Professor Emeritus, National Universities of Benin; President of the National Council on Education in Benin
A citizen of Benin, Paulin J. HOUNTONDJI was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. He is Professor of philosophy at the University of Abomey-Calavi, Cotonou, one of the two national universities of the country and Director of the African Center for Advanced Studies in Porto-Novo (Benin).Publications include: African Philosophy, Myth and Reality, 2nd edition, Indiana University Press, 1997; transl. Henri Evans with the collab. of Jonathan Rée, Introduction by Abiola Irele; Endigenous Knowledge: Research Trails (ed.), Dakar, Codesria 1997; transl. Ayi Kwei Armah; The Struggle for Meaning: Reflections on Philosophy, Culture and Democracy in Africa, Ohio University Press, 2002; transl. John Conteh-Morgan; La rationalité, une ou plurielle? (ed.), Dakar, Codesria, 2007; L’ancien et le nouveau: la production du savoir dans l’Afrique d’aujourd’hui, Porto-Novo : Centre africain des hautes études, 2009, and other books and articles mainly in French. Paulin J. HOUNTONDJI took part in the National Conference of February 1990 in Benin and was Minister of Education, then Minister for Culture and Communication from 1990 to 1993. Vice-President of the Iternational Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies (CIPSH) from 1998 to 2002, he was also from 2002 to 2005 Vice-President of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), and is currently member of the Steering Committee of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies. He was appointed end March 2009 as President of the National Council for Education in Benin.
Constructing the Universal: a trans-cultural Challenge
The critique of ethnophilosophy, as developed in Africa since the early seventies including in my own work, implies a critique of relativism and a strong universalist position. The purpose of this research is to show that the demand for universality is not peculiar to Western civilization as has too often been contended by a number of scholars up till now. Instead it can be found in all cultures around the world including Africa. Protest against or skepticism towards traditional norms is not necessarily due to Western influence, it is not just a historical accident that affects African societies from without. Forces of change are inside. Change has been occurring from within long before the encounter with the West, though it is not always easy to identify at a given point of time these forces of change. However my special interest is not in change as a whole: economic, social and political change for instance. My special interest is in cultural change, and more specifically, change at the level of ideas and norms. My hypothesis is that first, such a change (let us call it temporarily: ideological change) can only be an endogenous process even if it happens incidentally to be accelerated or slowed down or affected in some other ways by intercultural and inter-civilizational encounters; and second, such change is always directed toward a teleological end which is the construction of the Universal.
Fall 2009: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow