By Kai Horsthemke (auth.)

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One places emphasis on religion as the foundation of all African worldviews, the basis of all philosophical and ethical considerations in Africa. The opposing view deems this to be not (or at least no longer) true: religion may once have been a significant factor in African philosophy and ethics, but secularism now permeates all aspects of life in Africa, and rightfully so. An intermediate position acknowledges the human need for explanation and for epistemic and ethical security, and it therefore interprets religion in anthropogenic terms, as having developed out of human necessity.

Bluntly asserting, on more than one occasion in Wiredu’s book Philosophy and an African culture (Wiredu 1980), that truth is belief, opinion or point of view, he claims that reference to ‘infallible’ truth is not only a bar to dialogue but that ‘such a claim to knowledge is also a bar to education’ (Wiredu 2004b: 24). A problem that would need to be addressed is that of relativism (about both knowledge and truth) and of the implications of taking epistemological relativism seriously. A further question concerns the basis, if there is one, for distinguishing between knowledge and superstition within indigenous African belief systems.

It is quite obviously wrong to lie, cheat, steal or kill. Yet, to embark on such a response would be to acknowledge an ethical standard that already exists outside and independently of religion – which would render the dictates of religion ultimately superfluous. So, either ethics derives from religion, which would make all religious/ethical injunctions arbitrary, or it does not, which raises the question why religion is in any way necessary for ethical and moral guidance. African critics of the religionist position have alleged that it is excessively romantic, that it fails to acknowledge not only the intellectual prowess of Africans but also the spread of secularism on the African continent.

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