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Karl Popper's philosophy and the possibility of an African approach to science

Okpanachi, Anthony Idoko


Anthony Idoko Okpanachi



This thesis makes the philosophical case for an engaged and active African perspective in science studies. The African dimension has been largely absent in an actively increasing research area of science and society, an applied area where philosophy and other disciplinary interests intersect. To be able to do this demands the need to revisit what constitutes an African intellectual tradition. Indeed, a core aspect of the African identity whose epistemic worth and relevance have been denigrated, ignored and dismissed on the basis of ideal standards of reason and rationality set up by the privileging of Western intellectual tradition as typified by modern Western science. Efforts and interventions to advance science development in the African context (Nigeria) have not been successful as a result of the contextual inattention that characterises the approach prevalent today—one based on a justificationist epistemology and methodology. Therefore, I argue that a non-justificationist conceptualisation of reason and rationality—seen as being open to criticism and which takes seriously the results of critical exchanges as advanced in Karl Popper—is more appropriate to the science situation in Nigeria. This exploration helps not only to vitiate cultural tensions but also able to create a new basis for interaction between African and Western knowledge traditions.

Of particular interest in Popper’s philosophy—but too often ignored in the literature—is the strong connection between his epistemology of science and his political thought. In pointing out key epistemic principles that flow from Popper’s epistemology to his politics, I aim to provide a more robust account of the problem of science advancement in Africa than other approaches. These may be characterized as ‘colonialist’, seeing the answer as lying in the imposition of Western science and its values, and ‘traditionalist’, that resist this by championing indigenous knowledge and value systems. Positioning my account between these alternatives, Popper’s philosophy is deployed as a framework within which a dialogue between two seemingly incompatible cultures becomes possible. Popper’s emphasis on epistemic virtues of openness and humility, underlined by fallibilism and critical rationalism, allows the development of a new model of rationality that is neither absolute nor relative but pluralistic. Thus, although the primary focus is the development of an African science culture, the thesis demands a reappraisal by Western science of its own dispositions and outlook.

This Popperian way of reconceptualising rationality and accompanying epistemic attitudes makes decoupling the entrenched entanglement embodied by prevailing popular models of science less problematic and so makes way for a new approach to science in an African context, where ownership and responsibility can be initiated on a dialogical basis. Such a model does not exclude, devalue, denigrate, oppress, or disrespect. In this way, the global image of science can be recalibrated in a manner that is characteristically ecumenical, authentically pluriversal, truly open, and genuinely decolonised, with each knowledge tradition better disposed to offer its modest contributions to the common pot of science, as all of humanity strives to sort the challenges of development world over.


Okpanachi, A. I. (2018). Karl Popper's philosophy and the possibility of an African approach to science. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 13, 2019
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Philosophy
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Philosophy, The University of Hull
Award Date Apr 1, 2018


Thesis (2.4 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2018 Okpanachi, Anthony Idoko. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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