Virtue in African Ethics as Living Harmoniously

In Chenyang Li & Dascha Düring (eds.), Harmony as Virtue (tentative title). Oxford University Press (forthcoming)

Authors
Thaddeus Metz
University of Johannesburg
Abstract
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.
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