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African Philosophy, Second Edition

Myth and Reality

Paulin J. Hountondji. Introduction by Abiola Irele

Publication Year: 1996

"Hountondji... writes not as an 'African' philosopher but as a philosopher on Africa.... Hountondji's deep understanding of any civilization as necessarily pluralistic, and often even self-contradicting as it evolves, is simply magisterial.... This is a precious gem of a book for anyone who wishes to reflect on civilization and culture." -- Choice

In this incisive, original exploration of the nature and future of African philosophy, Paulin J. Hountondji attacks a myth popularized by ethnophilosophers such as Placide Tempels and Alexis Kagame that there is an indigenous, collective African philosophy separate and distinct from the Western philosophical tradition. Hountondji contends that ideological manifestations of this view that stress the uniqueness of the African experience are protonationalist reactions against colonialism conducted, paradoxically, in the terms of colonialist discourse. Hountondji argues that a genuine African philosophy must assimilate and transcend the theoretical heritage of Western philosophy and must reflect a rigorous process of independent scientific inquiry. This edition is updated with a new preface in which Hountondji responds to his critics and clarifies misunderstandings about the book's conceptual framework.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Systems of Thought


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pp. v

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Preface to the second edition

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pp. vii-xxviii

African Philosophy: Myth and Reality originally appeared in French twenty years ago; the earliest essay in the collection-the first chapter of this book-dates from 1969. The intellectual environment has changed greatly in the ensuing years, during which African Philosophy has provoked lively debate. Within the limits of this preface it would be impossible to respond to...

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pp. 7-30

Philosophy can be regarded as the most self-conscious of disciplines. It is the one discipline that involves by its very nature a constant process of reflection upon itself. This process of self reflection, inherent in the nature and practice of philosophy, bears not only upon its purposes, objectives and methods, upon its relation to the world ...

Part One: Arguments

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1 An alienated literature

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pp. 33-46

By 'African philosophy' I mean a set of texts, specifically the set of texts written by Africans and described as philosophical by their authors themselves. ...

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2 History of a myth

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pp. 47-54

African philosophical literature rests, it hardly needs saying, on a confusion: the confusion between the popular (ideological) use and the strict (theoretical) use of the word 'philosophy'. According to the first meaning, philosophy is any kind of wisdom, individual or collective, any set of principles presenting some degree of coherence and intended to govern the daily practice of a man or a people. ...

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3 African philosophy, myth and reality

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pp. 55-70

I must emphasize that my theme is African philosophy, myth and reality, whereas one might have expected the conventional formula, myth or reality? I am not asking whether it exists, whether it is a myth or a reality. I observe that it does exist, by the same right and in the same mode as all the philosophies of the world: in the form of a literature. ...

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4 Philosophy and its revolutions

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pp. 71-108

I should like to demonstrate three things: First, that philosophy is not a system but a history, essentially an open process, a restless,unfinished quest, not closed knowledge; second, that this history does not move forward by continuous evolution but by leaps and bounds, by successive revolutions, and consequently follows not a linear path but ...

Part Two: Analyses

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5 An African philosopher in Germany in the eighteenth century: Anton-Wilhelm Amo

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pp. 111-130

Axim is an old African town situated on the 'Gulf of Guinea', in present-day south-west Ghana, not far from the Ivorian frontier. It was there, in the first years of the eighteenth century, that the black philosopher was born who signed himself in Latin Amo-Guinea-Afer or Amo Guinea-Africanus (Amo the Guinean), as though he was afraid that his long European adventure might make him ...

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6 The end of ‘Nkrumaism’ and the (re)birth of Nkrumah

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pp. 131-140

A year ago, on 27 April 1972, in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, one of the greatest Africans of this century died. I should like to analyse, on the occasion of this anniversary, one of the most neglected aspects of the rich heritage he left us - a heritage whose importance we have hardly begun to appreciate. ...

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7 The idea of philosophy in Nkrumah’s Consciencism

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pp. 141-155

In Chapter 6 I tried to present Nkrumah's literary works as a whole.1 I argued that they should not be read as a closed system but that serious account should be taken of the author's development. I proposed discarding the usual reading, which one might call static or systematic, in favour of what might be called a historical reading. ...

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8 True and false pluralism

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pp. 156-169

'Cultural pluralism' generally means three things: (1) the fact of cultural plurality, understood as the coexistence of cultures belonging, at least in principle, to different geographical areas; (2) the recognition of this fact; (3) the advocacy of this plurality and the will to make use of it in one way or another, either by preserving these cultures from mutual contamination or by organizing a peaceful dialogue among them for their mutual enrichment. ...

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pp. 170-183

At a time when the gap between oppressors and oppressed is widening throughout our continent and political differences are becoming more radical, the ethnophilosopher claims that we have always been, still are and always will be unanimous. On every side we can see terror tightening its stranglehold on us, ...

Notes and references

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pp. 184-218


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pp. 219-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780253113795
E-ISBN-10: 0253113792
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253332295

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 69 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 1996

Edition: Second Edition
Series Title: African Systems of Thought