I draw on ideas commonly advocated by adherents to ubuntu, the term often used to capture sub-Saharan morality, in order to spell out, and sometimes construct, understandings of human dignity that are worth taking seriously by professional ethicists, moral philosophers, jurisprudential scholars and Constitutional Courts anywhere in the world. In particular, I seek to articulate a theory of dignity grounded in African values that could serve as a genuine rival to the influential Kantian conception that currently dominates most intellectual reflection (...) on the topic. (shrink)
I critically discuss contemporary work in African, i.e., sub-Saharan, political philosophy that has been written in English. I begin by providing an overview of the profession and discussing the aptness of focusing on African political philosophy as a distinct topic. Next, I highlight discussions that should be of interest to a political philosopher working anywhere in the world, focusing on ideas characteristic of the sub-Saharan region that are under-appreciated not merely for the purpose of comparative ethics, but also for substantive (...) ethical argumentation. In particular, I take up fascinating and underexplored approaches to political power and distributive justice that are characteristic of this tradition. (shrink)
In this contribution I articulate a theory of national reconciliation informed by salient sub-Saharan ideas about community, and apply it to a variety of topics salient in South African and other discourses on the topic, such as truth-telling, apology, forgiveness and amnesty, in order both to illustrate and motivate the theory and to shed light on these topics.
A communitarian perspective, which is characteristic of African normative thought, accords some kind of primacy to society or a group, whereas human rights are by definition duties that others have to treat individuals in certain ways, even when not doing so would be better for others. Is there any place for human rights in an Afro-communitarian political and legal philosophy, and, if so, what is it? I seek to answer these questions, in part by critically exploring one of the most (...) influential theoretical works on human rights in a sub-Saharan setting, namely, Claude Ake’s ‘The African Context of Human Rights’. Ake famously maintains that a typically Western approach to rights is inappropriate in the sub-Saharan region, in two major respects. First, Ake contends that although a human rights legal framework might be suitable for an ‘individualistic’ society, it is not for one of the sort common among traditional black peoples, for whom group rights are alone apt. Second, Ake maintains that, insofar as rights are relevant, rights to socio-economic goods are of much more importance in an African context than rights to civil liberties, due process and the like. Using Ake’s article as a foil, I draw on values salient in sub-Saharan moral worldviews to construct a unified philosophy of rights that not only provides reason to doubt his two claims, but also offers a promising way to reconcile a communitarian framework with a robust prizing of human rights alongside ones that are more collectively oriented. In short, I aim to provide a principled foundation for the core elements of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights. (shrink)
If contemporary African political philosophy is going to develop substantially in fresh directions, it probably will not be enough, say, to rehash the old personhood debate between Kwame Gyekye and Ifeanyi Menkiti, or to nit-pick at Gyekye’s system, as much of the literature in the field has done. Instead, major advances are likely to emerge on the basis of new, principled interpretations of sub-Saharan moral thought. In recent work, I have fleshed out two types of moral theories that have a (...) clearly sub-Saharan basis, that differ from Gyekye’s moral perspective, and that also happen to constitute genuine rivals to dominant Western theories such as utilitarianism, Kantianism and contractualism. In catchwords, these African moral theories are constituted by ideals regarding community or friendliness, on the one hand, and vitality or liveliness, on the other. In this article I sketch these two under-explored ethical perspectives and then suggest several respects in which their implications for salient political controversies are novel and revealing. Sometimes the new African moral theories—and the community-based one in particular--entail different conclusions from Gyekye's position, while other times their conclusions are the same as Gyekye’s, but they provide different rationales for them that are more compelling than his. (shrink)
At least the three major academic debates one encounters about human rights in an African context are usefully framed in terms how they relate to community in various ways. Specifically, this entry first discusses disputes among moral anthropologists and political scientists about the extent to which human rights were present in pre-colonial, communal sub-Saharan societies; then it takes up ways in which group-based claims have significantly influenced human rights discourse and observance in post-war Africa; and finally it discusses how professional (...) philosophers in and from Africa have tended to view human rights through communitarian lenses. (shrink)
I seek to advance enquiry into the philosophical question of in virtue of what human beings have a dignity of the sort that grounds human rights. I first draw on values salient in sub-Saharan African moral thought to construct two theoretically promising conceptions of human dignity, one grounded on vitality, or liveliness, and the other on our communal nature. I then argue that the vitality conception cannot account for several human rights that we intuitively have, while the community conception can (...) do so. I conclude that, of plausible theories of human dignity with an African pedigree, the field ought to favour a community-based view and critically compare it in future work with the Kantian, autonomy-based view that dominates Western thinking about dignity. (shrink)
What is the strongest argument grounded in African values, i.e., those salient among indigenous peoples below the Sahara desert, for abolishing capital punishment? I defend a particular answer to this question, one that invokes an under-theorized conception of human dignity. Roughly, I maintain that the death penalty is nearly always morally unjustified, and should therefore be abolished, because it degrades people’s special capacity for communal relationships. To defend this claim, I proceed by clarifying what I aim to achieve in this (...) essay, criticizing existing objections to the death penalty that ethicists, jurists and others have proffered on ‘African’ grounds, and, finally, advancing a new, dignity-based objection with a sub-Saharan pedigree that I take to be the most promising. (shrink)
I have two major aims in this chapter, which is philosophical in nature. One is to draw upon values that are salient in the southern African region in order to construct a novel and attractive conception of human dignity. Specifically, I articulate the idea that human beings have a dignity in virtue of their communal nature, or their capacity for what I call ‘identity’ and ‘solidarity’, which contrasts the most influential conception in the West, according to which our dignity inheres (...) in our rationality or autonomy. The second aim is to invoke this Afro-communitarian conception of human dignity in order to advance a new conception of why poverty is morally problematic and of what people, particularly states, are ethically required to do with regard to it. Common conceptions of poverty focus on it in terms of people lacking income, preference satisfaction (‘utility’) or general-purpose means (‘social primary goods’ in the Rawlsian jargon). In contrast, if what is special about human beings is our ability to commune with one another in a certain way, then the respects in which poverty can be an injustice and the ways that it must be fought must be understood in more communitarian or relational terms, which I both specify with several concrete examples in a South African context and contrast with the more dominant approaches. (shrink)
There are three major reasons that ideas associated with ubuntu are often deemed to be an inappropriate basis for a public morality. One is that they are too vague, a second is that they fail to acknowledge the value of individual freedom, and a third is that they a fit traditional, small-scale culture more than a modern, industrial society. In this article, I provide a philosophical interpretation of ubuntu that is not vulnerable to these three objections. Specifically, I construct a (...) moral theory grounded on southern African worldviews, one that suggests a promising new conception of human dignity. According to this conception, typical human beings have a dignity in virtue of their capacity for community, understood as the combination of identifying with others and exhibiting solidarity with them, where human rights violations are egregious degradations of this capacity. I argue that this account of human rights violations straightforwardly entails and explains many different elements of South Africa’s Bill of Rights and naturally suggests certain ways of resolving contemporary moral dilemmas in South Africa and elsewhere relating to land reform, political power and deadly force. (shrink)
This chapter describes an ethical principle, informed by sub-Saharan values, and applies it to how a state should allocate resources to its citizens. Suppose a person lives in an African country that has won its independence from colonial powers in the last 50 years or so. Suppose also that that person has become a high-ranking government official who makes decisions on how to allocate goods, such as civil service jobs and contracts with private firms Should such a person refrain from (...) considering any particulars about potential recipients, or might it be appropriate to consider, for example, family membership, party affiliation, race or revolutionary stature as reasons to benefit certain individuals at some cost to the general public? Which of these factors should be considered unjust, or even corrupt, as a basis on which to allocate state goods and which should not? This chapter seeks to provide a new, unified explanation of why sub-Saharan values permit some forms of distributive partiality, such as the preferential hiring of those who struggled against colonialism, but prohibit other nepotistic forms of partiality. In so doing, this chapter implies that Africans need not appeal to Western or other foreign moral systems for a principled foundation for good governance in modern states. (shrink)
I seek to answer the question of whether publicly funded higher education ought to aim intrinsically to promote certain kinds of ‘‘blue-sky’’ knowledge, knowledge that is unlikely to result in ‘‘tangible’’ or ‘‘concrete’’ social benefits such as health, wealth and liberty. I approach this question in light of an African moral theory, which contrasts with dominant Western philosophies and has not yet been applied to pedagogical issues. According to this communitarian theory, grounded on salient sub-Saharan beliefs and practices, actions are (...) right insofar as they respect relationships in which people both share a way of life, or identify with one another, and care for others’ quality of life, or are in solidarity with each other. I argue that while considerations of identity and solidarity each provide some reason for a state university to pursue blue-sky knowledge as a final end, they do not provide conclusive reason for it to do so. I abstain from drawing any further conclusion about whether this provides reason to reject the Afro-communitarian moral theory or the intuition that blue-sky knowledge is a proper final end of public higher education. I do point out, however, that the dominant Western moral theories on the face of it do no better than the African one at accounting for this intuition. (shrink)
African ethics in the world -- The primacy of ubuntu in African ethics -- African ethics and Christianity -- African bioethics -- African business ethics -- African ethics and the environment -- African ethics and political transformation.