The function of “it” in Ifeanyi Menkiti’s normative account of personhood: a response to Bernard Matolino

Abstract

This article is a response to Bernard Matolino’s criticisms against Ifeanyi Menkiti’s elucidations on the normative notion of personhood in African philosophy. This article argues that Menkiti’s article is best understood to be ultimately focused on articulating the normative notion of personhood; so understood, Menkiti’s analysis eschews many of the objections made against it by Matolino. We show that the confusion lies in a general failure in African philosophy to distinguish three distinct senses of the notion of a person. We further show how the referent ‘it’ as used to pick out infants by Menkiti, contrary to Matolino’s analysis that suggests that it is an instance of ‘mal-function’ may be charitably construed to be capturing the idea that infants have moral status and/or that they are morally neutral. A defense of Menkiti’s idea of personhood is crucial in a search for a robust African perfectionist ethics. Keywords: ‘It’, Moral agency, Moral Perfectionism, Moral status, Personhood

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Motsamai Molefe
University of Witwatersrand

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