The Struggle for Meaning: Reflections on Philosophy, Culture, and Democracy in Africa

By Olumwullah, Osaak A. | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Struggle for Meaning: Reflections on Philosophy, Culture, and Democracy in Africa


Olumwullah, Osaak A., The International Journal of African Historical Studies


The Struggle for Meaning: Reflections on Philosophy, Culture, and Democracy in Africa. By Paulin J. Hountondji. Translated by John Conteh-Morgan, with a foreword by K. Anthony Appiah. Center for International Studies at Ohio University Research in International Studies, Africa Series, No. 78. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002. Pp. xxiv, 308. $28.00 paper.

How do we, at the level of ideas and their production, begin to understand, let alone explain, the transformations that took place in Africa in the twentieth century? What were the dynamics of these transformations? Do African traditional belief systems have a place in the explanation of these transformations? These are some of the questions that informed what one African philosopher recently defined as the problematics of universalism and particularism in African cultures, for the best part of the second half of the twentieth century.1 The questions are, in a word, about African philosophy and the search for its own identity.2 But what is identity all about if not the struggle for meaning, the subject matter of Paulin Hountondji's latest work?

Hountondji is both a constant presence and one of the most important figures in both the history and definition of African philosophy; indeed, his oeuvre is inseparable from the argument that African philosophy properly defined is no different from what the discipline is in other parts of the world: It is in Africa as elsewhere the product of individual intellectual labors rather than of a hypothetical worldview of collective wisdom derived from the interpretation of cultural data with little regard to history and change. First articulated in a series of essays in the late 1960s through the early 1970s as a critique of ethnophilosophy, this argument has come to provide the kind of framework philosophers needed to "search for truth in general" without the "geographical confinement" that had hitherto dictated that "only African values, African conceptions of ethics, politics, and aesthetics, the African theory of knowledge ... be studied" (p. xvii). This was nothing short of an "intellectual liberation" that drew the philosopher's attention to the fact that it was possible to "assert a claim for universality that is the foundation of his discipline, by refusing to yield to the temptation of cultural relativism ... and by clearly acknowledging his vocation to enunciate propositions that are valid across frontiers, that are true to all, at all times and in all places" (pp. xvii-xviii).

Though this critique had "a paralyzing effect" in that it prevented some philosophers from "exercising on African culture and experience their talents as analysts and philosophers," it had an enduring "liberating effect" that calls for an assessment of its impact on "intellectual productivity" in general, and on the "history of African philosophical research, and in the broader field of Africanist research" (p. xviii).

Though, in setting out to deal with these issues, Hountondji started off during his student days with research on Husserl's idea of "philosophy as a strict science" (p. 30), and though his lifelong engagement with ethnophilosophy "in a sense reflects this idea," he with time moved from Husserl's shadow, and thus from classical epistemology, to the exploration of two things. The move away from Husserl, especially the latter's presupposition that a new science of logic would eventuate itself into a "theory of theories," thus limiting "the surprises of history, the uncontrollable plurality of future theories, and the unpredictable development of knowledge" (p. 71), first moved Hountondji toward a quest for "the scientific and technological relations of production on a world scale, as well as the outline of a sociology of science in the countries of the periphery" (p. xix). Thus, though his critique of ethnophilosophy draws from the long study of Husserl and, indeed, of "the entire tradition of Western philosophy" (p. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Struggle for Meaning: Reflections on Philosophy, Culture, and Democracy in Africa
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.