Compare and Contrast African Philosophy With Western Philosophy, Essay Example


There have been notable differences between that of African and Western philosophy and this is best exemplified by looking at the different styles between that of Averroes and Aristotle.  In addition how Greek philosophers like Plato and Socrates influenced African philosophy.  Equally Africa is the cradle of civilization and many African scholars were asking philosophical questions long before the Greek philosophers. Averroes was of Spanish origin and lived in the period of 1126 to 1198. He originated from Mohammedia in Spain and was the final Arabian philosopher in Spain.  Aristotle was the famous student of the Greek philosopher Plato and dates back to 384 BC.   Aristotle was invited by King Phillip of Macedonia to tutor his son Alexander.  After Phillips death Alexander succeeded him as King and became known as Alexander the Great, forging one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.

Concept of African Philosophy

Philosophy is a subject mainly associated with the Greeks and as such many are unfamiliar with African philosophy. Professor Onyewuenyi is critical that this is often overlooked by western scholars.  He points out that Plotinus who was mainly associated with the Roman school of thought was from Lycon in Egypt. Equally there are many examples of other African philosophers including that of Hypatia (Alexandria) and St. Augustine, Origen, Cyril and Tertulian but to name a few. (Onyeweuni, 1976).

Many of the famous Greek philosophers like that of Socrates, Hypocrites, Plato and Aristotle spent time in Egypt with other African philosophers.  These transferred many of the values from the ‘mystery system’ into western philosophical thought.  Plato is even believed to have obtained his ‘theory of ideas’ from Egypt.  Aristotle is believed to have acquired considerable scientific learning and teaching in mathematics, medicine and science from the great learning schools of Alexandria in Egypt.  It is argued that philosophy is not purely in the domain of academics but has a universal application and that philosophers in Africa predate the Western philosophical schools centred on Greece and Rome.  It is considered that Western philosophy has in the main been based upon a static interpretation of being, this being distinct from African philosophy which is thought to be more dynamic.

Averroes – African Philosophy

Much of the written work of Averroes was lost in translation. He became a much liked figure of the Jews who settled in Spain and they translated his works in Hebrew.  This was equally true of Italy where his works were translated to Latin.  Hence much of the meaning derived from the original Arabic translations has been lost over time. Averroes became famous not only for his philosophical statements but equally for his work in medicine, jurisprudence and astronomy.

Averroes became well known for great commentaries and he was mentioned in the classic rendition of Dante’s “Inferno”.  One of the more noted aspects of his work was his commentaries on the philosopher Aristotle.  These were divided into brief, middle and great commentaries indicating the length of each brief. In his brief commentaries Averroes provides an exposition of the treatise of Aristotle in Arabic translation and compares / contrasts these views with Arabian philosophers Alfarabi and Avicenna.  The original works are extremely rare and most of the current day analysis of Averroes work is accomplished from translations. Averroes builds many of his works into ‘movens’ and ‘agens’, the former in the class of physics and the latter in metaphysics.  The first provides a motion and the second the virtues whereby the motion took place.

It is considered that Averroes was influenced by Alexander and Galen plus those philosophers of the Arabic world.  One influence that of Avicenna, was focused upon the religious philosophy of the Arabic world. Avicenna wrote a book entitled ‘ Kitab-al-Najat or the Book of Salvation’ .  Averroes was considered as playing an important role in the defence of Greek philosophy as this was viewed as a controversial subject in the Muslim world at that time.  He was also responsible for having an influence on the development of Scholasticism in Western Europe.

Averroes died in 1198 in Marrakesh Morocco.  His works later found great meaning in the Christian and Jewish societies.  One of the main significances of Averroes is the translations on Aristotle because prior to 1150 there was extremely little written work on this subject matter and as such his work was important in filling a number of gaps.  Most of the original Arab translations were lost and as such there was a heavy reliance upon Hebrew and Latin translations. It was considered that of the two languages it was the Hebrew that rendered a more accurate translation of the original scripts.  Averroes became somewhat of a controversial figure in the Muslim world and he was very vocal in declaring his support for the emancipation of science and philosophy from that of Muslim theology. That was a brave act in those days as the religious leaders of the Muslims held great influence and power.

The rediscovery of African philosophy has shed more light on the culture of Africa. The point made by Onyewueni is that most of the Greek philosophers went to Egypt to study and the great library of Alexandria had more importance that the early Universities formed by Plato and Socrates in Athens.  (Onyeweuni, 1976).

The Greek philosophers

Aristotle differed in the teachings of Plato. Plato was more focused on the teachings of mathematics and mysticism whereby Aristotle was more interested in biology.  Plato was more leaning to that of absolutes whereas Aristotle favoured compromise.  Despite these differences Plato remained a significant influence on his pupil.

Although sharing some of Plato`s views in his works surrounding `the republic`, Aristotle rejected the concept of an ideal state. In addition he rejected the concept of democracy in favour of a monarchical constitution as the best form of Government.  Aristotle had many notable contributions to the field of biology and this included the ladder of life, where he went about classifying various life forms relative to the level of complexity. Further he explained Zeno`s paradox by comparing and contrasting `potentiality`and  `actuality`, thereby explaining the phenomenon of change. Aristotle became regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of the age and perhaps one of the greatest intellects that ever lived.  He has been described as the father of modern scientific thinking and laid the foundation for the western civilisation, having influenced so many different scientific disciplines. Both Plato and Aristotle stated that all things have a universal form. Aristotle disagreed with Plato on the concept of universals being instantiated. He maintained that if a universal exists either as a particular entity or relation to another thing then there must exist an item in the future that the universe can be predicated upon.


Onyeweuni, I. (1976). Is there an African Philosophy. Journal of African Studies, Vol.3 No.4,, 513-528.