ANTON WILHELM AMO: Ghanaian-German Philosopher we almost forgot

Whatever feels, lives; whatever lives, depends on nourishment; whatever lives and depends on nourishment grows; whatever is of this nature is in the end resolved into its basic principles; whatever comes to be resolved into its basic principles is a complex; every complex has its constituent parts; whatever this is true of is a divisible body. If therefore the human mind feels, it follows that it is a divisible body. An excerpt from Anton Wilhelm Amo thesis on the philosophy.

Whoa! Readers, this article about this philosopher is really enlightening. I know most Ghanaians don’t know about this philosopher. That’s why we are breaking the mold today. Before we escape into this article let’s define; who is a philosopher? A philosopher is someone or a person that practices philosophy, especially as an academic discipline. The term philosopher comes from the Ancient Greek meaning ‘lover of wisdom.’ 

Now you know who a philosopher is. Let’s introduce our philosopher in the name of Anton Wilhelm Amo, the Ghana-German philosopher. Anton was born in Axim in the Western region of the then Gold Coast(Ghana). Around the age of four, he was taken to Amsterdam by the Dutch West India Company. Although some accounts say that he was taken as a slave since slavery was still rampant in those days, others that he was sent to Amsterdam by a preacher working in Ghana. The truth of the matter is that he was given as a “present” to Anthony Ulrich, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, to whose palace in Wolfenbüttel he was taken. 

Anton Wilhelm Amo

Amo was baptized and confirmed in the palace’s chapel. He was treated as a member of the Duke’s family and had his education at the Wolfenbüttel Ritter-Akademie from 1717-1721 and also at the University of Helmstedt from 1721 – 1727. In 1727, he attended the University of Halle Law School. He finished his preliminary studies within two years. 

To further his education, Amo enrolled at the University of Wittenberg studying logic, metaphysics, physiology, astronomy, history, law, theology, politics, and medicine, and mastered six languages (English, French, Dutch, Latin, Greek, and German). His medical education in particular was to play a central role in much of his later philosophical thought. 

Anton later gained his doctorate in philosophy at Wittenberg in 1734; his thesis (published as On the Absence of Sensation in the Human Mind and its Presence in our Organic and Living Body) argued against Cartesian dualism in favor of a broad materialist account of the person. 

He accepted that it is correct to talk of a mind or soul, but argued that it is the body rather than the mind which perceives and feels. 

He later went to the University of Halle as a lecturer in philosophy under his preferred name of Antonius Guilelmus Amo Afer. In 1736 he was made a professor. He produced his second major work in 1738, Treatise on the Art of Philosophising Soberly and Accurately where in it he examined and criticized faults such as intellectual dishonesty, dogmatism, and prejudice.

He moved back to Ghana in 1747 when his protector and long-standing patron Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel died. The rising social changes in Germany at the time which was becoming more intellectually and morally narrower and less liberal was some of the reasons that prompted him to move back to the land of his birth. Amo was even subjected to an unpleasant campaign by some of his enemies, including a public lampoon staged at a theatre in Halle. 

He was sent to a Dutch fortress in the country; Fort San Sebastian in Shama in the 1750s. 

In August 2020, in the context of the ‘decolonization’ of place names following the death of George Floyd, the German capital Berlin decided to rename its Mohrenstraße to “Anton-Wilhelm-Amo-Straße” in his honor. On 10 October 2020, Google celebrated him with a Google Doodle. 

Such a great man of the land. I hope this article has enlightened you on some aspects of your life. We need to hail the name of this man and let generations come to know his efforts in philosophy.

Source: Sam

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