The Relevance of  Karl Popper's Philosophy in African Renaissance
1.0 Introduction

The African Continent has lagged behind other continents in our planet in terms of the social and political stability and technological take off. The major pertinent issues that keep Africa in the cave of un-development are the uncritical mental attitude (unscientific or pseudo-scientific attitude) that require total revolutionary overhauling. In a similar scenario to the era of the Greek mythologies, superstitions, gods, magic and related attitude, Africa seems to be as of now in that era.  The first step towards its liberation is to acknowledge its current stagnant status of self tutelage and the urgency to shake off the fetters of mythologies, witchcraft, superstitions, gods, magical practices, dictatorship and carve out a new way of enlightenment or renaissance in every aspect of social and technological spheres.

Karl Popper comes in handy especially on the scientific criterion of any theory, claim or belief, that it ought to be testable or falsifiable, thus dismantling any dogmatic attitude and establishing a solid basis of open-mindedness, tolerance, caution and critical attitude. This is a crucial instrument that Karl Popper utilizes for positive development which will focus on specific digressive attitudes of the African person so that he can channel his energies in the relevant darkened spots. It will also be important to eliminate those beliefs, conjectures theories or practices that are repugnant to positive development and to make sure that the best is given a chance to survive and prosper until better alternatives are invented in a dialectical fashion towards the most appropriate instruments of change.

The new partnership for African development (Nepad) is seen as renaissance in context, it is an initiative that focuses on improved economic management, democracy, human rights and good governance that will encourage political stability for Africa and the world towards the enhancement of the quality of global relations.

1.2 The relevance of a critical attitude to development and Renaissance.

A  lack of a critical mental attitude is seen in those who take things for granted, as they are and possibly will be. Nature provides a deceptive regularity and hence enslaves the mind of a more than willing conformist the channel towards conservatism and dogmatism that hinders enlightenment and  a dialectical intellectual progress. The mind is averse to criticism and reserves the right to maintain the status quo. Regularity is taken as the basis of the assertion of the being of man and animals as Popper asserts;

   which makes them sometimes experience regularities even where there are none; which makes them cling to their expectations dogmatically; and which makes them unhappy and may drive them to despair and to the verge of madness if certain assumed regularities break down.[1]

Popper agrees with Hume by pointing out that induction cannot be logically justified by pointing out that an attempt to justify the practice of induction by an appeal to experience must lead to an infinite regress, hence theories can never be inferred from observation statements, or rationally justified by them. For Popper, Hume's refutations of inductive inference was clear and conclusive, but differed with his psychological explanation of induction in terms of custom and habit.

  Without waiting, passively for repetitions to impress or impose regularities upon us, we actively try to impose regularities upon the world. We try to discover similarities in it, and to interpret it in terms of laws invented by us. Without waiting for premises we jump to conclusions. This was a theory of trial and error-of conjectures and refutations. It made it possible to understand why our attempts to force interpretations upon the world were logically prior to the observation of similarities.[2]

Our insistence on regularities and to impose such theories on reality is an innate attitude; hence there is the general need for a world that conforms to our expectations. Unfortunately, there is no need why the real world should be such a world. This is what we learn from Hume's attack on the principle of induction. Thus our expectations can fail us; it is irrational to rely on them. Popper advocates an attempt to construct a rational system which does without irrational beliefs in regularities.[3] Unlike irrational creatures, we can correct and criticize our theories, we do not need to die just because our expectations were not met.

We yearn to look out for regularities in life and nature and hence to impose laws upon nature leading to a dogmatic mental outlook. This dogmatic attitude that makes us insist on our first impressions is indicative of a strong belief, while a critical attitude which is ready to modify its tenets, which admits  doubt and demands tests, is indicative of a weaker belief. Dogmatic thinking, uncontrolled wish to impose regularities, a manifest pleasure in rites and in repetition as such, are characteristics of primitives and increasing experience and maturity sometimes create an attitude of caution and criticism rather than of dogmatism. As Popper says;

...the dogmatic attitude is clearly related to the tendency to verify our laws by seeking to apply them and to confirm them, even to the point of neglecting refutations, whereas the critical attitude is one of readiness to change them-to test them; to refute them; to falsify them if possible.[4]

We may identify the critical attitude with the scientific attitude, and the dogmatic attitude with pseudo-scientific which is also more primitive and prior to the scientific attitude. Criticism must be exercised against existing and influential dogmatic  beliefs in need of critical revision. The raw material for a critical attitude hence are theories, beliefs and  practices that are held dogmatically over a long time.

It follows necessarily that, science must begin with discussion of  myths and magical techniques as raw materials for its development. The scientific tradition passes on its theories accompanied with its critical attitude towards them, they are passed on not as dogmas, but rather with the challenge to discuss them and improve upon them; this attitude is rational and reasonable. This tradition is Hellenistic and may be traced back to Thales. The Greeks discovery of the critical method gave rise to the mistaken notion that it would lead to the solution of all the great old problems; that it would establish certainty; prove our theories, justify them. This hope however was a residue of the dogmatic way of thinking, nothing can be justified or proved outside of mathematics and logic, thus the demand for rational proofs in science indicates a failure to keep distinct the broad realm of rationality and the narrow realm of rational certainty: it is untenable, an unreasonable demand.[5]

We can say with Popper confidently that;

...the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.[6]

Popper mentions some theories that do not pass the test as above stipulated, among them are the Pseudo-science of Astrology and Marxist theory of History. The proponents of these theories make the claims and interpretations of their theories so vague as to be able to escape any possible refutations of their theories or prophecies. They may fall into the category of myths, or uncritical attitude that is deceptive to the mind.

...theories describe some facts, but in the manner of myths such myths may be developed, and become testable nearly all-scientific theories originate from myths, and that a myth may contain important anticipations of scientific theories[7].

This means that, statements or systems of statements, in order to be ranked as scientific, must be capable of conflicting with possible, or conceivable observations, otherwise they loose their credibility on the scientific level. There is no culture without myths, myths (comparable to 'science' fiction) could be the very foundation of infinite possibilities.

The metaphysical basis of dogmatism is the claim to know the truth of whatever nature. The one who is convinced that he knows will jealously and religiously gourd his claim  whatever it takes. Such a person will not accept any criticism of his presupposed truth and will remain adamant and arrogant. Popper is clearly against the theory that, truth is manifest and calls it naïve and mistaken view that became the inspiration for the advancement of learning in modern times.[8] Popper supports the view that, truth is not manifest and that it is very difficult to come by

...we slowly begun to differentiate between sincerity and dogmatic stubbornness or laziness, and to recognize the great truth that truth is not manifest, not plainly visible to all who ardently want to see it, but hard to come by we must not draw authoritarian conclusions from this great truth, but on the contrary, suspect all those who claim that they are authorized to teach the truth.[9]

This truth ought to be a guiding light in African renaissance especially among all the protagonists that claim the truth; rather humility, caution tolerance is to be encouraged in solving Africa's many maladies that are the cause of underdevelopment. Thus dogmatism which is a recipe for social disasters can be eliminated through the acceptance of the truth of the fact that, man is limited and he simply does not know.

The African renaissance will certainly get a boost if the African person is not a captive of his own mythical and superstitious past, that he does not claim to know and admits of his limitations, ready to listen and to learn from his mistakes. That way, he will make head way in launching his enlightenment.

1.3 From Myths to  the dawn of Reality: Enlightenment

The finite human intellect yearns to know, yet what there is to know is infinite. That which is yet unknown falls into the category of myth. Thus, myth may be described as a mental attempt to describe in its own terms  the phenomenon that is yet incomprehensible to the human intellect.

  In the earlier cosmologies of the Greek physicists the mythical and the rational elements interpenetrate in an yet undivided unitythe myths of the poets were succeeded by the half-scientific, half philosophic reflections[10]

It may be contented that myth, like symbol, is born out of the human confrontation with reality and that it expresses both a quest for and a transmission of meaning as a response to this confrontation. A symbol or myth may function, as a channel of meaning for people in the particular cultural and religious tradition to which it belongs. Symbolism and the processor of symbolization and myth making are an attempt to integrate symbols and myths into larger wholes and open the possibility of arriving at a reasoned knowledge with regard to reality.[11]

Within the Greek culture, Homer may be regarded as a forerunner of the   demythologization process;

...modern writers have come to the conclusion that, Homer, so far from being primitive, was an expurgator, a kind of eighteenth-century rationalizer of ancient myths, holding up an upper-class ideal of urbane enlightenment.[12]

The civilized man is distinguished from the savage mainly by prudence, or, to use a slightly wider term, forethought.[13] Civilization checks impulse not only through forethought, which is a self-administered check, but also through law, custom, and religion. Prudence versus passion is a conflict that runs through history. In the sphere of thought, sober civilization is roughly synonymous with science. Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination. Among Greek philosophers, there were those who were primarily scientific (Democritus) and those that were primarily religious for instance Plato who spurred later developments in Christian thought.[14]

With the advent of science and laws of motion established, the myths and the notion of  gods was demolished.[15] There was no need to see gods where there are non or to attribute to gods our missing link (darkness) or our lack of understanding having reached the current limits of our imagination.

Man's place in the universe was shaken. In the Medieval world, the earth was the center of the universe, but all this had changed with the dawn of light focused in the cave of self tutilage by Isaac Newton, thus the world was now a minor planet of a star that is minor and that astronomical distances were so vast that the earth in comparison, was a mere pin point in the cosmic vastness. Who is and what is man in the dot of the cosmic vastness!?

The victory of science (light) revived human pride. The potentialities in the search of the unknown were open and infinite.

Within the African context, superstitions and magical practices in view of the associations of the unknown phenomenon with gods, spirits and fate must in like manner after the Greek mode be demolished in order to usher in scientific culture a condition without which development cannot be effected. Thus a scientific culture ought to be allowed to take root within the darkened spots in African culture for the African renaissance to take off. No one is to make wild claims without concrete substantiation. This has been a gray area where fear and intimidation has been used as a weapon to suppress free expression whereby the unknown mythical  spirits have been used as tools of subjugation against others.

Magic and witchcraft is not to be seen as a typically African phenomenon, but rather a world-wide developmental phase towards intellectual maturity in comprehending nature and environment (mastery of nature); this was the situation in the pre-renaissance Europe and so seems to be the case in the pre-renaissance African situation.[16]

  Magic and witchcraft might be wicked, but were not thought impossible. Innocent VIII, in 1484, issued a bull against witchcraft, which led to an appalling persecution of witches in Germany and elsewhere.[17]              

In all history, nothing is so surprising or so difficult to account for as the sudden rise of civilization in Greece. Much of what makes civilization had already existed in Egypt and in Mesopotamia but certain elements had been lacking until the Greeks supplied them. What they did in intellectual realm thus in literature, mathematics, science and philosophy whereby they speculated freely about the nature of the world, the ends of life, without being bound in the fetters of any inherited orthodoxy stand as evidence of the reasons behind such a burst in development. Thus it is possible to understand the development of Greece in scientific terms because, philosophy and science (which used deductive and inductive approaches) which were originally not separate, begun in Greece in the person of Thales who predicted an eclipse that occurred in 586 B.C.[18]

Thus the mythical beliefs in gods and fixated orthodoxy is a guarantee of the death of a free intellectual spirit already made a prisoner by the gods who take over the direction of human faculties to no where thus establishing an authoritarian arrogant and dogmatic approach to things that need not develop any further since the gods are authoritative.

The many taboos in the African context, breed fear of retribution from the spirits and the ancestors and cannot act as a good catalyst for dynamism and robust expression without fear or favor, which is a condition necessary for enlightenment and hence for development.

African governments need to develop and encourage a culture of free expression to the full in order to get rid of arrogant dogmatism[19] of whatever nature in any sphere and thereby encourage integral development, a spirit of tolerance and understanding among people of diverse culture, faiths and backgroundscont..

Father Joseph Kahiga
the Rathouse