Beninese writer and philosopher Paulin Hountondji has passed on at the age of 81. He died on February 2, 2024, two months before his 82nd birthday.
Hountondji’s passing is a great loss to the African philosophy and Francophone literary community. According to the Benin-based newspaper Le Matinal, he was one of the “founding fathers of modern African philosophy”. He was greatly influenced by his mentors Louis Althusser and Jacques Derrida. His philosophical work contends with the state of African philosophy, which has often been regarded by the West as “ethnophilosophy”. He rejected this idea and promoted a synthesis of traditional African thought and rigorous philosophical method.
Born on April 11, 1942 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Paulin Jidenu Hountondji was a Beninese philosopher, politician and academic. He was graduated from the École Normale Supérieure, Paris in 1966, and completed his doctorate in 1970. After two years teaching in Besançon (France), Kinshasa, and Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of the Congo), he taught as Professor of Philosophy at the Université Nationale du Bénin in Cotonou for a long time.
His first book African Philosophy: Myth and Reality was published in 1976. He published his second book The Struggle for Meaning: Reflections on Philosophy, Culture and Democracy in Africa in 2002 where he engages with his doctoral dissertation on German philosopher Edmund Husserl.
However, in the 1990s, Hountondji decided to pay his attention to politics and became quite involved in Benin’s return to democracy in 1992. He served as Minister for National Education in the transitional government from 1990-91 and then as Minister for Culture and Communications in the Government of Benin from 1991-93. However, he resigned in 1994 and returned to the university.
In 1999, Hountondji was honored with a Prince Claus Award, a Netherlands-based prize honoring individuals and organizations reflecting a progressive and contemporary approach to the themes of culture and development. Until his death, Hountondji was the director of the African Centre for Advanced Studies in Porto-Novo, Benin.
We are deeply saddened by the news of Hountondji’s passing. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends, and we celebrate his life as he joins the ancestors.
May his soul rest in peace.