited as evidence of cross-cultural exchange and potential influences between Greek and Egyptian civilizations.

However, there is no concrete evidence to support the claim that Greek philosophers studied in Egypt. The similarities between Greek and Egyptian philosophies could be due to parallel developments or to other forms of cross-cultural exchange. Additionally, the historical records of Greek scholars traveling to Egypt are not definitive, and they could be interpreted in other ways.

Ultimately, the evidence suggests that Greek philosophy primarily originated from the work of Greeks themselves, with any external influences potentially coming from the monotheistic religions of neighboring civilizations. The claim of African Pre-Socratic philosophy remains an open question, and it is one that continues to be debated by scholars.

While there is evidence of early philosophical thought in various ancient cultures, some scholars suggest that Egyptian thought could have influenced the development of philosophy due to its complex religious, ethical, and metaphysical beliefs. However, direct evidence connecting Egyptian thought to the origins of Western philosophy is limited, and the exact origins of philosophy remain a topic of debate among historians and scholars.

(Mr. Rubinshtein's note: I'd like to suggest that perhaps there was such philosophy, but it wasn't recorded, or was recorded, but became lost to time. It goes to show the importance of leaving a legacy after you, so you could be remembered for your efforts and contributions. Philosophers such as Socrates and Diogenes would've been lost as well if they were not recorded, and if their recordings didn't survived long enough to reach relevancy).

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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