Rationality and the debates about African philosophy

Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Fordham University


This work is a sustained re-examination of philosophy's conception of "rationality" in general and "philosophic rationality" in particular. The history of Western philosophy is strongly marked by an objectivist conception of reason. Plato, Aristotle and Descartes believed that absolute and eternal Truth is accessible, and through their influence on Hume, Kant and Hegel among others, the history of modern European philosophy became one long quest for absolute certainty, total knowledge and "scientific" philosophy.^ Critical Modernism (Habermas) wants to (re)construct a "chastened" idea of reason, while maintaining that the emancipatory ideals of the Enlightenment can be invigorated by addressing its weaknesses and defending its strengths. The theory of "communicative rationality," which is meant to fulfill this goal, claims to be comprehensive, fallible, criticizable, revisable and yet lays claim to objectivity. In contrast to critical modernism, however, is a Wittgenstein-inspired relativist trend which proposes a "language-game" theory of rationality (Winch). Under this conception, what is "rational" or "irrational" is held to be intersubjectively constituted within irreducible and variable contexts of "languages."^ This work does not take a position for or against objectivism or relativism, Habermas or Winch, but seeks to transcend both oppositions through an indirect critique that puts into question the very framing of the problem. The work establishes not only an alternative conception of rationality but also an idea of philosophical pluralism that allows for a revision of the framing of the question. This is accomplished through entering into the traditions of African philosophy and deriving from them a model of a metaphysical and epistemological framework that grounds itself outside of the objectivism-relativism problematic in its current strictural frame. This model, derived from the Ifa tradition, maintains dialogue with the Western traditions, but (a) exposes the objectivism-relativism debate as falsely framed and (b) provides from its own resources epistemological categories that place the problematic in a fresh context, within a larger, wider, pluralist, rational and philosophic worldview. ^

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Recommended Citation

Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, "Rationality and the debates about African philosophy" (January 1, 1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI9403294.