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Introduction

Kwasi Wiredu's Ethics of Consensus

An African Model


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1

  A crucial feature of intercultural philosophising is the multifarious polylogue between various cultures and traditions. This is why the focus of this issue concerns itself with a region which, up to now, is rarely put on a global map of philosophy. In this way some of the lesser heard voices are integrated into the polylogue, and, in a first step, made fertile for our thinking.


»The project of an ethics of consensus appears to provide us with several fertile starting points for further enquiry which should be worked out within an intercultural polylogue, with regard to the project of universally valid ethics as well as with regard to reconciliation of regional conflicts.«

2

  To focus on a contemporary philosophical project from Africa as the main theme of our issue seems rewarding for two reasons: firstly, we would like to help putting the so far marginalised theories of African philosophers further into the spotlight of global philosophical debates. Secondly, the project of an ethics of consensus appears to provide us with several fertile starting points for further enquiry which should be worked out within an intercultural polylogue, with regard to the project of universally valid ethics as well as with regard to reconciliation of regional conflicts. The discussion of Wiredu's approach by the authors of this issue provides us with some directions of further enquiries in this vein.

3

  Kwasi Wiredu's project of consensual ethics is somehow representative for current mainstream positions in the African philosophical discussion, in so far as the results of the debate on the existence of African philosophy (and on the question of what is 'African' in African philosophy), have influenced this approach in a very fertile way. That debate, which is often characterised as an argument between ethnophilosophers and academic philosophers, was itself dominated by the quest to surmount the common stereotypes of the Africans' incapacity to philosophize, and by the search for an identity which, after the experiences of racism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, is self-determined at last. During the last thirty years, philosophy in Africa was largely shaped by this debate. Today, it has a solid foundation from which to philosophise confidently and independently, drawing naturally from the specific historical, social, and cultural conditions and contexts within Africa, as well as from references to the traditions of other continents.

4

  Wiredu's approach itself is already far beyond such general discussions. He critically refers to African traditions and worldviews as well as to the European tradition of philosophising, in order to find solutions for current (political) problems of African countries. Situating himself in a position of critical distance to African traditions and approaches, and to European philosophies, Wiredu avoids to take sides with either of the extremely oppositional camps in earlier debates, as he attempts to form a new aproach as a synthesis. (The ethnophilosophical position consisted in returning to the roots of African thinking and thus reconsolidating a true African authenticity; the position of academic philosophers usually saw African tradition as irrelevant for contemporary thinking and philosophising.)

5

  Wiredu's project might furthermore help to clarify that 'African' philosophy has nothing to do with exoticism, myths, and rituals, as is still widely assumed. Instead, it often consists in political and socially engaged philosophies attempting to come to terms with the pressing dilemmas of a heterogenous continent, its difficult colonial and neo-colonial past, and its current situation in the global economical and political scene. Such an engaged philosophy, dealing with the immediate problems of current life, can also be inspiring for other socio-historical and political contexts.

Anke Graneß



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