P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue No. 198
26th November 2015
Edited by Eric George
I. 'Lex Injusta Non Est Lex: Natural Law contra Positivism' by
II. 'The Person in African Communalism' by Yongho Nichodemus
III. 'Influence of Expectation: The Academic As Agent of Authority'
by Lance Kirby
For this issue of Philosophy Pathways, there is a melting pot of
philosophising from three very capable 'lovers of wisdom': Matthew
Su, Dr Yongho Nichodemus and Lance Kirby.
A friend of mine, Matthew Su, a philosophy and law student at
Macquarie University, writes on the issue of natural law contra
positive law. Taking inspiration from Thomas Aquinas' normative
account of law, in 'Lex Injusta Non Est Lex: Natural Law contra
Positivism', Su holds that positive law is 'an institution of the
natural law' -- meaning that positive law cannot be described as
positive law without a metaphysical commitment to natural law. Su,
following in classic Thomist fashion, in order to demonstrate the
persuasiveness of his case raises objections to his own position from
the opposing positivist stance, these objections being: methodological
(is natural law religious in essence?), substantive (is natural law
descriptively inferior to positive law?) and pragmatic (is natural
law impractical?). By then refuting these objections with great
intellectual tenacity, Su displays that his position is
philosophically rigorous in its own defence, providing a refreshing
I have often been interested in other philosophical notions and
traditions which are birthed from indigenous cultures. This is why it
is a pleasure for me to introduce this next paper. In 'The Person in
African Communalism', African philosopher Dr Yongho Nichodemus, from
the department of philosophy at the University of Bamenda, gives a
vivid insight into the traditional African notion of the self within
the paradigm of African communalism and broader traditional African
philosophy. Nichodemus is not one to leave things amiss, as his paper
draws from a wide range of disciplines (such as: political theory,
sociology and philosophy) all of which undergird his holistic
approach to his main objective. The objective of course being, to
address, as he states in his preamble, 'the African answer to the
question, 'what is man?'.' Welcoming in his paper, both western
philosophical perspectives in relation to traditional African
concepts, building a powerful synthesis, Nichodemus makes clear that
the African individual's conception of the self is inclusive to other
conceived entities (such as the spiritual world) and is not excluded
and isolated from such entities. He affirms that everything in this
metaphysical outlook is interconnected. This however does not mean
that the emphasis on the collective social community therefore
equates to the individual self as having, 'non-recognition'.
Lance Kirby, independent philosopher and blogger extraordinaire, in
'Influence of Expectation: The Academic As Agent of Authority',
reminds us all of the relationship between one's professional
authority as a teacher and how this 'perceived authority by the
community' can be affected negatively by one's personal opinions on
public issues of the day, especially if such opinions are
'ill-advised judgements'. Kirby opens by building on the ideas of Max
Weber, in describing what a teacher's legitimate authority entails.
From here Kirby turns to common-sense assertions from analysing the
correlations between the persona of the teacher, the students and the
community at large and what is expected of the teacher therein. In his
conclusion, Kirby gives pearls of wisdom in saying that teachers need
to be mindful of these implications that come into play given the
influence of such expectations and the effects these expectations can
have. Here Kirby offers an accessible grass-roots approach on the
entire issue at hand, yet not without its profundity, a very
It is an honour to present, Philosophy Pathways Issue 198.
(c) Eric George 2015
About the editor:
I. 'LEX INJUSTA NON EST LEX' NATURAL LAW CONTRA POSITIVISM' BY
This paper will argue that positive law exists only within the
boundaries of natural law, and that it compels our behaviour only
insofar as it reflects the natural law. The natural law model to be
considered will be that of Thomas Aquinas. Methodological,
substantive and pragmatic objections from the positivist point of
view will be considered, and it will be argued that these objections
fail and in fact Aquinas' normative account of law is superior even
as a descriptive method.
I will argue that we 'must' obey the law in the following sense: that
law, insofar as it is law, morally obliges us to obey. By 'law,' I am
referring to law insofar as it is made by humans.
For Thomas Aquinas, the positive law is by nature a derivation of the
natural law. The latter is called 'natural' because it is grounded
in human nature and accessible to reason. Aquinas' contentions about
human nature are not statements of mere regularities in human
behaviour. Rather, they are contentions about human essence -- of
what it is to be human at all. Natural law derives its normative
force from the inherently perfective aspect of conforming to human
nature; human beings who conform to their essence are more perfectly
human, hence whatever conforms to that nature is part of their good
as humans -- this is a denial of the is/ ought distinction. For
Aquinas, it is part of the human essence, as a distinctly rational
animal, to be 'political.' That is, to be a rational animal just
is to be the kind of being which distinctly can relate to fellow
rational animals in recognition of their rationality by coordinating
rationally toward the common good. Hence the distinctively human, or
'good' way of behaving as a group just is to exist in a community
that itself is essentially ordered toward the common good by reason.
Aquinas recognizes that the natural law by itself, fixed by necessity
in human nature, is often indeterminate with respect to many
contingent operational and coordination problems of the community.
The coordinative nature of the community entails the existence of a
coordinating authority that solves such problems, and so part of the
good of the members of the community consists in obedience to this
authority. Positive law thus by its very nature is an institution of
the natural law, and in this sense is both intrinsically and
derivatively authoritative. An unjust law, as intrinsically counter
to the good, is not part of the operation of distinctly human
community (which operates insofar as it coordinates the actions of
society toward the good of its members) upon its parts. It therefore
cannot properly speaking be considered a kind of internal 'social
coordination' at all, but is rather an act of violence by an
individual or group, acting apart from the community, just as a
policeman who breaks the law is not acting as a policeman in so
doing. We cannot have obligations to obey such a so-called 'law' in
itself, though there may be other grounds for such an obligation.
Objection: Is Natural Law faith-based?
The first kind of objection can call into question the philosophical
approach of natural law, which is supposedly 'religious,'
'metaphysical', or 'non-empirical' -- shorthand for 'not accessible
to reason.' These objections seem to be based upon caricatures of
Aquinas. The fact that Aquinas' model is couched in an ultimately
theistic metaphysics does not imply that his conclusions cannot be
justified without reference to theism, for his proximate
justifications for his conclusions are based on premises that are
independently obvious. That there is a human nature, and thus there
are such things as human beings as opposed to non-human beings, for
example, can be granted independently of theism, and it is the
existence of human nature, rather than God, which is the starting
point for understanding the dictates of natural law. Aquinas
furthermore regards the understanding of natural law as the
deliverance of reason, specifically the disciplined inquiry into
the real natures of things, or metaphysics. Indeed, his metaphysics
gives him reason to deny Hume's is/ ought distinction, for it allows
him to demonstrate how the 'ought' is 'baked into' the 'is' by way of
essence. Aquinas thus conducts a disciplined study of ethics that
makes moral facts more accessible to observation, not less. One might
deny the metaphysical essentialism upon which natural law resides, but
as involved as the arguments for essentialism can be, it hardly seems
reasonable to say that there is an obvious basis here to reject
natural law wholesale. In any event, the anti-essentialist has to
contend with formidable defences of essentialism as in Oderberg,
which renders this objection very unpromising.
Objection: Is Positivism descriptively superior to natural law?
A second objection might begin by arguing that moral (or, better yet,
metaphysical) normativity is conceptually superfluous to identifying
law. If a truly superior description of law must be conceptually
divorced from moral normativity, then one must conclude that the law
cannot carry any moral normativity qua law. Positivism justifies its
claim to descriptive superiority by the merits of its method of
focusing on the observable similarities in structure between systems
of law, while eschewing involvement in ethical speculation -- the
impressive similarity between just and unjust laws, for example,
leads positivists to accept that they belong to the same class of
social phenomenon. If morally normative language has a place in
the description of law qua law on positivism, it is in beliefs about
law that need to be taken into account, rather than as part of an
objective description of law's nature. If law is thus not
intrinsically connected to moral rectitude qua law, then the critical
natural law thesis -- that positive law is intrinsically dependent
upon the moral law to be positive law, is false. Thus, the positivist
challenge is a very serious one for the Thomistic natural law theorist.
The Thomist's reply to this is to say that a full description of the
reality must encompass the metaphysical reality of normativity,
because he denies the erroneous bifurcation of reality into
normative/ descriptive upon which positivism depends. It would do no
good to argue that such argument must be suspended, as positivists
do. If categorization is to be truly descriptive, it must conduct
its analysis on the basis of what human beings are, qua human beings,
for an analysis of human community will have to describe how humans
qua humans relate. Such an analysis must have normative implications
when the 'perfective aspect' of human nature is borne in mind. To
describe the relations of rational animals qua rational animals is to
describe a perfect society of rational animals, hence to assert a norm
of human community. A truly descriptive approach of the principles of
human community thus necessarily brings our philosophical taxonomies
of law to the bar of human nature, just as biological taxonomies are
brought to the bar of physiology and evolutionary history. The
positivist's class of just and unjust laws together as equal members
of the category of law, because it is not sufficiently grounded in
the nature of human action, is akin to the classification of whales
as fish. It is a categorization that ignores the underlying reality
of human relations, which is also normative for human beings, in
favour of grouping according to similarities that turn out to be
metaphysically superficial. This metaphysical superficiality means
that the positivist 'law' is necessarily a mere abstraction rather
than a substantive account of human institutions. It is precisely
insofar as jurisprudence seeks to analyse law in terms of a
metaphysical analysis of human nature, with all its normative
implications, that it actually performs the descriptive task of truly
perceiving the human categories into which behaviour properly falls.
The corollary of the conclusion that, in order to be law, law must
conform to human nature, is that laws which do not conform to the
nature and norms of the human community -- unjust laws -- are not
laws at all. As St Thomas put it, 'lex iniusta non est lex.'
All that is left then for the positivist conception of 'law' is the
status of a convenient fiction, a sociological abstraction which
purports to describe law only in a qualified sense, for limited
sociological purposes. At best, in guiding the action of officers of
the law, the positivist 'law' is a rule of thumb which allows the
officers of the law to pick out those things which are, for the most
part, true laws which are rightly action=guiding. Such a demotion,
however, leaves positivism powerless to dispute the authority in
principle of natural law reasoning, when it is seen fit to bring the
latter to bear.
Objection: Is Natural Law Legally Impractical?
A third objection must be pragmatic. It might be said that natural
law subjects people's obedience to law to the dictates of private
conscience, or, if judges were to give effect to natural law's claims
that natural justice trumps common law and statute, this would lead to
unacceptable unpredictability in the operation of law.
I think that in the first place, law already gives effect to judges'
consciences. The leeway and discretion allowed to judges under many
laws is a positive invitation to employ a judge's experience and
philosophical commitments to bear. Indeed, it is a common law
principle of statutory interpretation that, absent explicit
instructions to the contrary, laws cannot abrogate fundamental rights
and duties. Even bodies of law such as equity originated in
principles which subordinated the letter of the law and of precedent
to natural justice. Such principles, which reflect natural law
assumptions about the subordination of law to human flourishing, are
in fact essential safeguards which help ensure that the operation of
law works for the good of the governed. A natural law philosophical
stance on law can only illuminate such principles and provide a
common philosophical resource on which to draw. The practical effect
of a natural law philosophy, then, given that we already
institutionalise natural law-friendly assumptions in a piecemeal
manner, can only be salubrious to the functioning of law.
Secondly, such an objection does not do justice to the subtlety of
Aquinas's own conception of positive law, which allows for
imperfection in the positive law and for a society governed by an
imperfect (and therefore, to some degree unjust) law. Very famously,
Aquinas argues that the positive law ought to a large extent take
into account the moral state of the people, and institute only that
which is practicable for the preservation and flourishing of the
community, given the community's ability to be governed. There
can be further reasons (such as avoiding worse injustice) for the
sake of which some injustice in the law is tolerated. Such laws
would, despite having elements which allow unjust outcomes (and thus,
having non-legal elements which are not in themselves compelling),
nevertheless also compel obedience on such a practical basis. A
positive law limited by the natural law, then, can tolerate the
ordinary injustice of a well-run but imperfect society, while
providing a philosophical basis for the exclusion of manifest and
I have argued that Aquinas' metaphysically rich approach to
description is superior to the positivist approach as description,
and it easily deflects the caricatures of its critics, in fact
standing in a position to criticise the alternative as defective. His
argument, grounded in human nature and defiant of the is/ ought
dichotomy, shows that law does have a normative claim upon our
conduct simply for being law, and as a corollary that insofar as law
is not just, it is not truly law. True law just is the participation
of human reason in the natural law, which in turn defines our good
individual and communal.
1. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, Q. 95 art. 1
2. Ibid II-I Q. 94 art. 3
3. Ibid II-I Q. 96 art. 4
4. Ibid. Q. 95 art. 2
5. Ibid Q .90 art 1
6. David S. Oderberg, Real Essentialism (Routledge, 2007)
7. William Twining, General Jurisprudence (Cambridge University
Press, 2009) 26
8. H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law (Clarendon Press, 2nd ed, 1994)
9. Ibid 254
10. J.J. Spiegelman, 'The Principle of Legality and the Clear
Statement Principle' (2005) 79 Australian Law Journal 769, 769
11. ST I-II Q.96 art.2
Philosophy and Law student
(c) Matthew Su 2015
II. 'THE PERSON IN AFRICAN COMMUNALISM' BY DR. YONGHO N. NICHODEMUS
Perhaps the best known modern philosopher who raised the issue of man
with renewed urgency is Descartes. In his Meditations On First
Philosophy, he poses this soul-searching question, 'What then have I
previously believed myself to be? Clearly, I believed that I was a
man. But what is a man?'. The profundity of the question is not
new to philosophers. Indeed its answers have split them and the whole
philosophic tradition of the West, to say the least, into different
The aim of this paper however is not to raise the dust of the
controversy anew but to reflect on what has been paid very little
attention in philosophic circles, even by African philosophers
themselves, namely, the African answer to the question, 'what is
What we are really interested in this paper is 'man' or 'self' as
viewed by Africans in the philosophic system indigenous to them,
better known in literate circles as 'Communalism'. It is a reflection
on the 'Homo Africanus', a critical investigation on the nature of man
in African Philosophy or traditional thought.
Admittedly philosophic materials on the views of the African on
particular subjects are still scanty but such fields of learning as
sociology, anthropology, African Religion particularly, etc. have
yielded enough materials on the African, his person, and his world
for philosophers to make use of in their own reflections. We first of
all determine what 'African Communalism' is in the context of which
the nature of self is easily seen.
2. Communalism As a Concept
As a political system, communalism like capitalism or communism
refers to a particular way of life of a people as well as their mode
of earning a living (a system of production and distribution) to
which modern Africans, many of them political leaders, have
increasingly turned their attention as the most promising system for
Africa. It is 'Communalism' because it takes its roots from the
communal way of life indigenous to and practiced by Africans long
before their contact with the white man.
In the past particularly, the traditional African (as opposed to
modern, urbanized African) was very much community -- conscious and
very much man-in-community since he always related to and interacted
with others as a community. He was truly 'man-with-others' to borrow
Heidegger's phrase. But this value of communal life is not just a
thing of the past. It is also characteristic of the present-day
Africans, urbanized and non-urbanized alike.
This communal existence as opposed to individualism characteristic of
the Western man for instance, is rooted in the traditional practice of
extended family system 'in which everybody is linked with all the
other members, living or dead, through a complex network of spiritual
relationships into a kind of 'mystical body'.' Thus the African
sees himself first of all as belonging to his own nuclear family of
father and mother which in turn merges into a larger 'blood family'
with different names in different African countries. This broader
family merges still into a clan, then village, tribe, and finally
into a nation, the widest human community. Consequently, the
African sees himself primarily as a member of a community at all
times and every community to him is an extension of his own family.
African communities are thus closely knit together by a web of
relationships through kinship. Members usually view cooperative
living as absolutely vital for their progress and ultimate survival.
Nsolo Nijero vividly recalls the communal life of traditional African
Community. It was 'a mutual-aid society' according to him. 'In this
society the people worked collectively and cooperatively. It was the
need of the community that determined what ought to be done, and what
should not be done. An individual found fulfillment in the community
and not outside the community', a reminder of Aristotle's view
that 'he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because
he is sufficient for himself must be either a beast or a god'.
The fact is that in those days particularly, that is to say, before
any contact with the white man's culture was made, African
communities and families lived and worked together. There was no
separate ownership of property. The wealth of one member of the
family, for instance, was the wealth of all the other members. Such
economic assets as land, forest, trees, minerals, rivers, etc. were
owned in common and there was little or no exploitation of individual
The point that has to be emphasized therefore is that socialist
principles and practices are not new to the present-day Africans
since they were not new to the traditional African. The old African
society was socialist to the core. The result, Julius Nyerere of
Tanzania concludes: 'We, in African have no more need of being
'converted' to socialism than we have of being taught democracy. Both
are rooted in our own past -- in the traditional society which
produced us'. This 'our own past' is indeed Africa's past
socialist mode of communal living and working together for the
progress of all and exploitation of none, technically known as
'communalism'. Consequently, Communalism strictly speaking is
'African Socialism' in its more modern vocabulary among present-day
Africans. 'Our socialism is not that of Europe', Leopold Sedar
Senghor rightly affirms: 'It is neither atheistic communism nor quite
the democratic socialism of the Second International. We have modestly
called it the African mode of socialism.
In the same vein, Kwame Nkrumah links African socialism to
communalism or the communal life practiced by traditional Africans.
According to him,
Any one who seeks the socio-political ancestor of
socialism, the one must go to communalism. Socialism has
characteristics in common with communalism just as
capitalism is linked with feudalism and slavery. In
socialism the principles underlying communalism are given
expressions In modern circumstances.
'Our ancestors worked collectively and cooperatively from start to
finish' was a quick remark of Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.
We stress the point that African socialism in whatever form it
appears today in African, definitely in Nyerere's Tanzania is rooted
in the social mental attitude and cultural practice of the
traditional African, in his practice of communalism which in turn has
its foundation in the extended family system, 'The foundation and the
objective of African socialism is the extended family', Nyerere
asserts. 'Ujamaa', then or 'Family-hood' is what 'describes our
socialism' or communalism, for that matter.
The traditional African is consequently a community-man essentially,
with his life guided along indigenous socialist rules, customs and
institutions. Such structured existence and the socialist
mentality which undergirds it can only emphasize corporate or
collective rather than individual mode of being-in-the-world.
3. The African World-View
Emphasis must be made that Communalism is not just people living and
farming together as a community and sharing the fruits of communal
labour. 'We must return to our African sources: collective
production, collective property, collective products', President
David Dacko echoes. It embodies as well a world view, that is to
say, the African view of self and universe as a whole. For, as Kwame
Gyekye notes, 'Philosophy of some kind is behind the thought and
action of every people. It constitutes the intellectual sheet-anchor
of their life in its totality' We first of all establish briefly
the African world-view, as African metaphysics of reality as a key to
a metaphysics of self.
The traditional African easily belongs to an idealist tradition in
that for him the ultimate reality is spirit, God, or consciousness,
not matter. This is to say that the African is not a materialist in
the Philosophical meaning of the term. Speaking about the Igbos of
Nigeria for instance, Bishop Shanahan was convinced.
That the average native was admirably suited by environment
and training for an explanation of life in terms of the
spirit rather than of the flesh. He was no materialist.
Indeed nothing was further from his mind than a
materialistic philosophy of existence. It made no appeal to
As in Platonic tradition, reality for the African is dualistic,
namely, the invisible and the visible or the experienced universe.
In the former, the immaterial universe, according to African ontology
or theory of being, God, the highest being, the ancestors, souls of
the heads of clans, and those of departed relatives, nature gods or
spirits dwell; while the material realm contains human beings,
animals, plants and inanimate creatures.
Placide Tempels who pioneered an important work in African philosophy
with his publication of Bantu Philosophy starts off the hierarchy
of beings which he calls 'forces' in this order, namely, God (Spirit
or Creator), then 'the first father of men, founders of the different
clans'. Below them, 'come the dead of the tribe', the 'living dead'
(as these are called in contemporary African scholarship). The
visible universe contains in its descending hierarchy; human beings,
animals, vegetables and minerals.
The two orders of existences in the African world-view relate to and
interact with each other. Hence, as in the naturalistic universe of
John Dewey, for example, the universe or nature for the African is
far from being discrete. It is rather a series of interactions and
connections. Life appears in its totality as one 'great Chain of
Being', to recall Arthur O. Lovejoy's great work, with things
ontologically related to one another. Professor Ruch and Dr. Anyanwu
restate this African vision of reality differently: 'To exist means
more than just 'being' there... It means standing in a particular
relationship with all there is both visible and invisible.'
Placide Tempels imagery is even more expressive; 'The world of forces
(beings) is held like a spider's web of which no single thread can be
caused to vibrate without shaking the whole network.'
The interactions and intercommunications between the visible created
order and the invisible world of God, Spirits, ancestors are only
possible through man, the ontological mean between forces or beings
acting above and below him. Man in the African world-view remains the
center of creation with intimate and personal relationship with beings
above and below him. He is aware also that he is being influenced by
these other beings in the universe and that he influences them as
well. 'It is right to hold that in the African thought, man sees
himself as the center of universe', Professor S.N. Ezeanya says: 'God
has made him the focal point of the universe.'
Indeed to highlight the centrality of man's position in the universe,
scholars have often likened African cosmic vision to a great pyramid.
'At the apex was God the Supreme Being', E.G. Parrinder Writes: 'On
the two sides were the great spiritual powers manifested in gods and
ancestors, and at the base were the lower powers of magic. In the
middle was man under the influence of many different kinds of
powers.' Man therefore remains the center of the created order
with beings above and below him. He also communicates with them
regularly at the call of duties or hours of need.
Generally man's contact and communication with God and the Spirit
world are through many channels, such as sacrifice, rituals, fortune
telling, prayers, incantations, etc. Indeed the gods, the spirits of
their dead relatives are never far away from their physical world.
Gods may be full of awe, but in the African universe, 'they are not
unapproachable', Chukwuemeka Nze rightly asserts: 'During life as
well as during death, the Igbos (and other Africans as well) strive
to have contact with gods. This contact enables them to obtain better
bargains. It is an occasion, a vehicle through which they acquire
wisdom.' Of course many other benefits and blessings are obtained
through contact with the gods since these exist to share their gifts
and powers with human beings.
The African interaction is also with lower beings or forces, such as
inanimate things like lightening, thunder, etc. These forces at times
act as agents of the unseen spirits to punish evil doers, for
instance. Consequently these are revered and worshipped, too.
Even charms, amulets, witchcraft, etc. become serviceable to the
African as definite ways of self-preservation from the evil eye, for
example, of guaranteeing success in his life's endeavours or of
inflicting evil on the enemy. The point we wish to stress is that the
world of the spirits, of human beings and of other lower organic and
inorganic substances form the same totality of existing, interacting
beings or reality.
We must note however that among Africans, closer interaction and
communication exists between the living and their dead ancestors
known as the 'living dead'. They are so called because, though dead,
yet they are alive with their particular families. These unseen
ancestors are part and parcel of their own physically living families
and are often invited to the family meals. The ancestors are not just
ghosts nor are they simply dead heroes but as Parrinder says, 'are
felt to be still present, watching over the household, directly
concerned in all the affairs of the family and property, giving
abundant harvests and fertility'.
The 'living dead' and the physically living continuously populate and
depopulate each other's realms. For the former, reincarnation is a
necessary gateway for peopling the earthly realm just as death is for
the latter the necessary precondition for swelling the ranks of the
dead. Indeed the African strongly believes that the same family
structure which exists in his visible world exist in the invisible.
Hence when one dies, one is believed to have gone to one's family in
the spirit world. Consequently in the African universe, there are
repeated interactions, communications and even local permutations
between the dead and the living; spirits and human beings.
We have thus briefly sketched African metaphysics or world-view as an
important key to the study of self. What has to be noted is that
'dynamic' rather than 'static' is a fundamental category of
understanding the African view of reality as a whole. Hence African
metaphysics differs significantly from that of Aristotle for
instance, with individuated, discrete existences, 'substances' as he
calls them, existing in themselves and isolated from others.
Likewise African metaphysics differs greatly from the naturalistic
metaphysics of John Dewey, Sidney Hook, John Handall, Jr. and others
who admit of only one kind of reality in nature, namely, the seen,
the tangible, the verifiable. Nature for naturalists is strictly
monistic, without any bifurcation or radical splits and consequently
there is nothing like God, Spirits or Soul, if these are taken to
mean different kinds of beings from the material and the tangible.
Nature is an all-inclusive category. Nothing exists outside nature
for the naturalist. It is all nature or nothing at all.
Hence John Randal, Jr. vehemently maintains that:
Naturalism is opposed to all dualisms between nature and
another realm of being; to the Greek opposition between
Nature and Art; to the medieval contrast of the natural and
the supernatural... to the dualism pervading modern thought
between nature and man.
Man, God, Soul and the spirit world are either naturalized within
nature or they are non-existent.
These views are poles apart from those of the African, as we have
seen. He strictly maintains the existence of both the spirit world
and the material, physical world, the one distinct from, but
interacting with the other.
Lastly, in characterizing African metaphysics we have to mention
briefly that unlike the existentialists particularly of a radical
type, the African does not regard the universe as merely 'thrown'
into being. The universe has a cause, which he calls 'God' in his
many diverse tongues and cultures. This God, ens supremum (the
'Supreme Being') is the creator of the universe and governs it with
his laws through the spirits, the ancestors, and the laws of the land.
4. Notion of Self
The essence of the African's cosmic vision or world-view is that the
universe is not something, discrete but a series of interactions and
inter-connections. This category of understanding reality as a whole
is also the key to the notion of self. Tempels expresses this mode of
understanding self in African Philosophy thus:
Just as Bantu (African) ontology is opposed to the European
concept of individuated things, existing in themselves,
isolated from others, so Bantu psychology cannot conceive
of man as an individual, as a force existing by itself and
apart from its ontological relationships with other living
beings and from its connection with animals or inanimate
forces around it.
As a matter of fact individuals only become real in their
relationships with others, in a community or a group. It is the
community that makes or produces the individual such that without the
community, the individual has no existence, a point well made by
Professor John Mbiti: 'I am because We are; and since we are,
therefore I am.
On his part, Tom Mboya of Kenya stresses the same notion of self as
essentially a social category, a being-in-community. 'Most African
tribes', he says, 'have a communal approach to life. A person is an
individual only to the extent that he is a member of a clan, a
community or a family'.
Placide Tempels is even more expressive:
The Bantu cannot be a lone being. It is not a good enough
synonym for that to say that he is a social being. No: He
feels and knows himself to be a vital force, at this very
time to be in intimate and personal relationship with other
forces acting above him and below him in the hierarchy of
Self in African philosophy therefore is essentially social.
It does not mean of course a total absence of the notion of
individuality, a metaphysics of self as an individual in African
Philosophy. 'An individual existence has a double status and import',
John Dewey holds:
There is the individual that belongs in a continuous system
of connected events... then there is the individual that
finds a gap between its distinctive bias and the operations
of the things through which alone its need can be satisfied.
It is broken off, discrete because it is at odds with its
Man in African philosophy is not a being from the 'outside' only,
that is to say, in his relationships to other beings but also
'discrete', 'broken off', so to speak. The two aspects are of course
phases of the same reality of an individual responding in action to
the social stimuli of his environment.
This 'individual man' in African philosophy, is a psycho-physical
being; an incarnate spirit, made up of two principal elements,
namely, 'body' and 'soul', in a familiar language. Thus in his
thorough research of the concept of a person in Akan (Ghana)
tradition, Professor Kwame Gyekye is certain that 'the Akans hold a
dualistic conception of a person. A person is constituted by two
principal substances, one spiritual (immaterial) and the other
Among the Igbos of Nigeria, belief in the two principal constituents
of man, 'body and soul' is well established in the people's
conception of death.
Thus Francis Arinze writes:
When a person dies, his soul or spirit (yiihlih), Wanders
till it is received into the blessed company Of his
forebears on condition that the relations on Earth
celebrate the full ceremonies. In some places this belief
requires also that the person must have been a good man on
earth or at least that a cleansing Rite be performed over
the corpse before burial.
'Something' in man is beyond the physical, beyond flesh and bones and
consequently lasts beyond the grave.
Thus man as an individual, in African philosophy, is not a total
child of nature, totally formed in the womb of nature, that is to
say, with his origin, growth and decay within nature as in
naturalistic metaphysics. He is a creature of God with an immortal
soul. As a matter of fact belief in life after death, in the
immortality of the soul, is the most common element in African
religions and among Africans. Awolalu makes the point:
One central theme runs through the African concept of man's
destiny: namely, that at death, while the carcass is buried
in the earth, the essential person passes on into another
life. It is held responsible for deeds or misdeeds, and it
is rewarded or punished accordingly by the author of
life... Thus in Africa it is strongly believed that Death
does not write finis to human life. There is In man an
element which is immortal; and this sense of immortality
gives comfort in privation and Misfortune and acts as a
revenge to death.
Over and above the two vital principles or elements which make up the
human individual, the African has ways of establishing the identity or
personality of individuals, a proof of the fact that the individual is
not totally a being-in-relation-to-others in African ontology. Self is
also unique and unduplicatable. One way the African establishes this
fact is through names. African names are not just mere labels of
distinction, to differentiate 'James' from 'John' for example. In
African philosophy, as Tempels says, 'The name expresses the
individual character of the being. The name is not a simple external
courtesy, it is the very reality of the individual'. Many African
names point, for instance, to the circumstances and conditions of
particular individuals, their family background, social status, etc.
An African name, in short, answers who the particular person is.
Another way the African establishes the individuality of self is of
course the obvious one, namely, through the individual's physical
appearance. In Africa, physical appearances, particularly with tribal
marks, also tell a lot about the individuals themselves. For man's
humanity is expressed through his external appearances as well.
Broken nose, slanting eyes, deformed hands, crooked legs, etc. easily
become various modes of identifying individuals as well as expressing
Consequently that African philosophy emphasizes self-in-community, in
its relatedness, so to speak, does not mean, as noted before, a
non-recognition of the individuality of individuals in their own
right. It does however mean that the fundamental category of grasping
reality as a whole in the traditional African philosophy of
communalism is in its social relationships. Also that 'social' as a
category of understanding reality in African philosophy would mean
also that it is the only authentic mode for the African to answer the
all-important question in philosophy, 'what is man?' and this is what
the essay has attempted to establish.
1. Op. Cit., (tr. With an Introduction by Laurence J. Lafleur, New
York: Library of Liberal Arts, paperback, rev. ed., 1960), p., 24.
2. Prof. E.A. Ruch and Dr. K.C. Anyanwu, African Philosophy: An
Introduction to the Main Philosophical Trends in Contemporary Africa
(Roma: Catholic Book Agency, 1981), p. 328
3. Aristotle has a three-phase development of the human family,
namely 'family', 'village', ('colony' being the most natural form of
the village community), then the 'state', more complete and more
self-sufficing (Politics 1252b 9ff, Richard Mceon, ed. The Basic
Works of Aristotle, New York: Random House, 1941).
4. Nsolo Mijere, 'The Theology of Zambian Humanism and its
Implications for the Local Church' in A F E R (African Ecclesial
Review) Vol. 20, No. 6 Dec. 1978), p 350.
5. Politics 125a 28 -- 30.
6. Julius K. Nyerere, Ujaman -- Essays on Socialism (Dar es Salaam:
Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 12.
7. Leopold Sedar Senghor, On African Socialism (New York, 1965), pp.
8. Kwame Nkrumah, Consciencism (London: Panaf Books, 1964), p. 43.
9. Julius K. Nyerere, Op. Cit., P.12.
10. As a matter of fact Bede Onuoha analyzes the simple way of life
in the traditional African Society under three headings with 'seven
social negatives'. He lists them as follows:
'Social Units Social Process Social Negations
1 The Extended Family Work: No Loiterers
2 The Village Discussion: No Loneliness
3 The tribe Cooperation: No classes
4 The Chief Leadership: No communes
5 The Elders Public Service: No Individualism
6 The People Common Ownership: No Capitalism
7 The Priest Common Worship: No Atheism.'
(The Elements of African Socialism quoted by Wilfrid Grenville-Grey,
(ed.) All in African Life Time, new York: Friendship Press, 1971), p.
11. Quoted by Professors Robert Horitz and Carroll Hawkins,
Introduction to Contemporary Ideologies, (Dubuque, Lowa: Wm. C. Brown
Book Company, 1963), p. 24.
12. Kwame Gyekye, 'The Akan Concept of a person' International
Philosophical Quarterly (Vol. XIII No. 3 1978), p. 278.
13. Quoted by John P. Jordan, Bishop Shanahan of Southern Nigeria
(Dublin: Elo Press Ltd., 197). P. 115.
14. Placide Tempels, Bantu Philosophy (Paris: Presence Africaine,
15. Placide Tompels, Op. Cit., pp. 61-63.
16. The full title of this scholar's work is The Great Chain of
Being, A Study of the History of an Idea (New York: Harper Torch
17. Op. Cit., p. 124
18. Placide Tempels, Bantu Philosophy p. 60. He also writes: 'All
creatures are found in relationship... Nothing moves in this univese
of forces without influencing other forces by its movement' P.61-63.
19. S.N. Ezeanya, 'The Contribution of African Traditional Religion
to Nation Building', Nigerian Dialogue, University of Nigeria,
Nsuakka (Vol. 3 No. 3 Dec. 1979), p. 15.
20. E.G. Parrinder, 'Monotheism and Pantheism In Africa', Journal of
Religion In Africa (Vol. III No. 2, 1970), p. 85
21. Chukwuemeka Nze, 'Pragmatism and Traditionalism in the Concept of
God in Africa' Uche Journal of the Department of Philosophy,
University of Nigeria, Nsukka Vol. 5 (1981), p. 26.
22. E.G. Parrinder. West African Religion (London, 1949), p. 125.
23. John Randall, Jr. 'Epilogue: The Nature of Naturalism',
Naturalism and Human Spirit ed. H. Krikorian (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1944), p. 367.
24. Placide Tempels Op. Cit., p. 103
25. John Mbiti African Religions and Philosophy (Heinemann, 1969), p.
26. Tom Mboya, Freedom and After (London: Andre Deutsch, 1963), pp.
27. Op. Cit., p. 103. 'For the Bantu man never appears as an
independent entity', he says in another place. 'Every man, every
individual forms a link in the chain of vital forces, a living link
active and passive, joined from above to the descending line of his
ancestry and sustaining below him the line of his descendants'.
(Ibid.) p. 108.
28. John Dewey, Experience and Nature (Chicago: Dover Chicago: Dover
Publications, 1925), p. 245.
29. 'The Akan Concept of God', P. 282.
30. Francis A. Arinze, Sacrifice in Ibo Religion (IBADAN: University
Press, 1970), p. 17.
31. J.O. Awolalu, 'The African Traditional View of Man', Orita,
(Ibadan Journal of Religious Studies Vol. 6 No. 2 (1972).
32. Placide Tempels,P. 106
Dr. Yongho N. Nichodemus
Department of Philosophy
Higher Teachers' Training College, Bambili
University of Bamenda
(c) Yongho Nichodemus 2015
III.' INFLUENCE OF EXPECTATION: THE ACADEMIC AS AGENT OF AUTHORITY'
BY LANCE KIRBY
In this essay I will seek to argue that the teacher's action's
outside the classroom have an influence through their perceived
authority by the community. In recent years many academics have made
ill-advised judgments upon everything from the inefficacy of
vaccines, to the value of philosophy as an academic discipline, to
what is generally believed by consensus to be pseudoscience in
general, and pronounced upon them to the public at large in the role
of public intellectuals. I will seek to show that the teacher has a
preconceived persona that elicits a trust arising from social
expectations to which a teacher is perhaps at the very least
obligated to acknowledge. I shall first discuss the nature of a
teacher's authority in terms of its legitimacy as outlined by Max
Weber, and the trust elicited in the community by the respect for its
legitimizing institution, a trust derived from expectations of a set
of preconceived behaviors and performance. It is through this trust
or 'prestige' as I will show, that the communities expectations for
the academic role predisposes them to interpret any view presented by
the teacher as the authoritative view and thus, a role not to be taken
lightly when entering the public sphere.
I. Legitimate Authority
The responsibilities of the academic must first be addressed from the
perspective of authority and legitimacy. The teacher represents
authority, and that authority is granted to the teacher by an
institution which legitimizes it. This much can be agreed upon as
given. If this were not the case then anyone might teach without
regard to accuracy or proper knowledge of the topic to be taught, and
diplomas would count as less than air. Of course, credentials are not
an absolute requirement to teach, as the act of teaching itself is
separate from the role of teacher. As I will explain, credentials are
a symbolic embodiment of a community's trust in one's abilities, and
thus carries with it the weight of the larger institutional authority.
Traditionally the teacher has held a status in the community of
respectability through trust shared with professions of similar
regard, such as the police officer and the doctor. All of these
professions acquire the same legitimized authority from their
respective institutions. It is of course this legitimized authority
which in turn grants them respectability through trust.
Now I must examine the nature of this trust:
If we follow the helpful descriptive characterization of legitimate
authority outlined by Max Weber my meaning may appear more clear. In
his book, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, he argues:
'In general, it should be kept clearly in mind that the basis of
every system of authority, and correspondingly of every kind of
willingness to obey, is a belief, a belief by virtue of which persons
exercising authority are lent prestige.'
As with the examples already presented, trust in this instance, is
given by a community out of a respect for their legitimizing
institutions, as we have come to certain expectations of, for lack of
a better term, quality control from said institutions. They are thus,
in Weber's conception, 'lent prestige' by this association. In other
words, society has developed/ evolved universally agreed upon
standards of conduct and performance which these professions are
expected to exhibit. Without those expectations there would be no
trust that those professions were reliable, and trust, which is the
currency of a society's institutions, would quickly be devalued if
not rendered worthless. Thus, to be a teacher is to imply certain
presupposed expectations on the part of students and the larger
society outside the classroom as a whole. This 'prestige' is not a
quality that can be surrendered at the end of the teaching day but is
carried by the teacher with the full weight of this institutional
authority in perpetuity, wherever they may go. As I will explain,
this authority carries a common sense ethical consideration on the
part of the teacher and the view's they may endorse which always are
given a greater credibility by this institutional association.
What are these expectations?
Following Weber's lead, we may view a teacher's authority as the
outgrowth of the authority of their larger legitimizing institution.
Said institution grants the individual the authority to teach by
whatever means the legitimizing institution deems a necessity, e.g. a
doctoral degree. Under these terms therefore, in the eye's of the
legitimizing institution, only individuals who have obtained such
legitimation may be considered teachers in this formal sense. Thus,
behind every legitimized teacher stands the same authority granted to
the police officer, and the doctor, and thus, one is obliged to trust
as one may the larger legitimizing institutions behind them.
Whether we trust them on an individual personal level or not is not
the issue here, but rather the implied communal trust from
In Weberian terms the teacher is a kind of bureaucrat, and as such is
a small representative of a larger structure. This characterization
is suitable in many senses with modern academe:
(a) a clearly defined sphere of competence subject to
(b) a rational ordering of relations of superiority and
(c) a regular system of appointment and promotion on the
basis of free contract,
(d) technical training as a regular requirement,
(e) fixed salaries, in the type case paid in money.
Though of course not an exact one to one correlation, the roles are
similar enough to suffice. To help further illustrate with a more
palpable example, the army, in its very essence a bureaucracy,
functions by a chain of command where the general at the top
distributes his authority through his subordinates, and finally to
the lowly private. The teacher in this sense is thus a part of a
machine, and as such cannot act independently without bringing this
communal expectation with them. In their bureaucratic role as teacher
they stand outside the community at large and reflect back upon the
larger machine of which they are a part.
However, contrary to Weber, who characterizes bureaucracy as:
'something distinct from the sphere of private life' I contend
that the persona of the academic, as I will explore below, stands as
an exception to this general rule. The special nature of the teacher,
as I have already stated, is one that holds an authority or
'prestige'. The authority is of a special kind which is embodied in
the person who holds it and cannot be relinquished outside the
academic setting. The doctor is always a doctor and the police
officer is always a police officer on duty or off, and this is the
responsibility one is invested with upon taking up the role.
II. The Teacher's Persona and the Community
Every academic is a specialist, and in academic terms this is her
authority. However, such a distinction is invisible to the larger
public which endows the term 'academic' or 'professor' with a larger
meaning. However misled the community may be to hold every academic
to this higher level of competency, there remain good reasons for
this understandable deference as I will explain. Despite the myriad
academic disciplines and their separate spheres of influence, all are
united in that their practitioners are all instructed with a shared
pedagogy and a regulated process that admits of few surprises. The
heart of this pedagogy, at least at the undergraduate level, is
founded upon a few core principal skills, chief among which are:
critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing. These core
skills are typically the primary means of instruction throughout a
student's academic career, beginning at the elementary level, and
continuing till the end of high school in the United States. At the
commencement of their college career these skills are often
reinforced again in an introductory composition class.
If the student progresses through the undergraduate to the graduate
level they will hopefully have passed many classes requiring ever
more subtle and sophisticated refinements of these skills so, at the
end of the process we may reasonably expect an individual who has
brought these skills to a superior level. It is with this expectation
that the individual is granted the degree of doctor. And, though
granted in a specific area of study, it is always underpinned with
the assumptions and traditions of a liberal education that implies
broad learning and shared communal values of accepted pedagogy and
peer review. In the eyes of the community therefore, the academic is
thus viewed as one whose work is that of 'thinking' in a broad
sense. He or she is under an expectation of being, if not a clear,
than at least a superior thinker, regardless of how much actual
original thought an academic may in reality produce. In terms of
those academics in tenure-track positions, the requirements of
academic publication reinforces this view, even if it validates it
only occasionally by the actual material published. This is in
relative terms a recent development of course, but its recentness
does not invalidate the larger claim of the academics perception as
one whose business it is to think, if only in this generic sense.
Such expectations are perfectly within the rights of the community to
hold, and such authority again, is the basis of the academics position
within society to teach. These expectations are not those of the
community outside academe alone however, but are fostered by the
institutions and the academics themselves. They are also the shared
expectations of each new group of students to be admitted into
We have attempted briefly to demonstrate in these few pages that a
teacher has a persona, with certain expectations from the community.
That those expectations are perfectly reasonable to hold in light of
the nature of teaching, which we argued is a methodology for the
refinement of thinking, at least as it is perceived from the outside
community. From this we conclude that the nature of teaching is one
which holds a high authority in the community and that with this
authority it is implied its practitioners uphold a high standard of
character as representatives of that authority and the influence it
elicits through their capacity as teachers over the shaping of
opinion within the community, a sphere of influence created through
expectation. If this conclusion is thus accepted it would imply at
the very least that the academic has an ethical responsibility for
the opinions they may hold upon any issue publicly, and should be
more mindful than the regular citizen of the legitimizing factor that
their authority brings to those opinions and their influence.
1. Through out this essay teacher and academic will be used
2. Weber, M., Parsons, T., & Henderson, A. (1964). The Theory of
Social and Economic Organization . pp. 38182.
3. Again, I should concede here that to be a teacher does not require
credentials as such, only the special nature of the academic who is
imbued with such credentials are viewed as such by the legitimizing
institution and thus imbued with 'prestige' by the community as well.
4. The characterization of which is highly telling in light of the
current trend of corporatizing modern universities: 'Bureaucratic
administration means fundamentally the exercise of control on the
basis of knowledge. This is the feature of it which makes it
specifically rational. This consists on the one hand in technical
knowledge which, by itself, is sufficient to ensure it a position of
extraordinary power. But in addition to this, bureaucratic
organizations, or the holders of power who make use of them, have the
tendency to increase their power still further by the knowledge
growing out of experience in the service. For they acquire through
the conduct of office a special knowledge of facts and have available
a store of documentary material peculiar to themselves. While not
peculiar to bureaucratic organizations, the concept of 'official
secrets' is certainly typical of them. It stands in relation to
technical knowledge in somewhat the same position as commercial
secrets do to technological training. It is a product of the striving
for power.' Ibid. p. 339.
5. Ibid. p. 343.
6. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (1946) p. 197.
7. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited
Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press, 2011), p.
8. Gerald Graff, Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life
of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2004), p. 3
9. An excellent illustration of what I mean by this ethical
responsibility can be found at Massimo Pigliucci's blog: 'Rationally
Speaking: Lawrence Krauss: Another Physicist with an Antiphilosophy
Complex.' (2012, April 25).
'...here Krauss is forced to reveal his antiintellectualism, and
even... his intellectual dishonesty: 'Well, yeah, I mean, look I was
being provocative, as I tend to do every now and then in order to get
people's attention.' Oh really? This from someone who later on in the
same interview claims that 'if you're writing for the public, the one
thing you can't do is overstate your claim, because people are going
to believe you.' Indeed people are going to believe you, Prof.
Krauss, and that's a shame, at least when you talk about philosophy.'
Arum, R., & Roksa, J. (2011). Academically adrift: Limited learning
on college campuses Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Graff, G. (2003). Clueless in academe: How schooling obscures the
life of the mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Rationally Speaking: Lawrence Krauss: another physicist with an
antiphilosophy complex. (2012, April 25). Retrieved from
Weber, M., Parsons, T., & Henderson, A. (1964). The Theory of Social
and Economic Organization
Weber, M., In Gerth, H. H., & Mills, C. W. (1946). From Max Weber:
Essays in sociology . New York: Oxford University Press
Weber, M., In Parsons, T., & Henderson, A. M. (1964). The theory of
social and economic organization
I would like to thank Professor Kristof Vanhoutte for commenting upon
an earlier version of this essay.
(c) Lance Kirby 2015
Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program
To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
request to email@example.com
The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
reflect those of the Editors.