“On The Brink of Collapse”: The Philosophical Society of South Africa

The Philosophical Society of South Africa (PSSA), a professional association of philosophers “representing the interests of the academic philosophical community in Southern Africa,” is “on the brink of collapse over allegations of racism,” according to the Mail & Guardian. At its annual meeting last month, the organization’s president, Vasti Roodt (Stellenbosch), and several black philosophers resigned their membership.

The issues appear to be the relative status of African and European philosophy in the profession in South Africa, and accusations of racism in the PSSA. The membership of the PSSA is “mostly white,” according to the Mail & Guardian article, and it appears to be the norm that European philosophy dominates teaching and research in the area. From the article:

Unisa professor Ndumiso Dladla told the gathering at Rhodes University that African philosophy has been marginalised. “African philosophy is not simply an exotic option that should be included in a menu of an assortment of things,” he said.

“We are in Africa. If you study philosophy in Germany, German philosophy is the very basis of philosophical training. But when you come to Africa, we have this anomalous situation where African philosophy is an exotic option which is offered to justify the complaints of some irritating little Oompa Loompas.”…

January’s meeting was an ideological battle between those opposed to the reform of the society and those who have called for its dissolution. The black professors quoted Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko and writer Frantz Fanon when they said the PSSA should be consigned to the dustbins of history.

They said the society—described by its members as “in crisis”—failed to recognise the philosophical prowess of African thinkers before 1994 and into the democratic dispensation, and that there was blatant racism in the classroom and among colleagues.

PSSA secretary Anthony Oyowe (Kwazulu-Natal) is quoted in the article as saying:

We have encouraged those PSSA members who are unwilling to seriously consider the possibility that there is racism amongst us and that they might unwittingly—but nevertheless negligently—have contributed to it, to consider leaving our society.

Whether the PSSA will continue to exist is a question that will be taken up in a special meeting later this year. Reportedly, an alternative professional organization dedicated to African philosophy has already been created.

PSSA Logo by J. Pretorius

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7 years ago

” If you study philosophy in Germany, German philosophy is the very basis of philosophical training.” This is simply wrong. I studied in Germany and we mostly did analytic-style philosophy in english. Those courses that weren’t analytic still also weren’t german philosophy, but just other stuff. And i quite like it that way. Indeed, the claim that philosophy ought to be taught by the country the respective philosophers are from sounds really out-dated.

Greg Gauthier
7 years ago

“The real community of man, in the midst of all the self-contradictory simulacra of community, is the community of those who seek the truth, of the potential knowers, that is, in principle, of all men to the extent they desire to know. But in fact this includes only a few, the true friends, as Plato was to Aristotle at the very moment they were disagreeing about the nature of the good. Their common concern for the good linked them; their disagreement about it proved they needed one another to understand it. They were absolutely one soul as they looked at the problem. This, according to Plato, is the only real friendship, the only real common good. It is here that the contact people so desperately seek is to be found. The other kinds of relatedness are only imperfect reflections of this one trying to be self-subsisting, gaining their only justification from their ultimate relation to this one. This is the meaning of the riddle of the improbable philosopher-kings. They have a true community that is exemplary for all other communities“ ~ Allan Bloom

7 years ago

Surely there could be some middle ground? I am always amazed at philosophers who adhere to ideological positions. I guess we are like everyone – logic isn’t always our strong suit.

But at the same time can’t we philosophers find a way to get beyond these territorial disputes? I, in my long ago prime, watched the analytic-continental squabbles in the USA APA, and decried them — they seemed a search for power, not a philosophical understanding of issues and topics. I suspect the same is going on here.

Let’s open our minds to all views, give all views their due, and cut this sort of garbage out of who we are. Why is philosophy being marginalized everywhere and departments cut?? One reason might be such nasty and petty squabbles.