African Values and Human Rights as Two Sides of the Same Coin: Reply to Oyowe

African Human Rights Law Journal 14 (2):306-21 (2014)
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In an article previously published in this Journal, Anthony Oyowe critically engages with my attempt to demonstrate how the human rights characteristic of South Africa’s Constitution can be grounded on a certain interpretation of Afro-communitarian values that are often associated with talk of ‘ubuntu’. Drawing on recurrent themes of human dignity and communal relationships in the sub-Saharan tradition, I have advanced a moral-philosophical principle that I argue entails and plausibly explains a wide array of individual rights to civil liberties, political power, criminal procedures and economic resources. Oyowe’s most important criticism of my theory is in effect that it is caught in a dilemma: either the principle I articulate can account for human rights, in which case it does not count as communitarian, or it does count as the latter, but cannot account for the former. In this article, I reply to Oyowe, contending that he misinterprets key facets of my theory to the point of not yet engaging with its core strategy for deriving human rights from salient elements of ubuntu. I conclude that Oyowe is unjustified in claiming that there are ‘theoretical lapses’ that ‘cast enormous doubts’ on my project of deriving human rights from a basic moral principle with a recognizably sub-Saharan and communitarian pedigree.

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Thaddeus Metz
Cornell University (PhD)


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