Reconsidering Ubuntu: On the educational potential of a particular ethic of care

Educational Philosophy and Theory 44 (s2):6-20 (2012)
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Abstract

In this article we argue that ubuntu (human interdependence) is not some form of essentialist notion that unfolds in exactly the same way as some critics of ubuntu might want to suggest. Rather, we offer a philosophical position that (re)considers the situation of the self in relation to others. The article starts from the general issues at stake in the debate concerning particularity and universalist ethics. We then reconsider the general position of the ethics of care, and particularly how it has recently been revisited by Michael Slote. Following this, ubuntu is characterised as a particular kind of ethic of care. With this in mind, what we shall put forward is an extension of Seyla Benhabib's (2006) view that the self and others should iteratively and hospitably engage in deliberation. Although we agree with Benhabib that iterations (as arguing over and over again and talking back) are worthwhile in themselves, considering ubuntu (‘a person becoming a person in relation with other persons’), we find Stanley Cavell's (1979) idea of ‘living with skepticism’—particularly, acknowledging humanity in the Other and oneself—as more apposite to extend the theoretical premises of ubuntu. Although the practice of ubuntu is lived out differently amongst Africa's people, we want to add to the diverse ways in which ubuntu can both disrupt and offer ways as to how challenges of human conflict and violence can possibly be resolved. The article finally addresses a couple of educational examples and argues that this approach, by being well-grounded in the life experience of learners, can critically assist the central role of education

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