Globalization, Foundationalism and African Philosophy

Yunuso Kehinde Salami


  1. Introduction
  2. Globalization
  3. Epistemic Foundationalism
  4. Common Grounds between Epistemic Foundationalism and Globalization
  5. Multiculturalism and the Globalised Epistemic Order
  6. Knowledge Production in Africa
  7. Whither African Philosophy in the Foundationalist and Globalised Epistemic Order
  8. References

1. Introduction

The work is interested in establishing a close connection between globalization, which talks of one world already reduced to a village, and epistemic foundationalism, which talks of some privileged beliefs providing a foundation for other less privileged beliefs. It observes that in a globalised epistemic order, some beliefs are considered foundational, privileged, self-justifying and are required to provide justification for other beliefs. Such foundational beliefs are considered global in value. The assumption is that they are privileged to be able to determine and justify what constitutes universal knowledge, value or discourse. Given this and the fact of the multiculturality of the world, the paper will try to find out the possibility of African Philosophy in this global list and foundational setting.

2. Globalization

There have been various attempts by scholars to give different meanings to the concept of globalization. Globalization stresses the oneness and the interconnectedness among the people of the world (Baylis and Smith 200:7). Scholte Jan Aart identifies at least five different definitions of globalization (Scholte 2001:14). Based on his identification globalization can be seen as the intensification of cross-border interactions and interdependencies among nations. In another sense, globalization is the spread of various objects and experiences to people at all corners of the earth. Sometimes, globalization is conceived to be a shift in geography whereby territorial spaces, territorial distances and territorial borders lose some of their previously overriding influences. Most important to this essay, globalization can be viewed as cultural imperialism through westernization and the imposition of the culture of the dominant nations.

From the available definitions, it can be affirmed that globalization depicts the idea of the world becoming a single place in which different institutions function as parts of one system and distant people share a common understanding of living together on one planet(Scolte 2001: 14, lecturer and Boli 2000:1). In this sense, globalization is a process that fitifully brings together the various election of world society, including cultures, institutions, and consciousness. The conception of globalization as the “opening up of all economies and all productions, services, natural resources to the business operations of expansionary global corporations” (Adjo 2003: 4-8).

The Manifesto of the Communist Party supplies the first sustained the theorization of globalization. For Marx and Engels:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production and thereby the relations of production and with them the whole relations of society…The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle every where, establish connections everywhere…..(Marx and Engels 1971: 38-39).

This process replaces the old order of local and national privacy and self-sufficiency with universal interconnection and interdependence of nations. This involves both the material and the intellectual realms (Ebert 200: 398 – 399). The implication here is the oneness of the world society, which enhances the global dominance global or universal paradigms of discourse. If the idea of one world society presupposes the oneness of peoples and oneness of paradigms of discourse, the connection between truth and power and between knowledge and ideology need be clarified and stressed.

3. Epistemic Foundationalism

Epistemic foundationalism expresses the thesis that (1) there are some basic or privileged propositions, and (2) there are some non-basic propositions, which depend for their justification on the privileged propositions (Salami 1988: 7-58, Salami 1995: 1- 48). Foundationalism maintains an architectonic structure of knowledge. Some foundationalists have tried to look for unshakable bedrock of knowledge. However, for ease of discussion, foundationalism can be discussed as traditional and structural.

Traditional foundationalim states that some beliefs are absolutely secured. This theory accounts for such beliefs which are so epistemically secured that they are free from all epistemic defects. It assumes that some beliefs are completely justified. W.P. Alston classified the traditional foudationalist programme as ‘Iterative foundationalism’, according to which “for any epistemic subject S, there are Ps such that S is immediately justified in believing that P, and S is immediately justified in believing that he is immediately justifiedin believing that P (Aston 1976: 171) This formation requires an immediately justified ‘epistemic belief’ where ‘epistemic belief’ is taken to mean a ‘higher-level belief’ P(Alston 1976: 169). Thus, Alston’s interative foundationalism requires that some immediately justified epistemic beliefs are necessary for showing that we are justified in believing any proposition at all.

Susa Haack classifies traditional foundationalism as ‘pure foundationalism’ according to which (1) some beliefs are (epistemically) absolutely secure, and (2) all beliefs which are justified but not absolutely secure are justified wholly or exclusively by the support, directly or indirectly, of these absolutely secure beliefs (Haack 1983: 144). Haack’s first thesis depends upon the notion of absolute security of beliefs. It requires that the foundation be free from all epistermic shortcomings. The first of the two theses asserts that there are privileged beliefs, and these privileged beliefs are not only certain but are absolutely certain, and are free from all possible epistemic deflects. On the other hand, the second thesis only recommends ways in which the less privileged beliefs can be justified. It asserts that the justification of the less privileged beliefs is exclusively based on the absolutely secure beliefs.

The traditional foundationalist programme is an attempt to find indubitable propositions which constitute the foundation of knowledge. This is highly restrictive; it rules out as lacking justification some beliefs which we ordinarily would take as justified. The assumption that sosme beliefs are completely justified is not a great asset in scientific inquiry where all contentions should be subject to question and must be undefended on demand (Lehner 1978: 362).

It is because traditional epistemology errs in this regard that some foundationalists such as W. P. Alston, Susan Haack, R. M. Chrisholm. Laurence Bonjour, for example, have formulated more defensible versions of foundationalism. This set of philosophers relaxes the requirements of foundationalism to make it less restrictive than traditional foundationalism which requires the absolute security of basic beliefs (Mark 1978: 279 – 288). This selected formulations are (i) simple foundationalism, (ii) weak foundationalism, and (iii) self-presenting foundationalism.

Simple founadtionalism states that there are some immediately justified beliefs by reference to which other beliefs may be justified (Alston 1986: 171). In this formulation, ‘immediately justified belief’ is not used to mean an infallible (free from error) or an indubitable belief (so absolute that it cannot be doubted), rather it is used in the sense in which the person who holds such a belief is taken to be justified because he is adjudged to be in epistemically favourable conditions (Alston 1976: 168).

With weak foundationalism, there is no set of beliefs which can be taken to be either sacrosanct or entirely free from all epistemic defects. In this foundationalism, the less secure beliefs derive their justifications from the relatively more secure beliefs, though the more secure beliefs are justified independently of any appeal to the less secure beliefs.

In ‘self-presenting’ foundationalism, Chisholm takes self-justifying beliefs as those beliefs which are accepted independently of other justified beliefs, but as a result of the relationship between the beliefs and the subject who has them. The main point is that while the less privileged belies depend on the self-presenting beliefs for their justification, the self-presenting beliefs are self justifying. It is in this sense that Chisholm takes the self presenting to be the closet to that which constitutes its own justification(Chisholm 1980, 557)

What gives these considered plausible formulations their uniqueness is that each in various ways denies the absolute security of the basic beliefs which are made to serve as foundations. They all agree that the ‘basic belief’s or ‘foundations’ depend for their justification on non-epistemic facts. Generally, structural foundationalism has no need to persist on a maximally strong justification. Its distinctive feature is the structure of justification it asserts; and this structure can be imposed on justifications with varying; degrees of strength (Alston 1976b:287-305, Salami 1988: 51-58, Salami 1995”32-40).

4. Common Grounds between Epistemic Foundationalism and Globalization

A critical examination of the basic theses of ‘globalization’ and ‘epistemic foundationalism’ shows a level of similarity between them. For instance, the assumption that some beliefs are privileged and serve as bases for some other less privileged beliefs is common to both globalization and foundationalism. Both globalization and foundationalism assume some universal paradigms against which all other positions can be measured.

Given globalization and foundationalism, the tendency is there to hold the view that some beliefs or views are universal. To assume the universality of some positions is to also assume the universality of the method for arriving at such positions. This presupposes some universal norms and universal criteria. This universality becomes prominent in determining what is normal or abnormal. While globalization talks of universality of paradigm through the interconnectedness of all nations, foundationalism requires that the correctness, rightness, or otherwise of non-universal paradigms be determined in relations to universal paradigms. Thus, both ascribe universal values to some paradigms while some are considered less privileged and are ascribed local values. The paradigms that are considered universal are considered basic or foundational while the non-universal paradigms are non-privilege and as such depend on the universal ones for their justification. In this regard, beliefs and paradigm are considered to be hierarchical and architectonic.

A central assumption common to these modes of perceiving the world is that there is a standard for maximizing objectivity and rationality. This standard, it is assumed, distinguishes between primary and secondary qualities in nature. This presupposes that there is only one value system which is being appropriated by all other value systems. The assumption here is that there is only one nature, one truth about it, and one science which can in principle reveal the complete unitary and harmoniously integrated truth about such a reality (Harding 1993: 2-3, Harding, 1998: vii-x, Show 1964).

5. Multiculturalism and the Globalised Epistemic Order

Multiculturalism refers to the view that the human work is an amalgam of many cultural roots. It signifies cultural diversity and difference in the composition of the human world and societies (Braidotti 1994: 12-13). More than suggesting cultural diversities or differences, multiculturalism also portends the politics of cultural difference. It is a project towards the decentralization of human and natural values. Multiculturalism opposes the centralization or universalization of human values. It stresses the point that human nations or societies are multicultural in composition and consequently that human values are culture-bound. Unlike the globalist foundationalist epistemic order, multiculturalism stresses that no culture is so universal to determine the rationality of fall other cultures.

Multiculturalism opposes the globalised ‘centre-periphery’ foundational epistemic order. If multiculturalism is accepted, it will be difficult to have any judgment of value or interest that can enjoy the globalist foundationalist universality. Multiculturalism preaches tolerance of cultural differences and so abhors any epistemic order that preaches unification and centralization of epistemic values. Given multiculturalism it does not seem that any value can have enven ‘local universality’ (Bennet 1998:5, Smith 1988: 286, and Hountondji 1996).

Multiculturalism recognizes the fact of diverse cultural composition of the human world. It stresses that this cultural diversity must be acknowledged while considering the values and interests of the world society. This requires multicultural epistemic paradigms rather than one universal paradigm (Crollius 1986: 62 – 63).

Given the politics of diverse culture as suggested in multiculturalism, it becomes difficult to base rationality and knowledge on any particular universal paradigm. This follows because universal paradigm are essentially made of different or diverse cultures and if these diverse cultures are prominent in the determination of values and rationalities, there must be some measures or standards of rationality that are culture-based.

Multiculturalism requires a system or structure which incorporates various components or units, because each of these parts has characteristics that arise out of its own context, circumstances, and environs (Leigh 2004). Multiculturalism, this way, stresses the need for the various idiosyncratic units from different cultures, each taking its characteristics from the various local surroundings. While the advocate of globalization and foundational epistemic order would imagine a uniform and homogenous world in which a global culture unites all mankind into a single universal community, the advocates of multiculturalism argue that such a world would pave way for autocratic governance. In actual fact, there is an explosive paradox in the new world order of increasing globalization (Barnet and Cavanagh 1995: 12). Multiculturalists conclude that since multiple descriptions of reality exist, on one view can be true in any ultimate sense (Rorty 1994: 1-17, Salami 1999: 4-13).

For instance, America’s traditional conception of itself as a “melting pot” of diverse peoples joined in a common new world culture has been challenged by some multiculturalists as a metaphor and a cover for oppressive assimilation. To the multiculturalists, the only way you can melt in the pot is by becoming similar to the dominant or “hegemonic” while culture Multiculturalism seeks to preserve distinctly different cultural communities without melting them into one culture. The globalized epistemic order is seen as white supremacy, the remedy to which is sought in the separate characteristics and virtues of particular cultural groups (Gegory 2000).

This way, multiculturalism means giving equal rights and respects to distinct cultural groups or traditions (Outka and John 1993). For kopfensteiner, ‘in a global culture only the creation of a dialogical or hermeneutical methodology will be the adequate response if tyranny or chaos is to be avoided (Kopfensteiner 1993:485).Multiculturalists note that any concrete project aimed at establishing any globalised epistemic order must be written in a particular language. This indicates surrender to a certain cultural hegemony or epistemic imperialism (Bretzke 1996:10). Adapting Alasdair Maclnyre’s phrase, one may rightly observe that knowledge which does not belong to any particular society or culture cannot be found anywhere (Maclnyre 1984: 265-266). Indeed, multiculturalism may suggest an outlet from the foundational globalised epistemic order to the non-foundational epistemic order. Rorty’s anti-foundationalist posture supports the multiculturalists desire to shake the global paradigm-central orthodoxy and suggests an open-ended and multiculturalist epistemic order (Rorty 1980, Rorty 1994, and Rorty 1989).

6. Knowledge Production in Africa

The discussion on production requires some discussion on the Marxist notion of ‘mode of production’ Mars 1976”31 – 57). Mode of production can be broadly broken into ‘forces of production’ and ‘relations of production’. Analogously, we can talk of ‘forces of knowledge production and relations of ‘knowledge production’. The forces of knowledge production can be further divided into instruments of production and the mental or physical labour that human beings put into the production. Knowledge production requires the space, equipments and instruments of production as well as human beings and their intellectual expertise (Taiwo 1993: 892 – 893). On the other hand, the relations of knowledge production include all the relationships, both human and institutional, which are necessary for the purpose of knowledge production. More importantly, it includes the relationship between those who provide the material means and instruments of knowledge production, those who work directly or indirectly, on the material means and instruments of knowledge production as well as those who learn or utilize the knowledge so produced (Taiwo 1993:893).

The mode of knowledge production is tied to the level of development. The changes in the forces of knowledge production can fetter the social relations of knowledge production. The changes in both will lead to change in the entire epistemic formation. Thus the mode of knowledge production is not static but dynamic and subject to changes.

For Marx, human beings enter into different relations as determined by the available technology in the processes of production of their material conditions of existence. As they produce their material conditions of existence, so do they produce their ideas, knowledge, theory and understanding of themselves and the world around them (Marx 1976: 59-62). In other words, knowledge production is consequent to human practical activities in the processes of meeting theirmaterial requirements of existence.

Going by history, African societies have passed through various conditions of existence. These different conditions of existence generate different nodes of knowledge production. The African experiences of colonialism and other earlier European interventions created different conditions which consequently affected African production of knowledge. These foreign interventions, in various ways destroyed or disrupted African indigenous modes of knowledge production. This destruction or disruption was followed by transplantation of some modes of knowledge of production in Africa (Hallen and Sodipo 1997, 40 – 48, Masolo 1994: 145 – 193, Mudimbe 1988: 1 – 23, Hallen 2002: 1 – 7), and Screquerhan 1994:1-30). The intervention as well as the consequent transplantation of some modes of knowledge production have, in different ways, influenced and affected the nature and quality of African philosophy. This has, in great ways, affected the form, the content, as well as the style of African thought in relation to the normative kinds of knowledge.

The various interventions range from the various impositions of epistemic paradigms by the earlier anthropologists and missionaries on evangelical missions to Africa. In trying to understand the “native” Africans and their cultures, these anthropologists and missionaries, based on the difference between their paradigms and the people and culture of study, did all that was possible within their power to either discuss African rationality out of existence or completely substitute it with their own paradigm of discourse. This paved way for colonialism and the reductive efforts to either attenuate the originality of African contributions or simply declare Africans irrational, their culture prelogical and consequently illogical (Lukes 1994: 285-294, Horton 1970: 131 – 171, Winch 1970: 78-111). This encouraged a version of colonialism that vigorously pursued the assimilationist approach.

In relation to colonial organization, Mudimbe states three hypotheses. Based on these hypotheses, colonialism can be conceived as “the domination of physical space, the reformation of ‘natives’ minds, and the kintegration of local economic histories into the western perspective” (Mudimbe 1988: 2). According to Mudimbe, these hypotheses depict the projects, which one may call the colonizing structure. Going by the domination and intended reformation of the African physical space as well as their mindscapes, colonialism, no doubt, seriously interfered with knowledge production in Africa. The colonialists came with the view that their culture was logical and could be contrasted to the culture of the colonized, which compared to the culture of the colonizer is mystical, mythical, irrational, and consequently only capable of producing inferior epistemological discourse. Given this, distinction between the “rational” epistemic paradigms of the colonized, there arose the tendency and actual attempt at substituting the thought system of the colonized with the thought system of the colonizer.

This invariably calls for a reductive epistemological paradigm. In this case, there were series of attempts to reduce and neutralize the differences between both thought systems into a sameness that favours the norms of the colonizer. Another consequence of colonialism is the attempt, which, although tries to integrate the African thought system within the western epistemological order, yet invigorates distinction and separation within the supposed normative sameness. Using the European paradigm, much emphasis was placed on the epistemic inferiority of Africans. There were passions and mental retardation. In the desperate bid to discredit and devalue African thought systems and to prove that African could not produce anything of value, there were serious attempts to trace the origins of African epistemic achievements to foreign lands (Mudimbe, 1988: 13).

With the assignment of superiority, the Europeans attempted a reification or thingfication of the Africans and their knowledge production. The Europeans assumed that universal civilization originated from the European centre and thus maintained the illusion in support of the universality of the European centre and thus maintained the illusion in support of the universality of the European culture (Ricoeur 1965: 277). Consequently, there arises the problem of not giving necessary recognition to African thought systems.

In response to the problem of the relegation of African thought stems and the universalisation of the thought systems and values of the West African scholars are divided into two mutually exclusive orientations and consequently have evolved two mutually exclusive paradigms of conceiving African philosophy – the universalist and the culturalist orientations. These divisions imply (i) eurocetrism and (ii) ethnocentrism. While eurocentrism is the approach that emphasizes western procedures and uses such categories and conceptual systems, which depend on a western epistemological order, ethnocentrism provokes cultural creativity through an erudite study of the remotest African antiquity.

In their various forms of resistance against foreign intellectual dominations, some African intellectuals embrace the approach according to which all attempts are made to master the western-set epistemological paradigms so that their works could be accepted as philosophical (Bodunrin 1992: 15-35. Bodunrin 1985: 43 – 104, Wirendu 1996: 81- 112, and Wirendu 1988: 147 – 167). This Eurocentric approach requires the use of categories and conceptual systems, which depend on a western epistemological order. The Eurocentric African scholars seem to err in their failure to realize that Africans are capable of distinct and independent models of intellectual production. In this wise, intellectual work on Africa or by Africans remains a extension of western hegemony in Africa.

In the rejection of the Eurocentric approach to African knowledge production, the ethnocentric African scholars attempt to derive an African system knowledge from the traditions, rituals, proverbs, folk ways and linguistic particulars of traditional Africa. African intellectuals who embrace ethnocentrism do so to enable them counter the erroneous impression created about Africans by European ethnographers (Hallen and Sodipo 1997, Wirendu 1985: 43-54, Bedu-Addo 1985: 68-90).
But their intellectuals inadvertently confirm the inferiority assumptions of the Europeans. By merely going into the analysis of African cultural traditions and presenting them as representative of African thought, they may end up presenting African superstitions and myths as African science which should be compared with European science. To compare African myths and superstitions to European philosophy or science is to portray the inferiority of the African epistemic order and consequently confirm the superiority of the European epistemic order (Hountondji 1996, and Wirendu 1976: 4-8).

The position in this paper is that it is inadequate to conceive eurocentrism and ethnocentrism as two mutually exclusive approaches to knowledge production in Africa. If African studies oscillates between the Eurocentric mimesis of western classicism and the ethnocentric romantic search for, or celebration of, African identity, it will fail to theorize the problem of African self-mastery and self-emancipation.

7. Whither African Philosophy in the Foundationalist and Globalised Epistemic Order

Globalization, like foundationalism, presupposes a unified epistemological order. One world calls for one mode of knowing and one standard of knowledge. This presupposes equality of producers of knowledge and uniformity of paradigms. However, this is not the case, considering the relationship between the capitalist world, which produces this conceptual scheme, and the African, third world nations. The truth is that ‘those who control the economic power also control the political power as well as the production of knowledge’ (Marx and Engels 1967: 59-60, Foucault 1980: 131, Salami 2005: 29-40). The nations that control economic power constitute the dominant nations. These dominant nations produce the dominant knowledge. The dominant knowledge is the knowledge of the dominant nations and it is meant to support the interest of the dominant nations to make it appear as the most universal and most objective knowledge (Marx and Engels 1976: 50 – 60, and Zelza 1997 : iii).

If globalization presupposes one world and one paradigm of knowledge but as Camera Obscura (Marx and Engels 1976: 36), has hidden in it the western hegemonial and imperialist policy of international capitalism, then, many bizarre consequences await knowledge production in Africa. If the whole world now a global village, then, African philosophers as part of human race cannot afford not to participate in their village. The real issue is that in so participating, African philosophers must be active participants who are equals in the global game of give and take. One way out is for African philosophers to critically analyze the social formation in which they operate. The social formation, which encourages this subjugative mode of knowledge-production, should be critically examined to reveal its weak structure and ponder on how to remedy such weakness (Zeleza 1997: 70).

African philosophers cannot afford to pretend to engage in the global “disengaged academic recreations of faddish theorizing” in the name of globalization. African philosophers should direct their research to the immediate need to understand the world around them. They should the theories and tools of their disciplines to the burning issues in their communities and the continent as a whole. They should build and protect the confidence in their own paradigm of knowledge-production without necessarily disregarding those paradigms that are supported with superior reasons. In rejecting the Europeans ’meta Narratives’ and ‘mete scripts’, African philosophers must avoid unwarranted subjectivities that may encourage a eulogisation of emotion.

African philosophers should develop interest in knowledge about Africa. There should evolve a pan-African scholarship. There should be opportunities for pan-African exchange of knowledge and ideas through continental professional meetings, conferences, seminars and workshops. An African unity of purpose in the continental production of knowledge will translate to a formidable balance in the global epistemic equation. Within a united epistemic front, the status and procedures of knowledge production in Africa will be elevated. This will make knowledge in and about Africa to be more effective in competing in the global epistemic order. It should be realized that globalization is not a humanistic venture: it is rather a product of Eurocentric teleology, which equates westernization with civilization. (Akindele 2002: 13, Khondker 2000: 17-33, and Imade 2003: 1 – 17).

The Eurocentric approach will diminish African culture and African philosophy in the presence of western culture and “science”. African studies will become Europeanized. In this way, the epistemic paradigms of Europe will provide an epistemic foundation upon which the African super-structural knowledge will be based. On the other hand, the ethnocentric approach will further prove the otherness of African philosophy and make it hardly amenable to the changing global environment. A serious detect that may arise from this is that in making the theories and knowledge arising from the ethnocentric approach acceptable to the world, some European concepts are either cleverly or surreptitiously struggled in African contexts.

Clearly, African philosophy should be a response to the challenge of cultural imperialism. In doing this, it should re-evaluate African cultures without being self-imprisoned in the culture. Rather than a myopic absolutization of the internal nationality of African traditions. African philosophers should be more intellectually concerned with African traditions and divest the knowledge about these traditions of distortions, while also raising them beyond myths to enable Africa meet contemporary challenges and problems (Vilasco 1983: 142-143). Working with the hypothesis that any form of knowledge is determined by such variables as time, space and the world view of the producers of knowledge, we must understand African philosophy as a product of African historical and material experiences, and construct modalities for integrating African civilizations into modernity.

In his “African Socialism Revisited” (Nkrumah 1973: 438 – 445), Nkrumah emphasizes the point that given the historical and material conditions of Africa, it would be wasteful venture to try to construct social scientific knowledge that would be peculiarly African. For him, contemporary African heritage cannot be divested of the western tradition of science as well as the trauma of slave trade and colonialism. Nkrumah expresses the view that Africans should take these legacies in conjunction with Islamic influences along with African past and present experiences.

Without indulging in any radical relativism, African philosophy should be based on the non-absolutisation of any standard of rationality, and take cognizance of alternative standards of rationality (Lukes 1994: 285 – 294). African philosophy can be developed through a kind of comparative complimentarity of African experience as well as the experiences of other worlds that it comes in contact with. It should be a kind of hybridization. This hybridization of African philosophy should enhance a renewed respect for indigenous ways with the aim of conquering cultural self-contempt through a critical use of external epistemological and philosophical ‘references’ which can promote a fertile cross-cultural epistemic order (Mazrui and Tidy 1984: 281, Mazrui 1974: 51 – 96, and Chinweizu et al 1983).

Adapting the view of Foucault, African philosophy should come in the form of a decentralization that leaves no privilege to any centre and also devoid of essentialist claims. African philosophy should embrace the analytical eclectic path of Wirendu and the phenomenological or synthetic expression and explanation of Foucault and Mudimbe. Contact rather than estrangement between diverse rationalities or cultural perspectives should be encouraged (Mudimbe 1994: 186 – 193, Harding 1998: 1 – 7, Harding 1993: 1 – 29, Foucault 1970: 120).


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