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Introduction The year 1996 was the fourth centennial of the birth of René Descartes, considered, as we all know, the father of modern philosophy. Quite naturally, the Association des Sociétés de Philosophie de Langue Française (Association of French-Language Philosophy Societies or ASPLF), decided to mark this anniversary by making the 26th International Conference of Philosophy an important colloquium on the topic of ‘the Cartesian Spirit’.1 Also quite naturally, the prestigious Sorbonne provided the event with the use of rooms and amphitheatres. I was accorded the honour of giving a plenary address in one of these amphitheatres. I presented a reflection that was titled ‘Cartesian spirit and mathematics of the spirit’, concerned on the one hand with Cartesian algebra, and on the other with algebra of logic , in its Leibnizian and then Boolean forms.2 The questions and commentaries that followed were what would be expected, given the subject, until someone – an African – spoke from the balcony: ‘Bachir’, he asked me, ‘in your university, in Dakar, or anywhere else in Africa, would you have treated this same conference topic in the same way?’ The question elicited several disapproving reactions, as the audience understood it as an accusation: I had ‘forgotten’ to speak of Descartes, the respondent seemed to say, from my position as an African philosopher, from my difference, and on the contrary had installed myself comfortably among Descartes, Leibniz and Boole, at the heart of a history of philosophy and mathematics tacitly agreed upon as ours, all of us, since those in the amphitheatre shared the THE INK OF THE SCHOLARS 2 same identity as these philosophers. Although they may have believed thatinshowingwhattheythoughtofthequestiontheyweredefending me from an inappropriate accusation, those who made murmurs of disapproval were committing a perhaps inevitable misinterpretation of the question’s intent. What was the respondent really asking? KnowingthatthespeakerwasnoneotherthantheBeninesephilosopher Paulin Hountondji already indicates that he was not proposing some kind of duty to speak on a subject with a title along the lines of ‘DescartesfromanAfricanperspective’or‘CartesianspiritandAfrican thought’. Among Paulin Hountondji’s central theses, as we know, an important place is given to the assertion that African philosophy, in the final analysis, is simply the totality of philosophical texts written by philosophers who happen to be Africans. My own understanding was that Paulin Hountondji wanted both my presentation to be as it wasand the discussion that followed it to be an opportunity to address the fact that a discussion of ‘the Cartesian spirit’ (which is often considered to be the spirit of European modernity itself) can also provide an opportunity to evoke traditions of thought from elsewhere. I recall that my response to Hountondji’s friendly and provocative interpellation followed these lines.3 What his question really meant to say was several things. The first is something the philosopher Catherine Malabou expressed when responding to the question of whether she could simply ignore her situation as a woman while writing philosophy. ‘How can one’, she asked in response to this question, ‘appropriate, just like that, the protocols, techniques and symbols of a discourse and of a culture for which one has been, for centuries, the zero point?’4 What Catherine Malabou says here about being a woman philosopher is also what Hountondji’s interpellation, addressed to an African philosopher, says. Yes, there should be Africans present in discussing all the important questions, those of the history of philosophy among others, but this does not mean that it is simple for them to place themselves inside the same, in the sense of identical, common history, ‘just like that’. Then there is also the awareness that the ‘discourse’ and ‘culture’ of which Catherine Malabou speaks have, for centuries, often represented its ‘zero point’ with the features of the African. INTRODUCTION 3 Generally speaking, philosophers, who, as Roger-Pol Droit has most aptly put it, ‘are tasked, in Western culture, with guarding the great divisions (between true and false, being and nothingness, just and unjust, same and other)’, are those who have carried out an initial great ‘division between “the self” and “the rest”’, between a humanity of the logos and the barbarians.5 Outside of this humanity to whom the logos has been confided there is then nothing but the ‘zero points’ of a philosophy which, if it is to remain itself, must always keep them out of the realm of thought, like Descartes who closed the door of his heated room on the disparate, variegated world, lacking foundation in reason, so as to...


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