How the West Was One: The Western as Individualist, the African as Communitarian

Educational Philosophy and Theory 47 (11):1175-1184 (2015)
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There is a kernel of truth in the claim that Western, and especially Anglo-American-Australasian, normative philosophy, including that relating to the philosophy of education, is individualistic; it tends to prize properties that are internal to a human being such as her autonomy, rationality, pleasure, desires, self-esteem, self-realization and virtues relating to, say, her intellect. One notable exception is the idea that students ought to be educated in order to be citizens, participants in a democratic and cosmopolitan order, but, compared to non-Western traditions, this social element is thin. What is striking about other philosophical backgrounds in the East and the South, such as sub-Saharan reflection on the proper ends of education, is that they are typically much more communitarian, and are so in ways that differ from dominant forms of communitarianism in the West. I argue that since geographical terms such as ‘Western’, ‘African’ and the like are best construed as picking out properties that are particularly salient in a region, it is fair to conclude that individualism is Western and not African, or, more carefully, that it is much more Western than it is African, and that converse remarks go for communitarianism. What this means is that, if I am correct about a glaring contrast between philosophies of education typical in the West and in sub-Saharan Africa, and if there are, upon reflection, attractive facets of communitarianism, then countries such as the UK, the US and Australia in some real sense must become less Western in order to take them on

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Thaddeus Metz
University of Pretoria


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