Ethiopian Discourse

Teodros Kiros is a public philosopher, demonstrated by his commitment to making philosophy accessible and bringing philosophy into the public spaces. Ethiopian Discourse (2011) is a kind of companion book to Teodros Kiros' Philosophical Essays (2011). Both are published by Red Sea and both are collections of articles written in the Ethiopian Reporter newspaper, amongst other platforms (some of which no longer active, which makes this collection a unique repository of writing). The articles were penned during the 2000s. While Philosophical Essays was about broader (more eurocentric) political philosophy, this collection focuses on African philosophy and Ethiopian affairs (interestingly, with a thread of ancient Egyptian morality waved throughout).

The book contains 81 short entries. Like the other book, many essays focus on political philosophy, albeit with an orientation to Ethiopia. I found the articles on African novels and Ethiopian philosophers the most interesting (the author also wrote a book on Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacob), of which there are multiple contributions. These also better stand the test of time, compared to the more situated-in-time pieces. We are indebted to Kiros for bringing forth the work of Zera Yacob (along with Claude Sumner), particularly Kiros in the public realm (as Sumner's works remain difficult to find, and in long philosophical books).

For those interested, Kiros has a 2021 book with Cornel West, which they discuss in this online event. 

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Democracy Project

Starting in 2001 Teodros Kiros began writing articles in Ethiopian newspapers, as a way to engage with the public about democracy and democratization. The articles continued until 2004, and are gathered in his book "Philosophical Essays" (2011). The series of articles are short interventions, and are largely an introduction to Euro-Western thinkers, or a sort of Euro-Western political science 101 (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Madison, Kant, Hagel, Marx, de Tocqueville, Rawls). Given that this is the same author who brought to life Zara Yacob for a broader audience, it is surprising that little to no engagement with Ethiopian ideas takes place, nor strands of thought beyond the Euro-Western canon. However, that seems to be a purposeful selection for this book, as the author has another book, Ethiopian Discourse, also published in 2011, that collects writing explicitly engaging with Ethiopian thought and experience (to be reviewed in a future post). This is an interesting collection of writing during a particular moment in Ethiopian political history - however, other than a reference for historians interested in the early 2000s (or a general primer on Euro-Western political philosophy), it is unclear who the intended audience is. 

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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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