The concept of person in African political philosophy : an analytical and evaluative study


The communitarian conception of person is the dominant view of personhood in African philosophy. This view centrally holds that personhood is something that is attained in direct proportion to one's moral worth and one's relations with her surrounding community. This view understands personhood as something that is acquired as one's moral responsibility grows. Essentially personhood is constituted by the community and expressed in relations that one has with her community. Thus the individual and the community are both tied in the same fate. The individual is seen as constituted by the community and as one with the community. Whatever happens to her happens to the whole community. Some leaders of newly independent Africa used this communitarian VIew of personhood to argue for a socialist order. Such an order would have been faithful to the traditional communitarian conception of person and the soc,i al as well as the economic order that proceeds from that conception. In order to develop an authentically African socialist programme these leaders strived to show that the communitarian conception of personhood naturally leads to African socialism. They took African socialism to be a panacea to economic and social ills that had been brought on by colonialism. This thesis seeks to interrogate both the communitarian conception of personhood and the resultant political ideology of African socialism. It is argued that the major driving factor behind the development of the communitarian view and African socialism is an inordinate desire to find and present the African difference. The problem started with Placide Tempels' futile search for an African ontology and has been perpetuated by all communitarians and African socialists. Thus this project is conceived as a philosophical critique of African communitarianism and the resultant socialism



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Bernard Matolino
University of KwaZulu-Natal

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