Community, Individuality, and Reciprocity in Menkiti

In Edwin Etieyibo & Polycarp A. Ikuenobe (eds.), Menkiti on Community and Becoming a Person. Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 131-145 (2020)
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For four decades Ifeanyi Menkiti has addressed the question of which sort of community constitutes personhood from a characteristically African perspective. In this chapter, I critically discuss the conceptions of how one acquires personhood through community that Menkiti has advanced, in search of the one that would most enable him to avoid prominent moral objections made to his views over the years. In particular, his account of personhood has been criticized for insufficiently accommodating individual difference, most recently in respect of gender and sexuality. I draw on the resources in Menkiti’s work for rebutting this line of criticism, but contend that, even if he can avoid that one, another, new objection looms large: because of Menkiti’s claim that reciprocity is central to community, he is committed to the view that human infants and mentally incapacitated adults lack moral standing, in the way he explicitly believes animals lack it. After showing that, according to Menkiti’s strongest conception of personhood, one counterintuitively cannot acquire it in the course of interacting with any non-persons, I articulate an alternative conception of how to understand the role of community in acquiring personhood that avoids this problem as well as the other ones discussed.
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