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The stranger between oppression and superiority

Close encounter with Heinz Kimmerle



Response to J�rgen Hengelbrock by Heinz Kimmerle



J�rgen Hengelbrock (Bochum)

You cannot free yourself from Hegel!    
An encounter with Heinz Kimmerle



I would like to organize my encounter with Heinz Kimmerle in four parts:

1. Hegel and Africa

2. The idea of philosophy

3. The respect for cultures

4. The search for difference and for hidden meanings


1. Hegel and Africa

I became acquainted with Heinz Kimmerle in the seventies when we both taught philosophy at the university of Bochum. Heinz Kimmerle passed for a left-Hegelian dialectical thinker, even for an orthodox Marxist. We often examined his students together and I was astonished at their well-founded knowledge and their philosophical passion.

��� When Heinz Kimmerle left Bochum for Rotterdam, we lost contact. Twenty years later, in the Ivory Coast, a Nigerian colleague told me about a German philosopher who was committed - like me - to African philosophy, but he did not remember his name. You will certainly understand my surprise when at the end of some investigations I found out that the philosopher was Heinz Kimmerle.

��� We contacted anew and during our first meeting in Africa I asked him for the reasons of his conversion from Hegel to Africa, from dialectical to differential thinking. Heinz Kimmerle gave me a lot of reasons, personal and philosophical ones, and to one of them I was particularly amenable because it referred to my first experience and surprises about the African philosophical scene, when I took part in a conference about the role of the philosophy in African societies.

��� After inauguration, an eminent Hegelian and expert of Hegel in the French-speaking world, Bernard Bourgeois, spoke about Hegel and Africa. Immediately there was some trouble in the audience. Wasn't it Hegel, who claimed that Africans were not cultivable, that they were more things than human beings? What an insolence to start the conference with a reference to this German thinker!

��� Indeed Hegel's statements about African people are not very pleasant; he can only be excused by his complete ignorance of the African continent. That was, indeed, M. Bourgeois' intention! He tried to prove that, if Hegel had had a correct knowledge of the African continent he would not have said such stupidities, he would have drawn different conclusions! In fact, Hegel did not place his considerations about African people in his philosophy of nature, but in his philosophy of spirit. Consequently, African people are not natural, but spiritual beings. For Hegel geographical conditions determine the mental development of men living under such conditions, and I think with Bernard Bourgeois that Hegel would have revised his statements if he had had correct information about the geography of Africa. For Bourgeois, Hegel's error about Africa was an accidental, not a substantial one; it was not due to his philosophical starting point itself.

��� But Mr. Bourgeois was not listened to. I had to acknowledge that there was an open wound among the African philosophers who could not pardon Hegel and who considered his statements as a justification of colonization and oppression.

��� In this context, an African student who was writing a thesis about Hegel's philosophy of history asked me about the sense of the history of destruction of every local culture by European civilization. He presumed that behind it, there had to be a hidden trend of the progress of mankind. Spontaneously I answered that behind it there was no hidden sense but only the aggressiveness and the voracity of European men.

��� It was this question that brought me closer to Heinz Kimmerle. Hegel, by his rage to synthesize anything by his dialectic method, is not able to regard the other, the black man, as his equal.

��� In contrast to Hegel, Heinz Kimmerle insists on the respect for the other or for the otherness, for the difference that cannot be neutralized by the self.

��� Nobody has criticized philosophical idealism with more sarcasm than the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who wrote, "Knowledge, it's eating. We all believed that the spider-spirit draws the things into his net, covers them by his white saliva and digests them slowly, transforming them to his own substance." Sartre denounces the "nourishing philosophy". [i] - I think that Kimmerle would agree with him, and I would describe Kimmerle's idea of knowledge with Sartre's words: "Knowing, it's expanding to, it's tearing oneself out of the damp stomachic intimacy in order to go away from there, beyond oneself, to what is not oneself, near the tree and nevertheless outside the tree, because the tree escapes from me and I cannot give myself up in it any more than it can dissolve into me." [ii] .

��� About Africa, Hegel was wrong. He was wrong concerning African geography as well as African cultural and intellectual development. That error was due to his "digestive" attitude of knowledge. Consequently, Hegel's error about Africa is not an accidental, but a substantial one; for Kimmerle, this error proves the failure of the Hegelian enterprise in general. For Hegel, "African men are not real human beings, in no manner can their rudimental spirituality be mediated with the spirit and its history (neither in a logical nor in a temporal sense). The human being, that is the European (mail) citizen (in a constitutional state). The universal history, that is the oriental and Greek-Roman prehistory of Europe, Europe's own history and its American post history. All that is situated beyond these frontiers and resembles humanity and history, is really located between the animal and the human being, and cannot be mediated with history. The glass is cracking, fissured and opaque, it has no longer any value of orientation." [iii]

��� The glass, that is the Hegelian universal reason pretending to elucidate all regions of being by his synthetic view. The gross error about African men proves to Kimmerle that it is blind indeed!

��� I am not sufficiently qualified to decide if this very harsh sentence about Hegel is imperative. In opposition to Heinz Kimmerle Bernard Bourgeois emphasizes that, in a different context, Hegel recognizes that we meet civilized African men in the South of America, and this finding harmonizes well with the Hegelian statement that the degree of spiritual development depends on geographical conditions. Therefore, fundamentally, African man is able to be cultivated like as any other man. [iv]

��� I would like to ask the question if Hegel's philosophy is disproved in its totality by his historical errors. But that's not my subject.

2. The idea of philosophy

Heinz Kimmerle's firm intention to respect every form of articulation of man makes him put side by side proverbs, myths, popular tales, rules of social life, ritual texts as well as lyrical poems of modern African authors and philosophical expos�s in western philosophical style. To justify this proceeding he refers to Hegel's dictum, "Philosophy, that is its period seized by ideas." In German: "Philosophie ist ihre Zeit in Gedanken gefa�t". [v] The German term "Gedanke" can be interpreted in a larger way than "idea" in the classical philosophical sense. The term "Gedanke" also has a meditative and even imaginative connotation. If you underline this connotation you can accept various forms expressing the vision of life as philosophical ones, for example proverbs, myths etc. Given this interpretation you can relate Hegel's dictum to Cassirer's "Philosophy of symbolic forms" or even to Lyotard's idea of "grands r�cits" (great narrations). Thinking with Hegel against Hegel, that is Heinz Kimmerle's program. [vi]

��� My problem, however, is not the interpretation of Hegel. My question to Heinz is if we should name lyrical forms or ritual forms of language in the same way philosophical like conceptual and logical reasoning. For me this is not a question of definition but of the understanding of philosophy. Certainly we are free to classify and to define as we think proper. But we must examine the usefulness of a definition.

��� In the beginnings of ancient Greek philosophy all thinkers were named "wise men" (sophoi). By wisdom they understood knowledge of origins or principles. But soon, with Plato and Aristotle, thinkers found it useful to distinguish between different levels or forms of knowledge, composing a new word: "philo-sophia", striving for wisdom. It seems to me that the reason for this was the following one: a wise man has a certain intimacy with origins which must be characterized as intuitive, as a result of a long contact with the main questions of life and with thinkers who dealt with them. This intimacy conferred to him authority and a general credibility. In this sense, Plato and Aristotle didn't consider themselves as wise men, but as explorers of wisdom. They examined theories of origins and established principles in a reasoning manner, which was looking for logically coherent arguments and critical investigation. Possibly, philosophers are also wise men, to a certain extent. But certainly not all wise men are philosophers. In all religions you find very wise men who are considerable teachers of mankind but who recur to a higher authority than that obtained by rational reasoning.

��� I think it is very useful to maintain this distinction, and I see a mutual dependence and a complementary relation between them. Philosophy needs wisdom in order to be nourished, wisdom needs philosophy in order to be thinned like we must thin the jungle in order to see clearer.

��� According to this definition, wisdom is deeper and richer than philosophy and has more means to communicate (poetry, painting etc.)

Distinguishing between wisdom and philosophy we avoid the crucial question if we can qualify traditional African thought as philosophical. There is no doubt that there are elements of conceptual reasoning and critical reflection about existence in traditional African thinking. But, on the other hand, we cannot deny that there is no fully elaborated, conceptual and systematic reflection on fundamental questions of being on a larger scale.

��� Undoubtedly we find philosophical elements or views of life in African proverbs, myth, pedagogical and religious narrations, as well as in the proverbs and tales of my Westfalian country.

��� But I think we don't need to speak about philosophy here. It would be better to speak about wisdom.

� ��Depriving traditional African thinking from the status of philosophy, we don't agree with Hegel's reasoning. And in no manner do we attribute any intellectual inferiority to Africans. Philosophy in the above-defined sense is a special intellectual proceeding that seems to me not necessary for full mental or intellectual development.

��� On the contrary, when we are looking for wisdom, then we find great and marvellous treasures on the African continent; we find very profound views of existence with extremely fine nuances, which prove that there is no mental inferiority with regard to European or other cultures.

Speaking about wisdom we have no problems to include poetic, religious and mythic discourses in philosophical investigations.

3. The respect for cultures

Heinz Kimmerle gave us many convincing examples how we can nourish our own philosophical reflection by studies of Africa thought.

��� For example, in Dakar in 1998 Heinz Kimmerle held a conference in Dakar where he examined different conceptions of time, inherent in European and African cultures. He refutes the idea that Europe knows only linear time, irreversible and measured by the homogeneous movement, and he demonstrates that in the religious and ritual practices of the Christian faith there is a circular and also an intensive (not extensive) notion of time that he has found in traditional African civilizations. He concludes that we can no longer consider our linear notion of time as the only effective one, and that the African as well as the Christian ritual conceptions of time teach us a more human way to deal with the course of our lives.

��� Be that as it may, it seems to me that Kimmerle's turning away from Hegelianism and from dialectic thought in general is due less to an intellectual, but first of all to a moral motivation. For Heinz Kimmerle the only serious attitude towards beings is the respect for differences, for the irreducible otherness.

��� This respect for otherness requires a double abstention from judgement, an intellectual and a moral one:

��� First, the philosophical value of an outlook on existence cannot be measured by the degree of a particular conceptual elaboration. We are not allowed to generalize a certain European mode of thinking, making use of it as criterion of intellectual goodness. In other civilisations, there are other forms of thinking and communicating about existence (about time and life, about birth and death), that are different, but not less profound, and that can enrich and modify our own vision of being. All visions and manners of thinking and expressing ideas are a priori equivalent. It would be arbitrary and arrogant to grant privileges to one of them.

��� From a moral perspective, we are not allowed to debase particular behaviors or customs because they shock our own moral sense, formed by our European culture and related to it. When I asked Heinz Kimmerle about the cruel practice of circumcision of women in some parts of the world he answered that we must not regard physical pain as an isolated item. The character and the intensity of physical pain depend on psychical conditions that are determined by their cultural and social environment. Ritual acts and the solidarity of the cultural community contribute to reducing and neutralizing the sensations of pain.

��� Let me assure you that in Heinz Kimmerle's opinion I did not find any cynicism or lack of sensibility to human suffering. On the contrary: Once again, it's the respect of otherness that forbids him to pronounce judgement and induces him to try to understand this practice on the cultural background from which it emerges and which gives it sense. It seems to me that basically Heinz Kimmerle has always trusted Hegel's statement, "what is reasonable, is real, and what is real is reasonable". [vii] This confidence induces him to assume behind every phenomenon, even behind the incomprehensible strangeness of pain, fundamental reasonableness which allows him to accept even hard suffering when it becomes reconciled with the culture in its entirety.

��� Finally, the question is if Kimmerle's philosophical point of view can avoid two tendencies or even risks: aestheticism and moral indifference. But he doesn't fall into these traps and knows how to avoid both aberrations.

��� Indeed, if you abstain from any qualifying judgement, saying that we must regard cultural phenomena or customs as integrated parts of a totality that requires our respect and that gives sense and consistency to each of their elements, our views of cultures must become contemplative, aesthetic in the ancient Greek and in the modern sense of the word. We can find that this culture or part of culture is more or less appealing than some other parts, but we are not at all allowed to say that it is ugly, because we started from the point of view of equivalence of all cultures, and the notion of ugliness involves an act of depreciation!

��� Modern African tyrants welcome such philosophical statements because they seem to liberate them from annoying questions. I heard a high officer of an African government say that human rights are a particularity of western civilization and that they have no significance in African cultures.

��� This contemplative attitude involves the risk of moral indifference. For example, it would be difficult to banish slavery, which has always been a very old practice of certain civilizations whose cultures are based on it!

��� This is not the Heinz Kimmerle's opinion. Nevertheless, he argues against ethical universalism that has no empirical basis. [viii] The ethical universalism as reflected by human rights is subjected to historical conditions. It is related to the French revolution and European civilization. But as soon as the idea of personal rights arose in mankind, "it seems to be logically cogent that everybody who claims the acknowledgement of his own dignity and equality must concede them also to others. Their universal validity is not so much based on reason as such, but on the fact that we fall into an insupportable contradiction claiming dignity and equality for ourselves without conceding them to all the others." Here again, Heinz Kimmerle joins Sartre's argumentation. [ix] He qualifies his own point of view as "universal knowledge a posteriori" [x] and says that in this sense he can accept Kant's view.

��� Thus Kimmerle tries, on the one hand, to avoid moral relativism or indifference, and on the other hand to maintain his rejection of on universal reason: It is a historical fact that the constitution of human rights has its origin in a particular culture, namely in the European one. But once originated, their claim cannot be but universal, without falling into an inescapable contradiction. Is this statement congruent with the doctrine of the equivalence of cultures? Alternatively, shall we suppose, behind Kimmerle's thinking, some universalistic residuals? Indeed, if there is a cogent logic of rights (cogent for all men, a posteriori or a priori), this logic is necessarily, after the birth of human rights in European enlightenment, a norm of judgement about the further development of cultures that can no longer escape from this logic. In this sense, I would qualify the thought Heinz Kimmerle's approach as "moderate culturalism" and, at the same time, as "moderate Hegelianism".

4. The search for difference and for hidden meanings

It is on that background of enrichment and of curiosity about the otherness that we must understand Kimmerle's plea for intercultural philosophizing. For him, such an enlargement of thinking is necessary in the contemporary world. Let me quote: "It is the philosophical contribution to a new definition of the relationship between cultures that is decisive for the status of contemporary philosophy, because it concerns one of the central problems of our time on which the possibility of a human life in dignity depends. Thus today philosophy will be intercultural or it will be nothing else but an academic activity without social impact." [xi]

��� By this request he does not claim a new philosophy competing with idealism, empiricism etc. He only asks us to deal the old and forever urgent fundamental questions of existence in an intercultural way, that is to question not only our own intellectual and moral heritage but also the intellectual and moral resources of the other cultures� about their answers, expecting an enrichment and a different, profounder vision of human existence.

��� Heinz Kimmerle turned to Africa more or less accidentally and from personal motives. He could have contacted Asian or Indian cultures at the same way. But for him the accidental encounter became a substantial one, which revealed to him a marvelous world of life, art and wisdom, so that I am inclined to suppose behind this accident "a ruse of reason".

��� He described his encounter with Africa in a wonderful diary, arguing that it is impossible to understand and to judge African philosophy without its social context. I fully agree with him. Reading this very interesting book I remembered my own ambivalent perceptions and impressions of a world full of contradictions. He describes well the degree of disorganization, the dispersion of philosophical teaching, that contrasts with the riches, diversity, and profoundness of philosophical efforts on the black continent.

��� Indeed arriving in Africa for the first time you feel a disappointment or even a certain shock. You are looking for African culture and you don't find anything but western life style in its worst form, and on the other hand terrible poverty and social disintegration. Speaking with African intellectuals you notice their European education and formation. My first question to Paul Hontoundji, one of the most notable African philosophers was this: "where is Africa?" Spontaneously he gave me the answer: "in our hearts". - Indeed you must go very far in order to find the genuine Africa, "far" not only in a geographical sense but first of all in a mental one. Heinz traveled a lot all over the wide continent, not only to the African megacities, but also to the interior, under hard climatic conditions, in order to meet sources of traditional African life, wisdom and art in the remote villages.

��� I order to shed light on his philosophical search I would like to tell you a little friendly controversy we had about the understanding of a proverb.

��� I wrote a text about the tradition of Cabinda people (in the north of Angola) who deal with conflicts by exchanging figures on cooking pots, each of whom with a special meaning. For example the figure of a flying duck correlates with the proverb "The duck of the lakes is beating the dance drum like it is beating its wings over the lake. God created it like that: beating and nothing else but beating." Well, the native interlocutor interpreted the proverb as follows: "Everybody has his own character. Our temperaments are not identical. We both act in accordance with our inborn inclinations. We must bear each other as we are, you cannot change me." [xii] - In my view this message proves a subtle knowledge of human behavior and in the same time a certain resignation or even an indisposition to make an effort to change.

��� Heinz sent me an e-mail remarking that this interpretation was too superficial. The connotation of this figure seemed to him much richer: The quoted proverb has not only the mentioned practical sense, but contains a multitude of hidden, metaphysical meanings we have to decode. Arguing in this way, Kimmerle follows Derrida's and Deleuze's philosophy of difference which he summarizes in the following way, "In the text or in its framework, in the tissue of deconstructions we find certain different threads and different lines of sense that come together and also separate, so that there are the possibility and the willingness to insert others." [xiii] - Heinz Kimmerle does not accept that there is nothing beyond the primary, obvious meaning of words or things to which they refer. Like words, "the universe is never the same. It is forever changing." [xiv] Even if we must admit that we cannot find a synthetic, all embracing reason working beyond words and things, we shall at least look out for the shifting performances of meanings referring to the ever-changing universe. The idea that there is nothing beyond the obvious (pragmatic) meanings of words and things, this idea is strange to him. Heinz, you cannot free yourself from Hegel!

��� Kimmerle was asked to write an introduction to the philosophy of difference. He did so in a very superior manner. He explains the thinking of Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard and others in a way that you understand these authors better than by reading them.

��� But in fact this work is much more than an introduction to the philosophy of difference; it is a very history of philosophy. Kimmerle tries to prove that there is an internal logic or necessity of development of thought that leads us from Hegel via Heidegger and Adorno to Lyotard and Derrida and that obliges us to philosophize from now on in a differential and intercultural perspective. Philosophizing in an intercultural way is a "historical necessity", "a duty resulting from the internal logic of interpretation of certain developments of contemporary philosophy" [xv]

��� But I would ask Heinz Kimmerle if a closer look at the history of philosophy, particularly, at the ancient philosophy does not reveal that the philosophy of difference has always been a (not identical) twin sister of the philosophy of identity, that is its necessary completion or complementary opposite. Ancient and medieval thinkers were not so convinced of being able to resolve all opposites or differences into identity or a unique ground. Reflecting about being, Aristotle was very conscious of the difficulty of talking about it univocally, in one and the same way. He said that "being" must be understood and expressed in a multiple sense, but referring to one and the same origin." [xvi] For Aristotle, there must be a common origin of being, but this origin disintegrates in a multitude of opposite forms or meanings (substance-accidents, form-matter and so on). For analogical reasons Christian theologians conceived a "negative theology", arguing that about God we can only say what he is not, but not what he is. In the fourth century Boethius stressed that God has no name, and because of that we can call him by any name: The thinking of difference has always been the not-identical twin sister of the thinking of identity.

��� Generally I would ask if we can really find a logical development of the history of thought. Perhaps there is only circularity in the way that human thought with its modest tools always returns to the same difficulties and insoluble questions.

��� I would like to close with a personal remark: It has always seemed to me that Heinz Kimmerle's endeavor is not, first of all, the search for a logic of history, but an endeavor for a kinder and more humane mankind. In support of this idea I want to quote a poem by Paul Celan that Kimmerle recited at the end of his farewell conference in Rotterdam, in 1996:

"Es ist Zeit, da� der Stein sich zu bl�hen bequemt,

da� der Unrast ein Herz schl�gt.

Es ist Zeit, da� es Zeit wird.

Es ist Zeit."

[It is time that the stone submits itself to blossoming;

that for disquiet beats a heart.

It is time that time becomes pressing.

It is time.]�



Response to J�rgen Hengelbrock by Heinz Kimmerle


Let me explain first of all, what I mean by the title of this Close encounter-session:

The stranger between oppression and superiority

Many people in the world of today are strangers, may be more than ever before. I have taken the title of this encounter-session from the book of Julia Kristeva: Strangers are we to ourselves (original French edition Paris: Fayard 1988). As a Bulgarian in France and in the USA, she knows what she is talking about. As a German in the Netherlands and as a European in Africa, I can understand her statement. The experience of being misunderstood or even attacked is very common for strangers like us. But there is also the opposite side of this experience. The stranger knows more than the indigenous inhabitants. (The terms are already a problem. What can it mean that Dutch people call themselves �autochtoon�, and the strangers in their country �allochthoon�?) The stranger has at least one experience, which the indigenous inhabitants do not have: the experience of being a stranger. Paradoxically enough, this gives him a feeling of superiority. The question: �Are there happy strangers?� is answered by Kristeva: �The face of the strangers exposes what happiness is�. And we all have learned from Levinas, that from his face an immediate ethical appeal comes to us.

�� As a German in the Netherlands and a European in Africa, I can also tell about the fact that there are �Steigerunsgrade des Fremdseins� as Bernhard Waldenfels calls it (Topographie des Fremden, Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp 1997, p.35-37). In English that might be rendered as �degrees� or �stages� of being a stranger. There is no doubt that a European in Africa feels himself more a stranger than a German in the Netherlands. He experiences a more radical stage of being a stranger. Reflecting on this experience, I would like to discern between stages of otherness and kinds of difference. Theorising the more radical stage of otherness and a less oppositional kind of difference, I come to some critical remarks with regard to certain passages in Hegel�s Science of Logic (1812-16). I will not go into details about that here. I want to do it in my contribution to the Plenary End-Debate of this Conference.

����� As the beginning of an answer to J�rgen Hengelbrock I want to make clear what can be said in general about my relation to Hegel: The way in which I am dealing with his philosophy is not inspired by the wish or the endeavor to free myself from him. My attitude towards this philosophy has always been the same, during the 40 years in which I have concentrated on the work of understanding and criticizing Hegel and also now: after a shift in the focus of my philosophical work has taken place, since I am busy to help building up intercultural philosophy, from my part with a special accent on dialogues with African philosophies. I think that we need Hegel to understand the European situation of the 19th century and to a great extent of our own period of history. We need not only Hegel and not exclusively Hegel, but he has special position, summarizing the arguments of German idealism and becoming the starting point for Marxist and other decisive philosophical issues of the 19th and 20th century. What has changed in my attitude towards Hegel, is that I have learned during my work in Africa and on Africa, trying to understand the specific way of philosophizing which we find on this continent, that Hegel cannot help us with that at all. There is no non-European other for Hegel. His philosophy is specifically and exclusively European. But we have not to blame Hegel for that. He has done what he had declared he intended to do: expressed his own time in thought. He says in clear philosophical concepts what Europeans think, also about non-European people. These people are not on the same level as Europeans themselves. That explains the well-known statements of Hegel about Africa and other non-European parts of the world.

����� If J�rgen Hengelbrock tells us that there is no African philosophy, but something different, which he calls wisdom, it is he who has not freed himself from Hegel. He says the same as Hegel about this part of the world. What happens to him could be described in the words of Michel Foucault who says: Wherever I go, Hegel secretly has followed me (L�ordre du discours, Paris: Gallimard 1972). In other words, J�rgen says what in Hegel�s time has been and even now is the common opinion of European people and European philosophers. A prominent example is Heidegger. He has had interesting and inspiring dialogues with philosophers from other cultures, especially from Japan and Korea, however, he does not call it philosophical dialogues, but dialogues between �thinkers�. I myself have heard the same argument from the Dutch philosopher C.A. van Peursen when I talked to him in 1993, after my first visit to Indonesia, where he was well-known as a Dutch colleague to the Indonesian philosophers. And I happened to be confronted with it two weeks ago by Gernot B�hme, when I attended his farewell-symposium because of his retirement from teaching at the Technical University of Darmstadt..

����� Gernot B�hme could have known better, because he has had some experience with philosophers from Nigeria who work seriously and intensely to give shape to African philosophy. And before all, J�rgen Hengelbrock could know better after his many visits to West-Africa and his co-operation with Yacouba Konat� and other philosophical colleagues from Ivory Coast. Yacouba Konat� has essentially contributed to intercultural philosophical dialogues between African and European philosophies, also at Erasmus University Rotterdam. B�hme�s partners in Lagos and Hengelbrock�s partners and friends in Abidjan will be deeply disappointed when they are told that their philosophical work is not about African philosophy, but just European or Western philosophy performed by them as Africans. During a certain period of time, African philosophy was mainly done as ethnophilosophy, that means as making explicit the implicit philosophy of the language of African peoples by Western or African philosophers who were acknowledged in the academic world. Let me be quite clear about that: the language or myths of African peoples are not themselves philosophical. When philosophers of today make explicit the implicit philosophy of the language of these peoples, at this very moment philosophy is produced. Although the ethnophilosophers only are doing what was one of the main activities of Aristotle in Greece 2400 years ago, the work of them has been criticized as not being philosophical by Western and African academic representatives of this discipline. Since we know of the philosophical work of the Sages in traditional African communities by the publications of Henry Odera Oruka, Amadou Hampat� B�, Kwame Gyekye, Campbell S. Momoh and others, the African critics of African philosophy have become silent.

����� But we need not rely on the publications, which I just have mentioned. Among us, encountering me, and the other participants of this session, is Mogobe Ramose from South Africa. He has written a book in which a new approach of African philosophy is worked out, different from ethnophilosophy and sage-philosophy. Mogobe is unfolding the philosophical impact of just one word: �Ubuntu�. I cannot imagine that J�rgen will advise him to call his book not �African philosophy through Ubuntu� (Harare: Mond Books 1999, see for the following p. 52), but �African wisdom through Ubuntu�. For Mogobe�s book is in the same way and on the same level philosophical as J�rgen�s books or any other Western colleague�s books. The difference is not its rank as philosophical, but its content about the human being in the environment of fellow human beings and of nature. �Umuntu, ngumuntu ngabantu� means: �A human be-ing is to affirm one�s humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and, on this basis establish humane relations with them�. The English translation does not express, however, that ngamuntu is an imperative. �One is enjoined, yes, commanded as it were, to actually become a human being� by recognizing the humanity of others. We can see quite easily, that this statement does not only lay the foundations for philosophical anthropology, but also for ethics, social and legal philosophy.

����� The challenge for Western philosophers to engage in dialogues with African philosophies cannot be felt more urgent. Up to now, we are only few, and especially younger colleagues, who are busy with these dialogues. Politics and philosophy are changing slowly. In this respect I can agree with G�nter Grass, when he called one of his books some ten years ago: �Diary of a snail�, and recently his new book: �Walking like a crab�. Dear J�rgen, and dear friends, thank you for coming to this encounter, and, please, let us not loose the direction of our �symphilosophein�.

�� I fully agree with J�rgen that we have to look deeper than the surface-structure of African big cities of today in order to find the real meaning of African culture and African thought. And I want to express clearly that the respect for other cultures and the endeavor to treat them on the level of equality does mean that we have to learn to listen in a more patient and methodically supported way. But this does not mean that we have to accept any thing or judge everything as good. After having listened long enough and intensely enough, a critical attitude is necessary. This is also true for the different practices of circumcision or excision of women in African societies. I come to the question of universal values as measures for this criticism later. Here, I want to say only that I find acceptable what can be defended in an open dialogue in which all partners have equal chances.


[i] Situations I, Paris 1947, p. 31

[ii] ibid. 32

[iii] Die Dimension des Interkulturellen, Amsterdam 1994, p. 110

[iv] Cf. Bernard Bourgeois, �Hegel et l'Afrique�, in: Etudes Hegeliennes, Paris 1992, p. 253-270

[v] Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, Vorrede

[vi] Die Dimension des Interkulturellen, Amsterdam 1994, p. 104

[vii] Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, Vorrede

[viii] op. cit.� p.. 147.

[ix] L'Existentialisme est un humanisme, Paris 1946, p. 84f.

[x] Ibid.� p.� 148

[xi] Ibid. p. 131

[xii] Jos� Martins Vaz,. Filosofia tradicional dos Cabindas, Lisbonne 1969,� nr. 272

[xiii] Philosophien der Differenz, W�rzburg 2000, p. 147

[xiv] Die Dimension des Interkulturellen, op. cit. p. 140

[xv] Ibid. p. 130f.

[xvi] Metaphysics, IV, 1003a 33



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