Kwame Gyekye on “African Ethics”

Here’s a new Stanford entry. This is particularly timely for me, since I can use it for when my Ethics class (it’s called Ethics and Race, though really about conceptions of ethics and difference in relation to Africana philosophies)  turns to African philosophy. He begins with a good pedagogical discussion on terms. This will also lead to good questions for the course. Since we begin with Rousseau of all people to set up questions about the notion of a “people” and homogenous communities, as well as the quintessential problems addressed by the other authors, this part is notable:

Also, in this entry, ‘African’ refers to the salient features or ideas of the African moral life and thought generally as reflected in, or generated by, African moral language and social structure and life. Many writers have made the observation that despite the indisputable cultural diversity that arises from Africa’s ethnic pluralism, there are underlying affinities in many areas of the African life; this is surely true in the African religious and moral outlook. There are some features of the moral life and thought of various African societies that, according to the cited sources, are common or shared features.

He then takes the Akan concepts of the person as being particularly salient, or having a certain kernel that holds true for other African societies. This is not a claim that hasn’t been contested, but is one that he has addressed in previous writings (and here). He also utilizes common linguistic usage as a means for ascertaining not just moral, but ethical claims. (We see a similar modus in Heidegger’s treatment of “Greek Dasein.”) This will dovetail well with discussions in Masolo’s Self and Community in a Changing World.

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