International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue No. 198 26th November 2015


Edited by Eric George

I. 'Lex Injusta Non Est Lex: Natural Law contra Positivism' by Matthew Su

II. 'The Person in African Communalism' by Yongho Nichodemus

III. 'Influence of Expectation: The Academic As Agent of Authority' by Lance Kirby



For this issue of Philosophy Pathways, there is a melting pot of philosophising from three very capable 'lovers of wisdom': Matthew Su, Dr Yongho Nichodemus and Lance Kirby.

A friend of mine, Matthew Su, a philosophy and law student at Macquarie University, writes on the issue of natural law contra positive law. Taking inspiration from Thomas Aquinas' normative account of law, in 'Lex Injusta Non Est Lex: Natural Law contra Positivism', Su holds that positive law is 'an institution of the natural law' -- meaning that positive law cannot be described as positive law without a metaphysical commitment to natural law. Su, following in classic Thomist fashion, in order to demonstrate the persuasiveness of his case raises objections to his own position from the opposing positivist stance, these objections being: methodological (is natural law religious in essence?), substantive (is natural law descriptively inferior to positive law?) and pragmatic (is natural law impractical?). By then refuting these objections with great intellectual tenacity, Su displays that his position is philosophically rigorous in its own defence, providing a refreshing read.

I have often been interested in other philosophical notions and traditions which are birthed from indigenous cultures. This is why it is a pleasure for me to introduce this next paper. In 'The Person in African Communalism', African philosopher Dr Yongho Nichodemus, from the department of philosophy at the University of Bamenda, gives a vivid insight into the traditional African notion of the self within the paradigm of African communalism and broader traditional African philosophy. Nichodemus is not one to leave things amiss, as his paper draws from a wide range of disciplines (such as: political theory, sociology and philosophy) all of which undergird his holistic approach to his main objective. The objective of course being, to address, as he states in his preamble, 'the African answer to the question, 'what is man?'.' Welcoming in his paper, both western philosophical perspectives in relation to traditional African concepts, building a powerful synthesis, Nichodemus makes clear that the African individual's conception of the self is inclusive to other conceived entities (such as the spiritual world) and is not excluded and isolated from such entities. He affirms that everything in this metaphysical outlook is interconnected. This however does not mean that the emphasis on the collective social community therefore equates to the individual self as having, 'non-recognition'.

Lance Kirby, independent philosopher and blogger extraordinaire, in 'Influence of Expectation: The Academic As Agent of Authority', reminds us all of the relationship between one's professional authority as a teacher and how this 'perceived authority by the community' can be affected negatively by one's personal opinions on public issues of the day, especially if such opinions are 'ill-advised judgements'. Kirby opens by building on the ideas of Max Weber, in describing what a teacher's legitimate authority entails. From here Kirby turns to common-sense assertions from analysing the correlations between the persona of the teacher, the students and the community at large and what is expected of the teacher therein. In his conclusion, Kirby gives pearls of wisdom in saying that teachers need to be mindful of these implications that come into play given the influence of such expectations and the effects these expectations can have. Here Kirby offers an accessible grass-roots approach on the entire issue at hand, yet not without its profundity, a very interesting read.

It is an honour to present, Philosophy Pathways Issue 198.

(c) Eric George 2015


About the editor: https:---



This paper will argue that positive law exists only within the boundaries of natural law, and that it compels our behaviour only insofar as it reflects the natural law. The natural law model to be considered will be that of Thomas Aquinas. Methodological, substantive and pragmatic objections from the positivist point of view will be considered, and it will be argued that these objections fail and in fact Aquinas' normative account of law is superior even as a descriptive method.


I will argue that we 'must' obey the law in the following sense: that law, insofar as it is law, morally obliges us to obey. By 'law,' I am referring to law insofar as it is made by humans.

Natural Law

For Thomas Aquinas, the positive law is by nature a derivation of the natural law.[1] The latter is called 'natural' because it is grounded in human nature and accessible to reason. Aquinas' contentions about human nature are not statements of mere regularities in human behaviour. Rather, they are contentions about human essence -- of what it is to be human at all.[2] Natural law derives its normative force from the inherently perfective aspect of conforming to human nature; human beings who conform to their essence are more perfectly human, hence whatever conforms to that nature is part of their good as humans -- this is a denial of the is/ ought distinction. For Aquinas, it is part of the human essence, as a distinctly rational animal, to be 'political.'[3] That is, to be a rational animal just is to be the kind of being which distinctly can relate to fellow rational animals in recognition of their rationality by coordinating rationally toward the common good. Hence the distinctively human, or 'good' way of behaving as a group just is to exist in a community that itself is essentially ordered toward the common good by reason.

Aquinas recognizes that the natural law by itself, fixed by necessity in human nature, is often indeterminate with respect to many contingent operational and coordination problems of the community.[4] The coordinative nature of the community entails the existence of a coordinating authority that solves such problems, and so part of the good of the members of the community consists in obedience to this authority. Positive law thus by its very nature is an institution of the natural law, and in this sense is both intrinsically and derivatively authoritative. An unjust law, as intrinsically counter to the good, is not part of the operation of distinctly human community (which operates insofar as it coordinates the actions of society toward the good of its members) upon its parts. It therefore cannot properly speaking be considered a kind of internal 'social coordination' at all, but is rather an act of violence by an individual or group, acting apart from the community, just as a policeman who breaks the law is not acting as a policeman in so doing. We cannot have obligations to obey such a so-called 'law' in itself, though there may be other grounds for such an obligation.

Objection: Is Natural Law faith-based?

The first kind of objection can call into question the philosophical approach of natural law, which is supposedly 'religious,' 'metaphysical', or 'non-empirical' -- shorthand for 'not accessible to reason.' These objections seem to be based upon caricatures of Aquinas. The fact that Aquinas' model is couched in an ultimately theistic metaphysics does not imply that his conclusions cannot be justified without reference to theism, for his proximate justifications for his conclusions are based on premises that are independently obvious. That there is a human nature, and thus there are such things as human beings as opposed to non-human beings, for example, can be granted independently of theism, and it is the existence of human nature, rather than God, which is the starting point for understanding the dictates of natural law. Aquinas furthermore regards the understanding of natural law as the deliverance of reason,[5] specifically the disciplined inquiry into the real natures of things, or metaphysics. Indeed, his metaphysics gives him reason to deny Hume's is/ ought distinction, for it allows him to demonstrate how the 'ought' is 'baked into' the 'is' by way of essence. Aquinas thus conducts a disciplined study of ethics that makes moral facts more accessible to observation, not less. One might deny the metaphysical essentialism upon which natural law resides, but as involved as the arguments for essentialism can be, it hardly seems reasonable to say that there is an obvious basis here to reject natural law wholesale. In any event, the anti-essentialist has to contend with formidable defences of essentialism as in Oderberg, which renders this objection very unpromising.[6]

Objection: Is Positivism descriptively superior to natural law?

A second objection might begin by arguing that moral (or, better yet, metaphysical) normativity is conceptually superfluous to identifying law. If a truly superior description of law must be conceptually divorced from moral normativity, then one must conclude that the law cannot carry any moral normativity qua law. Positivism justifies its claim to descriptive superiority by the merits of its method of focusing on the observable similarities in structure between systems of law, while eschewing involvement in ethical speculation -- the impressive similarity between just and unjust laws, for example, leads positivists to accept that they belong to the same class of social phenomenon.[7] If morally normative language has a place in the description of law qua law on positivism, it is in beliefs about law that need to be taken into account, rather than as part of an objective description of law's nature.[8] If law is thus not intrinsically connected to moral rectitude qua law, then the critical natural law thesis -- that positive law is intrinsically dependent upon the moral law to be positive law, is false. Thus, the positivist challenge is a very serious one for the Thomistic natural law theorist.

The Thomist's reply to this is to say that a full description of the reality must encompass the metaphysical reality of normativity, because he denies the erroneous bifurcation of reality into normative/ descriptive upon which positivism depends. It would do no good to argue that such argument must be suspended, as positivists do.[9] If categorization is to be truly descriptive, it must conduct its analysis on the basis of what human beings are, qua human beings, for an analysis of human community will have to describe how humans qua humans relate. Such an analysis must have normative implications when the 'perfective aspect' of human nature is borne in mind. To describe the relations of rational animals qua rational animals is to describe a perfect society of rational animals, hence to assert a norm of human community. A truly descriptive approach of the principles of human community thus necessarily brings our philosophical taxonomies of law to the bar of human nature, just as biological taxonomies are brought to the bar of physiology and evolutionary history. The positivist's class of just and unjust laws together as equal members of the category of law, because it is not sufficiently grounded in the nature of human action, is akin to the classification of whales as fish. It is a categorization that ignores the underlying reality of human relations, which is also normative for human beings, in favour of grouping according to similarities that turn out to be metaphysically superficial. This metaphysical superficiality means that the positivist 'law' is necessarily a mere abstraction rather than a substantive account of human institutions. It is precisely insofar as jurisprudence seeks to analyse law in terms of a metaphysical analysis of human nature, with all its normative implications, that it actually performs the descriptive task of truly perceiving the human categories into which behaviour properly falls. The corollary of the conclusion that, in order to be law, law must conform to human nature, is that laws which do not conform to the nature and norms of the human community -- unjust laws -- are not laws at all. As St Thomas put it, 'lex iniusta non est lex.'
All that is left then for the positivist conception of 'law' is the status of a convenient fiction, a sociological abstraction which purports to describe law only in a qualified sense, for limited sociological purposes. At best, in guiding the action of officers of the law, the positivist 'law' is a rule of thumb which allows the officers of the law to pick out those things which are, for the most part, true laws which are rightly action=guiding. Such a demotion, however, leaves positivism powerless to dispute the authority in principle of natural law reasoning, when it is seen fit to bring the latter to bear.

Objection: Is Natural Law Legally Impractical?

A third objection must be pragmatic. It might be said that natural law subjects people's obedience to law to the dictates of private conscience, or, if judges were to give effect to natural law's claims that natural justice trumps common law and statute, this would lead to unacceptable unpredictability in the operation of law.

I think that in the first place, law already gives effect to judges' consciences. The leeway and discretion allowed to judges under many laws is a positive invitation to employ a judge's experience and philosophical commitments to bear. Indeed, it is a common law principle of statutory interpretation that, absent explicit instructions to the contrary, laws cannot abrogate fundamental rights and duties.[10] Even bodies of law such as equity originated in principles which subordinated the letter of the law and of precedent to natural justice. Such principles, which reflect natural law assumptions about the subordination of law to human flourishing, are in fact essential safeguards which help ensure that the operation of law works for the good of the governed. A natural law philosophical stance on law can only illuminate such principles and provide a common philosophical resource on which to draw. The practical effect of a natural law philosophy, then, given that we already institutionalise natural law-friendly assumptions in a piecemeal manner, can only be salubrious to the functioning of law.

Secondly, such an objection does not do justice to the subtlety of Aquinas's own conception of positive law, which allows for imperfection in the positive law and for a society governed by an imperfect (and therefore, to some degree unjust) law. Very famously, Aquinas argues that the positive law ought to a large extent take into account the moral state of the people, and institute only that which is practicable for the preservation and flourishing of the community, given the community's ability to be governed.[11] There can be further reasons (such as avoiding worse injustice) for the sake of which some injustice in the law is tolerated. Such laws would, despite having elements which allow unjust outcomes (and thus, having non-legal elements which are not in themselves compelling), nevertheless also compel obedience on such a practical basis. A positive law limited by the natural law, then, can tolerate the ordinary injustice of a well-run but imperfect society, while providing a philosophical basis for the exclusion of manifest and intrinsic injustice.


I have argued that Aquinas' metaphysically rich approach to description is superior to the positivist approach as description, and it easily deflects the caricatures of its critics, in fact standing in a position to criticise the alternative as defective. His argument, grounded in human nature and defiant of the is/ ought dichotomy, shows that law does have a normative claim upon our conduct simply for being law, and as a corollary that insofar as law is not just, it is not truly law. True law just is the participation of human reason in the natural law, which in turn defines our good individual and communal.


1. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, Q. 95 art. 1

2. Ibid II-I Q. 94 art. 3

3. Ibid II-I Q. 96 art. 4

4. Ibid. Q. 95 art. 2

5. Ibid Q .90 art 1

6. David S. Oderberg, Real Essentialism (Routledge, 2007)

7. William Twining, General Jurisprudence (Cambridge University Press, 2009) 26

8. H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law (Clarendon Press, 2nd ed, 1994) 88-89

9. Ibid 254

10. J.J. Spiegelman, 'The Principle of Legality and the Clear Statement Principle' (2005) 79 Australian Law Journal 769, 769

11. ST I-II Q.96 art.2

Matthew Su
Philosophy and Law student Macquarie University

(c) Matthew Su 2015





Perhaps the best known modern philosopher who raised the issue of man with renewed urgency is Descartes. In his Meditations On First Philosophy, he poses this soul-searching question, 'What then have I previously believed myself to be? Clearly, I believed that I was a man. But what is a man?'.[1] The profundity of the question is not new to philosophers. Indeed its answers have split them and the whole philosophic tradition of the West, to say the least, into different warring camps.

The aim of this paper however is not to raise the dust of the controversy anew but to reflect on what has been paid very little attention in philosophic circles, even by African philosophers themselves, namely, the African answer to the question, 'what is man?'.

What we are really interested in this paper is 'man' or 'self' as viewed by Africans in the philosophic system indigenous to them, better known in literate circles as 'Communalism'. It is a reflection on the 'Homo Africanus', a critical investigation on the nature of man in African Philosophy or traditional thought.

1. Introduction

Admittedly philosophic materials on the views of the African on particular subjects are still scanty but such fields of learning as sociology, anthropology, African Religion particularly, etc. have yielded enough materials on the African, his person, and his world for philosophers to make use of in their own reflections. We first of all determine what 'African Communalism' is in the context of which the nature of self is easily seen.

2. Communalism As a Concept

As a political system, communalism like capitalism or communism refers to a particular way of life of a people as well as their mode of earning a living (a system of production and distribution) to which modern Africans, many of them political leaders, have increasingly turned their attention as the most promising system for Africa. It is 'Communalism' because it takes its roots from the communal way of life indigenous to and practiced by Africans long before their contact with the white man.

In the past particularly, the traditional African (as opposed to modern, urbanized African) was very much community -- conscious and very much man-in-community since he always related to and interacted with others as a community. He was truly 'man-with-others' to borrow Heidegger's phrase. But this value of communal life is not just a thing of the past. It is also characteristic of the present-day Africans, urbanized and non-urbanized alike.

This communal existence as opposed to individualism characteristic of the Western man for instance, is rooted in the traditional practice of extended family system 'in which everybody is linked with all the other members, living or dead, through a complex network of spiritual relationships into a kind of 'mystical body'.'[2] Thus the African sees himself first of all as belonging to his own nuclear family of father and mother which in turn merges into a larger 'blood family' with different names in different African countries. This broader family merges still into a clan, then village, tribe, and finally into a nation, the widest human community.[3] Consequently, the African sees himself primarily as a member of a community at all times and every community to him is an extension of his own family.

African communities are thus closely knit together by a web of relationships through kinship. Members usually view cooperative living as absolutely vital for their progress and ultimate survival. Nsolo Nijero vividly recalls the communal life of traditional African Community. It was 'a mutual-aid society' according to him. 'In this society the people worked collectively and cooperatively. It was the need of the community that determined what ought to be done, and what should not be done. An individual found fulfillment in the community and not outside the community',[4] a reminder of Aristotle's view that 'he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself must be either a beast or a god'.[5]

The fact is that in those days particularly, that is to say, before any contact with the white man's culture was made, African communities and families lived and worked together. There was no separate ownership of property. The wealth of one member of the family, for instance, was the wealth of all the other members. Such economic assets as land, forest, trees, minerals, rivers, etc. were owned in common and there was little or no exploitation of individual members.

The point that has to be emphasized therefore is that socialist principles and practices are not new to the present-day Africans since they were not new to the traditional African. The old African society was socialist to the core. The result, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania concludes: 'We, in African have no more need of being 'converted' to socialism than we have of being taught democracy. Both are rooted in our own past -- in the traditional society which produced us'.[6] This 'our own past' is indeed Africa's past socialist mode of communal living and working together for the progress of all and exploitation of none, technically known as 'communalism'. Consequently, Communalism strictly speaking is 'African Socialism' in its more modern vocabulary among present-day Africans. 'Our socialism is not that of Europe', Leopold Sedar Senghor rightly affirms: 'It is neither atheistic communism nor quite the democratic socialism of the Second International. We have modestly called it the African mode of socialism.[7]

In the same vein, Kwame Nkrumah links African socialism to communalism or the communal life practiced by traditional Africans. According to him,

     Any one who seeks the socio-political ancestor of
     socialism, the one must go to communalism. Socialism has
     characteristics in common with communalism just as
     capitalism is linked with feudalism and slavery. In
     socialism the principles underlying communalism are given
     expressions In modern circumstances.[8]

'Our ancestors worked collectively and cooperatively from start to finish' was a quick remark of Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.

We stress the point that African socialism in whatever form it appears today in African, definitely in Nyerere's Tanzania is rooted in the social mental attitude and cultural practice of the traditional African, in his practice of communalism which in turn has its foundation in the extended family system, 'The foundation and the objective of African socialism is the extended family', Nyerere asserts. 'Ujamaa', then or 'Family-hood' is what 'describes our socialism'[9] or communalism, for that matter.

The traditional African is consequently a community-man essentially, with his life guided along indigenous socialist rules, customs and institutions.[10] Such structured existence and the socialist mentality which undergirds it can only emphasize corporate or collective rather than individual mode of being-in-the-world.

3. The African World-View

Emphasis must be made that Communalism is not just people living and farming together as a community and sharing the fruits of communal labour. 'We must return to our African sources: collective production, collective property, collective products', President David Dacko echoes.[11] It embodies as well a world view, that is to say, the African view of self and universe as a whole. For, as Kwame Gyekye notes, 'Philosophy of some kind is behind the thought and action of every people. It constitutes the intellectual sheet-anchor of their life in its totality'[12] We first of all establish briefly the African world-view, as African metaphysics of reality as a key to a metaphysics of self.

The traditional African easily belongs to an idealist tradition in that for him the ultimate reality is spirit, God, or consciousness, not matter. This is to say that the African is not a materialist in the Philosophical meaning of the term. Speaking about the Igbos of Nigeria for instance, Bishop Shanahan was convinced.

     That the average native was admirably suited by environment
     and training for an explanation of life in terms of the
     spirit rather than of the flesh. He was no materialist.
     Indeed nothing was further from his mind than a
     materialistic philosophy of existence. It made no appeal to
As in Platonic tradition, reality for the African is dualistic, namely, the invisible and the visible or the experienced universe.

In the former, the immaterial universe, according to African ontology or theory of being, God, the highest being, the ancestors, souls of the heads of clans, and those of departed relatives, nature gods or spirits dwell; while the material realm contains human beings, animals, plants and inanimate creatures.

Placide Tempels who pioneered an important work in African philosophy with his publication of Bantu Philosophy[14] starts off the hierarchy of beings which he calls 'forces' in this order, namely, God (Spirit or Creator), then 'the first father of men, founders of the different clans'. Below them, 'come the dead of the tribe', the 'living dead' (as these are called in contemporary African scholarship). The visible universe contains in its descending hierarchy; human beings, animals, vegetables and minerals.[15]

The two orders of existences in the African world-view relate to and interact with each other. Hence, as in the naturalistic universe of John Dewey, for example, the universe or nature for the African is far from being discrete. It is rather a series of interactions and connections. Life appears in its totality as one 'great Chain of Being', to recall Arthur O. Lovejoy's great work,[16] with things ontologically related to one another. Professor Ruch and Dr. Anyanwu restate this African vision of reality differently: 'To exist means more than just 'being' there... It means standing in a particular relationship with all there is both visible and invisible.'[17] Placide Tempels imagery is even more expressive; 'The world of forces (beings) is held like a spider's web of which no single thread can be caused to vibrate without shaking the whole network.'[18]

The interactions and intercommunications between the visible created order and the invisible world of God, Spirits, ancestors are only possible through man, the ontological mean between forces or beings acting above and below him. Man in the African world-view remains the center of creation with intimate and personal relationship with beings above and below him. He is aware also that he is being influenced by these other beings in the universe and that he influences them as well. 'It is right to hold that in the African thought, man sees himself as the center of universe', Professor S.N. Ezeanya says: 'God has made him the focal point of the universe.'[19]

Indeed to highlight the centrality of man's position in the universe, scholars have often likened African cosmic vision to a great pyramid. 'At the apex was God the Supreme Being', E.G. Parrinder Writes: 'On the two sides were the great spiritual powers manifested in gods and ancestors, and at the base were the lower powers of magic. In the middle was man under the influence of many different kinds of powers.'[20] Man therefore remains the center of the created order with beings above and below him. He also communicates with them regularly at the call of duties or hours of need.

Generally man's contact and communication with God and the Spirit world are through many channels, such as sacrifice, rituals, fortune telling, prayers, incantations, etc. Indeed the gods, the spirits of their dead relatives are never far away from their physical world. Gods may be full of awe, but in the African universe, 'they are not unapproachable', Chukwuemeka Nze rightly asserts: 'During life as well as during death, the Igbos (and other Africans as well) strive to have contact with gods. This contact enables them to obtain better bargains. It is an occasion, a vehicle through which they acquire wisdom.'[21] Of course many other benefits and blessings are obtained through contact with the gods since these exist to share their gifts and powers with human beings.

The African interaction is also with lower beings or forces, such as inanimate things like lightening, thunder, etc. These forces at times act as agents of the unseen spirits to punish evil doers, for instance. Consequently these are revered and worshipped, too.

Even charms, amulets, witchcraft, etc. become serviceable to the African as definite ways of self-preservation from the evil eye, for example, of guaranteeing success in his life's endeavours or of inflicting evil on the enemy. The point we wish to stress is that the world of the spirits, of human beings and of other lower organic and inorganic substances form the same totality of existing, interacting beings or reality.

We must note however that among Africans, closer interaction and communication exists between the living and their dead ancestors known as the 'living dead'. They are so called because, though dead, yet they are alive with their particular families. These unseen ancestors are part and parcel of their own physically living families and are often invited to the family meals. The ancestors are not just ghosts nor are they simply dead heroes but as Parrinder says, 'are felt to be still present, watching over the household, directly concerned in all the affairs of the family and property, giving abundant harvests and fertility'.[22]

The 'living dead' and the physically living continuously populate and depopulate each other's realms. For the former, reincarnation is a necessary gateway for peopling the earthly realm just as death is for the latter the necessary precondition for swelling the ranks of the dead. Indeed the African strongly believes that the same family structure which exists in his visible world exist in the invisible. Hence when one dies, one is believed to have gone to one's family in the spirit world. Consequently in the African universe, there are repeated interactions, communications and even local permutations between the dead and the living; spirits and human beings.

We have thus briefly sketched African metaphysics or world-view as an important key to the study of self. What has to be noted is that 'dynamic' rather than 'static' is a fundamental category of understanding the African view of reality as a whole. Hence African metaphysics differs significantly from that of Aristotle for instance, with individuated, discrete existences, 'substances' as he calls them, existing in themselves and isolated from others.

Likewise African metaphysics differs greatly from the naturalistic metaphysics of John Dewey, Sidney Hook, John Handall, Jr. and others who admit of only one kind of reality in nature, namely, the seen, the tangible, the verifiable. Nature for naturalists is strictly monistic, without any bifurcation or radical splits and consequently there is nothing like God, Spirits or Soul, if these are taken to mean different kinds of beings from the material and the tangible. Nature is an all-inclusive category. Nothing exists outside nature for the naturalist. It is all nature or nothing at all.

     Hence John Randal, Jr. vehemently maintains that:
     Naturalism is opposed to all dualisms between nature and
     another realm of being; to the Greek opposition between
     Nature and Art; to the medieval contrast of the natural and
     the supernatural... to the dualism pervading modern thought
     between nature and man.[23]

Man, God, Soul and the spirit world are either naturalized within nature or they are non-existent.

These views are poles apart from those of the African, as we have seen. He strictly maintains the existence of both the spirit world and the material, physical world, the one distinct from, but interacting with the other.

Lastly, in characterizing African metaphysics we have to mention briefly that unlike the existentialists particularly of a radical type, the African does not regard the universe as merely 'thrown' into being. The universe has a cause, which he calls 'God' in his many diverse tongues and cultures. This God, ens supremum (the 'Supreme Being') is the creator of the universe and governs it with his laws through the spirits, the ancestors, and the laws of the land.

4. Notion of Self

The essence of the African's cosmic vision or world-view is that the universe is not something, discrete but a series of interactions and inter-connections. This category of understanding reality as a whole is also the key to the notion of self. Tempels expresses this mode of understanding self in African Philosophy thus:

     Just as Bantu (African) ontology is opposed to the European
     concept of individuated things, existing in themselves,
     isolated from others, so Bantu psychology cannot conceive
     of man as an individual, as a force existing by itself and
     apart from its ontological relationships with other living
     beings and from its connection with animals or inanimate
     forces around it.[24]

As a matter of fact individuals only become real in their relationships with others, in a community or a group. It is the community that makes or produces the individual such that without the community, the individual has no existence, a point well made by Professor John Mbiti: 'I am because We are; and since we are, therefore I am.[25]

On his part, Tom Mboya of Kenya stresses the same notion of self as essentially a social category, a being-in-community. 'Most African tribes', he says, 'have a communal approach to life. A person is an individual only to the extent that he is a member of a clan, a community or a family'.[26]

Placide Tempels is even more expressive:
     The Bantu cannot be a lone being. It is not a good enough
     synonym for that to say that he is a social being. No: He
     feels and knows himself to be a vital force, at this very
     time to be in intimate and personal relationship with other
     forces acting above him and below him in the hierarchy of

Self in African philosophy therefore is essentially social.

It does not mean of course a total absence of the notion of individuality, a metaphysics of self as an individual in African Philosophy. 'An individual existence has a double status and import', John Dewey holds:

     There is the individual that belongs in a continuous system
     of connected events... then there is the individual that
     finds a gap between its distinctive bias and the operations
     of the things through which alone its need can be satisfied.
     It is broken off, discrete because it is at odds with its

Man in African philosophy is not a being from the 'outside' only, that is to say, in his relationships to other beings but also 'discrete', 'broken off', so to speak. The two aspects are of course phases of the same reality of an individual responding in action to the social stimuli of his environment.

This 'individual man' in African philosophy, is a psycho-physical being; an incarnate spirit, made up of two principal elements, namely, 'body' and 'soul', in a familiar language. Thus in his thorough research of the concept of a person in Akan (Ghana) tradition, Professor Kwame Gyekye is certain that 'the Akans hold a dualistic conception of a person. A person is constituted by two principal substances, one spiritual (immaterial) and the other physical (material)'.[29]

Among the Igbos of Nigeria, belief in the two principal constituents of man, 'body and soul' is well established in the people's conception of death.

Thus Francis Arinze writes:

     When a person dies, his soul or spirit (yiihlih), Wanders
     till it is received into the blessed company Of his
     forebears on condition that the relations on Earth
     celebrate the full ceremonies. In some places this belief
     requires also that the person must have been a good man on
     earth or at least that a cleansing Rite be performed over
     the corpse before burial.[30]

'Something' in man is beyond the physical, beyond flesh and bones and consequently lasts beyond the grave.

Thus man as an individual, in African philosophy, is not a total child of nature, totally formed in the womb of nature, that is to say, with his origin, growth and decay within nature as in naturalistic metaphysics. He is a creature of God with an immortal soul. As a matter of fact belief in life after death, in the immortality of the soul, is the most common element in African religions and among Africans. Awolalu makes the point:

     One central theme runs through the African concept of man's
     destiny: namely, that at death, while the carcass is buried
     in the earth, the essential person passes on into another
     life. It is held responsible for deeds or misdeeds, and it
     is rewarded or punished accordingly by the author of
     life... Thus in Africa it is strongly believed that Death
     does not write finis to human life. There is In man an
     element which is immortal; and this sense of immortality
     gives comfort in privation and Misfortune and acts as a
     revenge to death.[31]

Over and above the two vital principles or elements which make up the human individual, the African has ways of establishing the identity or personality of individuals, a proof of the fact that the individual is not totally a being-in-relation-to-others in African ontology. Self is also unique and unduplicatable. One way the African establishes this fact is through names. African names are not just mere labels of distinction, to differentiate 'James' from 'John' for example. In African philosophy, as Tempels says, 'The name expresses the individual character of the being. The name is not a simple external courtesy, it is the very reality of the individual'.[32] Many African names point, for instance, to the circumstances and conditions of particular individuals, their family background, social status, etc. An African name, in short, answers who the particular person is.

Another way the African establishes the individuality of self is of course the obvious one, namely, through the individual's physical appearance. In Africa, physical appearances, particularly with tribal marks, also tell a lot about the individuals themselves. For man's humanity is expressed through his external appearances as well. Broken nose, slanting eyes, deformed hands, crooked legs, etc. easily become various modes of identifying individuals as well as expressing their humanity.

5. Conclusion

Consequently that African philosophy emphasizes self-in-community, in its relatedness, so to speak, does not mean, as noted before, a non-recognition of the individuality of individuals in their own right. It does however mean that the fundamental category of grasping reality as a whole in the traditional African philosophy of communalism is in its social relationships. Also that 'social' as a category of understanding reality in African philosophy would mean also that it is the only authentic mode for the African to answer the all-important question in philosophy, 'what is man?' and this is what the essay has attempted to establish.


1. Op. Cit., (tr. With an Introduction by Laurence J. Lafleur, New York: Library of Liberal Arts, paperback, rev. ed., 1960), p., 24.

2. Prof. E.A. Ruch and Dr. K.C. Anyanwu, African Philosophy: An Introduction to the Main Philosophical Trends in Contemporary Africa (Roma: Catholic Book Agency, 1981), p. 328

3. Aristotle has a three-phase development of the human family, namely 'family', 'village', ('colony' being the most natural form of the village community), then the 'state', more complete and more self-sufficing (Politics 1252b 9ff, Richard Mceon, ed. The Basic Works of Aristotle, New York: Random House, 1941).

4. Nsolo Mijere, 'The Theology of Zambian Humanism and its Implications for the Local Church' in A F E R (African Ecclesial Review) Vol. 20, No. 6 Dec. 1978), p 350.

5. Politics 125a 28 -- 30.

6. Julius K. Nyerere, Ujaman -- Essays on Socialism (Dar es Salaam: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 12.

7. Leopold Sedar Senghor, On African Socialism (New York, 1965), pp. 45-46.

8. Kwame Nkrumah, Consciencism (London: Panaf Books, 1964), p. 43.

9. Julius K. Nyerere, Op. Cit., P.12.

10. As a matter of fact Bede Onuoha analyzes the simple way of life in the traditional African Society under three headings with 'seven social negatives'. He lists them as follows:

'Social Units Social Process Social Negations

1 The Extended Family Work: No Loiterers 2 The Village Discussion: No Loneliness 3 The tribe Cooperation: No classes 4 The Chief Leadership: No communes 5 The Elders Public Service: No Individualism 6 The People Common Ownership: No Capitalism 7 The Priest Common Worship: No Atheism.'

(The Elements of African Socialism quoted by Wilfrid Grenville-Grey, (ed.) All in African Life Time, new York: Friendship Press, 1971), p. 41

11. Quoted by Professors Robert Horitz and Carroll Hawkins, Introduction to Contemporary Ideologies, (Dubuque, Lowa: Wm. C. Brown Book Company, 1963), p. 24.

12. Kwame Gyekye, 'The Akan Concept of a person' International Philosophical Quarterly (Vol. XIII No. 3 1978), p. 278.

13. Quoted by John P. Jordan, Bishop Shanahan of Southern Nigeria (Dublin: Elo Press Ltd., 197). P. 115.

14. Placide Tempels, Bantu Philosophy (Paris: Presence Africaine, 1959).

15. Placide Tompels, Op. Cit., pp. 61-63.

16. The full title of this scholar's work is The Great Chain of Being, A Study of the History of an Idea (New York: Harper Torch Books 1960).

17. Op. Cit., p. 124

18. Placide Tempels, Bantu Philosophy p. 60. He also writes: 'All creatures are found in relationship... Nothing moves in this univese of forces without influencing other forces by its movement' P.61-63.

19. S.N. Ezeanya, 'The Contribution of African Traditional Religion to Nation Building', Nigerian Dialogue, University of Nigeria, Nsuakka (Vol. 3 No. 3 Dec. 1979), p. 15.

20. E.G. Parrinder, 'Monotheism and Pantheism In Africa', Journal of Religion In Africa (Vol. III No. 2, 1970), p. 85

21. Chukwuemeka Nze, 'Pragmatism and Traditionalism in the Concept of God in Africa' Uche Journal of the Department of Philosophy, University of Nigeria, Nsukka Vol. 5 (1981), p. 26.

22. E.G. Parrinder. West African Religion (London, 1949), p. 125.

23. John Randall, Jr. 'Epilogue: The Nature of Naturalism', Naturalism and Human Spirit ed. H. Krikorian (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944), p. 367.

24. Placide Tempels Op. Cit., p. 103

25. John Mbiti African Religions and Philosophy (Heinemann, 1969), p. 108.

26. Tom Mboya, Freedom and After (London: Andre Deutsch, 1963), pp. 164-165.

27. Op. Cit., p. 103. 'For the Bantu man never appears as an independent entity', he says in another place. 'Every man, every individual forms a link in the chain of vital forces, a living link active and passive, joined from above to the descending line of his ancestry and sustaining below him the line of his descendants'. (Ibid.) p. 108.

28. John Dewey, Experience and Nature (Chicago: Dover Chicago: Dover Publications, 1925), p. 245.

29. 'The Akan Concept of God', P. 282.

30. Francis A. Arinze, Sacrifice in Ibo Religion (IBADAN: University Press, 1970), p. 17.

31. J.O. Awolalu, 'The African Traditional View of Man', Orita, (Ibadan Journal of Religious Studies Vol. 6 No. 2 (1972).

32. Placide Tempels,P. 106

Dr. Yongho N. Nichodemus

Department of Philosophy Higher Teachers' Training College, Bambili University of Bamenda

(c) Yongho Nichodemus 2015




In this essay I will seek to argue that the teacher's[1] action's outside the  classroom have an influence through their perceived authority by the community. In recent years many academics have made ill-advised judgments upon everything from the inefficacy of vaccines, to the value of philosophy as an academic discipline, to what is generally believed by consensus to be pseudoscience in general, and pronounced upon them to the public at large in the role of public intellectuals. I will seek to show that the teacher has a preconceived persona that elicits a trust arising from social expectations to which a teacher is perhaps at the very least obligated to acknowledge. I shall first discuss the nature of a teacher's authority in terms of its legitimacy as outlined by Max Weber, and the trust elicited in the community by the respect for its legitimizing institution, a trust derived from expectations of a set of preconceived behaviors and performance. It is through this trust or 'prestige' as I will show, that the communities expectations for the academic role predisposes them to interpret any view presented by the teacher as the authoritative view and thus, a role not to be taken lightly when entering the public sphere.

I. Legitimate Authority

The responsibilities of the academic must first be addressed from the perspective of authority and legitimacy. The teacher represents authority, and that authority is granted to the teacher by an institution which legitimizes it. This much can be agreed upon as given. If this were not the case then anyone might teach without regard to accuracy or proper knowledge of the topic to be taught, and diplomas would count as less than air. Of course, credentials are not an absolute requirement to teach, as the act of teaching itself is separate from the role of teacher. As I will explain, credentials are a symbolic embodiment of a community's trust in one's abilities, and thus carries with it the weight of the larger institutional authority.

Traditionally the teacher has held a status in the community of respectability through trust shared with professions of similar regard, such as the police officer and the doctor. All of these professions acquire the same legitimized authority from their respective institutions. It is of course this legitimized authority which in turn grants them respectability through trust.

Now I must examine the nature of this trust:

If we follow the helpful descriptive characterization of legitimate authority outlined by Max Weber my meaning may appear more clear. In his book, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, he argues: 'In general, it should be kept clearly in mind that the basis of every system of authority, and correspondingly of every kind of willingness to obey, is a belief, a belief by virtue of which persons exercising authority are lent prestige.'[2]

As with the examples already presented, trust in this instance, is given by a community out of a respect for their legitimizing institutions, as we have come to certain expectations of, for lack of a better term, quality control from said institutions. They are thus, in Weber's conception, 'lent prestige' by this association. In other words, society has developed/ evolved universally agreed upon standards of conduct and performance which these professions are expected to exhibit. Without those expectations there would be no trust that those professions were reliable, and trust, which is the currency of a society's institutions, would quickly be devalued if not rendered worthless. Thus, to be a teacher is to imply certain presupposed expectations on the part of students and the larger society outside the classroom as a whole. This 'prestige' is not a quality that can be surrendered at the end of the teaching day but is carried by the teacher with the full weight of this institutional authority in perpetuity, wherever they may go. As I will explain, this authority carries a common sense ethical consideration on the part of the teacher and the view's they may endorse which always are given a greater credibility by this institutional association.

What are these expectations?

Following Weber's lead, we may view a teacher's authority as the outgrowth of the authority of their larger legitimizing institution. Said institution grants the individual the authority to teach by whatever means the legitimizing institution deems a necessity, e.g. a doctoral degree. Under these terms therefore, in the eye's of the legitimizing institution, only individuals who have obtained such legitimation may be considered teachers in this formal sense. Thus, behind every legitimized teacher stands the same authority granted to the police officer, and the doctor, and thus, one is obliged to trust as one may the larger legitimizing institutions behind them.[3] Whether we trust them on an individual personal level or not is not the issue here, but rather the implied communal trust from expectation.

In Weberian terms the teacher is a kind of bureaucrat, and as such is a small representative of a larger structure.[4] This characterization is suitable in many senses with modern academe:

     (a) a clearly defined sphere of competence subject to
     impersonal rules,
     (b) a rational ordering of relations of superiority and
     (c) a regular system of appointment and promotion on the
     basis of free contract,
     (d) technical training as a regular requirement,
     (e) fixed salaries, in the type case paid in money.[5]

Though of course not an exact one to one correlation, the roles are similar enough to suffice. To help further illustrate with a more palpable example, the army, in its very essence a bureaucracy, functions by a chain of command where the general at the top distributes his authority through his subordinates, and finally to the lowly private. The teacher in this sense is thus a part of a machine, and as such cannot act independently without bringing this communal expectation with them. In their bureaucratic role as teacher they stand outside the community at large and reflect back upon the larger machine of which they are a part.

However, contrary to Weber, who characterizes bureaucracy as: 'something distinct from the sphere of private life'[6] I contend that the persona of the academic, as I will explore below, stands as an exception to this general rule. The special nature of the teacher, as I have already stated, is one that holds an authority or 'prestige'. The authority is of a special kind which is embodied in the person who holds it and cannot be relinquished outside the academic setting. The doctor is always a doctor and the police officer is always a police officer on duty or off, and this is the responsibility one is invested with upon taking up the role.

II. The Teacher's Persona and the Community

Every academic is a specialist, and in academic terms this is her authority. However, such a distinction is invisible to the larger public which endows the term 'academic' or 'professor' with a larger meaning. However misled the community may be to hold every academic to this higher level of competency, there remain good reasons for this understandable deference as I will explain. Despite the myriad academic disciplines and their separate spheres of influence, all are united in that their practitioners are all instructed with a shared pedagogy and a regulated process that admits of few surprises. The heart of this pedagogy, at least at the undergraduate level, is founded upon a few core principal skills, chief among which are: critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.[7] These core skills are typically the primary means of instruction throughout a student's academic career, beginning at the elementary level, and continuing till the end of high school in the United States. At the commencement of their college career these skills are often reinforced again in an introductory composition class.

If the student progresses through the undergraduate to the graduate level they will hopefully have passed many classes requiring ever more subtle and sophisticated refinements of these skills so, at the end of the process we may reasonably expect an individual who has brought these skills to a superior level. It is with this expectation that the individual is granted the degree of doctor. And, though granted in a specific area of study, it is always underpinned with the assumptions and traditions of a liberal education that implies broad learning and shared communal values of accepted pedagogy and peer review. In the eyes of the community therefore, the academic is thus viewed as one whose work is that of 'thinking' in a broad sense.[8] He or she is under an expectation of being, if not a clear, than at least a superior thinker, regardless of how much actual original thought an academic may in reality produce. In terms of those academics in tenure-track positions, the requirements of academic publication reinforces this view, even if it validates it only occasionally by the actual material published. This is in relative terms a recent development of course, but its recentness does not invalidate the larger claim of the academics perception as one whose business it is to think, if only in this generic sense.

Such expectations are perfectly within the rights of the community to hold, and such authority again, is the basis of the academics position within society to teach. These expectations are not those of the community outside academe alone however, but are fostered by the institutions and the academics themselves. They are also the shared expectations of each new group of students to be admitted into university life.

III. Conclusion

We have attempted briefly to demonstrate in these few pages that a teacher has a persona, with certain expectations from the community. That those expectations are perfectly reasonable to hold in light of the nature of teaching, which we argued is a methodology for the refinement of thinking, at least as it is perceived from the outside community. From this we conclude that the nature of teaching is one which holds a high authority in the community and that with this authority it is implied its practitioners uphold a high standard of character as representatives of that authority and the influence it elicits through their capacity as teachers over the shaping of opinion within the community, a sphere of influence created through expectation. If this conclusion is thus accepted it would imply at the very least that the academic has an ethical responsibility for the opinions they may hold upon any issue publicly, and should be more mindful than the regular citizen of the legitimizing factor that their authority brings to those opinions and their influence.[9]


1. Through out this essay teacher and academic will be used interchangeably.

2. Weber, M., Parsons, T., & Henderson, A. (1964). The Theory of Social and Economic Organization . pp. 38182.

3. Again, I should concede here that to be a teacher does not require credentials as such, only the special nature of the academic who is imbued with such credentials are viewed as such by the legitimizing institution and thus imbued with 'prestige' by the community as well.

4. The characterization of which is highly telling in light of the current trend of corporatizing modern universities: 'Bureaucratic administration means fundamentally the exercise of control on the basis of knowledge. This is the feature of it which makes it specifically rational. This consists on the one hand in technical knowledge which, by itself, is sufficient to ensure it a position of extraordinary power. But in addition to this, bureaucratic organizations, or the holders of power who make use of them, have the tendency to increase their power still further by the knowledge growing out of experience in the service. For they acquire through the conduct of office a special knowledge of facts and have available a store of documentary material peculiar to themselves. While not peculiar to bureaucratic organizations, the concept of 'official secrets' is certainly typical of them. It stands in relation to technical knowledge in somewhat the same position as commercial secrets do to technological training. It is a product of the striving for power.' Ibid. p. 339.

5. Ibid. p. 343.

6. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (1946) p. 197.

7. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press, 2011), p. 108.

8. Gerald Graff, Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2004), p. 3

9. An excellent illustration of what I mean by this ethical responsibility can be found at Massimo Pigliucci's blog: 'Rationally Speaking: Lawrence Krauss: Another Physicist with an Antiphilosophy Complex.' (2012, April 25). http:---

' Krauss is forced to reveal his antiintellectualism, and even... his intellectual dishonesty: 'Well, yeah, I mean, look I was being provocative, as I tend to do every now and then in order to get people's attention.' Oh really? This from someone who later on in the same interview claims that 'if you're writing for the public, the one thing you can't do is overstate your claim, because people are going to believe you.' Indeed people are going to believe you, Prof. Krauss, and that's a shame, at least when you talk about philosophy.'


Arum, R., & Roksa, J. (2011). Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Graff, G. (2003). Clueless in academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Rationally Speaking: Lawrence Krauss: another physicist with an antiphilosophy complex. (2012, April 25). Retrieved from http:---

Weber, M., Parsons, T., & Henderson, A. (1964). The Theory of Social and Economic Organization

Weber, M., In Gerth, H. H., & Mills, C. W. (1946). From Max Weber: Essays in sociology . New York: Oxford University Press

Weber, M., In Parsons, T., & Henderson, A. M. (1964). The theory of social and economic organization


I would like to thank Professor Kristof Vanhoutte for commenting upon an earlier version of this essay.

(c) Lance Kirby 2015


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020