GV4M6      Half Unit
Modern African Political Philosophy

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Katrin Flikschuh


This course is available on the MSc in Political Theory. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is capped at one group.


This course assumes no particular pre-requisites aside from intellectual curiosity about non-Western traditions of thought. Some prior exposure to either political theory or philosophy will be an advantage.

Course content

This course introduces students to post-independent African philosophical and political thinking. The chief objective of the course is to get students to engage with the intellectual heritage of the African continent and critically to re-think historically ingrained misperceptions about its peoples and cultures. Please note that this course focuses on modern African philosophy and political theory. The orientation is not anthropological or developmental; nor is this a course in 'post-colonial studies' more broadly conceived. There will be three broad blocks:

1. Methodology: ‘What is African Philosophy?’ We will examine the development from an oral to a written tradition and the particular methodological challenges involved. We will assess the prefix ‘African’: is such a geographical and/or cultural scope restriction consistent with the very idea of ‘philosophy’? If there is a distinctly ‘African’ philosophy, does this in turn challenge the universalising assumption of ‘Western’ philosophy? If there is ‘African’ philosophy as well as there being ‘Western’ philosophy, then what is ‘philosophy’?

2. Substantive Issues: ‘Personhood, Agency, and Community’. We will discuss African thinkers’ claims to the distinctiveness of African cultures’ metaphysical and moral conceptions of self and society, and how these in turn impact conceptions of moral and political agency. We will compare and contrast Western individualist conceptions of the person with communal African conceptions; we will consider the idea of ancestral existence as a form of moral life after death; we will compare and contrast conceptions of individual freedom, destiny, and communal responsibility. Throughout, we will ask whether divergent conceptions of moral personhood are coherently possible or whether we should seek to strive for convergence towards a universal norm.

3. Implications: We shall ask how African thinkers conceive their social and political contexts and how their views do or do not cohere with Western thinking about African developmental challenges. Given their colonial origins, are current state structures in Africa morally and politically viable? Are human rights discourses truly universal, or are they excessively individualistic and insufficiently cognisant of the value of community? Are current aid and development premised on adequate background assumptions about modern African polities, or do they need to be revised?


This course provides a combination of seminars and lectures totalling 20 hours in the Michaelmas term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus lectures and seminars. There will be a reading week in Week 6 of Michaelmas term.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 formative essay in the MT.

Formative assessment will consist of an essay of maximally 2500 words in length. A list of essay questions will be made available by Week 3 of MT. Students may design their own essay questions, if they prefer to do so. However, they must clear their proposed essay question with the course convener beforehand. Course work must be submitted by the end of Week 7. The essay will be read and commented on. It will be assigned a guide-mark but will not form part of the summative assessment. Essays substantially above 2500 words will not be read.

Indicative reading

Anthony Kwame Appiah, In My Father's House. Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (OUP 1992).

Kwame Gyekye, Tradition and Modernity. Philosophical Reflections on the Africa Experience (OUP 1997).

Barry Hallen, A Short History of African Philosophy (Indiana University Press 2002).

Paulin Hountondji, African Philosophy: Myth and Reality (Indiana University Press, 1996).

Teodros Kiros (ed.) Explorations in Africa Political Thought (Routledge 2001).

V.Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa. Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge (Indiana University Press 1988).

Kwasi Wiredu, Philosophy and an African Culture (CUP 1980).

Kwasi Wiredu (ed.), A Companion to African Philosophy (Blackwell 2006).

Lee Brown (ed.) African Philosophy (OUP 2006).

Placide Temples, Bantu Philosophy, 1945.

Paulin Hountondji, The Struggle for Meaning (Ohio State University Press 2002)

Kwasi Wiredu, Cultural Universals and Particulars (CUP 1996).

Odera Oruka, Sage Philosophy, 1990.

Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, On Reason. Rationality in a World of Cultural Conflict and Racism (Duke University Press 2008).


Essay (100%, 5000 words).

The assessed work for this course consists of one extended essay of 5000 words due at the beginning of Lent term, on a course topic either chosen from the list of essay questions or designed by the student him or herself in consultation with the course convener. Students are permitted to use their formative essay as a basis for their assessed essay. However, the assessed essay must advance substantially beyond the argument made in the formative essay; students must not submit the same work twice. The assessed essay must be submitted electronically to the Departmental Office. The submitted essay will undergo a plagiarism check, including self-plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious academic offence which, if proven, will likely incur the penalty of official course failure. Late submissions will incur penalties in the form of mark deduction.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 23.8
Merit 57.1
Pass 14.3
Fail 4.8

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Controlled access 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills