The African philosophy, in very general terms, involves a deep connection with nature and an understanding and respect for the inexorable cycle of life. Man is part of the Big Picture that is Nature and the cosmos. Man does not live by reason alone in the African worldview. Intuition and imagination are regarded as valid, and logic is not stressed as the path to wisdom. Emotion plays a more important role.
Western philosophy has engaged in much debate about the existence of God. Ontological arguments, inductive and deductive reasoning, and proofs about the Immovable Mover do not figure into African philosophy.
The fact that there is a “Force” is a given, as well as the fact that there is a spirit world that coexists with the realm of physical reality. The typical African philosophy maintains that there is an order to the cosmos. The higher powers (gods) are at the top of the hierarchy, followed by man, animals, and inanimate natural objects.
No Philosophical Debates
There is no conflict between Rationalism and Empiricism; all the great philosophical debates are rendered moot. The world is neither an idea in the mind of man; nor is it only to be understood through sensory experience. This dueling Dualism is not present in African philosophy. There is no either-or mentality or conflict of opposites that permeates Western thought (and the East for that matter — consider the Yin and the Yang of Buddhism).
There is no “dualism” in African and Native American culture. Life is a seamless cycle, and we are all one with Nature. The Western tendency to establish a conflict of opposites does not exist in this world.
The seamless harmony and flow of nature is at the heart of African philosophy. Death is not an end; it is simply a part of life and a journey into a new phase of existence of the spirit — though this belief is true of religious people from all cultures. There is also the healthy mind-body-spirit connection that is now more accepted in other societies. A human is one organism, and disease of the soul can become a diseased body. This is the basis for holistic medicine, which has grown very popular in the Western world.
It's about Time
African philosophy views mankind simply as part of a harmonious whole, not as the exalted center of the universe or as a malignant accident of nature. And time was not measured by the clocks and other timepieces; the sunrises, sunsets, and the changing of the seasons measured it. There was no discussion of Heraclitus's theory that everything is a constant state of flux or Parmenides's notion that change is an illusion and that permanence is the natural state of reality.
The other great European time controversy was between Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried “Monads” Leibniz. Newton, the great seventeenth-century scientist and mathematician who “discovered” gravity, determined that time was not a sequence of events that comprise life; rather it was absolute and mathematical and occurred in and of itself. Leibniz believed that the succession of events is what constitutes time. Our old friend Aristotle believed that time was part of the innate course of all things from potentiality to actuality.
Traditional African and Native American cultures do not measure time the same way. They are not slaves to the ticking clock. Time is measured by sunrises and sunsets, as well as the changing seasons.
The African belief is that time is simply the life process. Again, harmony and wholeness was the philosophy of Africans for many millennia. Of course, in this age of industrialization and the Internet, Africans have adopted many Western ways, just as the West is continually intrigued by the philosophies that have emerged from Africa, and the traditions of the American Indians.