Anton Wilhelm Amo was the first African philosopher active in Europe in the modern period (there were plenty in antiquity, but this was before 'Africa' and 'Europe' meant what they do today). He was a member of the Nzema people, born in 1703, and kidnapped into slavery around 1706. He came into the service of Herzog Anton Ulrich of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel shortly thereafter as a Kammermohr, a 'chamber Moor'.
His trajectory seems very similar to that of Abram Petrovich Gannibal, who was taken from Africa (long thought to be Ethiopian, more recent evidence traces him to Cameroon), sold at a slave market in Constantinople to Peter the Great, educated and raised as the Tsar's own son, eventually to pursue a distinguished career in engineering, military science, and diplomacy (he was also Aleksandr Pushkin's great-grandfather, and the subject of the author's unfinished novel, Peter the Great's Moor, of which I've translated an excerpt here).
Gannibal is quite a bit better known than Amo, though his distinctions as a general and as an engineer are rather less interesting to me, anyway, than Amo's career as a philosopher. I don't know all that much about the role of the Kammermohr in the Enlightenment, but one certainly gets the whiff of a perhaps well-intentioned paternalism, if not a more straightforward racism, in the project of taking non-Europeans and 'training them up' in European manners (and sometimes sciences and letters too). The virulent racist Voltaire, for example, was not prevented by his racism from searching for l'étoile noire des Lumières (he thought he had found it in Gannibal). But this doesn't negate the fact that in some cases the result of these experiments was the cultivation of interesting people who accomplished interesting things.
Amo is fascinating to me for a lot of reasons, and right now I am resisting the temptation to run the idea of writing a biography of him past my editors. He is of particular interest to me as a philosopher though, because he was working in Halle in the decades immediately following the death of Leibniz (whom he probably met in Wolfenbüttel when he was a small boy and Leibniz was an old man), in a context where Leibnizianism was hotly contested, with the Wolffians speaking in his defense, and Georg Ernst Stahl and his Pietist cohort working against the influence of Leibniz's philosophy. From what little analysis I've been able to find of the philosophical import of Amo's 1734 dissertation, De humanae mentis apatheia, there seems to have been no recognition so far that his central thesis, that the soul is not the locus of sensory experience, could be a parti pris against the Stahlian view that the soul is directly implicated in the workings of the body. I have yet to work through the dissertation in any detail, but I suspect it could be a somewhat shrouded defense of Leibniz (whose name is mentioned only once in passing in the entire work).
The work as a whole is rather dull and scholastic (with a small 's'), the sort of thing Kant had in mind when he spoke of the dogmatic slumbers of German philosophy in the century preceding his own critical turn. But there may be more of interest in Amo's work than others of the same tradition. For example, in a subsection of a lengthy enumeration of varieties of irregular syllogism, Amo mentions a type of argument he calls 'crocodilitis', "a sort of captious questioning," in which "the person who asks intends to demonstrate two contrary propositions by means of fictitious reasons... affirming the one by negation, and denying the other by affirmation."
I haven't been able to find any reference to crocodilitis anywhere else, and I'm inclined to suspect that Amo was inserting a bit of levity into this tedious exercise of taxonomizing syllogisms by playing on perceptions of his own exoticness; coming from a land stereotyped since antiquity by its strange animals (see, e.g., Aristotle's Historia animalium), Amo inserts a joke into his dissertation by naming a type of syllogism after a notoriously dangerous African beast.
The 'captious questioning' deployed in crocodilitis, moreover, is rather sinister; it suggests betrayal and uncertainty about who one's real friends are. No doubt I'm reading too much into it, but until someone can show me another author using the term 'crocodilitis', I'm going to suppose Amo is somehow trying to insert an autobiographical allusion here.
I've translated his account of it here. If anyone knows of an established meaning for this term in the history of logic and rhetoric, I would be very interested to know.
Crocodilitis is not, strictly speaking, a sort of argument, but rather a sort of captious questioning. In this question, the interrogator intends to demonstrate two contrary proporsitions by means of fictitious reasons, yet in anticipation of the response that is to come: he affirms the one by means of negation, and he denies the other by means of affirmation; he does so in alleging, in both cases, premeditated fictitious examples.
Example: Mental Propositions
I. I am not your friend.
II. I am not your enemy
Do you believe I am your friend? If the interlocutor responds in the affirmative, the other thus reacts immediately: Whence do you have this conviction? And he continues: If I were in fact already your friend, I would already have given you, long ago, the favors of friendship, and I would not have burdened you with this question.
If by contrast the interlocutor responds in the negative, the other promptly reacts: Whence do you have the evidence that I am your enemy? If I were already in fact your enemy I would not have asked the question: I would have been intent on harming you without saying a word. You can thus see that I am not your enemy.
Amo returned to Ghana in 1747 after a conservative shift in German politics made his career as a university professor impossible. Having arrived as a slave, and then against all odds managing to thoroughly insert himself into a German form of life, he eventually found himself squeezed out of the place to which he was initially brought by force. It's as if the Germans caught him in a long, drawn-out game of crocodilitis.
Soon I'm going to translate the various bits of front matter in the De humanae mentis, such as the multiple dedicatory letters, that deal with Amo's identity as a 'son of Africa' who has been initiated into European philosophy.