Akan Philosophy and Personhood

Sunday, October 24, 2021

What Is It

The Akan people of West Africa have developed a system of metaphysics, epistemology, and moral philosophy with a special focus on personhood. For the Akan, their conception of a person is not just a matter of theoretical interest—it has far reaching practical implications for their social institutions and communal practices. So what exactly is the Akan notion of personhood, and how is it rooted in Akan traditional culture? How does the Akan emphasis on the social nature of personhood promote trust, cooperation, and a sense of responsibility to the community? And can this communal perspective help restore cultural identity in a postcolonial Africa? Josh and Ray welcome Ajume Wingo from the University of Colorado Boulder, author of Veil Politics in Liberal Democratic States.

Comments (27)


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, September 19, 2021 -- 9:22 AM

Pretty fascinating. This

Pretty fascinating. This sounds like other variations of philosophy aimed at social advance and societal well-being. There are and have been many ways of looking at this. They have certain common core features. To me, this shows us that philosophy, at bottom, has always been about a love of knowledge and the betterment of human conditions. We may, at times, have been on a different page but browsing through the same book. Contingency changes, while providence smiles on purpose and determination. Yeah. I have said that last part before.

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Tim Smith

Thursday, September 23, 2021 -- 12:34 PM

In looking at the

In looking at the ethnophilosophical work of Kwasi Wiredu and Kwame Gyekye, codifying the concept of Akan personhood, as Ajume Wingo has done in the SEP, both Wiredu and Gyekye unify behind the principle of moral worth based on care-taking action toward others. Where Wiredu sees value, Gyekye sees virtue. Both require a healthy dose of decolonization to differentiate traditional culture.

The primary anthropological observation is the burial practice and mourning for infant mortality. Akan parents are stoic, have little ceremony, and encourage cheerfulness, having just lost an infant. Funerals are proportionate to personhood status, which explains this practice. If there is a difference in opinion in why this happens, it happens. Ethnophilosophy needs to explain and cohere to the Akan view of personhood, but there are different views within the tradition.

Akan attitudes toward death complement the living relationships that witness personhood and lessen those who flaunt responsibility for family, neighbors, and community. This attitude calls out introversion, individualism, and, importantly, dissent. Open discussion is limited while community works are encouraged. Significantly Akan cultures did not extend the same rights of personhood to neighboring peoples. Akan leaders have only recently taken ownership of their role in promoting and profiteering from slavery.

Understanding Africa is code for understanding the future. Covid and climate change present challenges to poverty reduction in Africa, but the trends pre-Covid were positive. The Akan are an interesting if exceptional case to less fortunate African sub-cultures. Their relative prosperity brings Akan thought to bear on the postcolonial public work and identity problems for all Africans.

Ajume Wingo is an excellent bridge into the minds of postcolonial Africa and pan-African thought, for that matter. Personhood is muddled in all cultures, particularly in America and Western tradition, but no one culture can claim to have gotten this right. We see this in the streets, in our discourse, and in art. Akan ideas already shade perceptions of African culture and solidarity. It is helpful to consider these cultures and philosophies as American personhood is assaulted with technological models of meaning and manipulated with polarizing wealth and inequity. Africans are experiencing similar pressures while naming their own minds in the aftermath of colonialism.

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Tim Smith

Saturday, October 23, 2021 -- 4:39 AM

The show went into to much

The show went into to much more than personhood and the observations above. Ajume was provocative and a bit sad somehow. I think of our country and our divisions. There hasn't been a time when we have not been divided in some way.

This is worth a second listen and much much more thought.

I'm a bit frustrated with the sound quality. That made it hard at first, but I did get used to it. We should buy Ray a nicer microphone.

No Ian Scholes! Is this a one-time leave? I hope not. Sometimes these short takes can broaden a narrowed back and forth. There is a dark underside to Akan thought that was not probed. Ian might have talked that through.

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Thursday, September 23, 2021 -- 6:29 PM

Interlocutor Smith has

Interlocutor Smith has provided the forum with a competent account of some tenets of Akan philosophy. Because he seems to distinguish between Akan and American personhood, however, as well as degrees of "personhood status" (cf. second paragraph), I would like to submit a request that an account of the general concept of personhood be provided as well. This would allow the present interlocutor, at any rate, an unambiguous common basis for discussion of this important theme.

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Tim Smith

Thursday, September 23, 2021 -- 10:57 PM

Daniel, 

Daniel, 

I'll answer to Interlocutor Smith, but you can call me Tim - as that is my avatar and my request of you.

Out of respect for this show and blog, I would limit discussion to Akan concepts of personhood, but that is impossible as colonial and invasive cultures have long since invaded Africa. Post-colonial Akan personhood will likely never return to traditional views as that ship has sailed. Regardless of ethnography, science is a cold-hearted sailor, and we all are slaves of the scientific image at some point.

There is nothing unambiguous about brains, thoughts, and persons, and I don't want to presume authority over American personhood, but, of course, I will as that is why we are here – to interlocute a bit.

I am skeptical of all authority but would hope to find an ambiguous common basis in the following works – they don't all agree, and I would pick nits with them all. Any of these authors are better authorities than my comments above and forthcoming once we hear this show. Akan views are instructive for post-colonials, pan-Africans, and Americans alike.

The psychology of personhood: philosophical, historical, social-developmental
 and narrative perspectives / edited by Jack Martin and Mark H. Bickhard Cambridge University Press Cambridge 2013

This gives a good variety – the best of them all for common grounding, perhaps. I especially enjoyed Kurt Danziger's essay for its historical approach and would point to his book below as one of the life changes in my philosophy.

Naming the Mind: How Psychology Found Its Language (London: Sage,1997).

Foucault is very well-spoken on Western personhood. This is worth reading and short.

Technologies of the self. In L. H. Martin, H. Gutman, and P. H. Hutton (eds.) Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988)

Personhood is not a human-only idea either. I didn't think that way before I read Frans de Waal. I wouldn't say I like his views on emotion, but his authority and work have changed my view of personhood profoundly. 

 Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Paperback, 275 pages
Published April 4th, 2017 by W. W. Norton Company (first published April 2016) 

I'm not sure where you are coming from on all this, but if there is any doubt where exactly I put humans and self, I will defer to Joseph LeDoux's Evo-Devo book.

The deep history of ourselves: the four-billion-year story of how we got conscious brains 
 [New York]: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, cop. 2019.

Suppose you want me to give an account or summary of American personhood. In that case, it will take from all these perspectives above and focus on homelessness, gang based gun violence, technology, and artificial intelligence – as these are my current areas of interest – by proximity if not choice. In these areas, personhood is not discussed so much – and my personal views would not be well-conceived but I have opinions.
 
 I'm very interested in works that others would suggest on this topic. If you have sources, you find interesting, I will read them if they stick. I can't always hold my focus so much these days. There is too much to read, and time is short.

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Daniel

Saturday, September 25, 2021 -- 12:30 PM

O.K. So Personhood involves

O.K. So Personhood involves self determination. Take the example of a spider which spins a web in a homeowner's garden, and sits in the middle of it. It's this spider's web and not another's. Seeing this, the homeowner avoids disturbing the web and does not destroy it, and therefore treats the spider as though it were a person. If the homeowner however says it is a person, however, would she/he be correct?

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Tim Smith

Thursday, September 30, 2021 -- 8:33 AM

Daniel,

Daniel,

A spider’s cobweb isn’t only its sleeping spring but also its food trap. ~African Proverb

The homeowner may be correct, but they are certainly deluded.

Agency is not sufficient to establish personhood in any culture. It is likely not even necessary in many, including our own.

Occupying space is necessary to personhood, whether in the middle of your house or your pantry.

Avoiding a person and choosing not to destroy their home or source of food is not sufficient to establish their personhood.

Finally, saying your belief doesn’t make it correct. For this post, at least, it is the normative personhood of the meta ethnic Akan culture that is at issue (as well as the differences to our normative concepts of personhood.)

If I were to try and argue to an Akan philosopher that a spider was a person, I could think of no better example than Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Any Akan philosopher would be hard-pressed to deny Charlotte personhood in light of her impact on her community and the care she takes for her children and Wilbur, who, I hear, was some pig. But this example is a story, and most all stories lie at some point. Generally, that is the point that makes them the most interesting.

Why, for example, does everyone look at Wilbur instead of Charlotte when she weaves her web? That is a trick of language, and I would also argue personhood. Insects are several hundred of millions of years removed from Pigs and Humans in an evolutionary sense. It is tricky to extend personhood to your brother or sister in a crib. It is far more of a trick developing it to another species, but it can and has been done, not without consciousness assumed in the person or established somehow. Most times, language is key to that extension. Morality is also a key. The biggest problem is to overcome anthropomorphizing the actions and intent of these creatures.

There is a pretty good debate whether spiders are themselves conscious and capable of agency. Some think that the fear of spiders is a primordial reflection of arachnids preying on vertebrates. Nature is odd. Normatively neither the primordial vertebrate nor arachnid was a person in the modern sense. It would seem that whatever line one draws to exclude animals from personhood, some oddity of animal adaptation or biology crosses that line.

A more frightening example would be if a human being jumped a fence and set up a tent in your backyard. In the United States, that would be cause to dehumanize that person, but not in Africa so much. Akan traditions are oral, recently written, but far more humane than the messed-up state of affairs in our country. We extend personhood to corporations, routinely put human faces to robots, and often treat our pets with more kindness than our fellow human beings.

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Daniel

Sunday, October 3, 2021 -- 10:55 AM

Plenty to choose from.

Plenty to choose from. Corporations, Robots, Pets, talking dolphins, could all by your account exhibit genuine indications of Personhood, and could therefore be not inaccurately characterized as persons, the necessary condition for which, as you put it, is the occupation of space; while independent agency alone would not be sufficient.

That doesn't seem to narrow it down too much. All we know by your account is what a person isn't: a spider. The chair I'm seated in, for example, meets your criterion, and therefore might be a person. But if it were, I wouldn't want to sit on it. My own view is that the concept, or concepts in general, of personhood, is/are characterized by self determination because the latter derives from two roots: the right of self determination and the independent agency, or willful internal self management, of that which self-determines. The spider belongs with the group under the first heading. Although it spins its own web, it's not free not to spin a web. Corporations also belong here (though in a purely legalistic sense), along with household pets, California's giant sequoias, and protected wilderness areas in general. Robotic devices however could not enjoy any protection by such rights, but could, in stages of highly advanced development, conceivably belong to the group under the second heading.

The point here, I think, is what makes a human being a person, rather than just a "featherless biped" (apteron duopodikon-- Aristotle's expression). My account does not proceed beyond the two roots of self determination: the right to it and the independent self management for it. Your account apparently goes much farther. My hope is that in your magnanimous proliferousness you can share it with the forum.

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Tim Smith

Monday, October 4, 2021 -- 6:20 PM

Daniel,

Daniel,

That was Plato, not Aristotle, who used dipoun apteron. Aristotle was closer to the point describing people as political animals. You don't need a complicated system of forms to tell you what a person is, which was Diogenes' point.

I thought, and still do, that you were asking the show hosts to push Ajume or, as an intro to the program, Josh or Ray to call out Western personhood. No need to proliferate magnanimity. I can respond to your ideas and offer my own. Still, I would point to the sources I listed before for even better focus.

I never said anything that would extend personhood to a chair or a dolphin. Dolphins don't have language but communicate well enough all the same. But dolphins are more likely persons than spiders, which might help express that personhood is a spectrum and not a toggle. The normative view in Western culture does not use this gradient theory, however. You are either a slave or free, gentry or commoner, person or not, as determined by culture.

Historically the concept of self is new to humans. We know this from several points brought out by Kurt Danzinger in his essay I referenced above. The historical concepts of personhood are still around if hidden under the veneer of self and modern personhood.

Personhood in the United States and most Western cultures is a mess, as you can see on the National mall this past weekend and in the legal rulings in Texas regarding the legal right for women to have an abortion. This ties into the integration of perspective and experience of psychological time in a backward, present, and forward sense affording personhood to human beings in historical, current, or potential states.

A fetus has no agency, neither does a human being lying in a coma (or in a locked-in state for that matter) or a mentally compromised individual. Yet, the normative conception is to extend personhood to these cases or set stringent lines of personhood in the issue of abortion. So that is why I would deny agency a normative role in personhood. Not that there is any reason it doesn't in a forward or backward-looking state. I would point out that agency might not exist either but what is existence between interlocutors?

Besides the spectrum of personhood, time concerns, and agency, the most straightforward modern normative criterion of personhood is genetic makeup. This brings us back to the issue of animals, aliens, or artificial intelligence – all of whom have been issued normative personhood in fictive if not historical cases. It seems normal to assign E.T. personhood despite being from another world. An orangutan named Sandra was granted nonhuman personhood in Argentina and now lives in Florida. In the movie 2001 Space Odyssey, HAL is one of many artificial intelligences in fiction conceived as human. These fictive and rare cases aside, the "normal" sense of personhood in Western culture extends only to human beings. But organoids have human genes, and they aren't persons, so there are other criteria.

Cognition is generally another Western marker using consciousness, ability to reason, capacity to communicate, and self-awareness. But all that comes with variable measures of personhood.

Social status is also a good criterion, but that allows slavery and dehumanization of humans who are outsiders, socially demeaned, or foreign.

Yet another criterion is one of sentience, as put forward by Peter Singer. This would include those creatures based on their ability to experience pleasure or pain.

That all these ideas persist in Western culture indicates the muddle of personhood. To this muddle, I drew the comparison with the clear Akan sense of personhood.

When you ask a person what they are, in general, they give an occupation. In most societies, this also sets the gradient of personhood for that individual. Yes, it seems purely legalistic to extend personhood to corporations, but many people assign genuine value to their jobs and companies. Some subsume their company's values, execute actions, and explain their responsibilities to others as doing their job.

Whatever your criteria or view on personhood, from that point comes ethics. What the Akan philosophers are working out could inform our own problems with personhood. That, besides global warming, might be the biggest problem of all. Our philosophical difference over personhood is the fulcrum weighing our social divide regardless of whether what one says qualifies as a person is correct or not.

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Friday, October 8, 2021 -- 8:20 PM

OK. But along with global

OK. But along with global warming and differences over personhood, a problem of considerably less moment, one should also include the struggle between one economic class trying to hold on to the power that another one wants. Thanks by the way for the correction on the Greek. The story told by Diogenes Laertius about Diogenes the Cynic showing up at one of Plato's classes, though, is probably quite spurious. I got the reference in English from an old instructor of mine without checking its accuracy, and did the translation myself, opting for a noun for the substantive rather than the participle. Hupo hamartematoen aneres belties poiountai!

Doesn't seem that you understood my point about self determination, however, as it's not mentioned anywhere in your very long post. Your design there seems to be that there are two views on Personhood: an Akan and a Western. The Akan one by your account is simple: If you've got a job, you're a Person (paragraphs 11 and 12). Presumably you'd want to exclude spiders from that group, as Dolphins seem on your view more likely to be a kind of deficient person (paragraph 3); although many would argue that web-production is as much of a job as any other. And both, by way of explanation, along with the example of a chair, fulfill the necessary condition laid down by your September 30th post (fourth sentence): the occupation of space.

In the fourth paragraph you've introduced a new term in addition to the Person: the "Self". The reference here is of course even less clarified than the former, and yet you say you know a lot already about it because of what an author with the first name "Kurt" told you: It's a recent acquisition of the human species. Personhood apparently though is older, which creates a distinction between "historical", self-less personhoods, and "modern", self-like personhoods. But this still begs the question of what a person is.

In the fifth paragraph you call it a mess and give a couple of examples of political and legal messiness, which leads to your first real definition of the Person: something produced by the perception of time involving memory and anticipation in the present, which currently has a past and a possible future. That's hard to argue with, as it pretty much covers anything known to exist. Toilet paper, for example, in the neolithic past is thought to have taken the form of dried moss and in the future could very well be a kind of scented steam; but I assume you'd want to distinguish the Person from it in both cases.

In the sixth paragraph agency is excluded from the group of Personhood's necessary conditions, because fetuses and the comatose don't have it; which also begs the question of why these are persons in the first place. (The final two sentences of this paragraph are exhaustively unintelligible to me). In the seventh paragraph genetic determination is excluded, because a gall bladder can have it. In the eighth we get to the matter of thinking, which confuses the issue since that would mean we become something other than persons when we're asleep. In the ninth we've got social status, which excludes the late night fry cook who lives in a tent. He/she can't be a person. And in the tenth we come to sentience, which would of course include insects, arachnids, and now we're back to spiders.

In sum, then, by your account of the "Western" view of the Person, it's a time-perceiving mess that includes fetuses and anyone in a coma that is not necessarily genetically determined and is a snob which thinks a lot except while sleeping where it becomes a non-human, merely sentient animal.

Can't say I buy the whole story, but we certainly seem to be getting somewhere.

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Tim Smith

Saturday, October 9, 2021 -- 6:12 PM

Daniel,

Daniel,

Class conflict and wealth disparity adds significantly to the discussion. Personhood is at stake in most of these issues and might take precedence in their resolution, if not their moment.

We all should listen less to our instructors and seek to comes to terms and facts for ourselves. That said, not all truth comes from first principles, however they present. The world is messy and comes with greater speed than ever before.

You and I disagree on self-determination, will, agency and instrumentality. Whether I understood you or not, I doubt we shall move much on this other than to come to these four terms with grace. Self-determination may be a personal right but doesn’t determine personhood unless you conceive persons as integrated in perspective and experience of psychological time in historical, current, or future states.

The occupation of space is but one criterion of personhood, one referenced from your original example of a spider in its web and not intended as a stand-alone principle (or sit alone in the case of a chair – or wipe alone in the case of toilet paper) from which to establish personhood. No one principle does that trick. The Akan language doesn’t have a concept for existence outside of space and relation to others. That makes your example of a spider in its web, in a garden owned by another instructive and germane. But to push that example further isn’t going to get us to the concept of self.

“Self,” as we understand it comes from a guy named John. Kurt will have told you that if you read what he had to say, which I again encourage you to do. I would add Frans, Michel, Joe, and Elwyn and also Patricia Churchland if you want to have a truly modern view of self. All speak deeply about personhood. But John set off the bomb that was his additional chapter to the second edition of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, where he introduced the concept of personal identity in secular terms and the immortal soul became self.

Locke’s concepts of self and consciousness were disruptors of moral personhood and sin-bearing self. Every philosopher of personhood would take up Locke’s ideas for the next 200 years to get to more modern conceptions. As I said before, we disagree on too many fundamental concepts that would make my retelling of the story suspect and our interlocution worthless.

Maybe it would be good to have Ajume set the stage or Josh and Ray. I look forward to their view.

But let me say one last thing. I never said sleep was a criterion of personhood or by generality attention or focus. We may transition in life through personhood, but not as an altered state. That said, many would withhold personhood from those who commit inhumane acts. I’m not proud to be one of these people and would like to be talked out of this view as it feels very wrong.

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Daniel

Wednesday, October 13, 2021 -- 6:37 PM

You mean like dissecting a

You mean like dissecting a frog in biology class? I'm lucky to have avoided that requirement, as even if non-endangered amphibians can not be protected as legal persons, to me they look too much like one. With regards to sleeping persons, I had presumed, rather cavalierly as it turns out, that they would be included under your criterion since those in a comatose state qualify.

With the time-perception requirement I think we're really getting somewhere, which is why I was not happy with laying down occupation of space as a necessary condition. Anything which exists in space has a location, as the spider does at the center of its web. But two human individuals at different locations, say, Antartica and the Northern polar ice cap, could have an identical perception of time, as part of an historical trajectory or merely a mutually understood date. Once the occupation of space-requirement is ruled out, the location-independent collective time-perception can be ruled in. This is why I think your analysis on this point is quite informative. It suggests that to be a person means to be capable of understanding genuine objects of common aspiration, as your example of dealing with global warming also indicates.

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Tim Smith

Thursday, October 14, 2021 -- 6:25 AM

Daniel,

Daniel,

What is a genuine object? Does your autistic brother aspire to Elmo when he plays him again and again on his computer? He is a person and no frog.

You may not want to cut open a frog, but I bet you will require your surgeon to have done that at some point. Dissections are brutal or straightforward depending on your sense of exactly where in space personhood exists.

The story above is not mine. It is ours. Written in words by ethnophilosophers of the 1700s and later. It is still being written. We all need to sort people from carrots. But when it comes to actual choices, it gets messy.

It was messed up in Western Africa. It still is. Akan personhood and philosophy have many dark secrets that speak to our own. There is no simple version anywhere. The idea that Wiredu and Geyeke are just now writing this down is asking us all to reconsider this question.

In Rwanda, people called one tribe (genetically indistinguishable from their own) cockroaches, only to have a genocidal dissection carried out with machetes. We have done the same thing with muskets; we do the same thing with drones; we will do the same thing with the mathematical precision of algorithms.

The Romans would dissect actual live human beings in the street. They gathered for nearly a thousand years to watch gladiators dissect each other (that tradition didn’t start as it finished – but it is legion in our own culture. See you at the game on Saturday?) Western Europe went through a period afterward where it wasn’t ok to cut open human bodies. Then about the time of a personhood emergence, people started digging up bodies again.

If you haven’t done a human dissection, I would encourage you to do it. You might start smoking cigars. You will wash your hands and fumigate/burn the clothes you wear doing it. Cremation didn’t erase the personhood of my parents for me, however.

I am an organ donor, which we all should be by default in the U.S., but we aren’t – muh freedoms. Not so in other countries. At the same time, having seen the care students spend with their cadavers, I’m not sure I want to donate my body to science. I should, I know.

Where do the people go when they die? Space may be the fundamental definition of personhood still. The Akan perspective of existence implies a location in space and relation to others. I will sync my phone to that. If you do the same, are we both people?

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Daniel

Saturday, October 16, 2021 -- 7:03 PM

Good point about persons

Good point about persons after death, as the language of spatial orientation is still used, e.g. "person x is in a better place", et.al. My point was just to indicate that if one has to first occupy space before she/he can be a person, then that rules out space-independent identity in time between different individuals at different locations. If a common object in the future is shared by each, the identity between them is one of time. And I argue that it's this identity that generates the personhood-predicate of otherwise mere zoologically determined individuals.

A genuine object is one that is not primarily illusory. In the case about which you inquire, I refer to a particular kind of genuine object: one which two or more individuals share in common. In the counter example you've provided, a single object, "Elmo" by your account, is held in the design of a single individual. This however does not affect the thesis, as this same individual may share a common interest with others, as per your example of a cooler planet, even without being able to recognize its full significance.

The issue of dissection was brought up in response to your cryptic statement at the end of your October 9 post; and is admittedly a little off-topic. The inference you want to make from it however lacks logical justification: Just because dissection of a once living body is a kind of violence, doesn't mean that any violence against a (living or once living) body is a kind of dissection. It's a non-sequitur.

Also, just a housekeeping note: I respectfully choose not to respond to any statement which intends a reference for the term "ethnophilosopher".

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Tim Smith

Saturday, October 16, 2021 -- 9:52 PM

Daniel,

Daniel,

Good enough and respectfully noted.

Akan Philosophy is a product of ethnophilosophy (as is all philosophy in some part), which puts a damper on this interlocution, I guess. Let's leave the definitions to the show hosts and guest.

The dissection bit was admittedly muddled, as is the whole concept of just who and what a person is. When social norms did not allow post mortem dissections, field physicians, soldiers, and circumstantial witnesses were the necessary experts of care and anatomy. People looked on their fellow persons so laid out with curiosity, if not science. The point or logical justification is that wherever personhood is located in space, Western philosophy, for the most part, thinks it is somewhere in the body.

Take care, Daniel.

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Daniel

Wednesday, October 20, 2021 -- 2:18 PM

Well then you haven't

Well then you haven't answered my question. With regards to persons, I didn't ask where one could find one, I asked what we're looking for. You've provided a few characteristics: It has to occupy a space, it talks, and it has memories and anticipations. I've argued that it's this third characteristic which is most fundamental to the person; so much the case that in fact the first characteristic, if strictly taken, overrides the third so that Personhood as a predicate of human beings is precluded. As a generic concept held to refer to humans in general, the distinction between Akan and Western personhood can not be accepted; rather only differing descriptions. As with utilitarianism and deontology, the differing views on whether personhood is earned or given is internal to given traditions, but applied, I argue, to the same object-domain. Here my view is definitely in the latter camp. Personhood is given and not earned; but not to one's self; rather by one to another in the form of respect. Respect for what? Not for a location in space that talks, but rather for the voluntary self-determination of another with regards to a possible shared object in the future. This is why the Person can not be limited by prior occupation of space. What issues it doesn't yet exist, and thus not in any existing location. In addition, then, to the human as the "talking animal" (zoeon logikon), perhaps one should add the human Person as the "hoping animal" (zoeon elpidon).

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Tim Smith

Thursday, October 21, 2021 -- 12:40 PM

Daniel,

Daniel,

I left you an audio message below. Let's wait until Ajume speaks. I respectfully offer that you might find some answers from an ethnophilosopher who is grappling with these issues.

I'm not sure if you and I agree on personhood, nor whether I represented well enough the Western cluster of views of what a person is, that you asked to be defined. If you were expecting clarity, I refer you back to my initial statement. It is muddled.

I wonder if you might feel, as I do, the overarching premise here, that Western personhood is changing and not one thing. This may be the single most important similarity between Akan and Western thought.

This view that I present is not my view. My philosophy on personhood is quite different. I have attempted to broach my idea above, but you refuse to engage. I hope to offer my feedback to your view in the audio file below. Perhaps you will hear what you are not reading.

Best

Response 10/21 part 1

https://www.speakpipe.com/msg/s/174998/2/x1pcr45wlpsd9xnf

Response 10/21 part 2

https://www.speakpipe.com/msg/s/174998/3/jhtrf55mvfbtb2hb

Response 10/21 part 3

https://www.speakpipe.com/msg/s/174998/4/2zn20or1f2izceqn

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Tim Smith

Friday, October 22, 2021 -- 9:27 PM

Having just now listened to

Having just now listened to the show, the differences far outweigh the similarities here compared to Western philosophy. Interesting similarities as well. The best line of the show was that when two philosophers agree - they probably are not thinking deeply enough. Thanks for the deep thought on this thread.

It sounds like the Akan pride themselves on deep thought. I will try and live that lesson.

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Daniel

Saturday, October 23, 2021 -- 7:30 PM

That's very helpful. I'm

That's very helpful, referring to your comments in the second post above this one which offers some links; and with regards to my lack of reading ability. I'm wondering what your insights might offer into Plato's point in the Republic at book VII, 523c6, as the middle is the largest and the one intended here.

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Tim Smith

Saturday, October 23, 2021 -- 9:11 PM

Your bird is appreciated if

Your bird is appreciated if misdirected.

I did not say that you don't read Daniel. I said you didn't read—very different sentiments.

You obviously read quite a bit. Not what a guy named Kurt writes, however, which honestly, after this extensive interlocution - I doubt you would get much from at this point. I'll spare you my birds, because I don't have that vitriol. I have given you an honest rejoinder to your interlocution. If this is where it takes you, look to yourself. That is the source of the problem.

This is Ajume's show, and Akan philosophy is where we all need to focus.

Let's wait for Philoso?hy Talk to repeat one of the several shows they have done on Plato to cover your insults in depth.

If you read this book ... I haven't read it, but it is on my shelf, and I have been putting it off. Meet me at the show post below to discuss. The Republic is not a work to squander making literary invective. You will one day regret that. Plato grows on you as you age, even as vitriol fades.

Here's the book.

Plato's Republic: A Dialogue in Sixteen Chapters
Alain Badiou, Susan Spitzer, Kenneth Reinhard

ISBN 10:
023116016X
ISBN 13:
9780231160162

https://www.philosophytalk.org/shows/plato

Take care, Daniel.

An organoid is not an organ. Wurdz.

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Daniel

Tuesday, October 26, 2021 -- 12:33 PM

Thanks for the detailed

Thanks for the detailed response; though I think a slight misinterpretation deserves rectification. The example of the largest manual digit does not refer to any individual, much less any participant in the forum, but to the universal content of Personhood's given diverse conceptual form (or forms). The largest digit of the hand, known as the middle, is also mid-way in mobility. The little finger (digitus minimus) is the least moveable and therefore represents, in the analogy, descriptions which are written down. As Plato points out (Phaedrus, 275D4- 277A5), once a piece of writing is circulated, its interpretation becomes out of the author's control, and requests for elaboration are unfulfillable. The index finger together with the opposable thumb is the most moveable, and their coordination makes the grasping of tools and therefore construction possible, therefore representing spoken language and the expansive capability to reliably hold conceptual content.

The central or "middle" digit represents the universal claim, which I reiterate is practically mutual respect for fellow self-determiners of non-existing objects. As the largest finger also is the strongest indication of the gesture and direction of the entire hand, it constitutes a roughly accurate representation of the anthropological conditions under which the universal claim which is made in the concept is applied. This was the intended content behind the reference. Plato's point at Republic VII, 523c6 was just that regardless of what angle one looks at the hand, where some perspectives will reduce the mid-finger's height in relation to the others, it will always be the largest, without regard to how it appears. That's my point about personhood: in defiance of reality, the universal contents of the personhood claim constitute in form a kind of collective promise about some future existence, in principle independent of its particular descriptions.

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Tim Smith

Monday, October 25, 2021 -- 9:51 PM

Those are two long paragraphs

Those are two long paragraphs to recapture two short sentences.

I'll stick with Occam's razor, and leave you to your digging.

Be well Daniel.

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Daniel

Tuesday, October 26, 2021 -- 6:41 PM

But there's buried treasure

But there's buried treasure right here. And the challenge you propose is accepted in form of a dual paraphrase:

I) Personhood according to forum participant Smith:
a) Predicates time-perceiving talker necessarily conditioned by some spatial location.
1) Occam's razor cuts off muddlesomeness, as a superficial characteristic of diverse and sometimes conflicting descriptions, unnecessary for
analysis of the phenomenon.

II) Personhood according to forum participant Daniel:
a) Predicates object of reciprocally given respect for capability of voluntary determination of non-existing objects, precluded by any limitation by
prior spatial conditions.
1) Occam's razor cuts off manual analogy for stability of Personhood's universal claim in context of diverse descriptions, as unnecessary for
analysis of the phenomenon.

Did I do OK?

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Daniel

Friday, October 8, 2021 -- 6:38 PM

And sometimes the same. As

And sometimes the same. As Wiredu points out ("Toward Decolonizing African Philosophy and Religion", African Studies Quarterly; Vol. 1, Issue 4, 1998; p.22, top of page), even though no study of logic as a formal discipline obtains in Ghana historically, many intellectuals in the West African tradition have found principles such as that of non-contradiction and the exclusion of any middle term between true and false indispensable for explication of respective indigenous reasoning.

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Tim Smith

Saturday, October 9, 2021 -- 6:05 PM

Daniel,

Daniel,

This was an excellent read. Thanks so much for posting this. I submitted a question based on the discussion by Wiredu in this essay. If it doesn't get taken up, I would return to this.

So many great points about decolonization, many of which apply to pan-African and African American struggles post-reconstruction. Too bad Wiredu doesn't go there.

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Tim Smith

Friday, October 22, 2021 -- 9:22 PM

The show did not disappoint

The show did not disappoint (except for the audio perhaps.)

My question didn't make it into the show but I include it here. I need to read more of Wiredu and African thinkers.

Ajume,

How does the Akan language present the verb "to be" - and how does that inform the Akan sense of personhood?

This discussion (attached - African Studies Quarterly | Volume 1, Issue 4 | 1998) by Kwase Wiredu is what prompts my question.

Toward Decolonizing African Philosophy and Religion

African Studies Quarterly | Volume 1, Issue 4 | 1998
http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v1/4/3.pdf

from the bottom of page 23
Consider the following example. Father Tempels in his Bantu Philosophy explains that the Western conception of being is static while the African counterpart is dynamic. The latter is, he says, dynamic in the following sense. For Africans "Being is force and force is being." In the face of a message of this sort, formulated in a foreign language, I recommend that African philosophers should ask themselves the following question, which, on the face of it, but perhaps only on the face of it, is quite a simple question. How is the thesis proffered to be expressed in my vernacular? This is a question that our training in foreign languages tends to make us forget to ask. By contrast, many other peoples think philosophically in their own vernaculars as a matter of course.

In this matter I have tried to do as I preach with the following result: Zero! The thing cannot be done. The thesis cannot be expressed in my language, namely, the Akan language spoken in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. In this language, unlike, say, English, there is no such thing as the existential verb "to be". The only possible renditions of the notion of "being" are either predicative or adverbial. To be or being always prompts the question "To be what, where?" or "Being what, where?." The Akan expression for "to be" is wo ho or ye. The word wo in this context is syncategorematic; it is incomplete, requiring some specification of place, however indeterminate. Thus wo ho means "is there, at some place." Similarly, ye cannot stand alone; it needs a complement, such as in ye onipa (is a person) or ye tenten (is long). Thus the best that one can do in rendering the existential use of "being" would be to say something like "Se biribi wo ho" which translates back to English as "The circumstance that something is there, at some place." Good sense forbids trying to go any further in the experiment of casting "Being is force and force is being" in Akan.

The conclusion to which this ill-fated thought experiment brings us is that the thesis in question cannot rightly be attributed to the Akans.

Note this article was brought to my attention by Daniel- another Philoso?hy Talk listener and fellow blogger in the comments of this show.

Tim

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Tim Smith

Friday, October 15, 2021 -- 10:19 PM

In all fairness to Daniel,

In all fairness to Daniel, this is in response to a post that was deleted that suggested other cultures have different ways of approaching personhood. Thus Daniel's response "And sometimes the same..."

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