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Metaphysical freedom and determinism: an African perspective.

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The study places emphasis on the critical and philosophical nature of the African concept of destiny as it relates to the problem of freedom and determinism. In light of this, it focuses on the problem of freedom and determinism as we have it in Western scholarship. Historically, there are two contrasting schools of thought emerged. These are; the hard determinists, who argue that all events, including human actions are determined by causal laws; and the libertarians who believe that human beings are not determined and possess freewill. In an attempt to reconcile these seeming contrasting views another school of thought emerged, which is, Compatibilism. Compatibilists believes that choice and causal determination of human actions are not mutually exclusive but are compatible. The compatibilist position was heavily criticized by both the determinists and the libertarians. The philosophers who debated on this issue failed to reach a resolution concerning the nature of human agency in this world. The fact that the problem was not resolved in the Western circles necessitated the need to investigate the problem from an African perspective. In light of this, the thesis observes that the cornerstone for the determinists’ arguments is the principle of causation. To this effect, the thesis considers how Africans understand the principle of causation. This is done in order to find out whether the African understanding of the principle is detrimental to human freedom. The thesis observes that there are two ways of understanding causation in the African worldview, which are, empirical and supernatural causation. The Africans regard the latter to be of paramount importance in explaining phenomena between events. In light of this, I argue that cause as understood by the Africans is not detrimental to human freedom since an individual can appeal or manipulate mystical powers in order to change his or her fate. Thus, the principle of cause, for the Africans, attests to soft-determinism and not hard determinism. The principle of cause as well as the African metaphysical components of a person have a strong bearing on the African understanding of human destiny. This is so because one of the constituent parts of a person is the bearer of destiny. For the Akans, it is the okra which is the bearer of destiny, whereas for the Yoruba people it is the ori. These constituent parts of a human being plays a pivotal role in the Akan and Yoruba people’s understanding of human destiny respectively. The thesis goes on to look at the African understanding of destiny as presented by Gbadegesin and Gyekye. I also argue that the concept of destiny is informed by the Western understanding of predestination. However, in Western scholarship, predestination is understood to be other worldly, whereas for the Africans it is understood to be this worldly. Further to this, two schools of thought have emerged in African philosophy. On the one hand, there are scholars who believe that destiny, once handed down by the Supreme Being, is unalterable. On the other hand, there are scholars who hold the view that, destiny, though handed down by the Supreme being, can be altered for better or for worse. Thus, these schools of thought seem to attest to hard determinism and libertarianism respectively. I argue that there is a middle way between these seemingly contrasting views of Gyekye and Gbadegesin. To push further the argument, the African understanding of destiny does not attest to determinism and neither does it attest to metaphysical freedom. To this effect, I argue that, what is determined for an African person are the circumstances surrounding the individual’s life (events), the individual’s will (action) is undetermined. In other words, the African concept of destiny speaks to soft – determinism.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.