The Six Best Books on African Philosophy

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This page contains a list of the six best books on African philosophy. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on African philosophy” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview of African philosophy, a third person may be looking for classic works on African philosophy. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on African philosophy. Here are the best books on African philosophy in no particular order:

An Introduction to African PhilosophySamuel Oluoch Imbo

Category: Short Introduction | Length: 176 pages | Published: 1998

Organized topically rather than historically, this book provides an excellent introduction to the subject of African Philosophy. Samuel Oluoch Imbo synthesizes the ideas of key African philosophers into an accessible narrative. The author focuses on five central questions: What are the definitions of African philosophy? Is ethno-philosophy really philosophy? What are the dangers of an African philosophy that claims to be ‘unique’? Can African philosophy be done in foreign languages such as English and French? Are there useful ways to make connections between African philosophy, African American philosophy, and women’s studies? By making cross-disciplinary and transnational connections, Imbo stakes out an important place for African philosophy. Imbo’s book is an invaluable introduction to this dynamic and growing area of study.

A Short History of African Philosophy – Barry Hallen

Category: Short Introduction | Length: 208 pages | Published: 2009 (2ed.)

A Short History of African Philosophy discusses major ideas, figures, and schools of thought in philosophy in the African context. While drawing out critical issues in the formation of African philosophy, Barry Hallen focuses on recent scholarship and relevant debates that have made African philosophy critical to understanding the rich and complex cultural heritage of the continent. This revised edition expands the historical perspective, takes account of recent discoveries and new canonical figures, highlights new discussions about gender as a cultural and philosophical phenomenon, clarifies issues regarding indigenous cultures and human rights, and builds on the notion that African philosophy shares methods and concerns of philosophy worldwide. This short reference is an essential resource for students, scholars, and general readers.

African Philosophy : Myth and Reality – Paulin J. Hountondji & Abiola Irele

Category: Textbook | Length: 248 pages | Published: 1996 (2ed.)

In this incisive, original exploration of the nature and future of African philosophy, Paulin J. Hountondji attacks a myth popularized by ethnophilosophers such as Placide Tempels and Alexis Kagame that there is an indigenous, collective African philosophy separate and distinct from the Western philosophical tradition. Hountondji contends that ideological manifestations of this view that stress the uniqueness of the African experience are protonationalist reactions against colonialism conducted, paradoxically, in the terms of colonialist discourse. Hountondji argues that a genuine African philosophy must assimilate and transcend the theoretical heritage of Western philosophy and must reflect a rigorous process of independent scientific inquiry. This edition is updated with a new preface in which Hountondji responds to his critics and clarifies misunderstandings about the book’s conceptual framework.

African Philosophy in Search of Identity – D. A. Masolo

Category: Textbook | Length: 316 pages | Published: 1994

A Kenyan philosopher surveys themes and debates in African philosophy over the last five decades. Masolo’s purview includes Francophone and Anglophone philosophers in both the analytic and phenomenological traditions.

 

 

A Companion to African Philosophy – Kwasi Wiredu

Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 608 pages | Published: 2006

This volume of newly commissioned essays provides comprehensive coverage of African philosophy, ranging across disciplines and throughout the ages.

  • Offers a distinctive historical treatment of African philosophy.
  • Covers all the main branches of philosophy as addressed in the African tradition.
  • Includes accounts of pre-colonial African philosophy and contemporary political thought.

The African Philosophy Reader – P.H. Coetzee & A.P.J. Roux

Category: Anthology | Length: 686 pages | Published: 2003 (2ed.)

Divided into eight sections, each with introductory essays, the selections offer rich and detailed insights into a diverse multinational philosophical landscape. Revealed in this pathbreaking work is the way in which traditional philosophical issues related to ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology, for instance, take on specific forms in Africa’s postcolonial struggles. Much of its moral, political, and social philosophy is concerned with the turbulent processes of embracing modern identities while protecting ancient cultures.


This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:

  • browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
  • searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
  • browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • searching for recommendations on philosophy forums

The following sources were used to build this list:

University Course Syllabi:

Bibliographies:

Other Recommendations:

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