International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 147 21st October 2009


I. 'Philosophical Connections: Merleau-Ponty' by Anthony Harrison-Barbet

II. 'Sententiae: An Art Form of Independent Philosophy' by Richard Schain

III. 'Eyes for an eye: The Korekore-Nyombwe people's response to murder' by Fainos Mangena



This week saw the completion of the online edition of Dr Anthony Harrison-Barbet's Philosophical Connections, a project which I began almost exactly a year ago. Sadly, Dr Harrison-Barbet died in May 2009 (see the Obituary in Philosophy Pathways Issue 144). Philosophical Connections is the product of 7-8 years of diligent study and research. I have selected the profile on Merleau-Ponty as representative of the high quality of Dr Harrison-Barbet's scholarship.

Richard Schain is an independent philosopher who has contributed several articles to Philosophy Pathways. Here, he presents a selection of his own aphorisms on philosophy, in homage to the great philosophical aphorists Heraclitus and Nietzsche. It is not an exercise that I would advise most to attempt, but Schain accomplishes it with considerable finesse.

Dr Fainos Mangena from the Centre for Leadership Ethics in Africa, University of Fort Hare, South Africa offers a compelling insight into the moral thought of Korekore-Nyombwe people of northern Zimbabwe, and its connection with their ontological/ epistemological view of their place in relation to the natural and spiritual worlds. The concept of 'eyes for an eye', far from being a philosophy of retribution or vengeance, is fundamentally concerned with justice as restitution, as a means of restoring the spiritual imbalance brought about by an unethical act.

Geoffrey Klempner



Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961)  PHENOMENOLOGY

Maurice Merleau-Ponty was born in Rochefort-sur-Mer. Educated at lycees there and at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, he gained his agregation in 1931. He taught in various lycees and at the Ecole Normale. After war service he was appointed a professor at the University of Lyon and then became Professor of Child Psychology at the Sorbonne. He accepted the Chair of Philosophy at the College de France in 1952. He was a founder and co-editor with Sartre of Les Temps Modernes.


[1] Merleau-Ponty's philosophical agenda is clear from the title of his best-known work [The Phenomenology of Perception]. He starts [Preface] with a criticism of interconnected inconsistencies in Husserl's philosophy. Husserl set out to establish philosophy as a 'rigorous science' but he offered an account of space, time and the world as we 'live' them. Husserl also tried to give a direct description of experience, without reference to its psychological origin or causal explanations, but in his last works he talked of a genetic and constructive phenomenology. Perhaps the most serious contradiction, says Merleau-Ponty, is that while phenomenology is a transcendental philosophy which brackets the question of the world's existence, yet it is also a philosophy 'for which the world is 'already there' before reflection begins -- as an inalienable presence' and which it seeks to make a direct and primitive contact with.

What he objects to is Husserl's separation of the real world from the world considered as a phenomenon for consciousness [a]. For Husserl the epoche provides a world which is nothing other than the intentional object of consciousness. Certainly Merleau-Ponty does not claim any knowledge of things-in-themselves (Kantian noumena). But he does argue that attempts at a philosophical description of the structures of consciousness show us not eidetically intuited essences but a world that transcends that consciousness and reveals itself in and to it. He thus rejects the Husserlian notion of 'reduction' and his account of a pure transcendental ego. At the same time Merleau-Ponty seeks to pass beyond what he sees as a return to dualism in Sartre's distinction between the in-itself and for-itself [b].

These views reflect Merleau-Ponty's affirmation of the primacy of perception [ Part II] -- by means of which we gain access to the world. But perception for him is not a mere reflection on passively received sensory data. The world we encounter in perception is a 'lived experience'. What transcendental reduction reveals is a 'body-subject' [Part I]. The body for Merleau-Ponty is much more than just an entity to be treated as an inert object whose behaviour is to be explained exhaustively in terms of science as a 'second order expression of the world'. But neither is it a pure, transparent subject. It exhibits 'ambiguously' both aspects or functions. He thus rejects the claims of behaviourism and naturalism. The body must be seen also as a conscious 'subject' actively situated in the perceptual milieu -- the presupposition for all conceptual thinking, rationality, value, existence. The situation the body-subject finds itself thrown into is one of constant change: its relationship to the world and other persons -- its dialogue with them -- is thus dialectical, and the reduction cannot be completed on account of 'ambiguity' [c].

[2] The central phenomenological themes of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy are already to be found in the first major work [The Structure of Behaviour]. This appears initially to be an essentially scientific work concerned with the psychology of human behaviour, but underlying his investigations is his primary concern -- to overcome discontinuities, especially to bridge the gap between nature and consciousness. To do so he starts by criticizing behaviourist theories. Following the Gestaltists [for example, Koffka and Koehler] he argues that we are organisms who appear to exhibit goal-seeking activity. We do not react to stimuli in a purely passive mechanistic way, but rather the situations we respond to we have already 'endowed with meaning'.

Thus, for example, when we are hungry and come across something which will satisfy our hunger our response is not just an activity to be analysed exhaustively in terms of the physical and chemical structures of the object. Rather, we already see it as food, as an appropriate object to eat and to satisfy our inner needs (Similarly we also see ambiguous figures 'as' one thing or 'as' another.) He accepts that bodily behaviour as such is a proper object of scientific study in causal terms, but he denies that mental activity can be identified with physical behaviour of the organism or with a network of reflexes, conditioned or otherwise. Science, he says, abstracts from the wholeness and purposiveness of living organisms.

Instead he postulates a hierarchy of qualitatively different levels of conceptualization in the structures of things. The lowest or physical level is that at which the organism may be said to be the least 'purposive'. Its response to the environment is explicable in causal or mechanistic terms. But at the vital, that is, biological level such responses have to be understood with reference to the organism's structures and needs. At the highest, mental or human level the organism confers 'meaning' on the environment. This dialectical relationship gives rise to holistic, spatial patterns. No level can be reduced to the lower level; the levels are as it were cumulative.

Thus we might say, for example, that while we can analyse ourselves in terms of atoms and molecules -- relating to the laws and theories of physics and chemistry, the activity of complex molecules is describable by reference to the laws of biology. As for the highest level, we appeal here to the fulfilment of purposes and needs. Explanation involves reasons rather than causes. There is no inconsistency between the several sets of explanations appropriate at the different levels, and there is no reduction of biology to physics and chemistry, or of human activity to biology. The lower levels do, however, contribute to the higher levels. According to Merleau-Ponty meaning must therefore already have been conferred at a pre-conscious level of subjectivity.

While he has rejected behaviourist psychology, and shows the influence of Gestalt theory, he is at the same time critical of Gestalt psychology to the extent that it seems to treat 'wholes' or 'forms' themselves as if they were causes, whereas causation is correctly to be attributed only to stimuli at the level of physical structures. With his theory of cumulative structures Merleau-Ponty hoped to avoid both materialism and mentalism [a].

     matter, life and mind must participate unequally in the
     nature of form; they must represent different degrees of
     integration and, finally, must constitute a hierarchy in
     which individuality is progressively achieved [Pt III,

[3] In The Structure of Behaviour he concentrates on scientific theories and then moves on to consider philosophical implications. But in The Phenomenology of Perception his approach is explicitly philosophical. From the very start he situates himself in the perceptual milieu and starts from the standpoint of the perceiving 'lived' body-subject. He criticizes both scientific empiricism and Cartesian intellectualism. Thus he rejects the notion of isolated, discrete sensory data. Sense-data are abstractions, 'pure' sensations which have no reference either to external reality or to the intentionality of consciousness. [See Introd., 1-4.]

Following the Gestalt psychologists he argues that elementary perceptions, or impressions are bound up with larger wholes already charged with significance. 'We are condemned to meaning', he says. A perception is always part of a phenomenal field [a]. The body-subject is the key notion not only in his approach to perception but also to sexuality, language, freedom, and the cogito. He rejects the concept of body as a purely physical object. It is through attribution to it of intentional structures that we can understand how it functions. The body-subject is that which makes possible lived experience, that through which we perceive, feel, will, and act [b].

From this starting point what is needed, he argues, is clarification of our 'primary conception of the world'. According to Merleau-Ponty there is a 'logic of the world' to which the body conforms, thereby supplying us in advance with a 'setting' for our sensory-experiences. He refers to this as the 'pre-objective' realm -- the horizon of the cultural, human life-world, by reference to which a proper understanding of perception can be achieved [c]. 'A thing is, therefore, not actually given in perception'; rather it is

     internally taken by us, reconstituted and experienced by us
     in so far as it is bound up with a world, the basic
     structures of which we carry with us, and of which it is
     merely one of many possible concrete forms [PP, Pt II, 3].

Thus the way we perceive the world through the body follows from the fact that consciousness as the highest manifestation of the body is located in the world in a specific spatio-temporal context. He makes a distinction between 'bodily space' and 'external space' [Pt I, 3].

He seems here to be suggesting that one's awareness of one's body is a precondition of the consciousness that one has of being in the world and that the body provides a reference point for the attribution of spatiality between one's body and other similarly connected objects. Time likewise is understood in terms of one's occupation of it as a 'setting' in which both past and future, although belonging to being are accessible only in the lived present of memory and agency [d]. The world, however, retains a unity independent of our changing knowledge of it and of our activity towards truth through appearance.

Human beings are engaged in a dialogue with the world considered not only as a set of physical entities but also as containing other individuals or persons. And the 'other' is equally a 'body-subject'. It cannot be both a being-in-itself, belonging to the world of caused and determinate objects, and a consciousness, a being-for-itself which lacks an outside and parts. Both 'modes of being', he says, are presupposed in the concept of the body-subject -- the living body as experienced. Body is 'solidified or generalized existence', while existence is a 'perpetual incarnation' [Pt I, 5].

We can see the other as human subject only when his subjectivity is embodied. To see him only as body leads to conflict as sometimes occurs in sexual relations. The gaze of another on my body causes me to experience shame. I am treated as an object and am depersonalized, become as a slave. Alternatively, through my own immodest display I may dominate the other, render him defenceless. Paradoxically, his desire for me and his consequent loss of freedom leads me no longer to value him. Sexuality, however, properly understood and utilized, is for Merleau-Ponty one more form of original intentionality. Moreover, it 'interfuses' with existence and is thereby 'ambiguous' [e] in that it is not possible to determine whether a decision or act is 'sexual' or 'non-sexual'.

Given Merleau-Ponty's account of embodied perception, it follows that for him a perceiver can be understood only as incarnated. What is discoverable through the cogito, he says, is neither psychological immanence, the inherence of phenomena in 'private states of consciousness', nor even a transcendental immanence where phenomena belong to a constituting consciousness. Rather what we find is a deep-seated momentum of transcendence which is the perceiver's very being -- a simultaneous contact with his own being and that of the world [Pt III, 1]. Thus he in effect avoids both the view that the thinking self or ego is that in which thoughts, perceptions, and so on, inhere, and the view that the self is just the totality of sets or series of thoughts, perceptions. In perception the body-subject finds itself in and inseparable from its surroundings. Perception is 'lived'. There is no autonomous subject which can be separated from its objects.

At the same time the subject is not a consciousness. We find ourselves, he says, in our performance or acts -- that is the body-subject in its perceptual, sexual, linguistic engagement with the world. Thus, for Merleau-Ponty human beings do not exist in isolation from others [f]. (At the end of the book he quotes St Exupery's observation, 'Man is but a network of relationships, and these alone matter to him'.) And to the extent that at the highest, most purposive conscious level man is free from causal determinism he is aware of the possibility of particular courses of action.

But he goes on to argue that man is not free in a total or unlimited sense; he is constrained by the historical and cultural environment in which he has been born and nurtured [Pt III, 3] [g]. A theory of freedom must take account of what Merleau-Ponty calls a kind of 'sedimentation' of one's life. He means by this that we develop an attitude towards the world as we become moulded by repeated experiences of it which are in some sense favourable -- meet our needs, interests. Choice is never absolute; it can not be exercised in a vacuum, out of nothing. But neither are we completely determined.


[4] Merleau-Ponty's critique of dualism is taken further in his last writings in the context of what he calls his 'ontology of flesh'. [See especially Eye and Mind and The Visible and the Invisible.] His ontology may be described as a 'dialectical monism' in so far as he rejects the dualistic analyses of Being into a pure free consciousness of the 'self' and the determinism or necessitation of the 'other' and argues in favour of a mutual 'intertwining' (chiasme) of the lived body-subject and the world. (He here draws on the notion of reciprocity implicit in his Phenomenology of Perception.) Being is both the silent, invisible ground of Nature and the visibility revealed through it [a].

Being made visible constitutes what Merleau-Ponty calls 'the flesh [chair] of the world'. Flesh is the element of Being which precedes and grounds the self and the other. It is the 'anonymous visibility' -- neither material nor spiritual, nor substantial. Rather it is 'a sort of incarnate principle that brings a style of being wherever there is a fragment of being' [V&I]. Man, as himself grounded in Nature (he is not just a body-subject related to a specific historical-cultural situation), is a moment of instantiation of Being's self-revelation. Thus grounded man is perceptible. But as revealer of Being, able to render visible the 'perceptible structures' of the world, he is also the perceiver and contributes to its meaning. 'One can say that we perceive the things themselves, that we are the world that thinks itself -- or that the world is at the heart of our flesh' [ibid.]. Being as made visible is thus both that which 'gives to us' and that which we give to it [b].


[5] [See Phenomenology of Perception, Pt I, 6; also Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language; and Signs.] Following from his rejection of dualism Merleau-Ponty argues that thought is inseparable from language. He denies that we can have concepts 'in the mind' before they are expressed or articulated linguistically. New concepts are worked out in or through new expressions which he calls collectively 'speaking word'; and he regards this process as the creative manifestation of the body-subject. Such expressions in due course add to the corpus of social and public language -- the 'spoken word'.

However, just as he allows for the conferring of meaning at a 'pre-conscious' level so he attributes to the body a pre-linguistic understanding, a 'praktognosia' of its world -- though this is an aspect of and inseparable from the body's behaviour [PP, Pt. I, 3] [a]. Thought is to the body's subjectivity as language is to its 'objective' corporality, the two dimensions constituting one reality.

He also recognises that his concept of the body-subject is difficult to articulate in so far as our language has built into it a bias towards dualism. We must therefore struggle to create a new language in order to express this central concept [b]. He later [CAL] draws on the structuralist view that the meaning and usage of language has to be grasped synchronically by reference to the relationship between signs and not diachronically by reference to the history of linguistic development; and he sees in this evidence or support for his own claim that the body-subject is involved in a lived relation with the world, because language here and now is, as it were, the living present in speech. Merleau-Ponty's emphasis is thus on parole, that is the 'signified' -- meaning which is 'enacted', as opposed to 'langue' which refers to the total structure of 'signs' [c] -- the meanings and words which parole, as a set of individual speech-acts (be they English, Chinese, or any other language), instantiates.

It is through language and its intersubjectivity that the intentionality of the body-subject makes sense of the world. And he makes it clear that language is to be understood in a wide sense as including all 'signs', employed not only in literature but also in art, science, indeed in the cultural dimension as a whole. Indeed the significance of a created work lies in this intersubjectivity -- in the reader's or viewer's 're-creation' of it as well as in the work itself as originally created by the writer or artist. Moreover, in an era when science is increasingly alienating man from the real, language and the arts in particular are particularly suited to be the means for this revelation. Through the lived experience in which language is articulated -- in our actions, art, literature, and so on (that is, in 'beings' as signifiers) -- it opens up to the Being of all things [see The Visible and the Invisible]. Contemplated against the 'background of silence', language then comes to be seen as a 'witness to Being' [Signs] [d].


[6] Merleau-Ponty agreed that we must start from a collectively accepted set of meanings and values of our world, but he says that from this position we can exercise our freedom to choose and thereby create ourselves as moral beings. Initially his views on ethics would seem to have been posited in the context of Marxist social and political theory. But while he was sympathetic to the grounding of consciousness in the material infrastructure, he rejected a historical dialectic and the subordination of the individual to the collective. Nevertheless, he accepted the consequentialist view that 'objective history' is the final arbiter of individual choice and action regardless of intentions.

In general we can say he set out to define a position which would avoid both an 'objectivist' material 'in itself' and an 'idealist' 'for itself' but which yet reconciles the two in 'ambiguity' [a]. He attacked Marxist theory as appropriated by Communism and came to see this capacity of Marxism to be adapted in this way as an indication of fundamental flaws in the theory itself [see The Risks of Dialectic]. A genuine revolutionary movement, he argues, must seek only to guide tendencies in society, not to impose its dogma. To the extent that it is directed against a particular class it is doomed to become degenerate, and it cannot therefore be the agency through which a historical process operates. History itself is not a rigid monolithic objectification of a necessary dialectic but a contingent and multilayered sequence of events; and Marxism, if adopted as a theoretical instrument for the development of society, must itself take cognisance of history and submit to revision in the light of changing circumstances.


For many years Merleau-Ponty's writings were undeservedly neglected outside France. More recently, however, his merits as a philosopher have been increasingly recognised -- not least by many philosophers working in the 'analytic' tradition (despite the complexity and prolixity of his style -- characteristic of much twentieth century continental philosophy).

Of particular significance are his rejection of both rationlism/ idealism and positivistic and reductionist empiricism, his concept of the 'body-subject' and a 'holistic' account of perception and action as operating within the domain of intersubjectivity, and his dialectical 'ontology of flesh'. He accepted Husserl's epoche and phenomenological reduction but argued that this leads not to a separated transcendental consciousness or ego but to essences of 'lived experience'; and while emphasising the Cartesian primacy of the self he sought to overcome dualist theories (including Sartre's sharp distinction between the pour-soi and the en soi) through an appeal to his doctrine of 'ambiguity', by which he understands a theme or the meaning of a word as open to different interpretations, depending on the context, none of which should be regarded as privileged [a]. He was also critical of attempts to reconcile existentialism and Marxism, arguing that a reworking of both is needed.

Merleau-Ponty was probably aware of most of the contentious issues raised by his thought, but owing to his untimely death he was unable to complete a number of projects which most probably would have addressed these. Two points in particular should be mentioned.

(1) (With reference to his early work) how transition from one structural level to another is to be effected has, arguably, not been fully worked out. But many commentators would accept that his account of degrees of rationality and of freedom of the body-subject acting within the constraints of causal determinism might prove to be more successful in resolving the seemingly intractable problem of dualism while avoiding the difficulties of reductive naturalist theories.

(2) Some critics maintain that an unresolved tension remains between the extremes of a 'subjective' idealism and an 'objective' realism. This might well be seen to be compounded by his later acceptance of a structuralist account of language, in so far as the distinction between the lived experience of the subject and the described experience articulated through language (parole) and 'meanings' is itself made within the linguistic framework. This would seem to prevent access to the objective world of the 'other'.


Merleau-Ponty: [of many writings] La Structure du comportement (1942) (The Structure of Behaviour, trans. A. L. Fisher); Phenomenologie de la perception (1945) (The Phenomenology of Perception, trans. C. Smith); Les Aventures de la dialectique (1955) (Adventures of the Dialectic, trans. J. Bien); Signes (1960) (Signs, trans. R. McCleary); L'Oeil et l'esprit (1964) (Eye and Mind, in Phenomenology, Language and Sociology, ed. J. O'Neill); Le Visible et l'invisible (1964) (The Visible and the Invisible, trans. A. Lingis; La Conscience et l'acquisition de la langage (1964) (Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language, trans. H. Silverman).


J. Bannan, The Philosophy of Merleau-Ponty.

M. C. Dillon, Merleau-Ponty's Ontology.

J. Edie, Merleau-Ponty's Philosophy of Language: Structuralism and Dialectics.

E. Matthews, Merleau-Ponty: A Guide for the Perplexed.

Collections of Essays

J. Sallis (ed.), Merleau-Ponty: Perception, Structure, Language.

C. Taylor and M. B. N. Hansen (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Merleau-Ponty.

[Source: http:--- ]

(c) Anthony Harrison-Barbet 2008

In accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988, the author has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work; and Michael Mooney, David O'Connor, and Joseph O'Gorman have asserted their right to be identified as originators of the 'Philosophical Connections' concept.

Reproduction and distribution rights have been granted exclusively to the Pathways School of Philosophy. Otherwise, no reproduction, copying or transmission of any of the contents of Philosophical Connections may be made to a third party without written permission from the author.



     'It is one's duty to say the truth, not engage in garrulous discourse.'
     Democritus of Abdera -- Diels' Die Fragmente Der Vorsokratiker

The form of writing known as aphoristic is one that requires a special consciousness of self and freedom of spirit on the part of the reader. Unlike extended prose, aphorisms do not entertain or support one upon a flowing current of language. They are not discursive, they are the linguistically dense expressions of the interior life of the writer. Philosophical aphorisms or sententiae should be conceived of as a form of artwork through which the philosopher encapsulates his life and thought in linguistic form. Brevity and depth are at the heart of sententiae. If the ultimate purpose of art is the awakening of consciousness, the significance of the sententia is to be found in its ability to perform this function -- for the writer as well as for the reader.

Heraclitus, the greatest aphoristic writer of the antique world, declared that the purveyor of wisdom does not explicate or conceal but gives a sign. He was regarded as a philosophical force second to none throughout a thousand years of classical culture; subsequently, his impact was lost on a public given over to the cult of Christianity. We now live in a society that looks to literature for diversion or instruction, but rarely for awakening. Those with a taste for the classics turn to the literary honey of Plato rather than the tough meat of Heraclitus. Yet it is as true now as in antique times that honeyed words have a limited effect on the spirit of a reader. Transport into the endless Disneylands of extended discourse is commonly a way of escape from self rather than its awakening. The judgment of Callimachus of Alexandria, a literary giant of his times (at 250 BC), was mega biblion mega kakon -- 'much writing, much evil.'


Philosophy -- The transmutation of vital experience into concepts is a special form of artistic expression. The ancient Greeks called it philosophia.


Philosophy is not a matter of fact or falsehood but of forthrightly expressing one's own perspectives about himself and the universe.


Philosophical refers to the existence of a human higher consciousness that first emerged among the ancient Greeks and Hindus. The self-contradictory term 'scientific philosophy' exemplifies the corruption of language found everywhere in human affairs.


Sentience -- In life forms, the energy of the universe is harnessed so as to further the propagation of the organism. Sentient creatures, however, find that their life drive has been mysteriously altered so that elevating consciousness becomes the principal focus of their existence.


Philosophers -- The bourgeois want money and the Christians preach love but we independent philosophers seek only knowledge of the hidden forces of our existence.


Soul -- It takes very little investigation to discover that an interior self or 'soul' is the distinguishing mark of Homo sapiens. This may be just one of many perspectives on the nature of a human being but it is by far the most important and interesting one.


In the beginning was the word -- En arche en ho logos (John 1:1) This was the evangelist's way of admitting that the Heraclitean logos or 'word' is the key to the primal energy underlying all things. Apart from some of the sayings of Jesus, this is the only line in the entire New Testament that I find worthy of serious consideration.


'What is a soul?' is a question better not asked of children, illiterates or scientists.


An intellectual conscience -- Intellectual activity purifies the soul. Perhaps the most heinous of human sins of any age new or old is the foregoing of an intellectual conscience.


The brain -- Important lesson in neurophysiology: the brain stands to the soul as did Chopin's piano to Chopin.


Human thought -- I have never quite understood how lovers of nature can forget that human thought is its absolutely highest product.


Developing the mind -- It is astonishing how the distinction is still not made between developing the mind and acquiring knowledge. One would quickly be confined to a mental institution if he exhibited signs of starvation while hording great quantities of inedible foodstuffs.


Consciousness -- Those who do not recognize a human consciousness attuned to the concealed elements of the universe are better left to their blind dependence upon animal spirits or religious dogmas.


An important distinction -- The distinction between science and philosophy could not be more obvious. Science organizes and utilizes the phenomena of nature whereas philosophy miraculously adds to them.


Philosophy and Science -- Philosophical literary artwork is assertive, metaphorical, hyperbolic and veiled. The reader is confronted with the intensely personal product of the artist's mind working in concepts. Scientific discussion is exactly the opposite in style; it is balanced, explicit, objective and straightforward. For the philosopher, such a style has no value whatever and produces annoyance when paraded out as philosophy.


Branches of science -- Philosophies that do not attend to the problem of human existence on the level of a higher consciousness are usually branches of science that have been misnamed.


Spiritual self -- When the tension between ontological polar opposites slackens, all things fall apart. Thus the downfall of a human being whose exterior material powers is not balanced by an interior spiritual self.


'God' -- My concept of a deity is that he is the great 'see-er' who sees existence as a whole independently of the dimensions of time and space. Now whether he could be pleased with what he sees of human existence is a highly debatable question.


Religions are only significant because they embody a once powerful idea. But how long can we live on the capital of the past?


Monotheistic religion -- There are no reliable accounts of the epoch-making events at Sinai, Jerusalem or Mecca, thus placing them in the category of myths. But the arrogant myth-makers of the great middle-eastern monotheisms converted their myths into dogmas. Thus we inheritors of the Semitic mindset are condemned to spiritual prisons. I say to religious readers who regard me as afflicted with blasphemous hubris; 'honi soit qui mal y pense.'


Old and new covenants -- The old covenant of God with the Hebrews was replaced after some 1200 years by a new one of universal application. It is now 2000 years since the advent of the replacement. We are long overdue for another covenant. This one, however, will be even more restrictive than the original Mosaic document that applied only to the Hebrew people.


Jesus of Nazareth -- The secret of the power of Jesus lay in his remarkable ability of oral expression. So powerful was its impact that his living memory lasted long enough to be captured in Gospels written many years later. Thereafter, the bizarre legends of Christianity unfolded with news of a virgin birth, an only begotten son of God, a resurrection after death and many other absurdities.


Stealing scriptures -- The theft of the millennial-old Hebrew Scriptures by the early Christian fathers was a criminal act that has not yet been brought before the bar of justice.


Ignoring Jesus -- 'tetelestai' (It has been finished) said Jesus as he gave up his ghost on the stake (John 19:30) but unhappily his followers did not take him at his word and did not content themselves with their memories of the last great Jewish prophet.


Eastern cults -- The cults of the East are surely no solution to the problems of western society. They proliferate for the same reason that technologies proliferate; the western mind has been weakened by two millennia of Christianity.


Technological monuments -- It is necessary to realize that there is a finite amount of energy available to any individual. What he expends in one direction is not available for another. One may assume that the technological monuments of contemporary civilization are a sure sign of psychic impoverishment.


Higher consciousness -- Before family, before country, and certainly before any god, there is the requirement of a higher consciousness. Nietzsche labeled the possessor of such a consciousness 'Der Ubermensch'.


Duty to the self -- A constant sense of duty toward the invisible interior self cannot be dispensed with if one is to aspire toward a higher consciousness.


Know yourself or Make use of yourself -- Inherent in the notion of consciousness is its expression. Being buried alive is child's play compared to an unexpressed consciousness. It has been said that over the portals of our time stands not the gnothai sauton of Apollo but the verwerte dich! of Max Stirner.


Homo sapiens -- The transition from vegetative plant life to motile animal life was surely easier than the transition from homo faber to homo sapiens. It is possible, however, that this latter transition may prove not to be permanent.


Physics -- Those who wish to be philosophers must first study physics in order to understand the illusory images produced in their brain by technology-enhanced perceptions.


The past -- The 'past' is a word that refers to events existing within the dimension of time -- a dimension constructed by the human brain as demonstrated by Kant and amply proven by modern cosmology. The formation of events occurs in the virtual present, the mysterious 'now,' but existent events as perceived by us can only be found in the past. The 'future' is the unpredictable program operating in the universe for adding to existence.


Sublime thoughts -- We should be elevated not intimidated by our perception of the enormities of time and distance. After all, we are their creators.


A dilemma -- A satisfactory attitude to the mystery of time is the essential requirement for living the philosophic life.


The pointillist canvas of eternity -- Speaking or writing one's thoughts adds a vividness and coherence to them that is not present in pure introspection. They become worthy components of the great pointillist canvas of eternity.[1]


Creative thought -- It is gratifying to envision that creative thought -- the highest product of the human condition -- exists as an enduring part of eternity and not as an evanescent puff of smoke as materialists seem to think.


Sentient life -- In our too old culture, we are saddled with the task of penetrating the encrusted layers of the centuries to arrive at the springs of sentient life. Sadly, the effort required is usually beyond the limits of strength of ordinary humans.


Vital thought -- The near suffocative effect of garrulousness upon vital thought is exemplified by philosophers who emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century -- one may mention Bergson, Berdyaev and Heidegger but there are many others. In our times, however, the vital thought has disappeared completely and we are left only with scholars and New Agers.


Wittgenstein -- The exceptional virtue of the critical philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is that he realized the worthlessness of critical philosophy.


Universities -- The secret of higher education is that there is no such thing; there is only higher understanding. And by now, it should be abundantly clear that this is not cultivated in the universities. I would turn them all into giant libraries.


Pointless explication -- There is no real point to philosophical explication. This abnormal use of the mind demeans the expressive faculties and clutters up libraries. Perhaps Plato and Aristotle had some excuse for establishing the class of the philosophical literati but in the third millennium of a literary civilization, there is no longer any reason for continuing the practice.


University philosophers -- Absent a metaphysical consciousness informing the mind, professors of philosophy tend to occupy themselves with theories of knowledge and analysis of the ideas of others -- with university tenure as a consolation prize.


Academics -- The difficulty of contemporary academic philosophy is that it produces no transcendental cognitions rendering it worthless for anyone seeking to ascertain the meaning of human existence.


Need for metaphysics -- The failure to appreciate the metaphysical basis of philosophy has led to profound disturbances in society, culminating in dictatorial religious cults and/or gross materialism.


Poisonous concepts -- Philosophical works that fail to attack poisonous concepts rarely amount to anything as was noted by Diogenes of Sinope. The huge quantity of useless pablum dished out under the rubric of philosophy is truly astonishing.


Pleasure principle -- Discovering the relationships of the living conscious self to the cosmos is the one pleasure that never palls. This is why Epicurus founded his pleasure principle upon philosophy. It was left for a Gelehrter of the twentieth century to replace philosophy with sexuality.


Dinosaurs and consciousness -- The problem of existence for humans is the problem of enlarging their consciousness. When they attempt to develop themselves through technology, they are like dinosaurs struggling to survive by adding to their armored plating.


Nietzsche -- The tragedy of Friedrich Nietzsche is that of a mighty engine over which control was lost. But for we 'still hopeful, still youthful moderns,' Nietzsche remains a guiding star.


Icarus -- Nietzsche's mind soared to incredible heights; but like Icarus. his wings were not secure enough to hold him aloft. He sank into a tragic hebephrenic psychosis to the endless joy of his detractors who slandered him with the stain of syphilis. He failed the requirement that he had set for his disciples -- to hold out.


Pillars of consciousness -- The three pillars of a higher consciousness are experience, reflection and expression. Not one of these is dispensable in order to make what the Stoics called to sojon -- the wise or virtuous man. They admitted the phenomenon is very rare.


Pointillist canvas of eternity -- The artist-philosopher eventually comes to the realization that when all is said and done, each human life paints its own unique brushstroke on the pointillist canvas of eternity.


1. See my essay In Love With Eternity (2005).

(c) Richard Schain 2008


Web site: http:---




     In this article, I critically reflect on the role of 'ngozi'
     (the avenging spirit) in deterring murder practices among
     the Korekore-Nyombwe people of northern Zimbabwe. I strive
     to defend the position that 'ngozi's restorative response
     to murder makes retributive punishment irrelevant to Shona
     culture which is premised on the idea of hunhu/ ubuntu.
     Hunhu/ ubuntu philosophy guides and motivates the practice
     of justice in Africa, in general, and among the Shona, in
     particular. I utilize, among other scholars, the study of
     the Zimbabwean ethnographer Michael Gelfand to construct
     the above thought experiment which seems to me to be
     groundbreaking given that no amount of energy has been
     spared to write about 'ngozi' as a deterrent to murder in
     Shona society.

The Korekore-Nyombwe people: a linguistic analysis

As Jairos Marufu Gombe puts it, chiKorekore as a Shona dialect was not popularized by missionaries, colonial hunters and Arab traders, as is the case with other Shona dialects such as chiZezuru, chiKaranga, chiManyika and chiNdau .[1] The name chiKorekore is used with reference to the language spoken by a group of people of the Munhumutapa tribe who migrated from Masvingo and conquered the land of the Tavara people in northern Zimbabwe about six hundred years ago.

Two theories have been put forward to explain the origins of this language and the people who speak it. The first theory holds that chiKorekore was given as a nickname denoting the conquering prowess of the Korekore people.[2] The second theory holds that when these people finally settled in the land of the Tavara people, they adopted a culture of migrating year after year (gore ne gore) hence the origin of the name Kore-kore from gore ne gore.[3] These people became numerous after conquering the Tavara people, and today their name has remained popular; more popular than the name Tavara which is the name for the original and rightful owners of the land that is today occupied by the Korekore-Nyombwe people. But as time passed, intermarriages between the Korekore and Tavara people began; and when the British colonizers came to Zimbabwe in the early 1890s, they all assumed the name MaKorekore.[4] But the distinctions can still be made with another category being that of MaKorekore-Tavara who, I must say, were the first to settle in present day Nyombweland (the land of the Korekore people).

Please note that ma- is plural for more than one MuKorekore (singular usage). ChiKorekore, like other Shona dialects, has another sub-branch such as chiTavara which is the sub-dialect for the Korekore-Tavara of Hurungwe and Makonde.[5] The other sub-branch is chiShangwe, spoken by Korekore people from Sanyati and Gokwe. There is also chiTande, the sub-dialect for the people from the Dande valley and chiBudya which is spoken by the Korekore people from Mutoko.[6] Finally, and more importantly for this work, there is chiNyombwe, the sub-dialect for the Nyombwe people from northern Zimbabwe (Mt. Darwin), the area which I have demarcated for study.

Ontological, epistemological and axiological notions of hunhu/ ubuntu in Korekore-Nyombwe society

The word 'hunhu' or 'ubuntu' is prominent in the work of Stanlake Samkange and Tommie Marie Samkange (1980) and then the work of Mogobe B. Ramose (1999). Both Samkange and Ramose have contributed immensely to the discourse of hunhuism or ubuntu philosophy at least as understood by the Shona. For starters, the Zulu/ Ndebele word 'ubuntu' has its Shona equivalent 'hunhu' or 'unhu', which is the root of African philosophy. The being of an African in the universe is inseparably anchored upon ubuntu or hunhu.[7] By way of definition, the word 'hunhu' or 'unhu' and its Ndebele equivalent 'ubuntu' consists of the prefixes 'hu-' or 'ubu'- respectively. These prefixes evoke the idea of being (existence).[8] They denote enfolded being before manifestation in the concrete form or mode of existence of a particular entity.[9]

In Korekore-Nyombwe understanding, ontology is all about the kind of things in existence -- particularly vanhu (people). Predication is about what we say about vanhu -- Tinoti vane hunhu kana kuti havana hunhu (they are good or bad). At the ontological level, there is no strict and literal separation and division between hu- and -nhu as well as ubu- and -ntu respectively, they are mutually founding, as they are two aspects of be-ing as a one-ness and an indivisible wholeness.[10] Hu-nhu or ubu-ntu is the fundamental ontological and epistemological category in the African thought of the Bantu-speaking people including the Shona people of Zimbabwe. Hu- is said to be distinctly ontological while -nhu is distinctly epistemological, the same can be said of ubu- and -ntu in that order.[11]

As Ramose maintains, the prefix mu- or umu- shares key ontological features with the prefix hu- or ubu-.[12] Whereas the range of hu- or ubu- is the widest generality, mu- or umu- tends towards the more specific. Joined together with - nhu or -ntu the words become munhu or umuntu respectively.[13] For Samkange and Samkange, the word munhu in Shona and umuntu in isi Ndebele means a person: a human being.[14] It means more than just a person, human being or humanness because when we see two people, one white and the other black, coming along, we say, 'hona munhu uyo arikufamba nomurungu,' or in isi Ndebele, 'nanguyana umuntu ohamba lo mlungu,' (There is a munhu walking with a white man).[15]

Now, is there a sense in which we can say a white man lacks something, which we will always identify with or in an African? Yes, black Americans, for instance, identify something they call 'soul' as being almost exclusively among the black folk.[16] The thing called soul is indefinable but identifiable among black people.[17] The attention one human being gives to another: the kindness, courtesy, consideration and friendliness in the relationship between people; a code of behavior, an attitude to other people and to life is embodied in hunhu or ubuntu.[18] Hunhuism is, therefore, about something more than just humanness deriving from the fact that one is a human being.[19] Since there are as many as three hundred linguistic groups with -ntu or a variation in the word for person, all believed to have originated from a single source, argue Samkange and Samkange, it is reasonable to suppose that these groups -- the Bantu people -- by and large, share a common concept of hunhuism which varies only to the extent that individual groups have undergone changes not experienced by others. [20] Thus, in terms of the code of behavior, the attitude to other people and to the life of a ruler, an induna, in a highly centralized military Nguni kingdom will be different from that of an ishe (chief) in a less centralized and less martial Shona state.[21]

At the level of a broader community, the Korekore-Nyombwe people also subscribe to this hunhu or ubuntu philosophy, because their being is defined by their purpose of existence in relation to safeguarding the interests of their departed elders, the ancestors and their relationship with other spiritual entities. The knowledge of their environment also helps to direct the course of their livelihood. The Korekore-Nyombwe people, therefore, see reality as dual as they find themselves in a physical world which is directed or informed by the spiritual world. They are in constant touch with their departed elders who now occupy metaphysical space. So, a Korekore man or woman can safely be defined as munhu or umuntu in the same breath as a Karanga, Zezuru or Manyika man or woman.

What about their ethical world-view? The notion of ethics, just as that of ontology and epistemology, cannot be separated from hunhu. In fact, morality means hunhu in Korekore-Nyombwe society. A person who has hunhu is a virtuous person, a good person. As Gelfand reinforces this point, 'a man who has hunhu behaves in a decent, good, rational and responsible way; a worthy man has hunhu .'[22] Hunhu is, therefore, the ethical benchmark of Shona society. A person who possesses hunhu can control himself, his passions and instincts, but should his desires overcome him, then he is defined as having no hunhu.[23] Among the Korekore-Nyombwe people, a person with hunhu is gentle and respectful; such character traits are seen by the way in which the Korekore-Nyombwe women or girls greet their elders. When greeting, they bend their knees, which is called kutyora muzura. Men and boys clap hands after greeting their elders or colleagues; this is called kuembera. A man who has built a good reputation because of his hunhu finds that other families are eager to have their daughters marry his sons.[24] On the other hand, if it should become known that the character of a man or the reputation of the family is bad, everyone will be told to avoid them.[25] Hunhu also means good personality in Korekore-Nyombwe culture.[26]

Hunhu and ngozi among the Korekore people

It is common to hear a Korekore man or woman lambasting murderers and fornicators in Nyombweland saying: Mhondi ne mhombwe ndivo vamwe ve vanhu vasina hunhu muNyombwe (murderers and adulterers are among the people who are not good persons in Korekore society). There are two main categories of the bad man in Korekore society and these are the adulterer (mhombwe) and the murderer/ murderess (mhondi). Mhombwe cause moral discord in Korekore society because the Korekore people value fidelity in marriage. Mhombwe covet other people's wives and attempt to have sexual relations with them.[27] Mhondi have a special place in this article because they are portrayed as far worse than any other moral offender because they take away human life which is highly sacred in Shona society. It is against this background that the Shona people believe that once a person has been murdered, his or her spirit cannot be pacified.

In fact, in Korekore-Nyombwe understanding, a human being does not die or sleep forever (munhu ha-apfi or munhu ha-arovi). What it means is that the Korekore-Nyombwe people believe in the metaphysical realm of life after death. They believe that the end of bodily life marks the beginning of spiritual life. Hence, the morality of the Korekore-Nyombwe people is endorsed by the spirit world. It is the elders who make moral rules and principles and the spiritual world endorses them through various sanctions that include misfortunes, deaths, and illnesses to moral deviants. This is also the context in which ngozi operates. But what is ngozi? Briefly stated, ngozi is the spirit of a person who has been murdered and which comes back to seek revenge in the family of the murderer by causing illnesses, misfortunes or multiple deaths until the perpetrator pays reparations to the offended family.

Within the Korekore-Nyombwe people's code of ethics, as is also the case in other Shona cultural groupings, when the guilty family has failed, deliberately or otherwise, to pay restitution, ngozi strikes viciously and harshly by not only targeting the perpetrator of the crime but his kinsmen as well. Ngozi is premised on the idea of 'eyes for an eye.' As MFC Bourdillon remarks, 'ngozi is fearsome and terrifying because it attacks suddenly and very harshly.'[28] But how does the idea of ngozi feed into the broader context of hunhu/ ubuntu philosophy as embraced by the Korekore-Nyombwe people? Why does retributivism fail in this regard?

In Korekore-Nyombwe culture, punishment is forward-looking, thus; ngozi does not look back and say, there is some crime of murder committed in the past that needs to be balanced or righted with the death of the murderer, as in the case of retribution. Rather it says that the victim of murder needs to be replaced by compensation in the form of a head of cattle and a virgin girl if the murdered person was a man and vice versa. Ngozi is an expression of disapproval when it comes to actions that result in the taking away of human life.[29] It has a regulatory function, which is that of deterrence and not retribution.[30] This is especially true when one considers the fact that the guilty family is given the option to either pay reparations or suffer the consequences through a series of misfortunes, deaths and illnesses. Retributivism fails because it is concerned with the individual who has committed an offence such as murder yet ngozi kills everyone who has the same blood with the murderer or murderess until or unless the murderer's family compensates the victim in a process which is initiated by ngozi itself. I call this process 'restorative dialogue'. The idea is simply that in hunhu/ ubuntu thought, crime and punishment are shared responsibilities.


This article looked at the role of ngozi in fighting for justice on cases involving murder in Shona society. It noted that the concept of ngozi underlie Shona ethical notions of murder and punishment as idealized in hunhu/ ubuntu philosophy. The article also observed that the Shona conceptions of justice are better explained restoratively than retributively, since crime and punishment were shared responsibilities. This discourse was preceded by a linguistic analysis of the Shona people and their ontological, epistemological and axiological orientations in hunhu/ ubuntu thought.


1. Gombe, Jairos Marufu. (1998). Tsika dze Vashona. Harare: College Press. p.22

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ramose, Mogobe B. (1999). African philosophy through Ubuntu. Harare: Mond Books. p.49

8. Ibid, p.50

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid, p.49

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid, p.51

14. Samkange, Stanlake and Samkange, T. M. (1980). Hunhuism or Ubuntuism: A Zimbabwean Indigenous Political Philosophy. Salisbury: Graham Publishing Company. p.38

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid, p.39

22. Gelfand, Michael. (1968). African Crucible: An Ethico-Religious Study with Special Reference to the Shona-speaking People. Cape Town: Juta and Company Ltd. p.53

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid, p.54

27. Ibid, p.55

28. Bourdillon, Michael. (1976). The Shona Peoples: An Ethnography of the Contemporary Shona with Special Reference to their Religion. Gweru: Mambo Press. p.233

29. Mararike, C.G. (2007). 'The Shona concept of Justice.' Interview held on 3 September 2007 at the University of Zimbabwe

30. Ibid.


Bourdillon, M.F.C. (1976). The Shona Peoples: Ethnography of the Contemporary Shona, with Special Reference to their Religion. Gweru: Mambo Press.

Gelfand, M. (1968). African Crucible: An Ethico-Religious Study with Special Reference to the Shona-speaking People. Cape Town: Juta and Company Ltd.

Gombe, Jairos Marufu. (1998). Tsika dze Vashona. Harare: College Press.

Mararike, C.G. (2007). 'The Shona Conceptions of Justice,' Interview held on the 3rd of September at the University of Zimbabwe.

Ramose, Mogobe B. (1999). African philosophy through Ubuntu. Harare: Mond Books.

Samkange, Stanlake & Samkange, T.M. (1980). Hunhuism or Ubuntuism: A Zimbabwean Indigenous Political Philosophy. Salisbury: Graham Publishing Company.

Fainos Mangena, PhD Centre for Leadership Ethics in Africa University of Fort Hare South Africa http:---

(c) Fainos Mangena 2009


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020