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Title:From an African ontology to an African epistemology: a critique of J.S. Mbiti on the time conception of Africans
Author:Okč, Moses
Periodical:Quest: An International African Journal of Philosophy
Geographic term:Africa
About person:John Samuel Mbiti (1931-)ISNI
Abstract:The ontological thesis that this paper focuses on is the claim of J.S. Mbiti that Africans lack the concept of future time. The ontological core of the traditional view of time reported by Mbiti is that 'to constitute time is to be lived through'. With reference to perception, since existence in space presupposes existence in time, it should follow from the premise that 'time is essentially experienced time only' that 'to exist is to exist in time alone'. Assuming that Mbiti's claim about Africans' conception of time is true, Africans should be incapable of conceiving a 'perception-transcending' or 'knowledge-transcending' world. In which case they should be incapable of a scientific epistemology. Given that it is living humans that have experiences and reckon with time, this position, in the context of Mbiti's thesis that Africans lack the concept of future time, is ambivalent. The paper explains the epistemological consequences of this position. Although the general laxity of Africans about time, especially future time, pervades their collective attitude to work, the best we can say is that they lack 'time-discipline', not that they do not have the concept of future time. A philosophically significant concern with the African concept of time, therefore, should be highly critical of received notions and should point out the consequences of holding an outdated idea of time or time-related patterns of behaviour. In this regard, Mbiti ought to have pointed out the dangers inherent in a 'futureless' conception of time such as he attributed to Africans. Notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]