P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 147
21st October 2009
I. 'Philosophical Connections: Merleau-Ponty' by Anthony Harrison-Barbet
II. 'Sententiae: An Art Form of Independent Philosophy' by Richard Schain
III. 'Eyes for an eye: The Korekore-Nyombwe people's response to murder' by
This week saw the completion of the online edition of Dr Anthony
Harrison-Barbet's Philosophical Connections, a project which I began almost
exactly a year ago. Sadly, Dr Harrison-Barbet died in May 2009 (see the
Obituary in Philosophy Pathways Issue 144). Philosophical Connections
is the product of 7-8 years of diligent study and research. I have selected
the profile on Merleau-Ponty as representative of the high quality of Dr
Richard Schain is an independent philosopher who has contributed several
articles to Philosophy Pathways. Here, he presents a selection of his own
aphorisms on philosophy, in homage to the great philosophical aphorists
Heraclitus and Nietzsche. It is not an exercise that I would advise most to
attempt, but Schain accomplishes it with considerable finesse.
Dr Fainos Mangena from the Centre for Leadership Ethics in Africa, University
of Fort Hare, South Africa offers a compelling insight into the moral thought
of Korekore-Nyombwe people of northern Zimbabwe, and its connection with their
ontological/ epistemological view of their place in relation to the natural and
spiritual worlds. The concept of 'eyes for an eye', far from being a philosophy
of retribution or vengeance, is fundamentally concerned with justice as
restitution, as a means of restoring the spiritual imbalance brought about by
an unethical act.
I. 'PHILOSOPHICAL CONNECTIONS: MERLEAU-PONTY' BY ANTHONY HARRISON-BARBET
Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) PHENOMENOLOGY
Maurice Merleau-Ponty was born in Rochefort-sur-Mer. Educated at lycees there
and at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, he gained his agregation in 1931.
He taught in various lycees and at the Ecole Normale. After war service he was
appointed a professor at the University of Lyon and then became Professor of
Child Psychology at the Sorbonne. He accepted the Chair of Philosophy at the
College de France in 1952. He was a founder and co-editor with Sartre of Les
KNOWLEDGE/ METHOD/ PSYCHOLOGY
 Merleau-Ponty's philosophical agenda is clear from the title of his
best-known work [The Phenomenology of Perception]. He starts [Preface] with a
criticism of interconnected inconsistencies in Husserl's philosophy. Husserl
set out to establish philosophy as a 'rigorous science' but he offered an
account of space, time and the world as we 'live' them. Husserl also tried to
give a direct description of experience, without reference to its psychological
origin or causal explanations, but in his last works he talked of a genetic and
constructive phenomenology. Perhaps the most serious contradiction, says
Merleau-Ponty, is that while phenomenology is a transcendental philosophy which
brackets the question of the world's existence, yet it is also a philosophy 'for
which the world is 'already there' before reflection begins -- as an inalienable
presence' and which it seeks to make a direct and primitive contact with.
What he objects to is Husserl's separation of the real world from the world
considered as a phenomenon for consciousness [a]. For Husserl the epoche
provides a world which is nothing other than the intentional object of
consciousness. Certainly Merleau-Ponty does not claim any knowledge of
things-in-themselves (Kantian noumena). But he does argue that attempts at a
philosophical description of the structures of consciousness show us not
eidetically intuited essences but a world that transcends that consciousness
and reveals itself in and to it. He thus rejects the Husserlian notion of
'reduction' and his account of a pure transcendental ego. At the same time
Merleau-Ponty seeks to pass beyond what he sees as a return to dualism in
Sartre's distinction between the in-itself and for-itself [b].
These views reflect Merleau-Ponty's affirmation of the primacy of perception [
Part II] -- by means of which we gain access to the world. But perception for
him is not a mere reflection on passively received sensory data. The world we
encounter in perception is a 'lived experience'. What transcendental reduction
reveals is a 'body-subject' [Part I]. The body for Merleau-Ponty is much more
than just an entity to be treated as an inert object whose behaviour is to be
explained exhaustively in terms of science as a 'second order expression of the
world'. But neither is it a pure, transparent subject. It exhibits 'ambiguously'
both aspects or functions. He thus rejects the claims of behaviourism and
naturalism. The body must be seen also as a conscious 'subject' actively
situated in the perceptual milieu -- the presupposition for all conceptual
thinking, rationality, value, existence. The situation the body-subject finds
itself thrown into is one of constant change: its relationship to the world and
other persons -- its dialogue with them -- is thus dialectical, and the
reduction cannot be completed on account of 'ambiguity' [c].
 The central phenomenological themes of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy are
already to be found in the first major work [The Structure of Behaviour]. This
appears initially to be an essentially scientific work concerned with the
psychology of human behaviour, but underlying his investigations is his primary
concern -- to overcome discontinuities, especially to bridge the gap between
nature and consciousness. To do so he starts by criticizing behaviourist
theories. Following the Gestaltists [for example, Koffka and Koehler] he argues
that we are organisms who appear to exhibit goal-seeking activity. We do not
react to stimuli in a purely passive mechanistic way, but rather the situations
we respond to we have already 'endowed with meaning'.
Thus, for example, when we are hungry and come across something which will
satisfy our hunger our response is not just an activity to be analysed
exhaustively in terms of the physical and chemical structures of the object.
Rather, we already see it as food, as an appropriate object to eat and to
satisfy our inner needs (Similarly we also see ambiguous figures 'as' one thing
or 'as' another.) He accepts that bodily behaviour as such is a proper object of
scientific study in causal terms, but he denies that mental activity can be
identified with physical behaviour of the organism or with a network of
reflexes, conditioned or otherwise. Science, he says, abstracts from the
wholeness and purposiveness of living organisms.
Instead he postulates a hierarchy of qualitatively different levels of
conceptualization in the structures of things. The lowest or physical level is
that at which the organism may be said to be the least 'purposive'. Its
response to the environment is explicable in causal or mechanistic terms. But
at the vital, that is, biological level such responses have to be understood
with reference to the organism's structures and needs. At the highest, mental
or human level the organism confers 'meaning' on the environment. This
dialectical relationship gives rise to holistic, spatial patterns. No level can
be reduced to the lower level; the levels are as it were cumulative.
Thus we might say, for example, that while we can analyse ourselves in terms of
atoms and molecules -- relating to the laws and theories of physics and
chemistry, the activity of complex molecules is describable by reference to the
laws of biology. As for the highest level, we appeal here to the fulfilment of
purposes and needs. Explanation involves reasons rather than causes. There is
no inconsistency between the several sets of explanations appropriate at the
different levels, and there is no reduction of biology to physics and chemistry,
or of human activity to biology. The lower levels do, however, contribute to
the higher levels. According to Merleau-Ponty meaning must therefore already
have been conferred at a pre-conscious level of subjectivity.
While he has rejected behaviourist psychology, and shows the influence of
Gestalt theory, he is at the same time critical of Gestalt psychology to the
extent that it seems to treat 'wholes' or 'forms' themselves as if they were
causes, whereas causation is correctly to be attributed only to stimuli at the
level of physical structures. With his theory of cumulative structures
Merleau-Ponty hoped to avoid both materialism and mentalism [a].
matter, life and mind must participate unequally in the
nature of form; they must represent different degrees of
integration and, finally, must constitute a hierarchy in
which individuality is progressively achieved [Pt III,
 In The Structure of Behaviour he concentrates on scientific theories and
then moves on to consider philosophical implications. But in The Phenomenology
of Perception his approach is explicitly philosophical. From the very start he
situates himself in the perceptual milieu and starts from the standpoint of the
perceiving 'lived' body-subject. He criticizes both scientific empiricism and
Cartesian intellectualism. Thus he rejects the notion of isolated, discrete
sensory data. Sense-data are abstractions, 'pure' sensations which have no
reference either to external reality or to the intentionality of consciousness.
[See Introd., 1-4.]
Following the Gestalt psychologists he argues that elementary perceptions, or
impressions are bound up with larger wholes already charged with significance.
'We are condemned to meaning', he says. A perception is always part of a
phenomenal field [a]. The body-subject is the key notion not only in his
approach to perception but also to sexuality, language, freedom, and the cogito.
He rejects the concept of body as a purely physical object. It is through
attribution to it of intentional structures that we can understand how it
functions. The body-subject is that which makes possible lived experience, that
through which we perceive, feel, will, and act [b].
From this starting point what is needed, he argues, is clarification of our
'primary conception of the world'. According to Merleau-Ponty there is a 'logic
of the world' to which the body conforms, thereby supplying us in advance with
a 'setting' for our sensory-experiences. He refers to this as the
'pre-objective' realm -- the horizon of the cultural, human life-world, by
reference to which a proper understanding of perception can be achieved [c]. 'A
thing is, therefore, not actually given in perception'; rather it is
internally taken by us, reconstituted and experienced by us
in so far as it is bound up with a world, the basic
structures of which we carry with us, and of which it is
merely one of many possible concrete forms [PP, Pt II, 3].
Thus the way we perceive the world through the body follows from the fact that
consciousness as the highest manifestation of the body is located in the world
in a specific spatio-temporal context. He makes a distinction between 'bodily
space' and 'external space' [Pt I, 3].
He seems here to be suggesting that one's awareness of one's body is a
precondition of the consciousness that one has of being in the world and that
the body provides a reference point for the attribution of spatiality between
one's body and other similarly connected objects. Time likewise is understood
in terms of one's occupation of it as a 'setting' in which both past and future,
although belonging to being are accessible only in the lived present of
memory and agency [d]. The world, however, retains a unity independent of our
changing knowledge of it and of our activity towards truth through appearance.
Human beings are engaged in a dialogue with the world considered not only as a
set of physical entities but also as containing other individuals or persons.
And the 'other' is equally a 'body-subject'. It cannot be both a
being-in-itself, belonging to the world of caused and determinate objects, and
a consciousness, a being-for-itself which lacks an outside and parts. Both
'modes of being', he says, are presupposed in the concept of the body-subject --
the living body as experienced. Body is 'solidified or generalized existence',
while existence is a 'perpetual incarnation' [Pt I, 5].
We can see the other as human subject only when his subjectivity is embodied.
To see him only as body leads to conflict as sometimes occurs in sexual
relations. The gaze of another on my body causes me to experience shame. I am
treated as an object and am depersonalized, become as a slave. Alternatively,
through my own immodest display I may dominate the other, render him
defenceless. Paradoxically, his desire for me and his consequent loss of
freedom leads me no longer to value him. Sexuality, however, properly
understood and utilized, is for Merleau-Ponty one more form of original
intentionality. Moreover, it 'interfuses' with existence and is thereby
'ambiguous' [e] in that it is not possible to determine whether a decision or
act is 'sexual' or 'non-sexual'.
Given Merleau-Ponty's account of embodied perception, it follows that for him a
perceiver can be understood only as incarnated. What is discoverable through the
cogito, he says, is neither psychological immanence, the inherence of phenomena
in 'private states of consciousness', nor even a transcendental immanence where
phenomena belong to a constituting consciousness. Rather what we find is a
deep-seated momentum of transcendence which is the perceiver's very being -- a
simultaneous contact with his own being and that of the world [Pt III, 1]. Thus
he in effect avoids both the view that the thinking self or ego is that in which
thoughts, perceptions, and so on, inhere, and the view that the self is just the
totality of sets or series of thoughts, perceptions. In perception the
body-subject finds itself in and inseparable from its surroundings. Perception
is 'lived'. There is no autonomous subject which can be separated from its
At the same time the subject is not a consciousness. We find ourselves, he says,
in our performance or acts -- that is the body-subject in its perceptual,
sexual, linguistic engagement with the world. Thus, for Merleau-Ponty human
beings do not exist in isolation from others [f]. (At the end of the book he
quotes St Exupery's observation, 'Man is but a network of relationships, and
these alone matter to him'.) And to the extent that at the highest, most
purposive conscious level man is free from causal determinism he is aware of
the possibility of particular courses of action.
But he goes on to argue that man is not free in a total or unlimited sense; he
is constrained by the historical and cultural environment in which he has been
born and nurtured [Pt III, 3] [g]. A theory of freedom must take account of
what Merleau-Ponty calls a kind of 'sedimentation' of one's life. He means by
this that we develop an attitude towards the world as we become moulded by
repeated experiences of it which are in some sense favourable -- meet our needs,
interests. Choice is never absolute; it can not be exercised in a vacuum, out
of nothing. But neither are we completely determined.
 Merleau-Ponty's critique of dualism is taken further in his last writings
in the context of what he calls his 'ontology of flesh'. [See especially Eye
and Mind and The Visible and the Invisible.] His ontology may be described as a
'dialectical monism' in so far as he rejects the dualistic analyses of Being
into a pure free consciousness of the 'self' and the determinism or
necessitation of the 'other' and argues in favour of a mutual 'intertwining'
(chiasme) of the lived body-subject and the world. (He here draws on the notion
of reciprocity implicit in his Phenomenology of Perception.) Being is both the
silent, invisible ground of Nature and the visibility revealed through it [a].
Being made visible constitutes what Merleau-Ponty calls 'the flesh [chair] of
the world'. Flesh is the element of Being which precedes and grounds the self
and the other. It is the 'anonymous visibility' -- neither material nor
spiritual, nor substantial. Rather it is 'a sort of incarnate principle that
brings a style of being wherever there is a fragment of being' [V&I]. Man, as
himself grounded in Nature (he is not just a body-subject related to a specific
historical-cultural situation), is a moment of instantiation of Being's
self-revelation. Thus grounded man is perceptible. But as revealer of Being,
able to render visible the 'perceptible structures' of the world, he is also
the perceiver and contributes to its meaning. 'One can say that we perceive the
things themselves, that we are the world that thinks itself -- or that the world
is at the heart of our flesh' [ibid.]. Being as made visible is thus both that
which 'gives to us' and that which we give to it [b].
 [See Phenomenology of Perception, Pt I, 6; also Consciousness and the
Acquisition of Language; and Signs.] Following from his rejection of dualism
Merleau-Ponty argues that thought is inseparable from language. He denies that
we can have concepts 'in the mind' before they are expressed or articulated
linguistically. New concepts are worked out in or through new expressions which
he calls collectively 'speaking word'; and he regards this process as the
creative manifestation of the body-subject. Such expressions in due course add
to the corpus of social and public language -- the 'spoken word'.
However, just as he allows for the conferring of meaning at a 'pre-conscious'
level so he attributes to the body a pre-linguistic understanding, a
'praktognosia' of its world -- though this is an aspect of and inseparable from
the body's behaviour [PP, Pt. I, 3] [a]. Thought is to the body's subjectivity
as language is to its 'objective' corporality, the two dimensions constituting
He also recognises that his concept of the body-subject is difficult to
articulate in so far as our language has built into it a bias towards dualism.
We must therefore struggle to create a new language in order to express this
central concept [b]. He later [CAL] draws on the structuralist view that the
meaning and usage of language has to be grasped synchronically by reference to
the relationship between signs and not diachronically by reference to the
history of linguistic development; and he sees in this evidence or support for
his own claim that the body-subject is involved in a lived relation with the
world, because language here and now is, as it were, the living present in
speech. Merleau-Ponty's emphasis is thus on parole, that is the 'signified' --
meaning which is 'enacted', as opposed to 'langue' which refers to the total
structure of 'signs' [c] -- the meanings and words which parole, as a set of
individual speech-acts (be they English, Chinese, or any other language),
It is through language and its intersubjectivity that the intentionality of the
body-subject makes sense of the world. And he makes it clear that language is to
be understood in a wide sense as including all 'signs', employed not only in
literature but also in art, science, indeed in the cultural dimension as a
whole. Indeed the significance of a created work lies in this intersubjectivity
-- in the reader's or viewer's 're-creation' of it as well as in the work itself
as originally created by the writer or artist. Moreover, in an era when science
is increasingly alienating man from the real, language and the arts in
particular are particularly suited to be the means for this revelation. Through
the lived experience in which language is articulated -- in our actions, art,
literature, and so on (that is, in 'beings' as signifiers) -- it opens up to
the Being of all things [see The Visible and the Invisible]. Contemplated
against the 'background of silence', language then comes to be seen as a
'witness to Being' [Signs] [d].
ETHICS/ POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
 Merleau-Ponty agreed that we must start from a collectively accepted set of
meanings and values of our world, but he says that from this position we can
exercise our freedom to choose and thereby create ourselves as moral beings.
Initially his views on ethics would seem to have been posited in the context of
Marxist social and political theory. But while he was sympathetic to the
grounding of consciousness in the material infrastructure, he rejected a
historical dialectic and the subordination of the individual to the collective.
Nevertheless, he accepted the consequentialist view that 'objective history' is
the final arbiter of individual choice and action regardless of intentions.
In general we can say he set out to define a position which would avoid both an
'objectivist' material 'in itself' and an 'idealist' 'for itself' but which yet
reconciles the two in 'ambiguity' [a]. He attacked Marxist theory as
appropriated by Communism and came to see this capacity of Marxism to be
adapted in this way as an indication of fundamental flaws in the theory itself
[see The Risks of Dialectic]. A genuine revolutionary movement, he argues, must
seek only to guide tendencies in society, not to impose its dogma. To the extent
that it is directed against a particular class it is doomed to become degenerate,
and it cannot therefore be the agency through which a historical process
operates. History itself is not a rigid monolithic objectification of a
necessary dialectic but a contingent and multilayered sequence of events; and
Marxism, if adopted as a theoretical instrument for the development of society,
must itself take cognisance of history and submit to revision in the light of
For many years Merleau-Ponty's writings were undeservedly neglected outside
France. More recently, however, his merits as a philosopher have been
increasingly recognised -- not least by many philosophers working in the
'analytic' tradition (despite the complexity and prolixity of his style --
characteristic of much twentieth century continental philosophy).
Of particular significance are his rejection of both rationlism/ idealism and
positivistic and reductionist empiricism, his concept of the 'body-subject' and
a 'holistic' account of perception and action as operating within the domain of
intersubjectivity, and his dialectical 'ontology of flesh'. He accepted
Husserl's epoche and phenomenological reduction but argued that this leads not
to a separated transcendental consciousness or ego but to essences of 'lived
experience'; and while emphasising the Cartesian primacy of the self he sought
to overcome dualist theories (including Sartre's sharp distinction between the
pour-soi and the en soi) through an appeal to his doctrine of 'ambiguity', by
which he understands a theme or the meaning of a word as open to different
interpretations, depending on the context, none of which should be regarded as
privileged [a]. He was also critical of attempts to reconcile existentialism
and Marxism, arguing that a reworking of both is needed.
Merleau-Ponty was probably aware of most of the contentious issues raised by
his thought, but owing to his untimely death he was unable to complete a number
of projects which most probably would have addressed these. Two points in
particular should be mentioned.
(1) (With reference to his early work) how transition from one structural level
to another is to be effected has, arguably, not been fully worked out. But many
commentators would accept that his account of degrees of rationality and of
freedom of the body-subject acting within the constraints of causal determinism
might prove to be more successful in resolving the seemingly intractable problem
of dualism while avoiding the difficulties of reductive naturalist theories.
(2) Some critics maintain that an unresolved tension remains between the
extremes of a 'subjective' idealism and an 'objective' realism. This might well
be seen to be compounded by his later acceptance of a structuralist account of
language, in so far as the distinction between the lived experience of the
subject and the described experience articulated through language (parole) and
'meanings' is itself made within the linguistic framework. This would seem to
prevent access to the objective world of the 'other'.
Merleau-Ponty: [of many writings] La Structure du comportement (1942) (The
Structure of Behaviour, trans. A. L. Fisher); Phenomenologie de la perception
(1945) (The Phenomenology of Perception, trans. C. Smith); Les Aventures de la
dialectique (1955) (Adventures of the Dialectic, trans. J. Bien); Signes (1960)
(Signs, trans. R. McCleary); L'Oeil et l'esprit (1964) (Eye and Mind, in
Phenomenology, Language and Sociology, ed. J. O'Neill); Le Visible et
l'invisible (1964) (The Visible and the Invisible, trans. A. Lingis; La
Conscience et l'acquisition de la langage (1964) (Consciousness and the
Acquisition of Language, trans. H. Silverman).
J. Bannan, The Philosophy of Merleau-Ponty.
M. C. Dillon, Merleau-Ponty's Ontology.
J. Edie, Merleau-Ponty's Philosophy of Language: Structuralism and Dialectics.
E. Matthews, Merleau-Ponty: A Guide for the Perplexed.
Collections of Essays
J. Sallis (ed.), Merleau-Ponty: Perception, Structure, Language.
C. Taylor and M. B. N. Hansen (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Merleau-Ponty.
[Source: http://www.philosophos.com/philosophical_connections/profile_115.html ]
(c) Anthony Harrison-Barbet 2008
In accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988, the author has
asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work; and Michael
Mooney, David O'Connor, and Joseph O'Gorman have asserted their right to be
identified as originators of the 'Philosophical Connections' concept.
Reproduction and distribution rights have been granted exclusively to the
Pathways School of Philosophy. Otherwise, no reproduction, copying or
transmission of any of the contents of Philosophical Connections may be made to
a third party without written permission from the author.
II. 'SENTENTIAE: AN ART FORM OF INDEPENDENT PHILOSOPHY' BY RICHARD SCHAIN
'It is one's duty to say the truth, not engage in garrulous discourse.'
Democritus of Abdera -- Diels' Die Fragmente Der Vorsokratiker
The form of writing known as aphoristic is one that requires a special
consciousness of self and freedom of spirit on the part of the reader. Unlike
extended prose, aphorisms do not entertain or support one upon a flowing
current of language. They are not discursive, they are the linguistically dense
expressions of the interior life of the writer. Philosophical aphorisms or
sententiae should be conceived of as a form of artwork through which the
philosopher encapsulates his life and thought in linguistic form. Brevity and
depth are at the heart of sententiae. If the ultimate purpose of art is the
awakening of consciousness, the significance of the sententia is to be found in
its ability to perform this function -- for the writer as well as for the reader.
Heraclitus, the greatest aphoristic writer of the antique world, declared that
the purveyor of wisdom does not explicate or conceal but gives a sign. He was
regarded as a philosophical force second to none throughout a thousand years of
classical culture; subsequently, his impact was lost on a public given over to
the cult of Christianity. We now live in a society that looks to literature for
diversion or instruction, but rarely for awakening. Those with a taste for the
classics turn to the literary honey of Plato rather than the tough meat of
Heraclitus. Yet it is as true now as in antique times that honeyed words have a
limited effect on the spirit of a reader. Transport into the endless Disneylands
of extended discourse is commonly a way of escape from self rather than its
awakening. The judgment of Callimachus of Alexandria, a literary giant of his
times (at 250 BC), was mega biblion mega kakon -- 'much writing, much evil.'
Philosophy -- The transmutation of vital experience into concepts is a special
form of artistic expression. The ancient Greeks called it philosophia.
Philosophy is not a matter of fact or falsehood but of forthrightly expressing
one's own perspectives about himself and the universe.
Philosophical refers to the existence of a human higher consciousness that
first emerged among the ancient Greeks and Hindus. The self-contradictory term
'scientific philosophy' exemplifies the corruption of language found everywhere
in human affairs.
Sentience -- In life forms, the energy of the universe is harnessed so as to
further the propagation of the organism. Sentient creatures, however, find that
their life drive has been mysteriously altered so that elevating consciousness
becomes the principal focus of their existence.
Philosophers -- The bourgeois want money and the Christians preach love but we
independent philosophers seek only knowledge of the hidden forces of our
Soul -- It takes very little investigation to discover that an interior self or
'soul' is the distinguishing mark of Homo sapiens. This may be just one of many
perspectives on the nature of a human being but it is by far the most important
and interesting one.
In the beginning was the word -- En arche en ho logos (John 1:1) This was the
evangelist's way of admitting that the Heraclitean logos or 'word' is the key
to the primal energy underlying all things. Apart from some of the sayings of
Jesus, this is the only line in the entire New Testament that I find worthy of
'What is a soul?' is a question better not asked of children, illiterates or
An intellectual conscience -- Intellectual activity purifies the soul. Perhaps
the most heinous of human sins of any age new or old is the foregoing of an
The brain -- Important lesson in neurophysiology: the brain stands to the soul
as did Chopin's piano to Chopin.
Human thought -- I have never quite understood how lovers of nature can forget
that human thought is its absolutely highest product.
Developing the mind -- It is astonishing how the distinction is still not made
between developing the mind and acquiring knowledge. One would quickly be
confined to a mental institution if he exhibited signs of starvation while
hording great quantities of inedible foodstuffs.
Consciousness -- Those who do not recognize a human consciousness attuned to
the concealed elements of the universe are better left to their blind
dependence upon animal spirits or religious dogmas.
An important distinction -- The distinction between science and philosophy
could not be more obvious. Science organizes and utilizes the phenomena of
nature whereas philosophy miraculously adds to them.
Philosophy and Science -- Philosophical literary artwork is assertive,
metaphorical, hyperbolic and veiled. The reader is confronted with the
intensely personal product of the artist's mind working in concepts. Scientific
discussion is exactly the opposite in style; it is balanced, explicit, objective
and straightforward. For the philosopher, such a style has no value whatever and
produces annoyance when paraded out as philosophy.
Branches of science -- Philosophies that do not attend to the problem of human
existence on the level of a higher consciousness are usually branches of
science that have been misnamed.
Spiritual self -- When the tension between ontological polar opposites slackens,
all things fall apart. Thus the downfall of a human being whose exterior
material powers is not balanced by an interior spiritual self.
'God' -- My concept of a deity is that he is the great 'see-er' who sees
existence as a whole independently of the dimensions of time and space. Now
whether he could be pleased with what he sees of human existence is a highly
Religions are only significant because they embody a once powerful idea. But
how long can we live on the capital of the past?
Monotheistic religion -- There are no reliable accounts of the epoch-making
events at Sinai, Jerusalem or Mecca, thus placing them in the category of myths.
But the arrogant myth-makers of the great middle-eastern monotheisms
converted their myths into dogmas. Thus we inheritors of the Semitic mindset
are condemned to spiritual prisons. I say to religious readers who regard me as
afflicted with blasphemous hubris; 'honi soit qui mal y pense.'
Old and new covenants -- The old covenant of God with the Hebrews was replaced
after some 1200 years by a new one of universal application. It is now 2000
years since the advent of the replacement. We are long overdue for another
covenant. This one, however, will be even more restrictive than the original
Mosaic document that applied only to the Hebrew people.
Jesus of Nazareth -- The secret of the power of Jesus lay in his remarkable
ability of oral expression. So powerful was its impact that his living memory
lasted long enough to be captured in Gospels written many years later.
Thereafter, the bizarre legends of Christianity unfolded with news of a virgin
birth, an only begotten son of God, a resurrection after death and many other
Stealing scriptures -- The theft of the millennial-old Hebrew Scriptures by the
early Christian fathers was a criminal act that has not yet been brought before
the bar of justice.
Ignoring Jesus -- 'tetelestai' (It has been finished) said Jesus as he gave up
his ghost on the stake (John 19:30) but unhappily his followers did not take
him at his word and did not content themselves with their memories of the last
great Jewish prophet.
Eastern cults -- The cults of the East are surely no solution to the problems
of western society. They proliferate for the same reason that technologies
proliferate; the western mind has been weakened by two millennia of
Technological monuments -- It is necessary to realize that there is a finite
amount of energy available to any individual. What he expends in one direction
is not available for another. One may assume that the technological monuments
of contemporary civilization are a sure sign of psychic impoverishment.
Higher consciousness -- Before family, before country, and certainly before any
god, there is the requirement of a higher consciousness. Nietzsche labeled the
possessor of such a consciousness 'Der Ubermensch'.
Duty to the self -- A constant sense of duty toward the invisible interior self
cannot be dispensed with if one is to aspire toward a higher consciousness.
Know yourself or Make use of yourself -- Inherent in the notion of
consciousness is its expression. Being buried alive is child's play compared to
an unexpressed consciousness. It has been said that over the portals of our time
stands not the gnothai sauton of Apollo but the verwerte dich! of Max Stirner.
Homo sapiens -- The transition from vegetative plant life to motile animal life
was surely easier than the transition from homo faber to homo sapiens. It is
possible, however, that this latter transition may prove not to be permanent.
Physics -- Those who wish to be philosophers must first study physics in order
to understand the illusory images produced in their brain by
The past -- The 'past' is a word that refers to events existing within the
dimension of time -- a dimension constructed by the human brain as demonstrated
by Kant and amply proven by modern cosmology. The formation of events occurs in
the virtual present, the mysterious 'now,' but existent events as perceived by
us can only be found in the past. The 'future' is the unpredictable program
operating in the universe for adding to existence.
Sublime thoughts -- We should be elevated not intimidated by our perception of
the enormities of time and distance. After all, we are their creators.
A dilemma -- A satisfactory attitude to the mystery of time is the essential
requirement for living the philosophic life.
The pointillist canvas of eternity -- Speaking or writing one's thoughts adds a
vividness and coherence to them that is not present in pure introspection. They
become worthy components of the great pointillist canvas of eternity.
Creative thought -- It is gratifying to envision that creative thought -- the
highest product of the human condition -- exists as an enduring part of
eternity and not as an evanescent puff of smoke as materialists seem to think.
Sentient life -- In our too old culture, we are saddled with the task of
penetrating the encrusted layers of the centuries to arrive at the springs of
sentient life. Sadly, the effort required is usually beyond the limits of
strength of ordinary humans.
Vital thought -- The near suffocative effect of garrulousness upon vital
thought is exemplified by philosophers who emerged at the beginning of the
twentieth century -- one may mention Bergson, Berdyaev and Heidegger but there
are many others. In our times, however, the vital thought has disappeared
completely and we are left only with scholars and New Agers.
Wittgenstein -- The exceptional virtue of the critical philosopher Ludwig
Wittgenstein is that he realized the worthlessness of critical philosophy.
Universities -- The secret of higher education is that there is no such thing;
there is only higher understanding. And by now, it should be abundantly clear
that this is not cultivated in the universities. I would turn them all into
Pointless explication -- There is no real point to philosophical explication.
This abnormal use of the mind demeans the expressive faculties and clutters up
libraries. Perhaps Plato and Aristotle had some excuse for establishing the
class of the philosophical literati but in the third millennium of a literary
civilization, there is no longer any reason for continuing the practice.
University philosophers -- Absent a metaphysical consciousness informing the
mind, professors of philosophy tend to occupy themselves with theories of
knowledge and analysis of the ideas of others -- with university tenure as a
Academics -- The difficulty of contemporary academic philosophy is that it
produces no transcendental cognitions rendering it worthless for anyone seeking
to ascertain the meaning of human existence.
Need for metaphysics -- The failure to appreciate the metaphysical basis of
philosophy has led to profound disturbances in society, culminating in
dictatorial religious cults and/or gross materialism.
Poisonous concepts -- Philosophical works that fail to attack poisonous
concepts rarely amount to anything as was noted by Diogenes of Sinope. The huge
quantity of useless pablum dished out under the rubric of philosophy is truly
Pleasure principle -- Discovering the relationships of the living conscious
self to the cosmos is the one pleasure that never palls. This is why Epicurus
founded his pleasure principle upon philosophy. It was left for a Gelehrter of
the twentieth century to replace philosophy with sexuality.
Dinosaurs and consciousness -- The problem of existence for humans is the
problem of enlarging their consciousness. When they attempt to develop
themselves through technology, they are like dinosaurs struggling to survive by
adding to their armored plating.
Nietzsche -- The tragedy of Friedrich Nietzsche is that of a mighty engine over
which control was lost. But for we 'still hopeful, still youthful moderns,'
Nietzsche remains a guiding star.
Icarus -- Nietzsche's mind soared to incredible heights; but like Icarus. his
wings were not secure enough to hold him aloft. He sank into a tragic
hebephrenic psychosis to the endless joy of his detractors who slandered him
with the stain of syphilis. He failed the requirement that he had set for his
disciples -- to hold out.
Pillars of consciousness -- The three pillars of a higher consciousness are
experience, reflection and expression. Not one of these is dispensable in order
to make what the Stoics called to sojon -- the wise or virtuous man. They
admitted the phenomenon is very rare.
Pointillist canvas of eternity -- The artist-philosopher eventually comes to
the realization that when all is said and done, each human life paints its own
unique brushstroke on the pointillist canvas of eternity.
1. See my essay In Love With Eternity (2005).
(c) Richard Schain 2008
Web site: http://www.schainphilo.com
III. 'EYES FOR AN EYE: THE KOREKORE-NYOMBWE PEOPLE'S RESPONSE TO MURDER' BY
In this article, I critically reflect on the role of 'ngozi'
(the avenging spirit) in deterring murder practices among
the Korekore-Nyombwe people of northern Zimbabwe. I strive
to defend the position that 'ngozi's restorative response
to murder makes retributive punishment irrelevant to Shona
culture which is premised on the idea of hunhu/ ubuntu.
Hunhu/ ubuntu philosophy guides and motivates the practice
of justice in Africa, in general, and among the Shona, in
particular. I utilize, among other scholars, the study of
the Zimbabwean ethnographer Michael Gelfand to construct
the above thought experiment which seems to me to be
groundbreaking given that no amount of energy has been
spared to write about 'ngozi' as a deterrent to murder in
The Korekore-Nyombwe people: a linguistic analysis
As Jairos Marufu Gombe puts it, chiKorekore as a Shona dialect was not
popularized by missionaries, colonial hunters and Arab traders, as is the case
with other Shona dialects such as chiZezuru, chiKaranga, chiManyika and chiNdau
. The name chiKorekore is used with reference to the language spoken by a
group of people of the Munhumutapa tribe who migrated from Masvingo and
conquered the land of the Tavara people in northern Zimbabwe about six hundred
Two theories have been put forward to explain the origins of this language and
the people who speak it. The first theory holds that chiKorekore was given as a
nickname denoting the conquering prowess of the Korekore people. The second
theory holds that when these people finally settled in the land of the Tavara
people, they adopted a culture of migrating year after year (gore ne gore)
hence the origin of the name Kore-kore from gore ne gore. These people
became numerous after conquering the Tavara people, and today their name has
remained popular; more popular than the name Tavara which is the name for the
original and rightful owners of the land that is today occupied by the
Korekore-Nyombwe people. But as time passed, intermarriages between the
Korekore and Tavara people began; and when the British colonizers came to
Zimbabwe in the early 1890s, they all assumed the name MaKorekore. But the
distinctions can still be made with another category being that of
MaKorekore-Tavara who, I must say, were the first to settle in present day
Nyombweland (the land of the Korekore people).
Please note that ma- is plural for more than one MuKorekore (singular usage).
ChiKorekore, like other Shona dialects, has another sub-branch such as
chiTavara which is the sub-dialect for the Korekore-Tavara of Hurungwe and
Makonde. The other sub-branch is chiShangwe, spoken by Korekore people from
Sanyati and Gokwe. There is also chiTande, the sub-dialect for the people from
the Dande valley and chiBudya which is spoken by the Korekore people from
Mutoko. Finally, and more importantly for this work, there is chiNyombwe,
the sub-dialect for the Nyombwe people from northern Zimbabwe (Mt. Darwin), the
area which I have demarcated for study.
Ontological, epistemological and axiological notions of hunhu/ ubuntu
in Korekore-Nyombwe society
The word 'hunhu' or 'ubuntu' is prominent in the work of Stanlake Samkange and
Tommie Marie Samkange (1980) and then the work of Mogobe B. Ramose (1999). Both
Samkange and Ramose have contributed immensely to the discourse of hunhuism or
ubuntu philosophy at least as understood by the Shona. For starters, the Zulu/
Ndebele word 'ubuntu' has its Shona equivalent 'hunhu' or 'unhu', which is the
root of African philosophy. The being of an African in the universe is
inseparably anchored upon ubuntu or hunhu. By way of definition, the word
'hunhu' or 'unhu' and its Ndebele equivalent 'ubuntu' consists of the prefixes
'hu-' or 'ubu'- respectively. These prefixes evoke the idea of being
(existence). They denote enfolded being before manifestation in the concrete
form or mode of existence of a particular entity.
In Korekore-Nyombwe understanding, ontology is all about the kind of things in
existence -- particularly vanhu (people). Predication is about what we say
about vanhu -- Tinoti vane hunhu kana kuti havana hunhu (they are good or bad).
At the ontological level, there is no strict and literal separation and division
between hu- and -nhu as well as ubu- and -ntu respectively, they are mutually
founding, as they are two aspects of be-ing as a one-ness and an indivisible
wholeness. Hu-nhu or ubu-ntu is the fundamental ontological and
epistemological category in the African thought of the Bantu-speaking people
including the Shona people of Zimbabwe. Hu- is said to be distinctly
ontological while -nhu is distinctly epistemological, the same can be said of
ubu- and -ntu in that order.
As Ramose maintains, the prefix mu- or umu- shares key ontological features
with the prefix hu- or ubu-. Whereas the range of hu- or ubu- is the widest
generality, mu- or umu- tends towards the more specific. Joined together with -
nhu or -ntu the words become munhu or umuntu respectively. For Samkange and
Samkange, the word munhu in Shona and umuntu in isi Ndebele means a person: a
human being. It means more than just a person, human being or humanness
because when we see two people, one white and the other black, coming along, we
say, 'hona munhu uyo arikufamba nomurungu,' or in isi Ndebele, 'nanguyana umuntu
ohamba lo mlungu,' (There is a munhu walking with a white man).
Now, is there a sense in which we can say a white man lacks something, which we
will always identify with or in an African? Yes, black Americans, for instance,
identify something they call 'soul' as being almost exclusively among the black
folk. The thing called soul is indefinable but identifiable among black
people. The attention one human being gives to another: the kindness,
courtesy, consideration and friendliness in the relationship between people; a
code of behavior, an attitude to other people and to life is embodied in hunhu
or ubuntu. Hunhuism is, therefore, about something more than just humanness
deriving from the fact that one is a human being. Since there are as many as
three hundred linguistic groups with -ntu or a variation in the word for person,
all believed to have originated from a single source, argue Samkange and
Samkange, it is reasonable to suppose that these groups -- the Bantu people --
by and large, share a common concept of hunhuism which varies only to the
extent that individual groups have undergone changes not experienced by others.
 Thus, in terms of the code of behavior, the attitude to other people and
to the life of a ruler, an induna, in a highly centralized military Nguni
kingdom will be different from that of an ishe (chief) in a less centralized
and less martial Shona state.
At the level of a broader community, the Korekore-Nyombwe people also subscribe
to this hunhu or ubuntu philosophy, because their being is defined by their
purpose of existence in relation to safeguarding the interests of their
departed elders, the ancestors and their relationship with other spiritual
entities. The knowledge of their environment also helps to direct the course of
their livelihood. The Korekore-Nyombwe people, therefore, see reality as dual as
they find themselves in a physical world which is directed or informed by the
spiritual world. They are in constant touch with their departed elders who now
occupy metaphysical space. So, a Korekore man or woman can safely be defined as
munhu or umuntu in the same breath as a Karanga, Zezuru or Manyika man or woman.
What about their ethical world-view? The notion of ethics, just as that of
ontology and epistemology, cannot be separated from hunhu. In fact, morality
means hunhu in Korekore-Nyombwe society. A person who has hunhu is a virtuous
person, a good person. As Gelfand reinforces this point, 'a man who has hunhu
behaves in a decent, good, rational and responsible way; a worthy man has hunhu
.' Hunhu is, therefore, the ethical benchmark of Shona society. A person
who possesses hunhu can control himself, his passions and instincts, but should
his desires overcome him, then he is defined as having no hunhu. Among the
Korekore-Nyombwe people, a person with hunhu is gentle and respectful; such
character traits are seen by the way in which the Korekore-Nyombwe women or
girls greet their elders. When greeting, they bend their knees, which is called
kutyora muzura. Men and boys clap hands after greeting their elders or
colleagues; this is called kuembera. A man who has built a good reputation
because of his hunhu finds that other families are eager to have their
daughters marry his sons. On the other hand, if it should become known that
the character of a man or the reputation of the family is bad, everyone will be
told to avoid them. Hunhu also means good personality in Korekore-Nyombwe
Hunhu and ngozi among the Korekore people
It is common to hear a Korekore man or woman lambasting murderers and
fornicators in Nyombweland saying: Mhondi ne mhombwe ndivo vamwe ve vanhu
vasina hunhu muNyombwe (murderers and adulterers are among the people who are
not good persons in Korekore society). There are two main categories of the bad
man in Korekore society and these are the adulterer (mhombwe) and the murderer/
murderess (mhondi). Mhombwe cause moral discord in Korekore society because the
Korekore people value fidelity in marriage. Mhombwe covet other people's wives
and attempt to have sexual relations with them. Mhondi have a special place
in this article because they are portrayed as far worse than any other moral
offender because they take away human life which is highly sacred in Shona
society. It is against this background that the Shona people believe that once
a person has been murdered, his or her spirit cannot be pacified.
In fact, in Korekore-Nyombwe understanding, a human being does not die or sleep
forever (munhu ha-apfi or munhu ha-arovi). What it means is that the
Korekore-Nyombwe people believe in the metaphysical realm of life after death.
They believe that the end of bodily life marks the beginning of spiritual life.
Hence, the morality of the Korekore-Nyombwe people is endorsed by the spirit
world. It is the elders who make moral rules and principles and the spiritual
world endorses them through various sanctions that include misfortunes, deaths,
and illnesses to moral deviants. This is also the context in which ngozi
operates. But what is ngozi? Briefly stated, ngozi is the spirit of a person
who has been murdered and which comes back to seek revenge in the family of the
murderer by causing illnesses, misfortunes or multiple deaths until the
perpetrator pays reparations to the offended family.
Within the Korekore-Nyombwe people's code of ethics, as is also the case in
other Shona cultural groupings, when the guilty family has failed, deliberately
or otherwise, to pay restitution, ngozi strikes viciously and harshly by not
only targeting the perpetrator of the crime but his kinsmen as well. Ngozi is
premised on the idea of 'eyes for an eye.' As MFC Bourdillon remarks, 'ngozi is
fearsome and terrifying because it attacks suddenly and very harshly.' But
how does the idea of ngozi feed into the broader context of hunhu/ ubuntu
philosophy as embraced by the Korekore-Nyombwe people? Why does retributivism
fail in this regard?
In Korekore-Nyombwe culture, punishment is forward-looking, thus; ngozi does
not look back and say, there is some crime of murder committed in the past that
needs to be balanced or righted with the death of the murderer, as in the case
of retribution. Rather it says that the victim of murder needs to be replaced
by compensation in the form of a head of cattle and a virgin girl if the
murdered person was a man and vice versa. Ngozi is an expression of disapproval
when it comes to actions that result in the taking away of human life. It
has a regulatory function, which is that of deterrence and not retribution.
This is especially true when one considers the fact that the guilty family is
given the option to either pay reparations or suffer the consequences through a
series of misfortunes, deaths and illnesses. Retributivism fails because it is
concerned with the individual who has committed an offence such as murder yet
ngozi kills everyone who has the same blood with the murderer or murderess
until or unless the murderer's family compensates the victim in a process which
is initiated by ngozi itself. I call this process 'restorative dialogue'. The
idea is simply that in hunhu/ ubuntu thought, crime and punishment are shared
This article looked at the role of ngozi in fighting for justice on cases
involving murder in Shona society. It noted that the concept of ngozi underlie
Shona ethical notions of murder and punishment as idealized in hunhu/ ubuntu
philosophy. The article also observed that the Shona conceptions of justice are
better explained restoratively than retributively, since crime and punishment
were shared responsibilities. This discourse was preceded by a linguistic
analysis of the Shona people and their ontological, epistemological and
axiological orientations in hunhu/ ubuntu thought.
1. Gombe, Jairos Marufu. (1998). Tsika dze Vashona. Harare: College Press. p.22
7. Ramose, Mogobe B. (1999). African philosophy through Ubuntu. Harare: Mond
8. Ibid, p.50
11. Ibid, p.49
13. Ibid, p.51
14. Samkange, Stanlake and Samkange, T. M. (1980). Hunhuism or Ubuntuism: A
Zimbabwean Indigenous Political Philosophy. Salisbury: Graham Publishing
21. Ibid, p.39
22. Gelfand, Michael. (1968). African Crucible: An Ethico-Religious Study with
Special Reference to the Shona-speaking People. Cape Town: Juta and Company Ltd.
26. Ibid, p.54
27. Ibid, p.55
28. Bourdillon, Michael. (1976). The Shona Peoples: An Ethnography of the
Contemporary Shona with Special Reference to their Religion. Gweru: Mambo Press.
29. Mararike, C.G. (2007). 'The Shona concept of Justice.' Interview held on 3
September 2007 at the University of Zimbabwe
Bourdillon, M.F.C. (1976). The Shona Peoples: Ethnography of the Contemporary
Shona, with Special Reference to their Religion. Gweru: Mambo Press.
Gelfand, M. (1968). African Crucible: An Ethico-Religious Study with Special
Reference to the Shona-speaking People. Cape Town: Juta and Company Ltd.
Gombe, Jairos Marufu. (1998). Tsika dze Vashona. Harare: College Press.
Mararike, C.G. (2007). 'The Shona Conceptions of Justice,' Interview held on
the 3rd of September at the University of Zimbabwe.
Ramose, Mogobe B. (1999). African philosophy through Ubuntu. Harare: Mond Books.
Samkange, Stanlake & Samkange, T.M. (1980). Hunhuism or Ubuntuism: A Zimbabwean
Indigenous Political Philosophy. Salisbury: Graham Publishing Company.
Fainos Mangena, PhD
Centre for Leadership Ethics in Africa
University of Fort Hare
(c) Fainos Mangena 2009
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