HomeLUMINAvol. 22 no. 1 (2011)

Existential Reversals and Yoruba Philosophy

Wale Olajide

Discipline: Philosophy, Social Science



The essential themes of existentialism as a philosophy of declaration in human existence made famous and inherited from its classical heritage in the West are clear. The affirmation of the subjective or the individual as the starting point of any meaningful and useful philosophy; the rejection of outlandish speculative or transcendental metaphysics; the insistence that there are no a priori values for man to choose from and consequently that he must in freedom invent his own values, the affirmation that existence precedes essence, the nature and significance of choice, the pride of place given to revolt in the face of an absurd and meaningless life that leads particularly nowhere after an inevitable death and the celebration of suicide as the only serious problem in philosophy. These fundamental conclusions are robustly treated by both theistic and atheistic existentialist philosophers such that we can safely say that they represent the existential philosophical heritage from the West.

Beyond the fact that the corpus of existential thoughts and positions in Yoruba philosophy is essentially theistic, it also represents, particularly when viewed critically, a classical case of reversals of those same existential themes generally presented in Western Philosophy. This paper highlights and discusses thesereversals as a concrete reflection of the Yoruba understanding of their own reality and their corresponding attitude to that reality regardless of certain seemingly epistemological flaws and its overdependence on speculative transcendental metaphysics. The paper discusses very briefly select themes in Existentialism as found in the Western philosophical tradition. These same themes are discussed as they manifest in Yoruba philosophy while carefully noting inherent flaws and inadequacy as an authentic, liberating philosophy of human existence, a scourge which existential philosophies of the West have considerably surmounted by remaining universal in their approach, concern and appeal.