Volume 14, Issue 2, Fall 2000
Gail M. Presbey
On a Mission to Morally Improve One’s Society
Odera Oruka’s African Sages and the Socratic Paradigm
This paper explores Odera Oruka’s sage philosophy project, focusing on his insistence of the parallels between Socrates and the rural Kenyan sages whom he interviewed and who he considered to be orally philosophizing. Sages, he explained are those who possess wisdom, insight, ethical inspiration, and who use their talents for the benefit of the community. Key parallels between the sages and Socrates are: Socrates’ criticisms of conventional morality; his insistence on the moral virtues of practicing temperance; his emphasis on dialogue and his methods of guiding dialogue; and his guiding individuals as well as the community. Socrates says he is called by the god to challenge individual Athenians to become morally better; this descriptor, while fitting some contemporary academic philosophers, accurately reflects the convictions and actions of most African sages. Socrates often depicted his wisdom as listening to a “voice” within him that came beyond himself; similarly, Kenyan sages interviewed attributed their wisdom to God. But both Socrates and the Kenyan sages assess the truth of insights communicated spiritually, and are able to explain the ideas to others using reason.