Karl Marx's normative views have routinely been contrasted with moral-political theories such as utilitarianism and Rawlsian justice. They have not been systematically contrasted with characteristically African, and specifically communal, values, with post-independence African leaders such as Nyerere and Nkrumah instead having emphasized the similarities. In this article, a work of analytic philosophy, I sketch the essentials of Marx’s approach to the human good, especially his early writings on alienation from 1843-1845, and weigh them up against a theoretical interpretation of the (...) under-explored African moral-political tradition. According to the latter perspective, a person displays human excellence insofar as she prizes communal relationships, ones of sharing a way of life and caring for others’ quality of life. My aims are to identify key differences between this Afro-communalism and the young Marx’s views, and, where they diverge, to provide some reasons for favouring one approach over the other. I conclude that insofar as the two ethics differ, the African ideal is the better candidate for capturing a moral point view, one that includes human rights, whereas Marx’s is preferable, and even compelling to a wide contemporary audience, as a broader account of how to live well. (shrink)
The core idea of A Relational Theory of Justice (RTJ) is that normative political and legal philosophy should be grounded on people’s relational features, roughly their ability to commune with others and be communed with by them. Usually, philosophers of justice in the West have based their views on people’s intrinsic features, ones that make no essential reference to others, such as their autonomy, self-ownership, or well-being. In addition, often critics of basing politics and law on justice, whether in the (...) African, feminist/care, Marxian, or Confucian traditions, have appealed to non-intrinsic values as leverage, roughly contending that relationships are more important than justice. In contrast to both major camps, RTJ articulates and defends accounts of justice based on relationality. A proper valuation of people’s capacity to be party to communal relationships does not transcend categories of justice, but instead calls for certain sorts that differ from those grounded on intrinsic properties and in plausible ways. Applications are discussed in the contexts of political, economic, compensatory, criminal, transitional, and global justice. (shrink)
I critically discuss respects in which conceptions of community have featured in African moral-political philosophy over the past 40 years or so. Some of the discussion is in the vein of intellectual history, recounting key theoretical moves for those unfamiliar with the field. However, my discussion is also opinionated, noting prima facie weaknesses with certain positions and presenting others as more promising, particularly relative to prominent Western competitors. There are a variety of forms that African communitarianism has taken and could (...) take in respect of moral status, good character, and just policy, and my aims include arguing that some are more plausible than others and should give more individualist thinkers in Euro-American traditions pause. (shrink)
For the more than a decade, I have advanced an account of what makes persons, animals, and other beings entitled to moral treatment for their own sake that is informed by characteristically African ideas about dignity, a great chain of being, and community. Roughly according to this account, a being has a greater moral status, the more it is capable of communing (as a subject) or of us communing with it (as an object). I have mainly argued that this characteristically (...) African and relational approach to moral status is a better account than salient Western approaches, especially individualist views associated with utilitarianism and Kantianism. Over the years, several commentators have raised criticisms of my approach, including that it objectionably: entails that we may rightly dominate mentally incapacitated human beings; prioritizes mentally incapacitated human beings over animals with similar cognitive abilities without sufficient justification; entails that intelligent aliens lack moral status; cannot make sense of our duties towards the dead; and is unable to account for the standing of species as distinct from their members. In this chapter I provide a comprehensive response to these and related objections, defending the initial account as an attractive way to understand what makes a being matter morally for non-instrumental reasons. (shrink)
In this chapter I critically discuss ideas from the under-explored indigenous African tradition of philosophy of religion. Salient in African thought are four major beliefs that on the face of it make good sense of the view that it is appropriate to be grateful and act gratefully to God for being alive. First, there is a theological belief in a personal God as the creator of all concrete objects in the universe, a globally under-recognized form of monotheism alongside the Abrahamic (...) faiths. Second, there is a force rather than object ontology, with a common view being that everything that exists is imbued with a certain quantity and quality of life-force or vital energy that has come from God. Third, there is a vitalist axiology, such that the greater the life-force, the more final value something has. Fourth, there is the claim that, of what is perceptible on Earth, human persons were given the greatest life-force, one that confers on them a dignity lacking in the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. It naturally follows from these claims that human persons have reason to be grateful to God for having been created with a superlative, non-instrumental worth. I expound this position for a global audience and defend it from several ways of objecting to the idea that being given a dignity can provide reason to be thankful. (shrink)
For more than ten years, I have articulated and defended a conception of human dignity informed by ideas about community salient in the African philosophical tradition. For probably most African ethicists, one has a core obligation to enter into community with others. I have made two contributions to this prescription. For one, I have been more specific about what it plausibly means to enter into community, namely, as the relational combination of sharing a way of life with others and caring (...) for others’ quality of life. For another, I have maintained that the ultimate reason to enter into community, so construed, is that (nearly all) human persons have a dignity in virtue of our ability to commune with others and to be communed with by them. I have argued that this conception of dignity in terms of our capacity for communal relationship not only helps to make good foundational sense of many characteristically African moral prescriptions, but also constitutes a strong rival to the globally dominant Kantian account in terms of our capacity for autonomy/rationality. In my contribution, I first provide a summarizing statement of my views and then articulate some key reasons why I believe it should be viewed as philosophically more defensible than not only three other conceptions salient in the African tradition (viz, the views that we have it in virtue of our vitality, our membership in a community, or our moral behaviour), but also the Kantian conception. Cases discussed include the ethics of euthanasia, informed consent, punishment, and torture. (shrink)
This chapter demonstrates that the African philosophical tradition offers four interesting ways to broaden global thought about human rights, where all four involve an appeal to the value of community in some way. Firstly, some African philosophers are skeptical about the normative category of human, i.e., individual rights, with some denying they exist at all and others contending they have little importance in societies with strong communal orientations. Secondly, there is the view, enshrined in the African (“Banjul”) Charter of Human (...) and Peoples’ Rights for more than 40 years, that there are group rights and not merely rights of individuals. Thirdly, some thinkers in the African tradition have held that we have a dignity because of relational features such as our ability to enter into community with others, contrasting with more globally familiar features such as our autonomy, rationality, or life. Fourthly, many African political philosophers hold that there is a human right to have a voice in any major political decision, which would forge community among all, a view entailing that democracy by majority rule is unjust. The chapter argues that the grounds for skepticism about human rights are weak and instead that a communitarian foundation of human rights and its implications for group rights and democratic rights should be taken seriously by a global audience. (shrink)
Insofar as value theory is relevant to the philosophy of medicine, two goods have dominated reflection: well-being (particularly health) and morality. This essay casts doubt on whether those values are sufficient to resolve an array of important debates about medical practice, maintaining that the value of what makes a life meaningful should play a much larger role. After first indicating how meaningfulness differs from happiness and rightness, the essay argues that meaningfulness cannot reasonably be ignored when thinking comprehensively about the (...) proper aims of medicine, the appropriate constraints on their pursuit, and the effective means by which to realize them. The essay’s goal is not to draw any firm conclusions about the suitable ends, constraints, and means of medical practice, but rather to show that, in order to arrive at any, one has to consider the category of life’s meaning, which has not been prominent in the philosophy of medicine. (shrink)
I investigate which inequalities are permissible on the supposition that an ideal society would be modelled on an ideal family. One idea salient in the African and East Asian philosophical traditions is that the right sort of socio-political interaction would be similar to the intuitive ways that family members ought to relate to each other. I answer the question of what principles implicit in familial relationships entail for economic and ecological inequalities, and contend that the implications are plausible.
Harmony as a basic value is neglected in internationally influential philosophical discussions about rights, power, and other facets of public policy; it is not prominent in articles that appear in widely read journals or in books published by presses with a global reach. Of particular interest, political philosophers and policy makers remain ignorant of the similarities and differences between various harmony-oriented approaches to institutional choice from around the world. In this chapter, I begin to rectify these deficiencies by critically discussing (...) the way harmony has figured into political philosophies from three major traditions in the Global South, namely, African ubuntu, East Asian Confucianism, and South American buen vivir. I point out that, although harmony is at the core of all three political philosophies, it is conceived in different ways, entailing incompatible prescriptions about things such as who should make laws and which sorts of beings have rights against the state. Such contrasting views call for rigorous cross-cultural dialogue amongst theorists of harmony, beyond mounting challenges to more individualist approaches that have been salient in modern Western political thought. (shrink)
When it comes to how to hold people responsible for wrongdoing, much of the African philosophical tradition focuses on reconciliation as a principal final aim. This essay expounds an interpretation of reconciliation informed by characteristically sub-Saharan ideas and practices, and then draws out its implications for responsibility in respect to three matters. First, when it comes to criminal justice, it shows that prizing reconciliation entails that offenders should be held responsible for “cleaning up their own mess,” i.e., for compensating victims (...) and reforming their characters in ways they find burdensome, an approach to punishment that differs from the protection and retribution theories of punishment prominent in the West. Second, regarding civil justice, the chapter argues that reconciliation means that holding responsible for wrongful harm involves compensating victims in ways expected to improve their quality of life, which contrasts with the default position in the West of producing a state of affairs that would have occurred in the absence of injustice. Third, in the contexts of both criminal and civil justice, the value of reconciliation can mean putting on trial more than just the offender, for instance those who had been able to influence his behaviour and been allied with him, e.g., family members. On all three matters, the chapter provides reasons to take the African approaches seriously that will prima facie appeal to those from non-African backgrounds, supporting the idea that reconciliation is at least one final aim when holding people responsible for wrongdoing. (shrink)
Scholars have compared the transitional justice processes of Colombia and South Africa in some respects, but there has yet to be a systematic moral-philosophical evaluation of them regarding how they have sought to allocate economic goods. Here I appraise the ways that South Africa and Colombia have responded to their respective historical conflicts in respect of the distribution of property and opportunities. I do so in the light of a conception of reconciliation informed by a relational ethic of harmony, a (...) value salient in the worldviews of many indigenous peoples in both Africa and South America. I argue that, given such an account of reconciliation, one of Colombia’s major proposed ways of allocating property and opportunities, whereby offenders would labour for the sake of improving victims’ socio-economic conditions, would be much better than what South Africa has done, even if Colombia has yet to put such a policy systematically into practice. (shrink)
This chapter expounds relational values characteristic of indigenous Africa and considers how they might usefully be adopted when contemporary societies interact with each other. Specifically, it notes respects in which genuinely human or communal relationship has been missing in the two contexts of globalization and international relations, and suggests what a greater appreciation of this good by the rest of the world would mean for them.
In contributions elsewhere to this volume, we considered the histories of Colombia and South Africa and how some of the values indigenous to those locales might plausibly bear on transitional justice in them. We advanced broadly relational and constructive (non-retributive) approaches to the social conflicts that had taken place there, ones that make victim compensation central. In this chapter we consider how Metz’s ubuntu-based reconciliatory approach to reparations might be relevant to Colombia in ways he did not consider, after which (...) we reflect on how the kinds of communitarian practices advanced by Bautista might apply to South Africa. We conclude that these cross-applications are revealing, pointing out how economic compensation in Colombia should plausibly be influenced by cultural factors, and how considerations of culture in South Africa call for compensation beyond economic factors. (shrink)
A collection of several articles on African moral and political philosophy by Thaddeus Metz, translated into French by Emmanuel Fopa, and edited and introduced by Pius Mosima of the University of Bamenda, Cameroon.
What does talk about life’s meaning even mean? Can human life be meaningful? What is God’s role, if any, in a meaningful life? These three questions frame this one-of-a-kind debate between two philosophers who have spent most of their professional lives thinking and writing about the topic of life’s meaning. In this wide-ranging scholarly conversation, Professors Thaddeus Metz and Joshua Seachris develop and defend their own unique answers to these questions, while responding to each other’s objections in a lively dialogue (...) format geared primarily toward the scholar, but made accessible to the student. Seachris argues that the concept of life’s meaning largely revolves around three interconnected ideas—mattering, purpose, and sense-making, that a meaningful human life involves sufficiently manifesting all three, and that God would importantly enhance the meaningfulness of life on each of these three fronts. Metz instead holds that talk of life’s meaning is about a variety of properties such as meriting pride, transcending one’s animal self, making a contribution, and authoring a life-story. For him, many lives are meaningful insofar as they exercise intelligence in positive, robust, and developmental ways. Finally, Metz argues that God is unnecessary for an objective meaning that suits human nature. (shrink)
Given the pain, discomfort, anxiety, heartbreak, and boredom that most humans experience in their lives, is it morally permissible to create them? Some philosophers lately have answered ‘No’, contending that it is wrong to create a new human life when one could avoid doing so, because it would be bad for the one created. This view is known as ‘anti-natalism’. Some contributors to this volume argue that anti-natalism is true because: agents have a prima facie duty to prevent suffering; it (...) is immoral to violate another’s right not to be harmed without having consented to it; and it is a serious wrong to exploit the weakness of a poorly off being to become a biological parent. Others here argue against anti-natalism on the ground, for instance, that many of our lives are not so bad and in fact are quite good and that the logic of anti-natalism absurdly entails pro-mortalism, the view that we should kill off as many people as possible. This book explores these and related issues concerning the evaluative question of how to judge the worthwhileness of lives and the normative question of what basic duties entail for the creation of new lives. Most chapters initially appeared as part of a special issue of the _South African Journal of Philosophy_ (2012) and are here reprinted along with two additional essays on the topic. (shrink)
This article is part of a special issue devoted to David Benatar’s anti-natalism. There are places in his oeuvre where he contends that, while our lives might be able to exhibit some terrestrial or human meaning, that is not enough to make them worth creating, which would require a cosmic meaning that is unavailable to us. There are those who maintain, in reply to Benatar, that some of our lives do have a cosmic meaning, but I argue that Benatar is (...) correct that none of our lives does. I instead reply that a lack of cosmic meaning is insufficient to infer that our lives are all bad or, more carefully, bad enough to make procreation impermissible. In particular, I advance a principle by which to judge the absence of a good to be bad, roughly according to which the more unavailable a good is, the less reason there is to exhibit negative reactive attitudes toward its absence. It follows that there is no reason to regret or be sad about the lack of cosmic meaning, given that it is impossible for us. (shrink)
While there is a budding literature on media ethics in the light of characteristic sub-Saharan moral values, there is virtually nothing on wartime reporting more specifically. Furthermore, the literature insofar as it has a bearing on wartime reporting suggests that embedded journalism and patriotic journalism are ethically justified during war. In this essay, I sketch a prima facie attractive African moral theory, grounded on a certain interpretation of the value of communal relationship, and bring out what it entails for the (...) ways journalists should report on war. My aims are the normative ones of showing how this Afro-communal ethic can provide a unitary foundation for a wide array of plausible conclusions about reporting on war, and, in particular, can avoid objectionable implications such as support for embedded and patriotic journalism. (shrink)
After expounding the conceptions of harmony that are central to Confucianism and the sub-Saharan ethic of ubuntu, I apply them to three major topics pertaining to age, namely, virtue, the value of life, and care. Roughly speaking, indigenous East Asian and African values of harmony both entail that only the elderly can be truly virtuous, that the elderly have a strong claim to life-saving resources, and that they are entitled to care from their children, views that I show are not (...) characteristic of moral thinking in the contemporary West, neither for prominent philosophies nor the cultures out of which they grew. I suggest that many Anglophone moral philosophers should be given pause by the existence of different perspectives on the part of at least two long-standing philosophies, and conclude by briefly proposing some ways that cross-cultural debate might be undertaken in the future. (shrink)
Shortened and mildly revised version of an essay that initially appeared in Murove (ed.) African Ethics (2009). This chapter is a work of applied ethics that aims to provide a convincing comprehensive account of how a government official in a post-independence sub-Saharan country should make decisions about 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 public? Which of these factors should be considered an unjust or corrupt basis on which to allocate state goods and which should not? Drawing on an African ethic, this chapter answers these questions with what it calls a “moderate partialism,” according to which a government agent may rightly favor at some cost to the public veterans and victims of state injustices, but not those in her family or party. This chapter seeks to provide a new, unified explanation of why characteristically sub-Saharan values permit some forms of partiality, such as the preferential hiring of those who suffered from or struggled against colonialism, but forbid other, nepotist or prebendalist forms of partiality. (shrink)
Unlike the Chinese, Indian, and Western ethical traditions, the African one had not been text-based until as recently as the 1960s. Since a very large majority of indigenous sub-Saharan societies had oral cultures, there are no classic texts in the field of African ethics and hence also no Big Names; there's nothing comparable to, say, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics or Confucius’ Analects. However, some names and texts have been more influential than others in shaping ethical reflection, particularly over the past 30 (...) years or so with the development of a decent cohort of Africans lecturing in universities. In my contribution, I engage with those contemporary African philosophers whose writings have made some of the most difference to field, favouring those whose views are particularly distinct from salient Western approaches to ethics and should be taken seriously as rivals to them. The main figures critically discussed are I. Menkiti and D. Tutu regarding good character and B. Bujo and K. Gyekye in respect of right action. (shrink)
I propose a theory of punishment that is unfamiliar in the West, according to which the state normally ought to have offenders reform their characters and compensate their victims in ways the offenders find burdensome, thereby disavowing the crime and tending to foster improved relationships between offenders, their victims, and the broader society. I begin by indicating how this theory draws on under-appreciated ideas about reconciliation from the Global South, and especially sub-Saharan Africa, and is distinct from the protection and (...) retribution theories that have dominated the Western philosophy of punishment for about 250 years. Then I argue that it neatly avoids objections to them and is prima facie plausible in its own right. I conclude that this reconciliation theory of state punishment should be taken seriously by philosophers of law and policy makers. (shrink)
Up to now, a very large majority of work in the religious philosophy of life’s meaning has presumed a conception of God that is Abrahamic. In contrast, in this essay I critically discuss some of the desirable and undesirable facets of Traditional African Religion’s salient conceptions of God as they bear on meaning in life. Given an interest in a maximally meaningful life, and supposing meaning would come from fulfiling God’s purpose for us, would it be reasonable to prefer God (...) as characteristically conceived by African philosophers of religion to exist instead of the Abrahamic conception of God? At this stage of enquiry, I answer that, in respect of the range of people to whom God’s purpose would apply, a more African view of God would plausibly offer a greater meaning, but that, concerning what the content of God’s purpose would be, the Abrahamic view appears to offer a greater one. I conclude by reflecting on this mixed verdict and by suggesting respects in which non-purposive facets of the African and Abrahamic conceptions of God could also have implications for life’s meaning. (shrink)
_A Relational Moral Theory_ draws on neglected resources from the Global South and especially the African philosophical tradition to provide a new answer to a perennial philosophical question: what do all morally right actions have in common as distinct from wrong ones? Metz points out that the principles of utility and of respect for autonomy, the two rivals that have dominated western moral theory for the last two centuries, share an individualist premise. Once that common assumption is replaced by a (...) relational perspective given prominence in African ethical thought, a different comprehensive principle, one focused on harmony or friendliness, emerges. Metz argues that this principle corrects the blind spots of the western moral principles, and has implications for a wide array of controversies in applied ethics that an international audience of moral philosophers, professional ethicists, and similar thinkers will find compelling. (shrink)
I critically discuss views about what at least analytic philosophers have in mind when reflecting on what makes life meaningful. I first demonstrate that there has been a standard view of that, according to which meaningfulness centrally involves the actions of human persons, ones that exhibit a high desirability characteristically present in ‘the good, the true, and the beautiful’ and absent from the cases of Sisyphus or the Experience Machine. Then, I address five challenges to the standard view that have (...) recently been made. I conclude that the standard view should be revised to accommodate judgements that animal lives can exhibit meaning, groups of human persons can also do so, and there is a difference between mundane and great meaning possible in the life of a person. However, I resist the more radical suggestions that meaningfulness never inheres in people’s actions or that it need not be positive. (shrink)
A large swathe of the indigenous African ethical tradition is frequently encapsulated in the maxim, “A person is a person through other persons.” This phrasing is an overly literal translation of some sayings that are prominent in the southern and central regions of Africa, but that resonate with most indigenous sub-Saharan cultures. This chapter articulates and motivates a philosophical interpretation of the maxim for an international readership interested in virtue. According to the initial formulation, one should strive to become a (...) real person, which one can do insofar as one prizes other persons’ capacity to relate harmoniously, where harmony consists of identifying with and exhibiting solidarity toward them. The chapter also explores ways of revising this theory to respond to some powerful criticisms, such as that virtue is not purely relational, but also includes some self-regarding dispositions, and that virtue can be manifested by relating to parts of the natural world, particularly to some non-human animals. (shrink)
Adherents to reconciliation, restorative justice, and related approaches to dealing with social conflict are well known for seeking to minimize punishment, in favor of offenders hearing out victims, making an apology, and effecting compensation for wrongful harm as well as victims forgiving offenders and accepting their reintegration into society. In contrast, I maintain that social reconciliation and similar concepts in fact characteristically require punishment but do not require forgiveness. I argue that a reconciliatory response to crime that includes punitive disavowal (...) but not necessarily forgiveness is supported by an analogy with resolving two-person conflict and by relational facets of human dignity. I also specify a novel account of the type of penalty that is justified by reconciliation, namely, burdensome labor that is likely to foster moral reform on the part of wrongdoers and to compensate their victims, which would serve neither retributive nor deterrent functions. I illustrate this conception of punishment in contexts that include having cheated on an exam at a university, engaged in criminal behavior such as robbery, and committed atrocities during large-scale social conflict. (shrink)
When it comes to the question of how much the state ought to punish a given offender, the standard understanding of the desert theory for centuries has been that it should give him a penalty proportionate to his offense, that is, an amount of punishment that fits the severity of his crime. In this article, part of a special issue on the geometry of desert, we maintain that a desert theorist is not conceptually or otherwise required to hold a proportionality (...) requirement. We show that there is logical space for at least two other, non-proportionate ways of meting out deserved penalties, and we also argue that they have important advantages relative to the dominant, proportionality approach. (shrink)
Interviews with David Benatar and Thaddeus Metz about some core aspects of their views about meaning in life, including debate between them. Accessible to a generally educated audience. Edited by Mark Oppenheimer and Jason Werbeloff.