Anton Wilhelm Amo or Anthony William Amo (1703 – ca. 1759) was an African from what is now Ghana, who became a respected philosopher and teacher at the universities of Halle and Jena in Germany after studying there. Brought to Germany as a child, where he was treated as a member of the family of Anthony Ulrich, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, he was the first African known to have attended a European university.
Amo was a Nzema (an Akan people). He was born in Awukena in the Axim region of Ghana, but at the age of about four he was taken to Amsterdam by the Dutch West India Company. Some accounts say that he was taken as a slave, others that he was sent to Amsterdam by a preacher working in Ghana. Whatever the truth of the matter, he was given as a “present” to Anthony Ulrich, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, to whose palace in Wolfenbüttel he was taken.
Amo was baptised (and later confirmed) in the palace’s chapel. He was treated as a member of the Duke’s family, and was educated at the Wolfenbüttel Ritter-Akademie (1717–1721) and at the University of Helmstedt (1721–1727). It is believed that he would have met Gottfried Leibniz, who was a frequent visitor to the palace.
He went on to the University of Halle, whose Law School he entered in 1727. He finished his preliminary studies within two years, his dissertation being: “The Rights of Moors in Europe”. For his further studies Amo moved to the University of Wittenberg, studying logic, metaphysics, physiology, astronomy, history, law, theology, politics, and medicine, and mastered six languages (English, French, Dutch, Latin, Greek, and German). His medical education in particular was to play a central role in much of his later philosophical thought.
He gained his doctorate in philosophy at Wittenberg in 1734; his thesis (published as On the Absence of Sensation in the Human Mind and its Presence in our Organic and Living Body) argued against Cartesian dualism in favour of a broadly materialist account of the person. He accepted that it is correct to talk of a mind or soul, but argued that it is the body rather than the mind which perceives and feels. The exact date, place, and manner of his death are unknown, though he probably died in about 1759 at Fort Chama in Ghana.
Later, during the time of German idealism and romanticism, Amo’s philosophical work was ignored by other Jena-based German intellectuals such as Schiller, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Brentano, or the Schlegel brothers.