’Giving the World a More Human Face’: Human Suffering in African Thought and Philosophy

In Jeff Malpas & Norelle Lickiss (eds.), Perspectives on Human Suffering. Springer. pp. 49-62 (2012)
I present ideas about human suffering that are salient among the black peoples of sub-Saharan Africa, reconstruct them in order to make them relevant to an international audience with philosophical interests, and urge that audience to give them consideration as alternatives or correctives to some dominant Western approaches. I first recount views commonly held by sub-Saharans about the nature, causes and cures of suffering, and then draw on them to articulate an account of it qua enervation, which rivals a neuro-physical perspective that friends of Western science would readily adopt. Then, I address the way one morally should respond to suffering, appealing to judgments about the value of community that are influential among Africans. I show that, upon theoretical refinement, an Afro-communitarianism entails an ethical analysis of suffering that seriously competes with those entailed by standard Western moral philosophies. This view instructs moral agents neither to make others suffer because they deserve it, as per Kantian retributivism, nor to do whatever will minimize suffering, à la utilitarianism. Instead, it roughly prescribes responding to suffering out of love, which can require increasing the amount of suffering in the world by taking it upon oneself, instead of leaving it to others to bear on their own.
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