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African philosophy, Francophone

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Z013-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

The imaginative and intellectual writings that have come out of French-speaking Africa have tended to be associated exclusively with the négritude movement and its global postulation of a black racial identity founded upon an original African essence. Beyond its polemical stance with regard to colonialism, the movement generated a theoretical discourse which served both as a means of self-validation for the African in particular and the black race in general. This discourse developed further as the elaboration of a new worldview derived from the African cultural inheritance of a new humanism that lays claim to universal significance.

Despite its prominence in the intellectual history of Francophone Africa and in the black world generally, négritude does not account for the full range of intellectual activity among the French-speaking African intelligentsia. The terms of its formulation have been challenged since its inception, leading to ongoing controversy. This challenge concerns the validity of the concept itself and its functional significance in contemporary African thought and collective life. It has involved a debate regarding the essential nature of the African, as well as the possibility of constructing a rigorous and coherent structure of ideas (with an indisputable philosophical status) derived from the belief systems and normative concepts implicit in the institutions and cultural practices subsisting from Africa’s precolonial past.

The postcolonial situation has enlarged the terms of this debate in French-speaking Africa. It has come to cover a more diverse range of issues touching upon the African experience of modernity. As an extension of the ‘indigenist’ theme which is its point of departure, the cultural and philosophical arguments initiated by the adherents of négritude encompass a critical reappraisal of the Western tradition of philosophy and its historical consequences, as well as a consideration of its transforming potential in the African context. Beyond the essentialism implied by the concept of négritude and related theories of Africanism, the problem at the centre of French-African intellectual preoccupations relates to the modalities of African existence in the modern world.

From this perspective, the movement of ideas of the French-speaking African intelligentsia demonstrates the plurality of African discourse, as shaped by a continuing crisis of African consciousness provoked by the momentous process of transition to modernity. A convergence can be discerned between the themes and styles of philosophical discourse and inquiry in Francophone Africa and some of the significant currents of twentieth-century European philosophy and social thought engaged with the fundamental human issues raised by the impact of modern technological civilization.

Two dominant perspectives frame the evolution of contemporary thought and philosophical discourse in French-speaking Africa: the first is related to the question of identity and involves the reclamation of a cultural and spiritual heritage considered to be imperilled; the second relates to what has been called ‘the dilemma of modernity’ experienced as a problematic dimension of contemporary African life and consciousness.

Citing this article:
Irele, F. Abiola. African philosophy, Francophone, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Z013-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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