In the seventy-five years before World War II, Africa was colonized, in large part by European missionaries. These Catholic and Protestant Christians penetrated deeply into Africa geographically, psychologically, and not least, philosophically. Therefore, when “African philosophy” was noted or recorded, the work was done mostly by religious men, either European missionaries such as Placide Tempels or their African pupil-successors such as Alexis Kagame and John S. Mbiti. Of course, these men emphasized the religious dimensions of African life and philosophy, and perhaps because they were adherents to a single religion, they also portrayed the unity of that religious-philosophic outlook across sub-Saharan Africa. However, from the perspective of those trained in a rigorous, secular philosophical tradition, African philosophy was little more than neocolonial ideology. Colonizers or their Christianized students were placed in the privileged position of representing African intellectual reality. They represented that reality as largely unrelated to economic and political (material) conditions. Paulin J. Hountondji, an African educated in French neo-Marxism, sought to redress this imbalance with a vigorous attack on “ethnophilosophy” in his critical work African Philosophy.
African Philosophy is divided into two parts, “Arguments” and “Analyses.” Evidently, this was an editorial decision intended to balance the book in number of chapters (four in each part) and in pages per part. However, both chapter 8, “True and False Pluralism,” and a fifteen-page “Postscript” are much more arguments than analyses of individual African philosophers. Thus roughly three-fourths of the work is Hountondji’s attack on ethnophilosophy and his defense of critical philosophy. With the exception of the “Postscript,” all the material had been published in some form before being revised and collected as African Philosophy.