The Distorted Images Of African Continent: A Heideggerian Interpretation

The Distorted Images Of African Continent: A Heideggerian Interpretation



The vastness and diversity of Africa has made it difficult to determine whom we do refer when we talk of “the distorted images of African continent”. This is not unconnected with the fact that there are some African countries like Egypt, which because of their complexion a times are erased off from the Traitor’s book. Nevertheless, according to Joseph Harris in his book “Africans and their history”:




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The history of African is relevant to the history of Black people throughout the world, and partly because of the general derogatory image “Africans” and Black people everywhere have inherited from Western history.1

Upon scientific evidence, the concept of Black inferiority and racism continues to thrive in many minds. It is appropriate that this project should present an analysis of the effects of historical myths and stereotypes, views and literatures about racial Africa before delving into the main corpus of the work.


In examining ancient characterizations, we shall see how the roots of racial prejudice became interwoven in Western culture, which internationalized the concept of black inferiority and colonized Africa’s history. Joseph Harris appropriately hedge to the last sentence when he said:

The denigration of Africans can be traced back beyond the Christian era into antiquity, and in later times anyone who wished to employ degrading stereotypes about black people could easily establish reference points in classical times when outstanding scholars and writers described Africans as strange and primitive creatures. Many of those descriptions have remained with us and have contributed immeasurably to the perpetuation of denigratory myths about Africans, and black people generally.2

Joseph Harris, foremost in exposing ancient “distorted” views about Africa, went further to pull the bull by the horns:

Although the father of History, Herodotus, made significant contributions towards the evolution of history as a field of study, in attempting to describe African culture which was so different from his own, sowed seeds of racial prejudice that shaped black–white images for centuries to come. He frequently referred to Africans as “barbarians” and characterized the people of Libya by saying “their speech resembles the shrieking of a Bat rather than the language of men3.

He went further to say of another ancient writer:

Pliny the elder discussed of Africans who by report “have no heads but mouth and eyes both in their breast”, and others, who crawled instead of walking.4

A most decisive derogatory racial tradition stems from the biblical interpretation of Africa. Some of this went back to the biblical interpretation of Noah’s curse on Ham. We find this in Thomas F. Gossett’s  book “Race: The history of an Idea in America”, where a collection of Jewish oral traditions in the Babylonian Talmud from the second to the sixth century A.D, holds that: “The descendants of Ham were cursed by being black”5  Robert Graves and Raphael Patai also report in their book titled ‘Hebrew Myths”:

It must be Canaan, your firstborn, whom they enslaved – – – – – Canaan’s children shall be born ugly and Black! Your grand children’s hair shall be twisted into kinks – – – (their lips) shall “swell”. Men of this race are called Negroes; their forefather Canaan commanded them to love theft and fornication, to be banded together in hatred of their masters and never to tell the truth6

The itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela by Robert Hess reports:

There are a people – – – who like animals, eat of the herbs that grow on the banks of the Nile and in the fields. They go about naked and have not the intelligence of ordinary men. They co-habit with their sisters and anyone they find …these sons of Ham are black slaves7

In Greco-Roman Times, Harris made one allusion, concerning their distinction of colors and race. It is, he said in reference to Ethiopia: “to wash Ethiopia white” 8

Most of these descriptions and stereotypes are myths, and by critical analysis may not hold water. Again, how come they (the ancients) were able to distort African image, since according to Modern History, Black Africa was discovered in 16th century, perhaps after the great leaps made by Christopher Columbus, Francis Pizzaro and other great explorers?


“The medieval Age was a humble and magnanimous age”.9 It was the age when the most fundamental principle, the universal brotherhood of all men and the fatherhood of God, was upheld. As such, there were no smears on African image. This was coupled with the facts that very limited knowledge was had about Africa, except perhaps North Africa from where St. Augustine came and also the city of Alexandria, but not sub Saharan Africa. Nevertheless most of the medieval thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine had some views concerning slavery, which later burst out in the Missionaries treatment of Africans in the 16th century. Thus, according to J.Obi Oguejiofor in his book” Philosophy and African predicament”:

Unlike St. Augustine who sees slavery as due to the evil of the fall (original sin), Thomas Aquinas describes slavery as a positive institution. For him, it was devised by human reason, along with the convention of personal possession for the benefit of human life.10

As a consequent,

The image of Africans as inferiors was reinforced further by arguments of several Christian missionaries, ministers, and others who explained that an African was better off a slave in a Christian society than free in “African savagery”. One is reminded that most missionaries or other Europeans did not visit the greater part of Africa until the later part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; but all the same Africa was presumed to be savage.11

The Christian missionaries also argued that the Bible spoke of slavery without condemning it. No doubt these arguments were convincing rationalizations to many Europeans especially during the era of slave Trade. Several writers on the slave trade illustrate the trend that conversion of an African slave did not necessitate manumission and that Africans are inferior. Hear John Houston in his book “Some New and Accurate observations of the coast of Guinea”, in which he described Africans thus:

They (Africans) exactly resemble their fellow creatures and natives, the monkeys12

One is reminded of the note of irony expressed by the French philosopher, Charles de Montesquieu in 1748:

It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men because allowing them to be men, a suspicion will follow that we ourselves are not Christians13.


African or black inferiority as a concept reached its apex of negativity when it became intellectualized by philosophers of the Enlightenment Period that incorporates both Rationalists and empiricists. No wonder in a footnote to his essay entitled “Of National Character”, which appeared in his article and Treatises (1768), the empiricist and influential Scot philosopher David Hume wrote:

I am apt to suspect the Negroes… to be naturally inferior to the white. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences.14

Hume probably did not realize how monumental his ignorance was; but it was doubtful that such a philosopher did not realize his great contribution to the stereotypic image of black people.

Another modern ignominious pronouncement came from the German philosopher, Georg Hegel in his philosophy of History. After a cursory discussion of Africa, he noted:

It is manifest that want of self-control distinguishes the character of the Negroes. This condition is capable of no development or culture, and as we have seen them at this day, such have they always been  . . . At this point we leave Africa not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the world; it has no movement or development to exhibit.15

This was Hegel’s remark in trying to depict the movement of the Absolute spirit in History. Most of these “myths” were formulated long before anything like serious relationships were established between Africans and Europeans. One can only surmise the impact of those “myths” on Europeans’ attitudes toward blacks, and one can imagine what the early European sailors and explorers thought when they landed in Africa and saw the objects of those centuries-old stereotypes. Here, are some of the reports of early Europeans & explorers of Africa.

Sebastine Munster in his “Cosmographia” witnessed falsely that “the inhabitants of Gulata (the present West African country of Mauritania) live like animals, have no government, no idea of agriculture, no one has a wife”16

I.A Corveia in his “Le Sens Moral Chez Ibos du Nigeria”, admitted that ‘Igbo’s’ have a moral heritage, but reduces it to “lowest grade of moral consciousness”17.

Hence, according to J. Ekei, ‘’here the notion of “hierarchy” of consciousness is introduced, analogous to Levy Bruhl who spoke of the ‘mentalite primitive prelogique”18

Other European Explorers include, Jurgen Andersen, Peter Kolb, and E. B. Taylor who called Africans “puerile minds”, Lord Averbury etc. One need not overlook the remarks of the American John C. Calhoun who helped stigmatize blacks during the era of slavery in the United States, and the counter remarks made by Kwame Nkrumah in which he cited the case of a Columbia University Zulu student’s speech. Calhoun: “If I could find a black man who could understand Greek syntax, I would consider the Black race human”. Nkrumah: what might have kindled the Greek syntax in the mind of the famous southerner, I have so far been unable to discover, but… I could show him among black men of pure African blood those who could repeat the Koran from memory, skilled in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldaic’’19


The views of the thinkers and explorers of the modern period as seen above have been perpetuated in this contemporary time. These are witnessed in the  C.N.N. and B.B.C news during crisis in Africa, in the actions of U.N; in the deceptive strategies of the G-8 club, plus other western means.

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The C.N.N and B.B.C will not, for once, tell their public the positive images of Africans. They will continue to show Africa as a place of AIDS infected people (though Aids developed from Europe), strife prone continent, a place full of wildlife, where earth is cracked and dry, plus other negative images. No wonder, Ikhenemho Okomilo reports on the back page of New Age

Newspaper, Tuesday, April 5. 2005 in his article titled ‘’Love in the climate of half-truths and damned lies’’: “…the corporation’s (B.B.C) governors are suddenly announcing they will devote an entire week in July to programmes that would redress its concentration in the negative aspects of Africa. The aim according to B.B.C Television controller, Loraine Heggessey, is to prompt viewers to “see the continent in a different light’’. We will help viewers to discover the real Africa, showing there is more to it than war, famine and diseases’’. Wonderful!

Speaking on the U.N actions in most African nations, V.Lenin depicted Africa (the third world) as the “sandbox of U.N”. The film on Hutu-Tutsi ethnic cleansing of 1994 in Rwanda brings home the inhuman and malicious actions of the so- called U.N.

Also, these distorted images have continued to smolder in the way Africans are treated today all over the world. Commenting on September 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Howard Dean who was defeated in 2004 democratic presidential primaries in U.S.A, added:

But we must come to terms with the ugly truth that skin, colour, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not.20

On the other hand most contemporary writings have discriminatory undertones. Consider when Karen Blixen wrote in her book “Out of Africa”, during her expeditions in Kenya:

The Somali bring much trouble upon themselves by their terrible tribal quarrels. In this matter they feel and reason differently from other people21.

But Karen Blixen forgot that ethnic conflagration cuts across the breadth and length of every continent. Consider the Holocaust camps of tribal Nazi Germany in the 20th century, the inhuman treatments meted out to the Kurds in Syria since March 2004, and the ethnic conflicts in Kosovo, Yugoslavia in the last 20th century.

Keith Reichburg, an African American writer, wrote in regards to the genocide of Rwanda in his book “A Black man confronts Africa”:

Fully evolved human Beings in the 20th century don’t do things like that.22

But fully evolved Western human beings killed 6 million Jews under Hitler. Stalin eliminated 20 million soviets and the Japanese imperial troops machine-gunned, bayoneted and raped 300,000 Chinese Civilians in the Rape of Nanking.

Examples of contemporary writings on African image flow like the river Euphrates.

The film, ‘’Gods must be crazy” is  even a targeted missile on Africas’ image.

Having exposed the Ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary views about Africa, I shall now go straight to Martin Heidegger’s “Being and time” in order to use his concept of “phenomenology” to interpret these views about Africa since these views hinge on the Beingness of Africans.

Nevertheless, I am not enthralling his philosophy, which is not without flaws, but only using his concepts of “phenomenology” to interpret African situation. 



Martin Heidegger, born on Sept. 20, 1889 in Messkirch Baden-Württemberg, was a professor both at the universities of Marburg (1923-8) and Freiburg (1928-51) until his death on May 26, 1976 in Freiburg. He was famous for his theories of being and human nature, and for his unique interpretations of traditional metaphysics. His work “Being and Time” remains his best-known and most influential work. This “work has influenced such varied fields as theology (Rudolf Bultmann, Karl Rahner), existentialism (Jean-Paul-Sartre) contemporary hermeneutics (Hans-Georg Gadamer) and literary theory and deconstruction (Jacques Derrida)”[1]

Despite the teutonic tones and tortuous style of his work, Heidegger was fascinated throughout his long philosophic life by the question: “what is the meaning of Being?”  In the preface to his “Being and Time” he asked:

Do we in our time have an answer to the question of what we really mean by the word “being”? Not all. So it is fitting that we should raise anew the question of the meaning of being.[2]

He continued:

But are we nowadays even perplexed at our inability to understand the expression “Being”? Not all. So first of all we must re-awaken an understanding for the meaning of this question. [3]

In order to re-awaken an understanding for the meaning of this question, he first of all highlighted in a luminous synthesis, starting from the Traditional Metaphysics to Hegel, the forgetfulness of the Question of the meaning of Being. He criticized traditional metaphysics (from Plato down to Hegel) for concerning themselves with the things that are, with the natural entities, with “what is”, leaving off the fundamental question about what it means to be at all. Why is there something rather than nothing? All the philosophical works of Heidegger could be said to be an inquiry into the meaning of being (sein).Thus, Heidegger’s philosophical project is a renovating or adjustment of the previously existing ones; for theories make no great leaps.

It was Parmenides who opined in his book ‘’The Way of Reason” that “Being is, non-being is not”. Heidegger asserted that since this Parmenidean remark, the meaning of the question of “Being” has gone over many heads. This started from the researches of Plato and Aristotle, who thought of being in  terms of what Dorothea Frede called” substance Ontology”[4] (metaphysic of presence), only to subside from then and persisted through many alterations and retouchings down to the logic of Hegel.

Substance Ontology is the view that “what is ultimately real is that which underlies properties-what “stands under” (Sub-stantia) and remains continuously present throughout all change”.[5] Hence, Plato would depict the phenomenal world as a copy of the world of forms which is permanent, unchanging and immutable. This (substance ontology) is also found in Aristotle’s notion of primary substances, in the medieval Christians belief of “ens creatum”, in Descartes’ “res extensa” and “res cogitans”, in Kant’s noumena, and in the physical stuff presupposed by scientific naturalism. These conceptions he referred as “forgetfulness of the question of being.” He also accused them for seeing things as mere ‘’occurrences’’ (vorhandenheit)

Certain peculiarities of Greek language, according to Dorothea Frede, favoured the development of Ontology or Traditional Metaphysics, which became entrenched in Western thought from Aristotle to Hegel. “The fact that there is a clear linguistic distinction between “beings” ta onta, referred to by the participle with the definite article, the verb to be “onai”, and the abstract noun “being- ousia” (nature of beings) [6]

In all, Heidegger’s goal is to undercut the entire game by challenging the idea that reality must be thought of in terms of the idea of substance at all. His claim according Frede, “is not that mind and matter (in reference to Descartes) do not exist, but that they are derivative, regional ways of being for things, the detritus of some fairly high level theorizing that is remote from concrete lived existence” [7].

In view of this, Heidegger succinctly says:

Thus, if the question of being is to have its own history made transparent, then this hardened “tradition” must be loosened up, and the concealments which it has brought about must be dissolved. We understand this task as one in which by taking the question of Being as our clue, we are to destroy the traditional content of ancient Ontology, until we arrive at those “primordial experience’’ (Husserl’s concept of phenomenology which he adopted) in which we achieved our first ways of determining the nature of Being.[8]

Judging from the above, Heidegger’s task in his work “Being and Time” (though he never completed the work) is two fold:

  1. The first concerns the interpretation of the history of philosophy; the task of destroying the history of Ontology.
  2. The proper search for the conception of “being” itself. The task he called “the ontological Analysis of “Dasein” as laying bare the Horizon for an interpretation of the meaning of being in general.

The second task ushers us into our next sub-topic.


In a quest to explicate the meaning of the question of Being, Martin Heidegger stated that the question of the meaning of Being must be formulated; for inherent in the formulation of any question is an answer – a seeking (suchen).  Heidegger explained in the introduction to his work what belongs to any question whatsoever, so that from this stand point the question of being can be made visible as a very special one with its own distinctive character, and the question of being if it is a fundamental question be made transparent.

First of all, any question whatsoever (bearing in mind the question of the meaning of being) presupposes a being with the cognitive powers of rationality and language. The vegetative and sentient beings (in the phyla of life) cannot ask questions, for they have no reflective and cognitive powers.  They cannot know that they know.

Now, every inquiry or question has that which is asked about. Heidegger called it “Sein Gefragtes”[9]. In addition to what is asked about, every inquiry or question has that which is interrogated.  Heidegger called it “ein Befragtes”[10]. And in every inquiry or question there lies also that which is to be found out by the asking; that which is really intended.  Heidegger called it “das Erfragtes” [11]

Thus, in reference to the question (the question of being) which we are to work out, Heidegger maintained that “what’’ is asked about is Being – ‘’that which determines entities as entities, that on the basis of which (woraufhin) entities are already understood”.[12]

What is to be found out is the meaning of being, which according to Heidegger, “demands that it be conceived in a way of its own, essentially contrasting with the concepts in which entities acquire their

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determinate signification”[13]. Lastly, “in so far as being constitutes what is asked about, and “Being” means the Being of entities, Heidegger maintained, “then entities themselves turn out to be what is interrogated”[14]

But Heidegger would ask:

In which entities is the meaning of being to be discerned? From which entities is the disclosure of being to take its departure? Is the starting–point optional, or does some particular entity have priority when we come to work out the question of Being? Which entity shall we take for our example, and in what sense does it have priority? [15]

From the above, we will find out that if the question about Being is to be explicitly formulated and carried through in such a manner as to be completely transparent to itself, then any treatment of it in line with the elucidations above requires us to explain how Being is to be looked at, how its meaning is to be understood and conceptually grasped; it requires us to prepare the way for choosing the right entity for our example, and to work out the genuine way of access to it. Thus looking at something, understanding and conceiving it, choosing, access to it – all these ways of behaving are constitutive for our inquiry, and therefore are modes of Being for those particular entities which we, the inquirers are ourselves. Again, the very asking of this question is an entity’s mode of being; an entity with cognitive and reflexive powers which get its essential character from what is inquired about -namely being. This entity which each of us is himself and which includes inquiring as one of the possibilities of its Being, Heidegger denote by the term “Dasein”[16] –being-there. But we cannot correctly translate Heidegger’s term “Dasein” literally as being-there or simply as ‘man’, though it has mainly to do with man. This was how Heidegger arrived at the term “Dasein, the gateway to other ontologies. Dasein becomes the fundamental Ontology.

Fundamental Ontology in the sense Heidegger employs it is the ‘’phenomenological’’ analysis of Dasein in order to understand the meaning of Being. In order to understand other ontologies or the meaning of being, we have to explore the basic structures of Dasein. In this way, the meaning of being would be disclosed and uncovered to us. This task of laying bare the constitution of Dasein is what Heidegger means by fundamental Ontology. It is the belief of Heidegger that Dasein already possess a pre-ontological understanding of being and it is precisely through an appropriation of this type of understanding that the way is opened to the meaning of being. Fundamental Ontology, therefore, is a re-structuring of the essential structures of Dasein for the understanding of other Ontologies or the meaning of Being.

But one would ask why did Heidegger choose Dasein as a fundamental Ontology, the gateway to the question of the meaning of Being? This hinges on the priority of Dasein. According to Heidegger, Dasein takes priority overall other entities in several ways:

(1) Ontical one: “Dasein is an entity whose being has the determinate character of existence”[17]

(2) Ontological one: ‘’Dasein is, because existence is thus determinate for it”[18] Existence is an issue for him. The question of existence is one of Dasein’s Ontical affairs.  Dasein is that Being whose very being comports itself understandingly toward Being.

Having seen Dasein’s priority, Heidegger went further to de-structure the essential structures of Dasein in part one, division one of his work. These can be analyzed into two:

  • The special characteristics of Dasein
  • The existentials of Dasein.

The special characteristics of Dasein include:

  1. Openness (Dasein is full of possibilities),
  2. Mineness-“Jemeinigkeit” (Each individual’s existence is peculiar to him) and,
  3. Ability to choose (Dasein, unlike other beings, can choose to live authentic existence or inauthentic existence)

On the other hand, the existentials of Dasein include:

(1)  Being- in -the World: Heidegger laid much emphasis on this concept. This is the fundamental existential constitution of Dasein. The term ‘world’ has four meaning for Heidegger:

(a) The Ontical concept: “it signifies the totality of those entities which can be present at hand within the world”[19]

(b) The Ontological term: “it signifies the Being of those entities, and can become a term for any realm which encompasses a multiplicity of entities”[20],

(c) The Ontical sense: “it signifies here the ‘wherein’ a factical Dasein as such can be said to Live”[21] and,

(d) The “Ontologico – existential concept of World hood”[22].

But Heidegger used the term “world” in the concept “Being–in–the World” as the “wherein” a factical Dasein is said to live. As a “being–in”, Dasein is not merely a spatial being located in the world like we say that Agulu is in Anambra, or the T.V. is in the room. It is something like, “he is in love”. It is a “being-in” that involves the person. Dasein is not simply located in the world, but forms part and parcel of the world, and at the same time the world forms part and parcel of Dasein’s existence. As a being–in-the world, Dasein is disclosed to itself in 3 ways: Affects or facticity which include joy, boredom, dread etc, understanding or possibility and falleness-he is thrown into existence without his consent, such that either he asserts himself or get swallowed up in existence.

The assemble of facticity, possibility and falleness, which constitutes Dasein as Being–in-the World is what Heidegger refers to as “care” (Besorgen). Care is the unity of Dasein’s primordial structures. No wonder, Heidegger opined:

All these ways of Being-in have concern (care) as their kind of Being – a kind of Being which we have yet to characterize in detail. Leaving undone, neglecting, renouncing, taking a rest – these too are ways of concern; but these are all deficient modes, in which the possibilities of concern are kept to a “bare minimum”[23]

(2) Existenz: This comes from Latin “ex sistere” which means to stand out, to emerge. Existence, for Heidegger as well as other existentialists, comes before essence. As a being endowed with language and the capability of discourse, Dasein can stand out, can put himself apart in order to raise question about his own Being and about Being in general. “Dasein” is conscious of his own existence. This consciousness of his existence leads to the awareness of death which is the final fulfillment of Dasein’s existence. Dasein’s existence could either be authentic or inauthentic. Authentic existence includes also the awareness and consciousness of one’s death, while the contrary is inauthentic existence.

(3) Temporality:  By temporality Heidegger means to emphasize that                 Dasein is time-bound (future, past and present), culture-bound and historically bound.

Heidegger’s fundamental ontology through the analysis of dasein and his three existentials having been exposed, one would ask:  Did Heidegger succeed in using the analysis of Dasein in the understanding of the meaning of Being?

Heidegger has practically no answer in this direction. His fundamental ontology is often said to have failed to show how the phenomenological analysis of Dasein would help us to grasp the meaning of Being.  Because of this failure, his fundamental ontology is seen by many as nothing but a form of philosophical anthropology. This is the major shortcoming of his fundamental ontology. Nevertheless, the link between his fundamental ontology and the question of the meaning of being can be sought in his philosophy of nothing. But this does not fully explain his main task on the question of being.

Again another question comes to mind – the question of method.  What method did Heidegger adopt in his study of the question of being and fundamental ontology?  This ushers us into our next sub-topic:   His methodology.


The question of methodology occupies a prominent place in Heidegger’s work, ‘’Being and Time’’. ‘’In provisionally characterizing the object which serves as the theme of our investigation (the being of entities, or the meaning of being in general), it seems that we have also delineated the method to be employed.  The task of ontology is to explain being itself and to make the being of entities stand out in full relief.  And the method of ontology remains questionable…’’[24] He went further to elaborate:

With the question of the meaning of being, our investigation comes up against the fundamental question of philosophy. This is one that must be treated “phenomenologically”[25]

Thus, Heidegger chooses the concept of phenomenology in his treatment of the question of being.  The concept of phenomenology as a philosophical method had its origin in the work of Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938).  According to Robert J. Dostal, “one common view of the history of twentieth-century continental philosophy is as follows.  At the beginning of the century Edmund Husserl, disturbed by what he saw as the increasing relativism and historicism of western culture, introduced the phenomenological method as a way to ensure that philosophy would arrive at final, incontrovertible truths[26].”

But Husserl’s pure or transcendental phenomenology must be sharply distinguished from Heidegger’s existential phenomenology.  Although Heidegger was influenced by Husserl’s phenomenological method (transcendental phenomenology), he gave it an “interpretive turn“ in his recognition of the significance of  finitude, worldliness, and historicity of our human predicament-“the recognition that our access to things is always colored and preshaped by the sense of things circulating in our historical culture’’[27].

In a general sense, “phenomenology means the study of the forms in which something appears or manifest itself, in contrast to studies that seek to explain things, say, from their causal relations, or from evolutionary processes’’[28].  It is the description of the things presented in our experience and the description of our experience of them.

According to Robert Dostal, “the phenomenological movement was heralded by Husserl’s cry, “back to the things themselves!”[29].

“Because phenomenology “brackets”, or suspends belief in, all metaphysical constructs and “assertions” in order to focus solely on what shows up as it presents itself in our experience, its findings are supposed to be apodictic, beyond all possible doubt”[30].

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According to Magda King, “Heidegger in his “Exposition of the inquiry into the meaning of Being” gives a preliminary concept of phenomenology, leaving the full concept to be elucidated in division three of “Sein und Zeit”. As long as this division is missing from Sein und Zeit, Heidegger’s discussion of phenomenology remains not only short but also incomplete”[31]. Nevertheless, Heidegger writes in the introduction of his “Sein und Zeit” (Being and time):

The expression “phenomenology” signifies primarily a methodological conception. This expression does not characterize the ‘what’ of the objects of philosophical research as subjects-matter, but rather the ‘how’ of that research. The more genuinely a methodological concept is worked out and the more comprehensively it determines the principles on which a science is to be conducted, all the more primordially is it rooted in the way we come to terms with the things themselves, and the further is it removed from what we call technical devices[32].

Thus, the expression “Phenomenology” (from the above quotation) is a descriptive method that allows things to show themselves for what they are. Heidegger introduces his discussion of phenomenology by explaining Husserl’s well-know Maxim: ‘Zu den Sachen selbst!”[33],  (to the things themselves!) According to Magda king, “the ‘things’ referred to in this maxim, are not concrete, material things, but the ‘phenomena’ themselves”[34]. On a more serious note, the Maxim formulates the demand that “no time-honored concept or theories, however well proven they may seem to be, must be taken over and made the starting point of some constructed evidence[35]”. Heidegger asserts:

It (the maxim) is opposed to all free-floating constructions and accidental findings; it is opposed to taking over any conceptions which only seem to have been demonstrated; it is opposed to those pseudo-questions which parade themselves as “problems”, often for generations at a time[36]

I shall develop this point, when I shall use Heidegger’s idea of phenomenology to interpret African distorted images.

Thus, only phenomena that have been originally brought to light and have been directly demonstrated as ‘self evidence’ can satisfy the phenomenological demand for truth and claim to hold a place in the investigation.

After this first, broad characterization of the method, Heidegger proceeds to examine in detail the two components of the concept of phenomenology: phenomenon and logos

The word ‘phenomenon’ comes from the Greek word, “phainomenon”, which means “the manifest, the self- showing (das Offenbare, das Sichzeigende)”[37]. Heidegger defines the basic meaning of phenomenon as “that which shows itself in itself”[38].

In the words of Heidegger, “phenomena” are the totality of what lies in the light of being”. Phenomena is occasionally identified with what the Greeks called “ta onta”, things, beings. According to Heidegger, there

are various ways in which things can show themselves. Things can show themselves as they are not, but only seem to be. Seeming (scheinen) is a self- showing in which things look as if they were such and such, but are not truly so. Seeming is thus a privative modification of phenomenon, however, is to be admitted into its definition: that which shows itself in itself.

On the other hand both phenomenon in the strict sense and seeming as its privation must be distinguished from other ways in which things can appear. Appearing, appearance, come from ‘ad parere’, to come forward, to show oneself i.e. originally they mean the same as phenomenon. This is why appearing and appearance (Erscheinung) are often used to define phenomenon – a practice that can lead to hopeless confusion in view of the manifold and ambiguous meanings of “appearance”. A symptom, for instance, a feverish flush on the patient’s face appears, shows itself, but in so doing it points away from itself to something else, to a disturbance in the organism. The disturbance, the illness, is often said to “appear” in the symptom and yet the illness does not in the strict sense appear at all, it merely announces itself in and through the symptom. Hence, Heidegger concludes that all signs, symptoms, indications of any kind, in which something announces itself without directly appearing, must be distinguished from phenomena in the strictly defined sense, if hopeless confusion is to be avoided.

Heidegger went further to contrast phenomena in the strict defined sense from “mere appearance”, an emanation of something that itself remains essentially hidden. Without going into further complications mentioned by Heidegger, it is abundantly clear that his definition of phenomenon as that which shows itself in itself is both necessary and right. It is, however, as Heidegger immediately points out, only a purely formal concept of phenomenon.

Coming to the concept of Logos, the word “logos” is a Greek word. According to Heidegger, “in Plato and Aristotle the concept of “logos” has many competing significations, with no basic signification positively taking the lead”[39].  Thus, in the history of philosophy, the word “logos” has been interpreted in widely different senses, as discourse, reason, judgment, concept, definition, ground, relation. Heidegger renders the word “logos” in its basic meaning of discourse (speech) but warns that this translation can only justify itself when it has been shown what discourse itself means. Discourse, in the light of Heidegger, ‘’is letting something be seen from itself”, that is, “it lets us see something from the very thing, which the discourse is about”[40]. Hence, after much elaboration, Heidegger renders “logos” as “letting something (discourse)

be seen from itself”. Because, logos lies in letting something be seen by pointing it out, it has the structural form of synthesis, which is, letting something be seen in its “togetherness” with something.

Furthermore, because “logos” is letting something be seen, it can therefore be true or false. But here everything depends on our steering clear of any conception of truth which is construed in the sense of “agreement”. The being – true of logos means that in speech or discourse the entities of which one is talking about must be taken out of their hiddeness, that is, they must be discovered. Similarly, being-false amounts to deceiving in the sense of covering up: putting something in front of something and thereby passing it off as something which it is not.

Now, the meaning of phenomenon and logos has been sufficiently elucidated for a formal definition of phenomenology. Logos says: to let something be seen from itself. Phenomenon says: that which shows itself in itself. Taking the two together, phenomenology means: “to let that which show itself be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself”[41].

“This is the formal meaning of that branch of research which calls itself “phenomenology”[42], says Heidegger. But here we are still expressing nothing else than the maxim formulated above: “to the things themselves!” (Husserl’s influence)

Thus the term ‘’phenomenology’’ is quite different from other sciences to which it bears an outward resemblance, such as theology, biology, sociology: the science of God, of life, of human community.

But what are the “things” that phenomenology let us see? What are, for it, the phenomena par excellence? They are not the real things we meet

within the world, which are always directly accessible to us and do not need a difficult and intricate method to bring them to light. The phenomena of phenomenology must be such that they are usually half-hidden, disguised or forgotten, so that they in themselves demand a special approach. These phenomena are not beings but the being of beings. What phenomenology shows are always “being”, its structures and characters, its meaning, its possible modifications and derivations. Phenomenology is then the method, the way in which being, the subject matter of ontology, can be approached and brought to self-showing. Thus only as “phenomenology”, is ontology possible.

But in explaining the tasks of ontology we found it necessary that there should be a fundamental ontology taking as its theme that entity which is ontologico-ontically distinctive, Dasein, in order to confront the cardinal problem – the question of the meaning of Being in general. Hence, the issue of interpretation or hermeneutics comes into play. This is because it is through the interpretation of Dasein that we arrive at the phenomenological conception of Being in general. Thus, Dasein is pre-phenomenological. This shows that the meaning of phenomenological description as a method lies in interpretation. And the phenomenology of Dasein is a hermeneutic in the primordial signification of this word, where it designates this business of interpreting.    No wonder Heidegger defined philosophy thus:

Philosophy is universal phenomenological ontology, and it takes its departure from the hermeneutics of Dasein, which as an analytic of existence, has made fast the guiding-line for all philosophical inquiry at this point where it arises and to which it returns[43].

Remember, that Heidegger’s design is not philosophical anthropology.

Having sufficiently elaborated on Heidegger’s task in his “Being and Time”, his fundamental ontology and Dasein analytic, and on his concept of phenomenology and interpretation, let us now delve into our next topic, where we shall use his concepts of phenomenology and interpretation to interpret African distorted images. But before that, we shall briefly look at some of causes of African predicament


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