Anton Wilhelm Amo, born around 1703 in what is now Ghana, was an enslaved person who was gifted to a German prince in 1707. Despite his difficult circumstances, Amo went on to become an accomplished philosopher and academic in Germany.
Amo’s early life is not well-documented, but it is believed that he was taken captive by Dutch traders and sold into slavery. He was eventually gifted to the Duke of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, Anton Ulrich, as a young child. The Duke recognized Amo’s intelligence and potential, and he was raised alongside the Duke’s own children and given an education.
Amo’s intellect continued to shine as he grew older. He enrolled at the University of Halle and entered its Law School in 1727. Within two years, he completed his preliminary studies and wrote his thesis, which was titled “The Rights of Moors in Europe.” This achievement marked a significant milestone in his academic career, as he became the first person of African descent to earn a degree from a European university in 1729.
Amo continued his studies at the University of Wittenberg, where he delved into various fields such as logic, metaphysics, physiology, astronomy, history, law, theology, politics, and medicine. He also honed his linguistic skills and became proficient in six languages, namely English, French, Dutch, Latin, Greek, and German. In 1734, he obtained his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Wittenberg.
After completing his education, Amo worked as a professor of philosophy at the University of Halle and the University of Jena. He taught courses on a range of subjects, including metaphysics and logic. Amo’s work was well-regarded by his peers, and he was seen as a leading thinker in his field.
Despite his accomplishments, Amo faced discrimination and racism throughout his life. He was often treated unfairly in academic circles, and some of his colleagues and students looked down on him simply because of his race. However, Amo persevered and continued to produce groundbreaking work in philosophy.
Amo’s most significant contributions to philosophy was his critique of Descartes’ dualism. Descartes argued that the mind and body were separate entities, but Amo argued that they were inseparable. He believed that the mind and body were interconnected and that the body played a crucial role in shaping the mind.
In 1735, Amo’s life took a drastic turn when he lost his patron and protector, the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. This left him vulnerable to the changing social and political climate in Germany, which was becoming more intellectually and morally narrow and made it challenging for Amo to continue his work. He began feeling increasingly isolated and eventually made the difficult decision to return to Ghana.
In 1747, Amo embarked on a Dutch West India Company ship bound for Ghana via Guinea, where he reunited with his father and sister who still resided there. However, his life became more obscure from then on, with one report indicating that he was taken to Fort San Sebastian in Shama, a Dutch fortress, in the 1750s, possibly to prevent him from instigating unrest among the locals. Although the exact date, location, and circumstances of Amo’s death are unknown, it is believed that he passed away around 1759 at the fort in Shama, Ghana.
Despite Amo’s groundbreaking work in philosophy, his legacy was largely forgotten for centuries after his death. It was not until the 20th century that scholars rediscovered his work and began to recognize his contributions to the field.
Today, Anton Wilhelm Amo is remembered as a pioneering philosopher who overcame enormous obstacles to pursue his passion for learning and knowledge.