Personhood and Rights in an African Tradition

Politikon:1-15 (2017)
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It is generally accepted that the normative idea of personhood is central to African moral thought, but what has not been done in the literature is to explicate its relationship to the Western idea of rights. In this article, I investigate this relationship between rights and an African normative conception of personhood. My aim, ultimately, is to give us a cursory sense why duties engendered by rights and those by the idea of personhood will tend to clash. To facilitate a meaningful philosophical discussion, I locate this engagement in the context of a debate between Ifeanyi Menkiti and Kwame Gyekye about the nature of Afro-communitarianism, whether it will ground rights as primary or secondary. I endorse Menkiti’s stance that duties are primary and rights secondary; and, I also problematize moderate communitarianism for taking a Western stance by employing a naturalist approach to rights.

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Motsamai Molefe
University of Witwatersrand


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