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Humanism in Africa

"modern" African Humanism

Beyond the indigenous models of humanism there has arisen what may be called modern African humanism, which emerged from African responses to conquest, colonization, and the various slave trades along the African coasts. These forms usually involve engagements with Christian, liberal, and republican (domination-free) values, or with values that emerged as a result of engagement with various Muslim empires in the Middle Ages, whose impact continues to be felt today. We should bear in mind that much of eastern Africa is also populated by Semitic peoples, and that their Coptic and Abyssinian (or Ethiopian) Christianity has left a legacy that is as old as its European, Roman, and Greek counterparts.

Many modern African humanists address a problem raised in early medieval African Christian philosophy in the thought of St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430): the problem of theodicy, which involves accounting for the presence of evil in a universe ruled by an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent god or God. It is a problem also found in the thought of the Ethiopian Christian philosopher Zara Yacob (1599–1696). St. Augustine argued that human beings are responsible for evil because such actions are a necessary possibility of freedom. He also argued that human beings have limited knowledge of God's ultimate will or God's justice—the literal meaning of theodicy, theo (god) and dikē (justice). The modern African faced the same problem when he or she looked at such evils as the slave trade and colonialism. Wilhelm Amo (1703–1756) and Ottobah Cugoano (b. c. 1757), both from Ghana, wrote treatises calling for the abolition of the slave trade. These authors argued that human beings are responsible for their actions, and that Europeans faced the negative moral consequences of the slave trade. Although couched in a Christian context, their work included reflections on the humanity of African peoples that have become a feature of modern African humanistic thought—namely, its concern with philosophical anthropology.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Heterodyne to Hydrazoic acidHumanism in Africa - Indigenous Foundations, Muslim Humanism In North Africa, "modern" African Humanism, Secular Humanism In Africa