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Ethiopian Journal of the Social Sciences and Humanities

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Claude Sumner and the Quest for an Ethiopian Philosophy

Fasil Merawi

Abstract


African philosophy emerged out of the rationality debates and the need to affirm the existence of a unique African intellectual tradition that primarily reflects on the legacies of colonialism. Such a debate also centered on whether there is a unique philosophical tradition rooted on African traditional practices. In such a context, Ethiopian philosophy represents a unique approach in defying the colonial bias which is founded on the idea that philosophy is exclusively a western mode of thinking. It is also unique in being available among others in a written form which is absent in other philosophical traditions in Africa. In this paper, I will develop a critical exposition of Sumner’s studies into the written, oral and sapiential sources of Ethiopian philosophy. I will discuss the contributions of Claude Sumner in light of questioning Eurocentric bias that undermined the existence of non-western philosophies, escaping the charge of ethno-philosophy, and situating Ethiopian philosophy on different modalities of Ethiopian experience. To attain such an undertaking, Sumner’s investigations on Ethiopian philosophy and their major contributions to the attempt to introduce a unique philosophical tradition in Ethiopia will be discussed. Through a discussion of Sumner’s works on Ethiopian philosophy, this paper attempts to situate the place of Ethiopian philosophy within the need to reflect on our existential predicaments. I will start my discussion by situating the forces that motivated Sumner’s pursuits, and also elaborating on Sumner’s explorations into the classical, oral and written sources of Ethiopian philosophy



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