“Hello class, welcome to intellectual heritage 51. Can anyone tell me what intellectual heritage means?” says a Temple professor at the beginning of each semester. A bold student ready to earn an A for the course eagerly answers, “It means the legacy of great thinkers and ideas in this world.”
The professor gives a nod of approval and distributes the course syllabus. When the eager student finally receives his syllabus, his smile suddenly turns into a frown and he begins to question the answer he provided a moment ago. “Why are we only studying European philosophers?” Ironically, this young student is not alone in questioning this situation.
Last spring, the Sankofa student organization – committed to empowering the communities of people of African descent – in collaboration with others, produced a list of demands they wanted the university to address, with black scholarship in the intellectual heritage courses included.
When sophomore Tyne Hunter reflected on how it made her feel as a black student to not learn a sufficient amount of African and minority scholarship within the university core courses, she said, “I think the intellectual heritage courses as a whole seem to diminish the intellectual works of many minority scholars. We only study minority works in intellectual heritage 52 and, even then, it is only three books crammed into a small period of time.”
The works of people like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi are included in the intellectual heritage 52 program, which is fine, but these individuals are not the only minority thinkers. Students have been learning about them since grade school as though they are the only thinkers of minority descent. The college level is where less mainstream but equally important philosophers should be studied.
Contrary to the common misconception, European and ancient Greek philosophers were not the only seekers of wisdom and truth. In intellectual heritage 51, students are introduced to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, but are denied the fact that these philosophers were taught in Ancient Kemet (Egypt) under Egyptian Mystery teachers.
As Innocent Onyewuenyi points out in his article, “Is there an African Philosophy?” what American and European institutions call Greek or Western philosophy is copied from indigenous African philosophy of the “Mystery System.”
Onyewuenyi also explains that many students are taught that Socrates was the first person to say “Man know thyself?” Unfortunately, people are not made aware that the expression was commonly inscribed on Egyptian temple doors centuries before Socrates was born.
Imhotep, an Egyptian, who is deemed as the “Father of Medicine,” was a philosopher, poet, scribe, chief lector, priest, architect, astronomer and magician. He lived during the Third Dynasty and served as adviser to King Zoser. According to Phillip True Jr., “He urged contentment and preached cheerfulness. His proverbs contained ‘philosophies of life.’ Imhotep coined the phrase ‘Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall die.'”
The Greeks identified Imhotep as their own god of healing and many of his teachings were absorbed in the foundation of Greek culture, True wrote in an essay published on nbufront.org.
However, as True said: “As the Greeks were determined to assert that they were the originators of everything, Imhotep was forgotten for thousands of years [as] a legendary figure. Hippocrates, [the ancient Greek physician] who came 2,000 years after [Imhotep], became known as the Father of Medicine.”
Works of philosophers such as Imhotep should be included into the intellectual heritage curriculum. By doing so, Temple professors would be pioneers in giving honor where it is due.
Excluding African philosophy but blatantly including mostly European thinkers denies Africa the acknowledgement of its meaningful contributions. Therefore, if the Egyptian Mystery System never existed, would there be a Plato, Socrates or Aristotle?
Diona Fay Howard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.