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This study is a critical investigation of African Epistemology. The question of the existence of an African Epistemology has been in circulation over the past few years. It is a product of the question of the existence of an African Philosophy. Having been able (to a reasonable extent) to argue for the existence of an African Philosophy, the onus is now on African Philosophers to bring out the different branches of philosophy within the African context. The problem here is that most of the available works have not been able to work out what an African Epistemology consists of. Also most African Philosophers subsumes the sources of knowledge under the kinds of knowledge in African epistemology It is therefore the aim of this paper to extrapolate the idea of an African worldview.  In order to achieve this objective, the paper describes the nature of African epistemology. It describes the sources of knowledge in African epistemology and the kind of knowledge it leads to. It goes further to analyze the challenges of knowledge in African epistemology and recommend ways by which it can be conceptualized better.

















1.1                        INTRODUCTION

The African inquires about almost everything in the world and seeks to uncover its salient and latent aspects through whatever epistemic techniques or system available to him. Thus, the African has a unique way of picturing reality peculiar to him. The fascinating character of African world makes a traditional African to ponder, thereby leading him to the question, “how do I know?”.  Dzobo emphasizes this point by stating that “indigenous African society is never skeptical about mans ability to know; it strongly believes that man can, and does know but how do we know?”(73-74). African epistemology seeks to establish a foundation for what is passed as knowledge thereby creating a pattern by which everything called knowledge should follow.

African epistemology in its scope entails all that is knowable by whatever means. On the one hand ,its comprehensiveness  has given it an edge over its western counterpart and on the other hand  placed it under certain restrictions. The sources from which it springs from  bestows on it certain limitations such as lack of linguistic unity as a result of the different languages peculiar to a tribe, inability to adapt to change as a result of one-epoch philosophy, improper documentation and others. In this vein, it is the submission of this research work that African epistemologist should differentiate between the sources of knowledge in African epistemology, as this has been one of the major problems in the African worldview.


1.2   Statement of the problem

        Western thinkers and those who adhere to their epistemological theories have portrayed reality in such a way that it becomes difficult to ascertain if these theories express other notions of understanding reality, including that of the African. Thus the questions, is there an African epistemology? And if there is what are the different sources of knowledge in African epistemology?

In this essay, our response to this question will be in the affirmative and arguments shall be provided so as to buttress the point that African epistemology does exist.  Further more the kinds of knowledge in African epsistemology shall be explained as well as the sources from which it springs from.



  • Aim of the Study

The aim of this research is to argue for the existence of an African epistemology, opposing firmly to the common view of scholars that propose the non existence of an African epistemology. It is a critical analysis of the realistic nature of African theory of knowledge. Furthermore it aims at giving an  exposition of the African conception of knowledge. It also aims at bringing out the different kinds and sources  of knowledge in African epistemology. Finally, it examines the problematic nature of African epistemology and it suggests possible way out of the problem.


  • Justification of the Study

In line with Ozumba’s view that “the African as a being-in-the-world has the challenge of knowing reality as it affects him. This means that the quest for knowledge about reality is a universal need; African inclusive” (A Concise… 164). This work is justified because it is an attempt to show that there is an African epistemology since it is believed that the notion of African epistemology is a fallacy and the denial of the existence of African epistemology will be tantamount to stripping African philosophy off its very essence.. It is also justified because it defends the African and their knowledge of reality as well as going to further to extrapolate the sources of knowledge from the kinds of knowledge in African epistemology.

  • Significance of the Study

For every research work, there is an effort attempt to arrive at knowledge for some practical or theoretical use which is arrived at for solving problems. This work is significant because of its contributions to the understanding of African thought pattern and their epistemic views. It is also significant because it enlightens both students and teachers of philosophy about knowledge and its sources and  various types in the African context. Therefore, it is helpful in carrying out research in African philosophy generally and African epistemology in particular.

  • Method of the Study

This comparative work uses the method of conceptual clariification, analysis and argumentation. It  uses the method of comparism in that it tires to identify if there are any points of similarities between the Western and African way of arriving at knowledge or not. Analysis is simply the act of examining in details thus this work is a scrutiny of the African theory of knowledge. The method of criticism is also employed as this essay assesses the African world view system and their mode of picturing reality. It is critical in that it tries to reveal the attractions as well as the hitches prevalent in African epistemology.

  • Scope of the Study

This essay covers the notion of African philosophy generally and African epistemology in particular. It is limited to the exposition of the African understanding of knowledge, source, kinds, scope and limits of knowledge in African epistemology.

  • Definition of Terms

Before we proceed into the main task of this essay it is pertinent that we elucidate some of the terms that will be used during the course of writing. These terms include;

  1. African
  2. Western
  • Epistemology
  1. African Epistemology
  2. Western Epistemology
  3. i) African

        An African is said to be a native of Africa he is a person who is born in the continent of Africa and is conscious of his identity as an African. Most times he is identified as black or a Negro as a result of the colour of his skin.

  1. ii) Western

        This connotes “being of” or “pertaining to the west. It represents an ideology or concept that  originates from the western part of the world.


1.9           Literature Review

A perusal of the available literature as at the time of this research work reveals that the idea of an African epistemology is knitted with the idea of an African philosophy. That is, the idea of an African epistemology has not been given the proper attention needed as it is either mentioned in the general discussion of an African philosophy or assumed to be part of a conception of the African worldview. In this vein, a proper articulation of an African epistemology devoid of being subsumed under the African worldview forms the focus of this present effort to succeed in this attempt, this research made use of the internet, journals and text book materials that have bearing on the existence of an African epistemology. These materials are carefully referenced and documented.

For instance in his book, “African Philosophy, The Story So Far”,   Etim sees   African epistemology as fundamentally resting “on how the Africans conceive reality”. (142). This definition tallies with the description of African epistemology by this research work as the African interpretation of reality. However, this definition by Francis is too shallow and does not give a broad understanding of the concept of African epistemology. This research work aims at giving a clear definition and description of African epistemology so as to make the concept clear and distinct.

In his work, “African Epistemology”, John opines that “African epistemology in its scope, entails all that is knowable by whatever means” (64). Here John restricts African epistemology to only things that can be known, he does not consider the fact that generally epistemology has to do with knowledge and its limitation. This work concurs to the fact that African epistemology has to do with what can be known by the African. However, it goes further to talk about those things that cannot be known in the African thought system, in other words, the limitation of African epistemology.

Aja in his book, “What is Philosophy? An African Enquiry” sees African epistemology as being concerned mostly with “the possibility of ascertaining whether or not what is claimed as knowledge is actually knowledge rather than mistaken opinion on the one hand and the means of or sources of acquiring knowledge on the other hand” (75). Here Aja limits the concept of African epistemology to just what is and what is not knowledge and the sources of acquiring knowledge. He fails to include the idea of what knowledge really is in African epistemology as well as the  nature of African epistemology. This research work is similar to his description of African epistemology but as an improvement on his notion of African epistemology it goes further to examine the nature of African epistemology and give in full details the various sources of acquiring knowledge in African epistemology.

In his book “A Concise Introduction to Epistemology” Ozumba defines African epistemology as “Africa’s own way of carrying out its enquiries into the nature, scope and limits of knowledge” (171). Agreed that African epistemology has to do with inquiring into the nature, scope and limits of knowledge, but it is not just any knowledge rather knowledge that has bearing on African issues. Secondly, Ozumba excludes the subject of knowledge that is who actually carries out the inquiring. When he says “Africa’s own way” he implies there are already laid down procedures for inquiring and he however fails to mention this procedures. This research shall go further to explain the nature of African epistemology and the sources through which knowledge is gained.

For Okolo in his book “What is African Philosophy”, African philosophy is seen as   “that enterprise which seeks to understand the African person and systematically and coherently articulate his experience of reality” (11). By this definition, Okolo accepts the existence of an African epistemology. This is because when he says “experience of reality”, he means knowledge of reality which has to do with the African worldview. He however fails to make the idea of African epistemology distinct and stand out from that of African philosophy which is the task of this research paper.

In his book, “Preface” Abimbola talks about African epistemology, although not clearly by saying that “a substantial part of this African understanding is the belief in supernatural forces and powers that govern the fascinating human world (33). This is similar to this research as it talks about the African understanding of his human world but Abimbola shies away from identifying African epistemology. This research shall however improve on Abimbola’s definitions as it shall define African epistemology clearly.

In his book “the African experience in the American market place, K.C. Anyanwu defines African philosophy as “that which concerns itself with the way in which African people of the past and the present make sense of their existence, of  their destiny and of the world in which they live” (77). This definition of African philosophy by Anyanwu accepts the existence of African epistemology which he subsumes it under the general context of African philosophy. This research aims towards an expository of concept of African epistemology.

Uduigwomen in his work; the place of oral tradition in African epistemology” opines that “Anyone who wants to talk about African epistemology must concern himself with examining how the African sees or talks about reality” (171). This implies that African epistemology for Uduigwomen concerned with enquiring about the African opinion of reality. This fall in accordance with the aim of this research.However, it shall go further to give the sources of knowledge which helps the African to picture reality clearly.

In his work “Enwisdomization and African philosophy”; Iroegbu sees African philosophy as “the reflective inquiring into the marvels and problematic that confront one in the African world, in view of producing systematic explanation and sustained responses to them” (116). From Iroegbu definition, we can conclude that the African inquires so as to know about the world around him and proffer solutions to them. This implies that he approves of the existence of African epistemology indirectly by placing it under African philosophy generally. This research shall improve on this by extrapolating the concept of African epistemology.

In his work, “African Philosophy; Nature, Schools And Substance”, Momoh sees African philosophy as; “African doctrines or theories on reality (Being) and the universe which is made up of things like God, gods, life after death, reincarnation, spirit, society, man, ancestors, heaven, hell, things, institutions, beliefs, conceptions, practices, etc. (40).Momoh here sees African philosophy in terms of conceptual explanations. He does not link it with knowledge making it look as if African philosophy is all about the doctrine and theories. This research agrees with it since it talks about some of these concepts. However, it shall go further to really talk about African epistemology and nature.

In his work; Problems of African philosophy and other essays C.B. Okolo defines African philosophy as:

“A path to a systematic coherent discovery and disclosure of the African as being in the African world. Through this knowledge or disclosure of himself and his world by critical reflection, the African grasps reality that is to say attains the truth about man and the cosmos in its entirely” (10).

Okolo tries to explicate African philosophy as a path whereby the African discovers himself in his African society thereby attaining truth that is knowledge. This research similarly portrays this fact as truth is one of the essentials of knowledge which the Africans aim at achieving. Okolo however fails to explain the various channels through which this knowledge is gotten. This is however what this research aims at establishing.

In his work, “The Place of Myths and Symbols in African Conception of Reality” Okolie opines that, “in the main, philosophizing in the experience of the traditional African takes the character of critical reflection or analysis of the African of the understanding of reality and worldview” (188). Okolie sees African philosophy as the act of critically reflecting on the  understanding of the African worldview meaning that African philosophy is more or less being done by an individual who goes through the process of reflection by which he comes to acquire knowledge. But what are the means by which this knowledge is acquiring? This is one question Okolie has not answered which this research shall try to answer.

K.C Anyanwu in his work; “African Worldview and Theory of Knowledge”, opines that, “African philosophy does not refer to the beliefs and ideas of individuals and groups but to the fundamental and general principles governing the community of people called Africans” (81).               This work concurs to this as it tries to show the importance of the community in the individual’s attainment of knowledge

In his book,” Logical Problems and Answer Variations in Philosophy”, by Asukwo defines African philosophy as “a subjective worldview packaged and anchored with the mind-frame in order to ask and answer questions that can solve the immediate problem at hand within a given socio-economic and political environment”(1). This is definition  by Asukwo falls In  line with the humanistic description of the African knowledge of reality. However, he limits it to just solving    of problems and he accepts the existence of an African epistemology although he subsumes it under African philosophy. This research shall go further by explicating what African epistemology is, differently from African philosophy.

For Macaulay A. Kanu, in his work, “The History of African Philosophy: A reconciliation.” African philosophy is like every other philosophy. The difference lies in its environmental application.” ( 168). Macaulay accepts the fact that there is an African worldviewt he however commits the error of saying that it is like every other philosophy. If African is like evry other philosophy,then it would not be termed as  as it whould be categorized with the other philosophies. African philosophy is unique and this work tries to brings out the peculiarity of African philosophy through its epistemology as it shall try to explain what makes an African epistemology African.





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