Bantu Philosophy

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Bantu Philosophy (La philosophie bantoue in French) is a 1945 book written by Placide Tempels which argues that the people of Sub-Saharan Africa (the use of the term "Bantu" as an ethnic label is now largely discredited) have a distinctive philosophy, and attempts to describe the underpinnings of that philosophy.


In his book, Tempels argues that the African philosophical categories can be identified through the categories inherent to language. According to Tempels, the primary metaphysical category in the thought of Bantu-speaking societies is Force. That is, reality is dynamic, and being is force.

Tempels argues that there are three possible views of the relationship between being and force.

  • Being as distinct from force, that is, beings may have force or may not.
  • Force as part of being, that is, being is more than force, but dependent upon it.
  • Being is Force, that is, the two are one and the same.

He argues that members of Bantu-speaking cultures hold the last view of force. Specifically:

"'Force' is not for Bantu a necessary, irreducible attribute of being: no, the notion of 'force' takes for them the place of the notion 'being' in our philosophy. Just as we have, so they a transcendental, elemental, simple concept: with them 'force' and with us 'being'."

Tempels argues that as a result of this fundamental difference in categories, the African life of the mind is structured around understanding and defining Force, which contrasts sharply with the Western enterprise of understanding and defining Being.

Bantu Philosophy has been criticized, primarily on the ground that conclusions are gross generalizations which seek to characterize the thought of an entire continent, which, it is argued, it is fundamentally impossible to do in any meaningful way.[citation needed]


  • Mubabinge Bilolo, La Sémiologie d'un hommage au Révérend Père Placide Tempels. In : Ethique et Société. Actes de la 3ème Semaine Philosophique de Kinshasa, avril 1978 (Coll. Recherches Philosophiques Africaines, 5), Kinshasa, 1980, p. 307-331.
  • Mubabinge Bilolo, La Philosophie Nègre dans l'œuvre d'Emile Possoz. I. de 1928-1945, in Revue Africaine de Théologie, V, 10 (1981), p. 197-225.
  • Mubabinge Bilolo, L'impact d'Emile Possoz sur P. Tempels. Introduction au destin du possozianisme. In Revue Africaine de Théologie, 11 (1982), p. 27-57.
  • Fr. BONTINCK, Aux origines de La philosophie bantoue, Kinshasa/Limete, FTC, 1985.
  • SMET, A.J., Histoire de la philosophie africaine contemporaine: Courants et problèmes (Cours et documents, 5). Kinshasa-Limete, Départ. de PRA, FTC, 1980, 299 p. - Bibliographie, p. 5-14 et 277-292.

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