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Rethinking universalism and particularism in African philosophy: towards an eclectic approach.

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The study focuses on the dispute between the universalists and particularists in the characterization of the nature of African philosophy. In African philosophy the debate is formulated as a dichotomy between the universalists and the particularists. At the center of this debate is the notion of ‘universal’ and its relationship to the particular. The universalists argue that the nature of (African) philosophy–its methodology and subject matter–has to be universal and should be the same when applied to Western and African thought systems. In essence, the universalist thesis holds that African philosophy should be critical and not descriptive of African beliefs. Nevertheless, against this universalist thesis, the particularist camp argues that different cultures have different ways of explaining reality. Hence, Africans must have a philosophy different from other philosophies. It is evident from the foregoing that there is an impasse between the universalists and particularists’ conception of the nature of philosophy. The study contends that the solution to the impasse lies on investigating the true nature of ‘universal’ as it is at the center of the debate. The researcher is of the opinion that there is a need to go past the philosophical universalism as it neglects the true nature of universals. Consequently, there is a need for an alternative nature of (African) philosophy hinged on acknowledging that the nature of ‘universal’ is dependent on the ‘particular’ but not independent of its ‘particular’. It is argued that the viable and robust nature of (African) philosophy and what African philosophers should aspire to, is premised on their humanity; being a member of particular group and still be a member of homo sapiens at large.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.