An Essay on African Philosophical Thought

The Akan Conceptual Scheme

Kwame Gyekye
Book Cover

PB: $36.95
EAN: 978-1-56639-380-5
Publication: Aug 95

296 pages
5.5 x 8.25
2 figures

African philosopher Gyekye defines the main principles of a distinct African philosophy

Read an excerpt from the Preface (pdf).


In this sustained and nuanced attempt to define a genuinely African philosophy, Kwame Gyekye rejects the idea that an African philosophy consists simply of the work of Africans writing on philosophy. It must, Gyekye argues, arise from African thought itself, relate to the culture out of which it grows, and provide the possibility of a continuation of a philosophy linked to culture. Offering a philosophical clarification and interpretation of the concepts in the ontology, philosophical psychology, theology, and ethics of the Akan of Ghana, Gyekye argues that critical analyses of specific traditional African modes of thought are necessary to develop a distinctively African philosophy as well as cultural values in the modern world.


"I find (Gyekye's) work brilliant in its approach, in its ideas, and in its argument. He asks courageous questions concerning the idea of an African philosophy and he not only succeeds in exposing the shallowness of some skeptical claims regarding that question but also clarifies the lines along which answers might properly be sought.... His work is the most massive in a new generation of thoughtful approaches to an important question regarding human culture." W.E. Abraham, University of California at Santa Cruz, and author of The Mind of Africa

"The author builds an impressive case for an indigenous African philosophy which is different from but not inferior to European philosophy. This text is valuable because (of its) insights into the relationship between life and thought, philosophy and experience." James H. Evans, Jr., Religious Studies Review

"(A) wonderful starting point for understanding black peoples on all sides of the Atlantic." Colors Magazine

"...anyone interested in questions in the philosophy of culture—especially, though by no means only, in Africa—should profit from Gyekye's work... This book is rewarding reading." Kwame Anthony Appiah, Times Literary Supplement

Table of Contents

Preface to the Revised Edition
Acknowledgments to the Revised Edition
Preface to the First Edition
Acknowledgments to the First Edition
Guide to the Pronunciation of Akan Words

Part I: The Question of Philosophy in African Culture
1. On the Denial of Traditional Thought as Philosophy
2. Philosophy and Culture
Sources of African Philosophical Thought • Collective and Individual Thought • Language and Philosophical Thought • On Defining African Philosophy: Some Proposals
3. Methodological Problems
False Impressions about the Unwritten Character of African Traditional Philosophy • Difficulties Besetting the Study of African Traditional Philosophy

Part II: The Akan Conceptual Scheme
4. The Akan Conception of Philosophy
5. Concepts of Being and Causality
God and the Other Categories of Being • Causality
6. The Concept of a Person
Okra (Soul) • Sunsum (Spirit) • Relation of Okra and Sunsum • Relation of Okra (Soul) and Honam (Body) • Akan Psychology and Freud • Conclusion
7. Destiny, Free Will, and Responsibility
Basis of Belief in Destiny • Nature of the Concept • Causality, Fate, Free Will, and Responsibility • The Problem of Evil
8. Foundations of Ethics
Religion and Morality in Akan Thought • The Social and Humanistic Basis of Akan Morality
9. Ethics and Character
The Akan Word for "Ethics" • The Centrality of Character (Suban) in Akan Ethics
10. The Individual and the Social Order
Communalism as a Social Theory • The Tensions of Individualism
11. Philosophy, Logic, and the Akan Language
The Mind-Body Problem • Time • Existence, Predication, and Identity • The Ontological Argument • Subject and Predicate • Conclusions

Part III: Toward an African Philosophy
12. On the Idea of African Philosophy The Need not to Generalize • Common Features in African Cultures • The Community of Cultural Elements and Ideas • Conclusion: The Legitimacy of Talking of African Philosophy

Select Bibliography
Name Index
Subject Index

About the Author(s)

KWAME GYEKYE (1939–2019), was Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Ghana and a Visiting Professor of Philosophy and African American studies at Temple University. He was the author of numerous articles and books, including The Unexamined Life: Philosophy and the African Experience.