Paulin Hountondji

Professor Emeritus, National Universities of Benin; President of the National Council on Education in Benin


Fall 2009: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow

Constructing the Universal: a trans-cultural Challenge

Project Description

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.

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