Claude Sumner, a self-described Ethiopian by choice said of the Zera Yacob (sometimes referred to as Zär´a Ya´aqob), a 17th-century philosopher, "Modern Philosophy, in the sense of a personal rationalistic critical investigation, began in Ethiopia with Zär´a Ya´aqob at the same time as in England and in France." Mathias Victorien Ntep said Yaqob's works represent the climax of Modern Philosophy and the Age of Enlightenment and it is not an overstatement.
The story the world has attempted to make everyone believe is that Enlightenment began with Descartes' Discourse on the Method, a 1637 publication. However, Dag Herbjørnsrud asks an important question, "But what if this story is wrong? What if the Enlightenment can be found in places and thinkers that we often overlook?" And indeed he found Enlightenment in a place Europeans would rather regard as hopeless. Soon, Herbjørnsrud realised that "...many of the highest ideals of the later European Enlightenment had been conceived and summarised by one man, working in an Ethiopian cave from 1630 to 1632." In other words, Yacob was the true pioneer of modern philosophy.
Yacob advocated for a philosophy based on rationality rather than blind acceptance of claims. He recommended an independent search for truth and illustrated the same by considering various imperatives inherent in the Abrahamic faiths and testing their divinity using the benchmark of human reason. He did not spare even his own religion, Christianity as he repudiated monastic lifestyle as irrational and therefore not of God, as well as fasting which he rejected for going against eating which is a life essential. In the Islamic tradition, he attacked polygamy on the simple ground that the world has almost equal numbers of men and women. He found the Mosaic law which says menstruation makes women unclean to "impede marriage and the entire life of a woman". In fact, Yacob was so ardent in his belief in equality that he married a servant woman but would not call her a servant arguing, "husband and wife are equal in marriage".
Herbjørnsrud points out that the celebrated Kant failed to appreciate the world through such a modern lens a century after, writing instead that, "The desire of a man for a woman is not directed to her as a human being, on the contrary, the woman’s humanity is of no concern to him; and the only object of his desire is her sex." Yacob was also very modern about his views towards slavery, arguing that the depravity of buying a man like he is a beast cannot be countenanced as all men are created equal. Locke only came up with this idea decades after Yacob and Locke was a hypocrite who invested in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Kant was notoriously racist and did not pretend to be anything but. He thought, "The race of the whites contains all talents and motives in itself," while, "The race of Negroes … [is] full of affect and passion, very lively, chatty and vain. It can be educated, but only to the education of servants, ie, they can be trained."
Amo, another African philosopher is famed for his argument against slavery with reference to Roman law, tradition and rationality. It would seem Amo also anticipated Kant, in his work The Art of Philosophising Soberly and Accurately (1738). Amo is also known for having advocated for equality, again a point of weakness of many European Enlightenment thinkers. It is clear that the African Philosophers not only grappled with modern ideas before the Europeans even comprehended them, but they also approached all their inquiries with reason. Can Europe accept that African men were better thinkers by the 17th century regardless of the unjustified prejudice against their race? Can African schools start teaching students of the great African philosophers who were clearly better positioned to fashion an inclusive philosophy which is more reasonable? The time is now to wean ourselves of this love for racist philosophers who hated people of our kind with all their might.
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