This page contains a list of the best books on African philosophy. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on African philosophy. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about African philosophy. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring books that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.
Secondly, this is not a list of personal recommendations. It was created by compiling recommendations from a variety of online sources including bibliographies, course syllabi, and community recommendations. You can find out more about this process here. Links to the sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a wider range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on African philosophy in no particular order.
An Introduction to African Philosophy – Samuel Oluoch Imbo
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
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
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
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
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
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.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Africana Philosophy
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the History of African Philosophy
Interested in philosophy but don’t know where to start? Check out these resources:
- An Organized Collection of Online Philosophy Resources and Reading Lists
- A History of Western Philosophy in 66 Quotations (and 300+ online resources)
- A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations
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