Zara Yacob: Rationality of the Human Heart

Zara Yacob was an Ethiopian philosopher, a rationalist thinking who wrote nearly a hundred years before Descartes. Claude Sumner has written extensively about Zara Yacob, devoting a career to Ethiopian philosophy and penning many books. Kiros says "Sumner is right when he contended that Zara Yacob along with Descartes was a founder of modern philosophy" (p. 17). Tedros Kiros explains, elaborates and expands upon the work of Zara Yacob in "Zara Yacob: Rationality of the Human Heart" (2005). For those unfamiliar with Zara Yacob, it is a good starting point. It is not a translation of Zara Yacob, for readers interested in engaging with the original work, Claude Sumner's translations offer more complete renderings. A few notes:

"Zara Yacob's notions of human nature are arrestingly modern. He, like Machiavelli before him, is a shrewd observer of human behavior. He is critical, sufficiently suspicious, and cautiously optimistic. He does not unnecessarily expect much from us humans. Nor does he damn us, like Hobbes before him that we are nasty and brutish. He has a balanced view of our capacities." (p. 26)

"Those who subjected the Jew to the torture chamber, and those who consciously enslaved and colonized others chose to do so. They chose wickedness to enrich themselves. Some will mistakenly think that these were classic cases of ignorance moving people to choose evil. I disagree. I think instead that these are powerful cases that prove Zara Yacob's thesis that choosing wicked things produces wicked human beings with wicked characters that easily lead them to choose wickedness over and over again." (p. 66)

"Throughout the Treatise we hear Zara Yacob bitterly complaining about the Frang as constantly and relentlessly harassing Ethiopian priests to convert to Catholicism, to renounce their primitive ways, to rebaptize by force if necessary. There are shocking statements of rebuke, ridicule, and utter disrespect of Ethiopian customs. The Ethiopian ways of eating, of worship, of seeing, are all indiscriminately condemned." (p. 99)

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