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  • Introduction
    • An overview of Metaphysics
    • African conception of a Person
    • Akan conception of a Person
    • The Yoruba conception of a Person
    • A comparative analysis of the Western conception of a person and The African conception of a person
    • A comparative analysis of the Akan conception of a person and the Yoruba conception of a Person
    • Summary




The concept of a person held by a group of people is fundamental in understanding not only how a person within such framework of thought views himself but also how other matters such as the idea of being, morality, knowledge and truth that are essential for the ordering of the society are viewed. This is emphasized by the fact that such a concept encapsulates the role the society expects the individual to play for the attainment of an orderly society and this makes it inevitable for African Scholars to write on the conception of a person from the Africans perspectives. The Yoruba of south western Nigeria, a person is believed to be made up of three important parts. These are the “Ara” which is the material body, including the internal organs of a person; the “Emi” which is the life giving element and the “Ori” which is the individuality element that is responsible for a person’s personality. In Akan ontology, a person is also made up of three parts namely the “Okra”, the “Sunsum” and the “Honam” or “Nipadua”, representing the soul (or life giving entity), the spirit that gives a personality its force and body respectively.





The position of a human person in the world we are is what gives meaning to our world. The human person governs and rules over other human persons, every communities and societies have human person occupying it and it can even be argued that the society exist because human person occupies it. This importance of a human person makes it an object of study for scholars to inquire into the ontological and normative conception of a person of which African scholars are not exempted. This chapter is divided into seven sections, the first section present an overview of metaphysics, which is necessary because African scholars do not exclude metaphysic in their account of a person. The second section discuss briefly on African conception of a person in general and the third section present an explanation of Akan conception of a Person from Gyekye and Kwasi Wiredu exposition.  The fourth section present an explanation of the Yoruba conception of a person according to some African scholars which are Bolaji Idowu, Barry Hallen and Shodipo, Olusegun Oladipo, Segun Gbadegesin, Kola Abimbola and Wande Abimbola. The fifth section is a comparative analysis of the African conception of a person and the western conception and the Seventh section is the comparative analysis of the Akan conception of a person and the Yoruba conception.



There are disagreements on the nature of metaphysics. Philosophers attempt to give a definition to metaphysics has given rise to varieties of subject matter and approaches: This implies that there lies uncertainty as regards metaphysics. Despite the disagreement, two things can be deduced from the scope of metaphysics. On one hand, metaphysics is descriptive in nature, that is, metaphysics give account of what metaphysicians do. Secondly, by nature, it is normative, that is, it attempts to identify what philosophers ought to do when they engage in metaphysics.

However, the term metaphysics is taken from the title of Aristotle’s treatises’. Aristotle himself never called the treatise by that name; but rather, the name metaphysics was conferred by the later thinkers who happened to be students under Aristotle.[1] Aristotle called the discipline (metaphysics) in his treatise ‘first philosophy’ or ‘a theology’ which aimed at wisdom. Aristotle also tagged this as ‘knowledge of first causes’.[2] The subsequent use of the title metaphysics makes it reasonable to suppose that what is called metaphysics is the sort of thing done in that treatise. Metaphysics is a discipline that centers on God as the first cause, unlike other discipline like economics ethics etc. whose end is directed towards human action. Moreover, metaphysics is not only interested in explaining the first causes but also in the study of ‘Being qua Being’.[3] Metaphysics tend to study being qua being from the perspective of their being ‘Being qua Being’ that exist. In other words, metaphysics considers things as beings or as existents and it tends to explain specific properties or features they exhibit so they are beings or existents. Metaphysics explains the concept of being and the general concepts like unity or identity, difference, similarity and dissimilarity that occur to everything that exist.

In Medieval Aristotelian tradition, there is a dual characteristic of what metaphysics is: the Medieval believes that the two conceptions of metaphysics are realized in a single discipline. This single discipline aims at explaining the categorical structure of reality and to establish the existence and nature of divine substance on the other hand. Although, this view was rejected by the continental rationalist of the seventeen and eighteen century, this led to expansion of the scope of metaphysical enterprise. Meanwhile, the seventeen and eighteen rationalists agreed that metaphysics is identified and characterize the most general kind of things that exist and also agreed on the idea of the divine substance. The rationalists confronted this idea with an intellectual landscape which led to the ultimate emergence of a general map of metaphysics.[4]

Contemporary philosophers that is, philosophers from the 20th century to the 21st century such as John Austin and A J. Ayer among others refers to the term ‘metaphysics’ as a branch of philosophy which is different from other branches of philosophy such as ethics, epistemology etc. Metaphysics as a branch of philosophy attempt to find answers to most general question such as ‘what is it’ that is, what kind of thing exist in reality. There is no general answer to this question; this led to disagreement on what object or thing exists in reality. Attempt to answer the question give rise to different theories in metaphysics. At this junction, I shall proceed by discussing metaphysics as a branch of philosophy, what it centers on ands the various questions it proposed as a discipline, which leads to the discussion on the concept of a person both in Western and African culture.


Philosophy is originated from two ancient Greek words ‘philo’ and ‘sophia’ which means ‘love of wisdom’. Philosophy consists of four branches: epistemology (known as theory of knowledge), logic (this deals with reasoning), ethics (this deals with moral behavior) and metaphysics (this deals with nature of what exist).

The word ‘metaphysics’ is difficult to define. As a result of that, the twentieth century philosophers replaced the term with word ‘meta-language’ and ‘meta-philosophy’ because they viewed it as that branch of philosophy that study what goes beyond (physical or visible). Metaphysics deals with questions about reality which cannot be answered by scientific observation and explanation.[5] However, in western philosophy (philosophy done in the west), metaphysics is the study of the fundamental nature of ‘what is it’, ‘why it is’ and ‘how can it be understood.  It deals with questions like ‘what is that thing that exist’? What is reality? Does free will exist?( Free will is the doctrine that the conduct of human beings expresses personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or divine forces)[6], is there such a process as cause and effect? And does abstract concept like ‘number’ exist.

There are three traditionally branches of metaphysical inquiry: Ontology: the word is derived from the Greek term ‘on’ which means reality and ‘logos’ which means ‘study of’. Ontology is that branch of philosophy that deals with the study of nature of reality; what is it, how many ‘reality’ are there. What are its properties? Etc. Theology on the other hand, is that which treats truth of faith concerning God and His works, it centers on the question; does gods exist, what a god, is, what a god wants. Third is universal science which involves the search for principal things such as the origin of the universe, fundamental law of reasoning.

[1] Loux M. Metaphysics: A Contemporary introduction: (USA and Canada: Routledge, 2006), pp 2 -3

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid. 3

[4]  Loux M. Metaphysics: A Contemporary introduction: (USA and Canada: Routledge, 2006), p 4



[5] Loux M. Metaphysics: A Contemporary introduction: (USA and Canada: Routledge, 2006), p 2

[5] Inwagen V. A Essay on Free will:(Oxford: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1983),p3





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