The similarities between the word “philosopher” and “wise man” are many. A philosopher is one who has an insatiable lust for knowledge; not just any knowledge, but true knowledge. A wise man is one who has attained a certain level of knowledge, is always willing to gather more knowledge and who has enough knowledge and experience to be able to differentiate between “true” knowledge and “false” knowledge. A sage is an individual who has profound wisdom in either a particular field or in all aspects of reality. Yet, most philosophers question if it is possible for one to attain such profound knowledge? What amount of knowledge could be considered as profound? Can that knowledge be applied to the various problems facing the world? This is the point where the similarities between the concepts end. Some scholars are of the point of view that, not all sages apply critical thinking to their thought processes, while philosophers, philosophize; and to philosophize is to apply extremely critical reasoning to their thought processes.
This is seen as one of the main issues bothering on the broad concept of African Sage Philosophy.
African Sage Philosophy is a form of afro-philosophy that believe in the recording of a people’s culture, religion, tradition and history in the elders of that people. This can also be known as philosophical sagacity. Although, it is not recognized as an accepted form of philosophy by most Western Scholars, it is a form of ethno philosophy that has been practiced for years by African societies.
In the typical African society, the elders are highly revered. The voices of the elders are heard, their advices heeded and their counsel is always sought. They are the voice of reason. The elders are seen as the holders of knowledge and history of a people. Their experience; what they have seen, heard and gone through, is invaluable to the people. They were sought out when there was a dispute between and within families, when there was confusion on certain aspect of culture or tradition, the elder was asked to clarify.
African sage philosophy was pioneered by Dr. Henry Odera Oruka, a Kenyan Philosopher. He grew up in a community where elders were highly revered, he learnt at their feet before going to school. He posited that the elders are sages, embedded with the culture and history of the people. They were the holders of the traditions of that people. He tried to show how much knowledge the sages could accumulate and how important it was to the communities where these sages lived. Indeed, most of the history of the African people to be ever recorded came from the sages.
As an African child, you are always encouraged to go visit the old man who lives alone in his hut. You sit down and listen to him talk, the sages mostly used proverbs to pass across very important points. They are the teachers whose qualifications are bestowed on them by life experiences.
There is a need for such knowledge to be passed down. In some African communities, special people are appointed to spend days with the elders. They listen and record what they can. This is a means of cultural and traditional preservation. Once the elder passes on, he takes with him the history and traditions of the people, leaving them with a reference to the past. Hence, the reason why some communities undertake the task of recording conversations and interviews with their elders.
However, this is not to say that knowledge is One hundred percent accurate. As a man grows old, so does his mind in some cases. Such knowledge can be biased, based on sentiment or just out rightly misinterpreted. But nevertheless, it is a core aspect of African Philosophy.
Termed as "Folk Philosophy" by Kwasi Wiredu, philosophical sagacity has been challenged by many scholars, African and Western. Can Sage philosophy be used to solve problems that the African people, and the world at large face? Are the methods employed by the so-called philosophic sages be deemed rational? Is the knowledge gotten from the elders accurate and true?
Some people argue that the sages can use their experience to help the present generation of African to revive, and maintain the African standards of morals. They can help those who are in the forefront of the fight against the cultural and traditional westernization of the African people by providing them with the knowledge and wisdom of the old traditions. That in these ways, the sages are helping to solve the African dilemma, and that if applied to the wider world, they might be able to solve much more global issues. In other words, apply Afro Philosophy to the global way of life. Introduce people of non-African descent to the African way of life, promote the norms and cultures of Africans to other cultures. Not to take over them, but to infuse them into those cultures.
The African Sage philosophy is an important aspect of the African Society and lifestyle. It serves as a reminder of how important the elders are to the community. Elders aren't shipped off to a nursing home, rather they still go the farms at 5 a.m in the morning, they still participate in community events and gatherings. They are the beacons of traditions in the African society.