“This book is a step in my intellectual career”

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The work of Professor Paulin Hountondji entitled ”On “African philosophy”, Critique of ethnophilosophy”, was presented to students at the University of Abomey-Calavi. It was thanks to a ceremony which took place on Wednesday, December 21, 2022 in the Idrissi Déby Itno amphitheater in the presence of the teachers of this university.

The teacher. Paulin Hountondji in the middle of the Vice-Dean and the Head of the Philosophy Department

What to take away from the book : One of the 100 best African books of the 20th century, the work entitled ”On “African philosophy”, Critique of ethnophilosophy”, is a collection of articles, the oldest of which dates back to 1970. This book has remained since its first publication in 1976, at the heart of a lively controversy. The author Paulin Hountondji finds the many works which, following European ethnologists like Father Tempels, attempt to reconstruct a conception of the world specific to Africans in general or to a given African people in particular, unconvincing. A collective vision of the world referring to a mythical past and always identical to itself. Such works are, in his view, a hybrid discipline that he calls ethnophilosophy. On the other hand, he draws attention to the explicit discourse of African philosophers themselves, such as Alexis Kagame, Léopold Sedar Senghor, Kwame Nkrumah, Marcien Towa, Antoine-Guillaume Amo and many others, and to the reality of a African philosophical literature, written and oral, too often overlooked. African philosophy resides in this plural literature, in the unfinished story of an endless discussion between individual thinkers speaking in their own name. The author appeals to the obligation for everyone to think for themselves and with full responsibility. This return to oneself, seems to him a necessary condition to free the theoretical creativity of the peoples of Africa and their full participation in the universal intellectual debate.

What the actors say : In front of a large number of students gathered in the room, the Head of the Department of Philosophy, Dr Akodjètin Euloge Franck, in his words of welcome, thanked the participants for their presence at this activity. He also congratulated Professor Paulin Hountondji, who offers them the opportunity again through this book to enrich their knowledge. The Vice-Dean of the Fashs, Professor Charles Lambert Babadjidé said he was happy to have attended this event. “He is one of the great men we have known in our university, especially for philosophical thought,” he said. For this, he urged students to follow and learn from the presentation of this book so that the analyzes are now thorough. On behalf of the Dean of the Fashs, Professor Monique Ouassa Kouaro, Professor Charles Lambert Babadjidé thanked the author of the book. For his part, Professor Paul Christian Kiti, in his speech, paid a vibrant tribute to Prof. Paulin Hountondji, the author of the book. “The chance I had was to have observed, listened and to have the courage to say loudly what others think low,” said Professor Paulin Hountondji, who invites readers to return the book. in the context of the time to better understand it. This book questions, explains the author, what we usually call African philosophy. And within this framework, he developed a critique of ethnocentrism. “It is a profound critique of intellectual laziness. There are many people who disagree. African philosophy does not exist anywhere. It is a bad interpretation. It could not be a collective thought to which the philosophers of today and yesterday will adhere. It is a thought that comes to us far from our ancestors”, hammered the Professor. According to him, the real question is to know what to do with the intellectual, spiritual and ethical heritage that our ancestors bequeathed to us. “This book is a step in my evolution, my intellectual career,” he added. This book was translated into English in 1983, in London, into Croatian in 1983 and also into German and will soon be translated into Portuguese and Chinese. It must be said that the opportunity was given to the students in order to better enlighten them on the thought of the author.

Who is Paulin Hountondji : A former student of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, agrégé in philosophy, doctor of letters, Paulin Hountondji successively taught at the Faculty of Letters of Besançon, at Lovanium University in Kinshasa, at the National University of Zaire, campus of Lubumbashi, then at the National University of Benin, where he is now Emeritus Professor of Philosophy. The political openness of 1990 gave him the opportunity to hold high political office: Minister of National Education (1990-1991), Minister of Culture and Communication (1991-1993), then project manager for the President of the Republic until his resignation in October 1994 to return to teaching. President of the National Council of Education from 2009 to 2020, he was also, from September 2016 to May 2022, personal representative of the President of Benin to the Permanent Council of La Francophonie.

Alban Tchalla

“This book is a step in my intellectual career”