Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.1A, 105-112
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 105
A Redescriptive History of Humanism and
Hermeneutics in African Philosophy
Oladapo Jimoh Balo gun
Department of Philosophy, Lagos State University, O j o, Nigeria
Received September 20th, 2012; r evised October 20th, 2012; accepted Nove mber 5th, 2012
The aim of this paper is to contribute to the on-going debate about self-redescription in the history of Af-
rican philosophy using the method and theory of redescription. This method and theory of redescription
has become the deep concern of not only Western philosophers but of many African philosophers which
is markedly present in their agitated pursuits of wisdom. This self-redescription is alw ays resiliently pre-
sented in the works of Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Appiah, Gyekye Kwame, Olusegun Oladipo, Wole Soy-
inka, Sophie Oluwole, Jim Unah, Martin Heidegger and Maduabuchi Duko;r who is the most recent
emergence of the problem of theory and method in African philosophy. So, the general purpose of this
paper is to enact the intellectual concern of this self-redescription in the history of African philosophy
while the specific purpose is to determine the adequacy of humanism and hermeneutics as concepts cov-
ering the self-image of African philosophy. This paper will further show the incoherence and incongru-
ence of humanism and hermeneutics with the concrete self-image of African philosophy by redescribing
them in the mould of emerging concepts such as the humanness of Orisa intellectual culture, in particular;
and orunmineutics as a general philosophical theory.
Keywords: Redescriptive History of Philosophy; Humanism; Hermeneutics; Humanness of Orisa
Intellectual Culture; Orunmineutics
This paper used the redescriptive theory of Charles Taylor to
investigate conceptual history of African philosophy. This is
being done with a view to reformulate three versions of hu-
manism discussed in this paper with the concept of ‘human-
ness’, using the redescriptive consciousness of some African
intellectuals and philosophers, in view of the problematic of the
continuity and discontinuity between ancient African philoso-
phy and contemporary African philosophy.
In this paper, we propose to suggest some other theoretical
perspectives that can surcharge humanism and hermeneutics in
African intellectual culture. This has been done by our re-re-
description of humanism as the “humanness” of orisa intellec-
tual culture; and orunmineutics as a redescriptive replacement
for hermeneutics in the history of African philosophy.
The Idea of Redescription in the History of
The history of philosophy has its own set of assumptions
which grounds its disciplinary matrixes. Charles Taylor’s the-
ory of redescription is one amongst many of them. Instances of
such set of assumptions and disciplinary matrixes abound in
(Ogumodede, Francis, 2004; Rorty Richard, Schneewind, &
Skinner Quentin, 1984).
Creative redescription as propounded by Charles Taylor is a
disciplined set of theoretical applications to historical problem
in philosophy. Accordingly, for the aims and objectives of this
essay to be accomplished, it is taken that the essence of the
history of philosophy is “creative redescription” and that it
would be difficult to be an accomplished philosopher if this is
not taken as a serious methodological consideration.
What is creative redescription? Creative redescription mani-
fests in a situation where the received idea about a people’s
philosophy and their set of practices is questioned and alterna-
tive descriptions are offered. To recreate, one has to begin with
the enunciation of a self-image; such enunciation, it is claimed,
take place at the level of ideas and invariably gives vitality to
the concrete self-creative process of human beings everywhere.
Without the interchange between redescriptive history and
creativity in philosophy, the compass of human self-creation
would be broken in the forest of existence.
Furthermore, Taylor concludes that it remains impossible to
do any creative redescription without going back to the origins;
without a genetic account of our origins which forces us to
recognize the problem of conceptual continuities and disconti-
nuities at the level of its intellectual dimensions. It is in the
sense of this redescriptive concept of the history of philosophy
that Charles Taylor argues that,
Philosophy is an activity which essentially involves,
among other things, the redescription of what we are do-
ing, thinking, believing, assuming, in such a way that we
bring our reasons to light more perspicuously, or else
make the alternatives more apparent, or in some way or
the other are better enabled to take a justified stand to our
action, thought, belief, assumption. Philosophy involves a
great deal of articulation of what is initially inarticulated
(Taylor, 1984: p. 18).
On this reinterpretation of Taylor’s critique of the role played
by W. V. O Qiune and Richard Rorty in the contemporary
shaping of the history of philosophy as a struggle between the
pro-epistemological model of the history of philosophy and its
projection of the other as “unintelligible” supported by Qiune
on the one hand; and the anti-epistemological model, which
claims that no epistemological model has the overall epistemic
understanding to be a judge over any other model of knowledge;
as supported by Richard Rorty’s pragmatism.
This position makes the critical problem of the unintelligibil-
ity of the “other” in the history of philosophy, possible. It is this
opinionated dichotomy between pro-epistemology and anti-
epistemology, which grounds the point of view to be explored
in this essay. From this point of view, it is clear that Taylor’s
creative redescription in the history of philosophy can be con-
sidered as a viable alternative Theory in the history of philoso-
phy. It is pertinent therefore, that the requirements for this re-
descriptive history include the recovery of previous enuncia-
tions that have been cast off, the non-celebration of uniqueness,
and the inter-cultural intelligibility of the other.
So, the Egyptian atum, the Akhenaton Aten, Anaximander’s
to aperion, Moses’ I am that I am, Cartesian I think therefore I
am, the Einsteinium relativity (e = mc2), Oyibo’s gagut (gij, j =
0), Senghor’s negritude, Soyinka’s cosmic totality, Nkrumah’s
consiencism, Nyerere’s Ujaama, Ben Okri’s abiku, Dukor’s
theistic humanism, Buddha’s fourfold theory of human eman-
cipation from suffering, Schopenhauer’s concept of will as
suffering and compassion, the elephant dung motifs in Chris
Ofilli’s painting and Sophie Oluwole’s Africanness of a phi-
losophy; are exemplars of creative redescriptions in human
intellectual history.
Nonetheless, these concepts above are presented as rede-
scriptive alternatives in the history of philosophy. None of them
offers any epistemic Archimedean point from which we can say
that one description is more appropriate or adequate than an-
other. In other words, our conceptual descriptions are contin-
gent upon one another. This posit does not deny that some self-
descriptions are more influential than others, it claims, however,
that the influence of one self-description over another is due to
the power relations available at the time it makes its appearance
and not because of its epistemic superiority over others. An
example will suffice; the Hegelian self-description of Africa as
a “dark continent” has been rebutted but this does not imply
that it has stopped being influential as a concept in the history
of philosophy. The criterion of truth does not imply here; since
in the case of the history of philosophy, truth can be sought
from any sources of knowledge and relevance can be sought
from what is interesting and significant;
The relationship of thought to truth in the ambiguities of
infinite movement has never been a simple, let alone con-
stant, matter. That is why it is pointless to rely on such a
relationship to define philosophy (Deleuze, Gilles, &
Guattarri Felix, 1994: p. 54).
If this is the case then, that there is no strict rule between
thought and truth, what role has humanism and hermeneutics
played in the redescriptive history of African philosophy?
The Nature of Humanism
Humanism is variously defined and the interpretations of
these definitions are diverse. In its most general sense, however,
humanism concerns that which centers on human interests and
value within the universe. Additionally, humanism is the name
given to the intellectual, literary and scientific movements of
the fourteenth century to the sixteenth century, a movement
which aimed at basing every branch of learning on the literature
and culture of classical antiquity. The father of this type of
humanism is Petrarch; the famous Florentine humanist (Ericson,
1980: p. 1).
Nonetheless, humanism has various other meanings, which
would be impossible to exhaust here. Some views of humanism
will be presented, which will be germane to the purpose of this
paper. This is so because despite its generalized conceptions the
word humanism has some distinct meanings; none of them, we
can claim to be illegitimate. The classification of humanism
that follows is Frederick Edword’s answer to the question, what
is humanism? (Edwords Frederick, 1989: pp. 1-12).
Literary Humanism: The study of the humanities—lit-
erature, history, philosophy etc. In other words, the profes-
sors and students of history, philosophy and literature are
humanists, just as the professors of physics, biology, chem-
istry are naturalists; what about the social scientists? They
are neither humanists nor naturalist.
Renaissance Humanism: This is the spirit of learning that
developed at the end of the Middle Ages with the revival of
classical letters and a renewed confidence in the ability of
human beings to determine for themselves truth and false-
Cultural Humanism: This is the rational and empirical
tradition that originated largely in Ancient Greece and
Rome. It evolved throughout European history, and now
constitutes a basic part of the western approach to science,
political theory, ethics and law. The exemplar of this is
hermeneutics: which began as a myth deriving its ontologi-
cal significance as a god with social relevance. This is the
point where hermeneutics as a social theory becomes inter-
Philosophical Humanism: Is any outlook or way of life
centered on human needs and interests.
Christian Humanism: Is defined as philosophy which
advocates the self-fulfillment of human beings within the
framework of Christian principles.
Modern Humanism: This is also called Naturalistic Hu-
manism Scientific Humanism, Ethical Humanism and De-
mocratic Humanism. These are all concepts of humanism,
which rejects supernaturalism relying primarily upon reason
and science, democracy and human compassion. This sort
of humanism has a dual origin, which is both secular and
Secular Humanism: This kind of humanism grows out of
18th century enlightenment rationalism and 19th century
The real problem about these definitions is that humanists
themselves do not agree on what humanism is. This is under-
standable since it is impossible for individuals not to exhibit the
mental habits which influence their intellectual, moral, political,
and religious judgments.
Even though, humanism is a concept which points to a set of
ideas about human beings, the safest assumption one can make
about the question, what is humanism? Is that scholar of hu-
manism accepts humanism as a nebulous concept (Olorunleke
Ojo, 2010). It is this nebulosity that makes humanism a concept
that can be latched onto by any writer, researcher, author, en-
thusiast, who seeks to connect his thinking with the well being
of humanity, even though, in the rudiment of their actions
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
hardly is there the last vestiges of humanistic ethos. Yet, no
matter what Archimedean point of view any enthusiast of hu-
manism possesses; this point of view is imbued with a human
gaze and perspective. Thus, the implication of most theism in
philosophy is human authoritarianism, which marks the disaster
of most philosophies that connect themselves with religions.
As a meta-theoretical concept, humanism has been used as
the substratum of disciplines, methods, theories and ideologies.
The interdisciplinary nature of humanism underpins its con-
nection with religion, science, literature, ethics; science and
many other ontological problems with which philosophy is
In addition, humanism underlines basic issues in human
knowledge and understanding in African philosophy. This is
accentuated by Godwin Azenabor (Azenabor, 2010) assertion
that African humanism is an adaptation of humanism to the
concrete situation of the African. Yet, as a contested concept in
philosophy, it is difficult to use humanism as the single self-
image of African philosophy.
In addition to this, as a human friendly concept it is easy to
label the critiques of humanism as anti-human since they do not
get caught up in the frenzy of humanism. As an honorific term,
its influence cannot be ignored since its rejection is tantamount
to the rejection of human values. But if the rejection of human-
ism is not the rejection of human values then what is human-
Humanism as an ideological construct has been linked with
Marxism. In fact, this is underlined by Jean Paul Sartre’s
merger of existentialism with humanism. The safest way to
characterize Sartre existentialist humanism is that to say that it
is humanism without God; contra Heidegger, it is humanism
without Being. Sartre claims that there is no God, or Being
against which the actions of Human beings can be measured.
Distinguishing between Christian existentialists such as Karl
Jaspers and Gabriel Marcel on the one hand, [who claim that
there is human nature as created by God], and Heidegger and
himself, on the other hand [who claim that there is no human
nature], Sartre enjoins us to accept the common fact that exis-
tence comes before essence. Humanism in this sense means that
human beings are responsible for their actions. It is in being
responsible for our actions as human beings, who cannot be
measured by God since the freedom of man negates his exis-
tence, that humanism gets connected with the existential crises
of choice and responsibility which invariably results in the
uncertainty of values. Accordingly, the meaning of humanism
has to do with commitment to the existential humanity of man
and not to the essence of man; for the existentialist core of hu-
manism is
The absolute character of the free commitment, by which
every man realizes himself in realizing a type of humanity
a commitment always understandable, to no matter whom,
in no matter what epoch and its bearing upon the relativity
of the cultural pattern which may result from the absolute
commitment (Sartre, 1956: p. 351).
A reaction to this from the perspective of Martin Heidegger
would show that humanism presupposes human knowledge
based upon the relation between Being and its activity of
thinking and not the purported absolute freedom of Sartre. On
Martin Heidegger’s account, the defense and appropriation of
humanism is unnecessary since it is a rush to satisfy the de-
mand of the market;
You ask: Comment redonner un sens au mot Humanisme?
[How can we restore meaning to the word “humanism”]
This question proceeds from your intention to retain the
word “humanism.” I wonder if that is necessary. Or is the
damage caused by all such terms still not sufficiently ob-
vious? True, “isms” have for a long time now been sus-
pect. But the market of public opinion continually de-
mands new ones. We are always prepared to supply the
demand. Even such names as “logic,” “ethic s” and “phys-
ics” begin to flourish only when original thinking comes
to an end (Heidegger, 1978: p. 195).
Whatever a human being knows cannot go beyond the rela-
tionship between thinking and Being, a relationship which con-
fers on humanity, its humanness. Understanding is a fusion of
emotive and rational knowledge. It is this that forms the basis
of human knowledge and its interpretation. Being thrown ac-
cording to Martin Heidegger, is a human possession, therefore,
in reiteration, there is no knowledge other than what we are
capable of as humans. Accordingly humanism for Heidegger is
meditating and caring which distinguishes being human from
being inhuman. T o be inhum a n i s to be outside one’s essence.
Heidegger’s takes contrary stand against Jean Paul Sartre’s
equalization of existentialism with humanism, claiming that
humanism underestimate man’s unique position in the light of
being. Furthermore, it is precisely because humanism underes-
timates the “standing out of human life to the truth of being”
that he rejects humanism (Heidegger, 1946: p. 191).
The Relationship between Humanism and
Self-Redescriptions in African Philosophy
The use of humanism has become commonplace especially
in the redescriptive history of African philosophy. It is asserted
by Azenabor that African humanism has been a recurrent theme
in African philosophy (Azenabor, 2010: p. 115).
However, it should be noted that when it is used, humanism
is not placed on the pedestal of critique, which could question
the historical and intellectual repositioning of its emergence in
African philosophy and whether it sufficiently describes or
covers the philosophical experiences of Africans. In most cases,
what we witness is the strange imposition of foreign concepts
on indigenous epistemic orientations. The upshot of this, is that
humanism has become an increasingly redundant concept to
describe or re-describe the intimate human experiences in Afri-
can philosophy. Humanism is an over-generalized description
of African humanity in African philosophy. Azenabor declares
further that;
African humanism, as an African thought system, stresses
relationships among people in society that is, interde-
pendence, rather than bold descriptions of individual
events in human experience or individualism (Azenabor,
2010: p. 115).
How? Humanists in African philosophy present their ver-
sions, as if it is what everyday Africans conceive, project and
must accept. But on the views of Jim Unah’s that human life is
always a transcendence from what is to what is not and its Hei-
deggerian import that human life is an ecstatical possibility,
then a sustained redescription should open the history of Afri-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 107
can philosophy to other alternatives of humanistic ethos.
Unah (2002: p. 127), furthermore, it is difficult to ignore the
admonition of Kwame Appiah, that the idea of a single self-
image of the African world is a myth (Appiah, 1992: p. 83).
This critique can be located in the pursuit of wisdom by three
prominent African philosophers, who are Kwasi Wiredu,
Sophie Oluwole and Maduabuichi Dukor on humanism.
First, it must be stressed that these individual philosophers
represent bold self-redescriptive efforts to relocate humanism
as an open ended construct of ideas in African philosophy,
which marks their own ingenuity and creative concern with
concepts and themes of African philosophy.
In the light of this, Kwasi Wiredu conceptualizes the moral
foundation of African philosophy in the suggestion that a con-
temporary Akan is not a supernaturalist but a humanist (Wiredu,
1995: p. 3). Although, Wiredu does not expressly claim that he
is pursuing the course of humanism, in this essay, however, in
Olusegun Oladipo’s introduction to the essays in honour of
Wiredu, he (the most influential philosopher on Wiredu) pre-
sents four key points of Wiredu’s philosophy with the submis-
sion that Wiredu makes humanism a core of his philosophy.
Olusegun Oladipo says that Wiredu makes:
A conscious attempt to develop an African tradition of
humanism in which knowledge and values are nothing
unless they serve the purpose of promoting human well-
being (Oladipo, 2002: p. 14).
In his contribution to humanism in African philosophy,
Wiredu argues that Akan morality is oriented towards humanis-
tic ethos and not supernaturalism (Ibid, 1995: p. 37). Here
Kwasi Wiredu is engaging in a self-redescription of Akan mo-
rality, which in itself is worthwhile but his claim about Akan
humanism is very problematic. It gives the untoward implica-
tion that every Akan would subscribe to the conclusion that
Akan Morality is not oriented towards supernaturalism.
This redundancy of humanism as a concept in human en-
gagement with its well-being is thematically enforced in Martin
Heidegger’s Letter on humanism, in which he argues that hu-
manism as a concept covers up the “humanity” of human be-
ings. Accordingly humanism functions as a concealing outfit
for the homelessness of “human life” in a world that should
have been his home. Thus, the question “How can some sense
be restored to the word humanism’?” means that grace has
been removed from the word humanism which is used, ulti-
mately, to describe the concern of man with human life. Since
the word humanism describes the anxiety of man with himself
cutting of the umbilical cord which connects human beings
with supernatural forces, would Wiredu argue that Akans do
not believe in ancestral guidance, if not worship? This self-
redescription by Kwasi Wiredu of Akan Morality as humanism
is a signpost of misdirection, which does not express the collec-
tive experience of Akan foundation of morality as the essay
purports to show.
Another philosopher who has engaged in self-redescriptive
effort in African philosophy is Sophie Oluwole and whose
concept of humanism is embedded in her idea Africanness of
philosophy (Azenabor, 2010: pp. 110-133). Her cautious ap-
proach towards re-describing the concern of African philosophy
as the “pursuit of humanism” is noteworthy. The pedagogic
import of these has been drawn out by Godwin Azenabor in his
essay on Oluwole’s “Africanness of a philosophy”. Even
though she attempts to show that the Humanism she favours
has once had an existence amongst the Greeks; it is a humanism
which is still imbued with the interpretation of the renaissance
literary mission.
However the content of her frame of mind on humanism
promotes and deepens the “humanness” of African philosophy
rather than the Humanism of African philosophy. But for the
use of the problematic conceptual label, “humanism”; Olu-
wole’s self-redescription on African philosophy would have
been distinguished more than the notion of the collective. Our
finding here, is that Oluwole confuses her undertaking with the
task of Petrarch the father of humanism. Petrarch devoted his
life to the recovery, copying, and editing of Latin manuscripts.
Yet, their tasks are different. Since Oluwole concerns herself
with the location of philosophical concepts in Ifa corpus in both
its oral offering and literary readings. Whatever the conception
of her philosophical mission, it is no longer “humanism”. Her
concern with the recovery, translation and interpretation of oral
offerings of Ifa Corpus and doubt concerning what may have
been ascribed to Orunmila goes to show that she intends to
exhibit the primordiality of the African philosophical experi-
ence. She is concerned with the “grace of humanness” offered
by the indigenous knowledge of African traditional society.
The third and most recent germane description of humanism
in African philosophy is Maduabuichi Dukor’s theistic human-
Dukor presents a conglomerate of ideas; (western and Afri-
can) using theistic humanism as its umbrella concept and her-
meneutics as its theoretical framework. Our interpretation of
Dukor will be based on these dual perspectives.
Dukor claims that the definition of African philosophy is
theistic humanism. Theistic humanism is an acknowledgment
of the theistic and humanistic undertone of African philosophy
and its scientific nature. Furthermore, Dukor claims that theistic
humanism could be the basis and justification of the third world
countries struggle for justice in a lopsided world order. Since
theistic humanism is a concept or doctrine which designates
African inclusive idea of God, man, and universe; theism and
humanism are both categories of humanism. In this way, the
legitimacy of African philosophy becomes enunciated as the
claim that,
African philosophy so defined renders the religious,
myths and symbols as rational and coherent system as
well as constituting a material or a fabric for philosophical
enterprises, much so there is also evidence of myths and
symbols in the history of western philosophy (Dukor,
2010: p. ix).
Apart from theistic humanism; Dukor claims that an authen-
tic African philosophy must proceed from spirituality since, for
the African “man is the measure of all things while essence
precedes existence”, therefore, African life is subject to God.
Furthermore, he defines theistic humanism as the theory and
view that the literary endeavours, worldview, or cosmology,
ontology, aesthetics, ethics and politics of Africans are spiritual.
Succinctly put, theistic humanism is an afro-ontological con-
ceptualization of being human in the midst of all forms of hu-
manism and its theistic formulation.
However, it must be noted that Dukor ignores the caution of
Martin Heidegger that philosophers should be careful the way
they use humanism as concept of utility rather than that of ac-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
complishment between thinking and Being. Seen through this
light, Jim Unah’s discourse on the otology of man where we are
again warned against the ideological representation of the Be-
ing of man and shown the significance of his mental power is
pertinent. According to Jim Unah human reality is a summary
or an epitome or a small version of the world. He further opines
The way the world, Reality or Being manifests in contra-
dictory terms so too is man himself a bundle of puzzles
and contradictions. Thus, if one wants to understand how
the world, Reality, Being, truly is one should first of all
understand the porousness and contradictions inherent in
human reality. Human being is a microcosm of a macro-
cosm (Unah, 2002: p. 145).
Unah’s and Heidegger’s reliance on the mental power of man
and its understanding of human life call into question Madua-
buichi’s Dukor theistic humanism and points us to the intellec-
tual direction of human life through thinking and not necessar-
ily spirituality or theism.
The presumption of Dukor is that African philosophy cannot
but be both humanist and theistic but the problem with this, is
that not all Africans are theists. In fact, the current presentation
of theistic humanism is an oversight of Appiah that the idea of
single self-image Africa is a myth. Before Appiah, Bodunrin
has appealed to the individualist intellectuality of Africans; thus
it goes without saying that theistic humanism is an over-gener-
alization of the African conception of humanism. If we pair
Oluwole intellectual humanism with Dukor’s theistic human-
ism, we simply come to the interpretation that the average con-
ception of humanism is intellectual rather than theistic. Dukor’s
theistic humanism gives the impression that humanism in Afri-
can philosophy is monolithic and not multiple.
Leaving the problem generated by theistic humanism alone
we come to the problem of Hermeneutics which is another in-
fluential theory in philosophy especially African philosophy.
The influence of hermeneutics in African philosophy forces one
to ask whether we as Africans are bereft of ancient and modern
intellectual ancestors that almost all foreign concepts created
and invented is appropriated to the redescription of theories in
African philosophy. Just has Martin Heidegger applies the re-
dundancy of theory concept in his treatment of humanism so we
are going to do. It is redundant because it makes no sense to be
continuously caught in the web of intellectual ancestors who
are no longer relevant to the intellectual need of Africans and
their cultural development.
The interpretation above has shown that the relation that ex-
ists between Humanism and self-redescription in African phi-
losophy is the failure to engage in conceptual formation which
would properly describe or cover the spectrum of African ex-
perience in philosophy. The three self-redescriptions in African
philosophy presented above shows that “Humanism” is inade-
quate when describing the African experience in philosophy.
The Nature of Hermeneutics
Hermeneutics is both a theory and method which has grown
out of the social role and abstract conception of the Greek god;
Hermes. Hermes was the messenger of the gods in both Iliad
and Odyssey. In other to carry out this function, Hermes had to
bridge an ontological gap between the thinking of the gods and
human beings. Hermes possessed a mysterious helmet which
could make him invisible and visible; magical wings on his
sandals to carry him promptly over long distances and a magi-
cal wand that could put any one to sleep and wake up. Accord-
ingly, he was regarded as the “god of gaps” of the margins, the
boundaries, the limns of many things. Hermes was a liminal
phenomenon (Palmer, 1999: p. 2).
Thus, the theory and method called hermeneutics holds
within its formulation mythical and theological implications.
Especially when considered as the theory underpinning the
whole of Dukor’s theistic humanism. The root of hermeneutics
as a philosophical approach to inquiry is linked with Aristotle
who narrowly defined hermeneutics in terms of the determina-
tion of the truth and falsity of assertions. However, Palmer
claims further that the words hermeneuein, hermeneia and their
cognates were widely used in ancient Greek to mean interpreta-
tion in several senses (Palmer, 1999: p. 2).
The first of such senses is the oral interpretation of Homer
and other classic texts who were called Hermeneutic; the sec-
ond of such senses is translation from one language into another
and the hermeneutical process involved in this is the problem
whether translation is free from interpretation and third, is the
exegesis of texts; the hermeneutical process involved in this is
the interpretation which involves the bringing out of meaning,
especially hidden meaning in texts. Hermeneutics is the expli-
cating of dreams, oracles, and other difficult texts, including
legal, religious and literary texts (Palmer, 1999: p. 2).
As an art of interpretation, Hermeneutics underpins the ap-
plication of human understanding to various disciplinary atti-
tude such as theology, law and the scripture and even science. It
has been used as a general theory of human understanding by
Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, Martin Heidegger,
Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur and Jacques Derrida. Each
of these intellectuals has used hermeneutics in different ways
that sustained the critique of modernity and its consequences on
the problem of existence. Although Hermeneutics does not
reduce critical thinking into relativism; it however, accepts and
recognizes the historicity of human understanding. It is the
practice of historical retrieval and the re-construction of the
historical context of scientific and literary works
Furthermore, Hermeneutics guide intercultural relation, since
it is formulated within the ontological and linguistic gap that
operates amongst cultures. Its most important contribution is
that it gives the opportunity to understand better that which is at
stake in intercultural interactions. It is this opportunity that
accentuates the Hermeneutician critique of radical relativist
who claims that meaning cannot be trans-lingual.
Essentially, dialogical understanding is the strength of Her-
meneutics, as it constantly calls for the openness and solidarity
that is needed in inter-disciplinary, inter-linguistic, inter-reli-
gious and international collaboration (Ibid, 2013).
A Rediscriptive History of Hermeneutics
in African Philosophy
From the above enumeration of Hermeneutics, it is clear that
Hermeneutics is a Euro-centric intellectual source that relies on
the Greek God of Liminality: Hermes. This god and his many
attributes have been appropriated by many philosophers across
cultures including many European philosophers, Asian phi-
losophers, African philosophers, American philosophers as
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 109
alternatives of theoretical experiences in philosophy. These
alternative theoretical experiences, it may be argued, have been
engaged in, in other to subvert science and positivism as a dis-
ciplinary authority in epistemology and the history of knowl-
As an inter-cultural theoretical and methodological concept,
Hermeneutics has become handy for some influential African
philosophers in their bid to re-describe African philosophy
away from its ethnographic, analytic and sagacious influences;
while maintaining its professional integrity. Such African phi-
losophers are; Serequeberham, Tseney (1994), Okolo, Okonda
(1991), Owolabi, Kola (2001), Obi, Oguejiofor (2009) and
Dukor, Maduabuchi (2010).
An application of redescriptive history of philosophy to these
philosophers’ use of Hermeneutics would show that while they
have achieved a lot theoretically and methodologically for Af-
rican philosophy, there is no doubt they failed to connect with
their primordial intellectual culture. This historico-ontological
gap in the theoretical and methodological history of African
philosophy calls for an interpretation that brings into focus the
relevance of ancient African philosophy and its contribution to
contemporary social theory.
In the explication of the failure of contemporary African
philosophic thought in terms of its thematic relation to the dis-
course of the African liberation struggle Tseney, Serequeberhan
introduced Hermeneutics as the theory which closes the onto-
logical gap that exist between ethnophilosophy and its profes-
sional critics (Serequeberham, 1994: p. 118). As a liberating
theory, Serequeberham’s hermeneutics poses the problem of the
concrete historicity of postcolonial African philosophic thought.
He argues further that;
Through all of the above, this study has presented African
philosophy as a critical hermeneutics of the African situa-
tion. In its specific arguments and formulations, this study
has been grounded in the concrete awareness that phi-
losophy in general and African philosophy in particular is,
above all else and necessarily, a hermeneutical thinking
through of its own historicalness (Serequeberhan, 1994: p.
Let us agree with Serequeberhan that there is the need for
theoretical intervention in the discourse concerning the self-
image of African philosophy, but can the challenge of “decolo-
nizing the mind” be met with Hermeneutics: another colonial
theoretical formulation?
If the aim of Serequeberhan is to defend the emancipating
need of the African mode of life and its indigenous philoso-
phies in African languages, must our cultural motifs neglect our
origins; tradition and destiny?
Okolo, Okonda (1991) while not explicitly giving vent to the
not-too-necessary role of hermeneutics in African philosophy;
keeps vacillating between the cultural gap and social theories
that exists between tradition and destiny in contemporary Afri-
can philosophy asks;
And what about us, what is our vision of the world, and
what is our idea of destiny that directs our readings and
our retakes? Can we align ourselves with the vision of the
world, with the idea of destiny, secreted by European
hermeneutics without implicitly negating our own tradi-
tion and our own history? Can we simply reverse this vi-
sion of the world, this idea of destiny, and brandish our
spiritual superiority in front of a technicized (technicisèè)
and materialistic Europe without falling back into a
twisted Hegelianism? (Okonda, 1991).
Within these questions, Okolo concludes that we have to
proceed from the hermeneutical approach in other to emanci-
pate ourselves intellectually from European dominance; but do
we need the theoretical tool of a European God? Are there no
gods in Africa that can be critically scrutinized and elevated to
a more fulfilling intellectual pedestal such as the Greeks did
with Hermes and European intellectuals with hermeneutics?
These redescriptive questions affect the researches that have
buried the authenticity of contemporary African philosophy
within the theoretical circle of hermeneutics. Such researches
using Hermeneutics as both a theoretical and methodological
approaches fall under the same critique under which Tseney
Serequeberhan has been subjected.
So, Owolabi’s Hermeneutic-Narrative approach in African
philosophy; Oguejiofor Obi’s reinterpretation of Negritude as
hermeneutics, Maduabuchi Dukor’s Hermeneutical method in
theistic humanism where the essence of man is critically ele-
vated over his existential projections, and Theophilus Okere
(1983) Historico-Hermeneutical investigations of the conditions
of the possibility of African philosophy, all embark on the same
theoretical route: the imposition of Greek cultural identity on
African philosophy. But, how do we respond to these problems
from the perspective of primordial African concern with its
humanity? These question raised above will be the focus of our
attenti o n immediately.
Reformulating the Problem of Theory and
Method in African Philosophy:
Orisa Intellectual Culture
From the above, it would be grasped that we need to pay at-
tention to creation and formation of concepts in African phi-
losophy. A crucial problem that we need to tackle now is the
problem of alternative theories to humanism and hermeneutics
in the history of African Philosophy. There are strong argu-
ments in favour of the position that contemporary African phi-
losophy is discontinuous with its ancient origins. It can no
longer be denied, however, that most contemporary African
philosophers have turned their attention to concepts and theo-
ries formulated by ancient thinkers and have explored the rele-
vance of these concepts to contemporary problems. In line with
this observation, we present three major contemporary African
philosophers who have explored the orisa intellectual culture to
establish this continuity. These three philosophers have the
same cultural background; Yoruba cultural background, but we
in no way claim here that this cultural background is the only
cultural background through which the redescriptive of African
philosophy could be enacted; it is just one among many of such
cultural background.
Sketches of the Orisa intellectual culture have appeared in
the works of Wole Soyinka who has explored the humanness of
the orisas in his major works. Some contemporary African
philosophers have appropriated the pattern of openness, soli-
darity and dialogue with which this intellectual culture is im-
bued. Such philosophers that have appropriated this intellectual
culture are Unah (2006: pp. 16-19) in his attempt to grapple
with problem of “Nothing” and Appiah (1992: pp. 73-84) in his
ontological interpretation the African situation in the philoso-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
phy of culture.
It must be noted that the concept orisa is used as a parallel to
the concept philosopher; the lover of wisdom. In a dialogue,
Ulli Beier and Wole Soyinka characteristically explore the hu-
manity of the orisa beyond the popular conception of their di-
vinity. The both came to conclusion that the Orisa were human
beings who like the ancient Greek philosophers made discover-
ies of elements and the primal stuffs of reality;
I can find parallels to Yoruba concepts here on several
levels. The artist as the “creature of dissatisfaction with
immediate rea lity ” is really very remini scen t of the orisha ,
who starts life as a human being-a king or a warrior- but
because of his dissatisfaction with the immediate reality
“leads a raid into that other world.” (Soyinka & Beier,
1997: p. 10).
The human being dissatisfied with immediate reality returns
as the human being whose new knowledge of phenomena gives
the privilege of the relation between Thinking and Being. The
orisa comes back to the real world with ideas that have become
useful or destructive to mankind; depending on his time of ap-
pearance. Thus, the orisas are human beings who confronted by
the need to find solutions to problems; lead an intellectual raid
into other world; the world of ideas and come back with an
answer. The orisa start out as human being and end being dei-
fied. Just as Thales found out that water is the ultimate primal
stuff so did Osun discovered the importance of water to human
life, Ogun discovered iron and was able to cr ea te pa th wa ys with
it, Sango, parallel to Heraclitus, took fire to be his own primal
stuff becoming the demiurge of electricity in modern Yoruba
Soyinka stresses further that the orisas are the custodian of
wisdom. The humanness of the orisa is further demonstrated in
their capacity for understanding and intuitive grasp of complex-
ity of the infinite mind and a true sense of the infinite potential
of the world. The humanness of the orisa is reflected in their
purity, love, transparency of heart and so on (Soyinka, 1991: pp.
The point being made here is that contemporary African phi-
losophers have followed this trend and have sought both meth-
odological and theoretical pathways in Ancient African phi-
losophy. Oladipo Olusegun (2007: pp. 1-12) is a conspicuous
example. As a contemporary African philosopher Oladipo com-
plains about the situation wherein African philosophers have
submitted their ‘intellectual future’ to others; appealing to Paul
Hountondji, he argues that contemporary African philosophers
confine themselves to the role of producers of intellectual raw
materials; allowing metropolitan scholars to supply them with
finished intellectual products, in terms of theories, while further
data is generated in other to justify these theories about our
societies and cultures. This redescriptive process of historical
origins of the intellectual foundations of African philosophy is
possible only when concepts, theories and methods are redis-
covered and presented for the sake of human-well being. In his
further analysis, he argues that Yoruba primordial divinities
stand for certain core values which are in-negligible as cultural
and philosophical theories. He shows that, Orunmila stands for
knowledge and wisdom; including historical knowledge as a
witness of destiny, Orisa-nla (Obatala) stand for creativity and
forthrightness, while Ogun stands for power and courage. This
posit is again accentuated by Oluwole, Sophie (1999) who con-
tinuously insist that African oral tradition holds within it, inter-
esting and significant philosophical kernel with which contem-
porary African philosophers can re-describe their present
methodological and theoretical situation. According to her, it is
impossible to come into contact with authentic African phi-
losophy without first engaging the oral traditions of ancient
wisdoms. Oluwole’s emphasis on Oral tradition brings into
focus the problem of continuity and discontinuity in African
philosophy and its connection with the emergence of the orisa
intellectual culture which we have enumerated above.
The main thrust of the argument in this part of this is that
parallel line can be drawn between ancient Greek philosophy
and ancient African philosophy. It has also being argued that
just as there is a continuity between ancient Greek Philosophy
and contemporary Western philosophy so also there is continu-
ity between ancient African philosophy and contemporary Af-
rican philosophy.
It is important to note that the critique of Humanism does not
necessarily involve the rejection of the humanistic values which
connects human beings together. The rejection of humanism is
not the rejection of the humanity of Africans but the rejection
of the usage of a second-hand label as suggested by our tripar-
tite contemporary orisas (Wole Soyinka, Olusegun Oladipo and
Sophie Oluwole) to describe and explain the philosophic ex-
periences of Africans.
Now to the question, what is the concept that can describe
and explain the activities of these African philosophers? What
we suggest is that Contemporary African philosophers should
continue to work in the primordial region of African experi-
ences which could usher them into the grace of the “Human-
ness” that makes up the African experience in its everyday
So, the foundation of Akan morality is its “humanness” its
concern with the well-being of the human beings that inhabit
the cultural space of Akan morality. What Sophie Oluwole tries
to discover is the “humanness” present in African philosophy
through her romantic involvement with Orunmila; the creator of
Ifa corpus, Olusegun Oladipo’s tripartite conception of reality
from the substance of Yoruba philosophy and Wole Soyinka’s
humanization of the orisas through his tripartite conception of
the theory of literary culture.
The discussion above has taken us through different levels of
self-description and re-redescription in African philosophy. It
has been suggested that humanism and hermeneutics as a con-
cept do not sufficiently describe the concern with African hu-
manity in the philosophy of Kwasi Wiredu and Sophie Oluwole
and Maduabuichi Dukor. It is therefore, suggested that what
this philosophers are doing is not humanism, but the rediscov-
ery of “humanness” in African cultural philosophy. This idio-
syncratically expresses itself in theory of Orisa Intellectual
culture, its method being Orunmeneutics.
What is orunmineutics? It is a redescriptive theory and
method in African philosophy. Its initial obligation is to con-
nect ancient African philosophies with its contemporary coun-
terparts. It seeks the relevance of intercultural, interdisciplinary,
interlinguistic, interreligious, and international dialogue, soli-
darity and openness. As a procedure of research; it is a metas-
cientific and multicultural process through which the human-
ness of the human being gets explication and possibilities that
are available within the ecstatic conception of time. As a limi-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 111
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
nal theory and method takes over the cultural ontological gap in
African philosophy; in which humanism and hermeneutics are
receding. The nature of orunmineutics are numerous, but what
should be noted is that the intellectual clarion call to rethink our
methodologies and theories in contemporary African philoso-
phy should not be neglected if African philosophy is to be re-
garded as veritable in the intellectual history of philosophy in
general. Thus, the philosophers in this essay use orunmineutics
as long as they are conscious of the present world tradition of
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