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Layers of Heinz Kimmerle’s Intercultural Philosophy

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African Philosophy in an Intercultural Perspective

Part of the book series: Reihe Interkulturelle Philosophie ((RIPH))

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Since the early 1990s, academic philosophers have been developing an intercultural approach to philosophy. Among its main proponents was Heinz Kimmerle, who advocated for a non-Eurocentric perspective in philosophy, focusing his research on African philosophies. One of his specific contributions to intercultural philosophy is the integration of African oral traditions into the philosophical canon. In his methodology of intercultural philosophy, he was influenced by Hegel, Gadamer, Heidegger and Derrida. This led to an approach in which dialogue and thinking about differences are central, which raises the question of how Kimmerle applies the idea of difference in intercultural philosophy. This article highlights main layers of his Intercultural Philosophy and surfaces submerged influences. To do so, I analyse his publications and the passages of text which he marked in books from his personal library. Furthermore, I refer to people who influenced his thinking who may not be recognized in current academic discourse, including female African philosophers and artists. I argue that Kimmerle contributed immensely to the intercultural dimension of philosophy and that his work is useful for a better understanding of difference and identity in a global world. Moving between the layers of his intercultural philosophy can help us to understand his specific approach.

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  1. 1.

    The first book in this series was I, We and Body. Amsterdam: Gruner 1990. Currently, the series is published with Brill/Rodopi, since 2007 edited by Henk Oosterling and Hermann-Josef Scheidgen.

  2. 2.

    ‘Der philosophische Beitrag zur Neubestimmung des Verhältnisses der Kulturen zueinander entscheidet über den Status der heutigen Philosophie. Denn er betrifft eines der Kernprobleme unserer Zeit, von dessen Lösung die Ermöglichung menschlichen und menschenwürdigen Lebens wesentlich mit abhängt’.

  3. 3.

    I deliberately chose to use the metaphor of layers instead of ‘ways’, thinking of ocean layers and their fluid character, albeit Oosterling and De Schipper refer to ‘ways’. Henk Oosterling characterises Heinz Kimmerle as a philosopher on his way and maps four trajectories: 1) from theological to general hermeneutics of Gadamer, 2) from hermeneutics to dialectics with a focus on Hegel, Marx and Bloch, 3) from dialectics to philosophy of difference influenced by Derrida and Irigaray, 4) from philosophy of difference to intercultural philosophy with focus on African philosophy. (See Oosterling and de Jong 1990; Oosterling 2005; Oosterling and Schepen 2016b; Schipper 2013).

  4. 4.

    The selection is based on an analysis of 340 titles and subtitles of the works between 1957 and 2010 including book reviews, translations and publications from the bibliography by Ina Braun (2008).

  5. 5.

    This is what Fanon addresses in Black Skin, White Masks, ‘Ontology–once it is finally admitted as leaving existence by the wayside–does not permit us to understand the being of the black man. For not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man.’ (Fanon 1952, p. 110). I refer to this violence committed by imposing one’s own ontology to others as ontological injustice.

  6. 6.

    ‘Das Schwierige liegt in der Sprache. Unsere abendländischen Sprachen sind in je verschiedener Weise Sprachen des metaphysischen Denkens. Ob das Wesen der abendländischen Sprachen in sich nur metaphysisch und darum endgültig durch die Onto-Theo-Logik geprägt ist, oder ob diese Sprachen andere Möglichkeiten des Sagens und d.h. zugleich des sagenden Nichtsagens gewahren, muss offen bleiben.’

  7. 7.

    This was translated into German by Kimmerle in 1986 as ‘Verschiedenheit und Gegensatz. Über das Verhältnis von Dialektik und Denken der Differenz’. (See Kimmerle 1986).

  8. 8.

    Timothy Morton followed Heidegger and Derrida with regard to nature in Being Ecological (2018).

  9. 9.

    De Schipper is critical of this analogy between what has been forgotten or repressed in Western European history and what has been repressed in African histories. According to her reading of Kimmerle, in re-activating these hidden forces, he sees the task of intercultural philosophy. However, De Schipper points out that there is no science of what has been ‘forgotten or repressed’, and therefore the analogy cannot be proven. Furthermore, according to her reading of Derrida, what has been repressed or forgotten should remain so. To her, this is a possible explanation of why Derrida did not practise intercultural philosophy. She argues that intercultural philosophy cannot withstand the pitfalls of Derrida’s aporetic labyrinth because it does not offer a way out of nihilism, but a thinking through of this concept. However, there is no need for despair, because if the impossibility to fully understand the other is accepted, there is no longer a need to conquer nihilism (De Schipper 1996, pp. 228–231).

  10. 10.

    He often referred to Hegel, who considered Africa the ‘dark continent’ (Kimmerle 2006b).

  11. 11.

    The archive moved to Bochum in 1969.

  12. 12.

    ‘–- die Lehre und das Werken Jesu sowie das Entstehen und die Geschichte des Christentums im Kontext der europäisch-abendländischen Geistesgeschichte sehen und verstehen musste.‘.

  13. 13.

    ‘…dass der Glaube, jedenfalls in meinem Leben, ebenso zum Menschsein gehört wie die Vernunft.’.

  14. 14.

    Mogobe Ramose cited by Ceton, in Filosofie Magazine 9 (2002, pp. 36–39).

  15. 15.

    Ram Adhar Mall has an Indian background which greatly influences his work in intercultural philosophy.

  16. 16.

    Heinz Kimmerle lists the following initiators of intercultural philosophy in Europe: in the Netherlands: Henk Oosterling, Douwe Tiemersma, Wim van Binsbergen, Lolle Nauta, Pieter Boele van Hensbroek, and Sander Griffioen; in Belgium: Ulrich Libbrecht (comparative philosophy); in Austria: Franz Wimmer, Christian Neugebauer, Herta Nagl Docekal, Anke Graneß, and Georg Stenger; in Germany: Ram Adhar Mall, Bernard Waldenfels, Dieter Senghaas, Gregor Paul, Claudia Bickmann, Raul Fornet-Betancourt, and Hamid Reza Yousefi. (Heinz Kimmerle and Renate Schepen 2014, pp. 31–32 and p. 47).

  17. 17.

    ‘Reflactions’ was coined by Henk Oosterling, referring in a Derridean way to the combination of reflection and action.

  18. 18.

    Aucan is the language of the Marrons in Eastern Suriname.

  19. 19.

    In 2013 Antoni Folkers and Heinz Kimmerle published a book together: Heer Bommel in Afrika: religie en geloof in Marten Toonders universum en in het Afrikaans animisme.

  20. 20.

    The book was published in a series edited and prefaced by Heinz Kimmerle: Schriften zur Philosophie der Differenz (Kente 1996, pp. 137–162).

  21. 21.

    This relation is further explored in: Schepen, R. & Graness, A.: Heinz Kimmerle’s intercultural philosophy and the quest for epistemic justice. The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa 15(1), a554.


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Schepen, R. (2022). Layers of Heinz Kimmerle’s Intercultural Philosophy. In: Graneß, A., Etieyibo, E., Gmainer-Pranzl, F. (eds) African Philosophy in an Intercultural Perspective. Reihe Interkulturelle Philosophie. J.B. Metzler, Stuttgart.

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