X-Risk, 341–424


6. Physical Salvation: Vocation


Anton-Wilhelm Amo was a member of the Nzema people, born on the Gold Coast of what is now Ghana. Snatched as a toddler by the Dutch West India Company and trafficked to Europe, little Amo was given as a ‘gift’ to a wealthy German named Anthony Ulrich, the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Despite this early injustice, Amo overcame the hurdles facing him and managed to determinedly pursue his desire to study philosophy. He went on to become the first African to attend a European university, where he excelled, producing a dissertation on the rights of Africans in Europe, and later lectured at the universities of Halle and Jena on topics ranging from logic to cryptography.

In 1738, Amo penned a philosophical treatise expounding upon the purpose of human existence, where he wrote that the end of all human learning is ‘on the one hand self-preservation [and] on the other perfection’. This applies ‘collectively and singly’, he emphasised: not just to the individual’s plight, but to that of the entire species. The aim of intelligence, beyond its instrumentality for survival, allowing the ‘mutual preservation of all men’, is also to enable ‘the perfection of man [to] take on all possible increase’.

In the profound words of this Ghanaian philosopher speaking from the opening years of the Enlightenment, there is already a clear distinction being made between our flourishing as a species and mere survival. Survival is sufficient in order to flourish, but flourishing cannot be measured by survival alone, or by an increase in numbers.…