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Second Term Seminars

Philosophy in Africa, Africa in Philosophy

 

 

Second term 2016

 

Tues 5th April, 1pm                    Dr Dylan Futter, Philosophy, Wits

ETHICAL METHODOLOGY IN METZ’S THEORY OF UBUNTU

Centre for African Studies Seminar Room, Harry Oppenheimer Institute Building Level 3

 

Tues 12th April, 1pm        Dr Lwazi Siyabonga Lushaba, Political Studies, UCT

TOWARDS A PHENOMENOLOGICAL CRITIQUE OF MODERN CITIZENSHIP: NOTES ON HEIDEGERRIAN SEINSVERSTÄNDNIS

Philosophy Seminar Room, Neville Alexander Building Level 3

 

Tues 19th April, 1pm        Prof Mogobe Ramose, University of Limpopo

A PHILOSOPHY WITHOUT MEMORY CANNOT ABOLISH SLAVERY: ON EPISTEMIC JUSTICE IN SOUTH AFRICA

Centre for African Studies Seminar Room, Harry Oppenheimer Institute Building Level 3

 

Tues 26th April, 1pm        Dr Gregory Fried, Philosophy, UCT

WHO CAN SAY WHAT?

Philosophy Seminar Room, Neville Alexander Building Level 3

 

Tues 3rd May, 1pm          Dr Chika Mba, UHURU, Rhodes

FRANTZ FANON: DECOLONISING THE DISCOURSE ON GLOBAL JUSTICE

Centre for African Studies Seminar Room, Harry Oppenheimer Institute Building Level 3

 

Tues 10th May, 1pm          (i) Dr Rebecca Bamford, Philosophy, Quinnipiac

DECOLONIZING BIOETHICS VIA AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY

                                      (ii) Dr Christopher Wareham, Steve Biko Centre, Wits

EXPLORING DIVERSE ETHICS

Classroom 3A, Neville Alexander Building Level 3

 

Tues 17th May, 1pm          Dr Sergio Alloggio, AGCLE/Philosophy, Rhodes

                                      Mbongisi Dyantyi, AGCLE/Philosophy, Rhodes

BLACK AUTARCHY/WHITE DOMINATION: FRACTURED LANGUAGE AND RACIAL POLITICS DURING APARTHEID AND BEYOND VIA BIKO AND LYOTARD

Centre for African Studies Seminar Room, Harry Oppenheimer Institute Building Level 3

 

Tues 24th May, 1pm                   Bryan Mukandi, Philosophy, Queensland

MADNESS, FAITH, ROOTS: GROUNDING PHILOSOPHY IN, OF AND FOR AFRICA

Classroom 3A, Neville Alexander Building Level 3

 

Tues 31st May, 1pm                   (i) Prof Thaddeus Metz, Philosophy, UJ

MAKING SENSE OF SURVIVOR’S GUILT: WHY IT IS JUSTIFIED BY AN AFRICAN ETHIC

                                             (ii) Dr Tom P. S. Angier, Philosophy, UCT

AFRICAN ETHICS, GREEK ETHICS AND METZ

Centre for African Studies Seminar Room, Harry Oppenheimer Institute Building Level 3

 

Tues 14th June, 1pm                Assoc Prof Brian Epstein, Philosophy, Tufts

BIKO ON BLACK VERSUS NON-WHITE: SOME USES AND RISKS OF CONCEPTUAL ETHICS

Centre for African Studies Seminar Room, Harry Oppenheimer Institute Building Level 3

 

 

A full written paper will be circulated one week in advance of each seminar. Abstracts of the talks follow:

 

Futter: ETHICAL METHODOLOGY IN METZ’S THEORY OF UBUNTU

 

In this paper I question the satisfactoriness of Thad Metz’s articulation of ubuntu. My strategy will be to apply Metz’s ethical methodology to the ancient Greek ideal of σωφροσύνη, of which “there is no adequate translation in modern European languages”. I will argue, on this basis, that Metz’s application of the method of reflective equilibrium fails to express certain mereological relationships that obtain between ubuntu and other virtue concepts. Metz’s project of ethical transposition requires, at least, a clearer account of the conceptual role of ubuntu in African moral language.

 

Lushaba: TOWARDS A PHENOMENOLOGICAL CRITIQUE OF MODERN CITIZENSHIP: NOTES ON HEIDEGERRIAN SEINSVERSTÄNDNIS

 

With the advent of political modernity citizenship has come to mean far more than just a statutory identity. A citizen we now know is a modern subject who is governed by a number of complexes. What the proposed paper does then is problematise the encounter between modern rational citizenship and non-western modes of being-in-the-world. The complexity that thought needs to resolve the paper suggests is how may we make sense of the encounter between modern political reason – citizenship that is – and non-European modes of being? In the ultimate the paper avers that to make sense of non-European forms of life thought has to begin not from subject-centred reason but from the discursive tradition and field of meaning constituted by and through the lived experiences of those who enact their lives beyond the space of the modern, outside of modern political time, those for whom life is marked by a constant overflow of the ancestral and the spiritual into their everyday. As may already be obvious to address the limits of modern citizenship the paper enacts a suggestive move towards Heideggerian Seinsverständnis. In Being and Time his magnum opus Heidegger (1962) impels us to recognise a world wherein reason is but one among various modes of being. Heidegger (1962) claims contrary to Cartesian philosophy that the essence of man is not cogito or ego but existence, ‘being/Sein’. As such being-in-the-world is what we have to presuppose even before the ‘I’ that thinks.

 

Ramose: A PHILOSOPHY WITHOUT MEMORY CANNOT ABOLISH SLAVERY: ON EPISTEMIC JUSTICE IN SOUTH AFRICA

 

Diripa tsa ngwaga keno Afrika Borwa ke segopotso sa bophelo bja Jesu Kriste. Ye taba e a makatsa ka gore ba gona bao ba dumelago go Allah le Yehova. Bangwe ba sa swareletse ditumelong tsa setso. Ke ka lebaka la eng gore bokreste bo okamelo ditumelo tse kamoka? Potsiso ye e laetsa gore bohlale ke lebadi. Ka fao ke tshwanelo go gopolo gore phenyo ya bana ba mabu ke batlhasedi ba go tswa mose wa mawatle ke yona motheo bokgoba. Bosoro bja phenyo ye bo namile bja gapeletswa magorong kamoka a thuto. Go bakisana le ditlamorago tsa phenyo le bosoro bjo ke tshwanelo ka gore go tiisetsa gore bohlale ke lebadi. Ka fao go tlhokagala botlhale bja go se itebatse gore ka bjona go tlhabanelwe tokologo bokgobeng kgorong ya thuto le phedisano ka bophara. Re laodisa taba ye ka go ithuta ka digopotse tseo di kgethilweng ka kelotlhoko ye kgolo gore ka go ithuta ka tsona re bone ditsela tsa go fedisa bokgoba gomme di latelwe.

The dominant calendar in South Africa today is the memorial of the life of Jesus Christ. Why and how was this dominance reached in view of the presence of the mosque and the synagogue, not to mention the many religions of the indigenous peoples conquered in the unjust wars of colonisation? The power of the colonial sword ramified into the epistemological domain, is the inauguration of the prevailing epistemic violence in South Africa. An “anamnestic” philosophy, re-membering this inauguration of epistemic slavery is posited as a challenge to the dominance of the church and its attendant “civilisation”. Systematically selected items to be re-membered will be presented as the basis to question the injustice of persistent epistemic violence in order to achieve epistemic justice as an indispensable complement to the quest for social justice in South Africa.

 

Fried: WHO CAN SAY WHAT?

 

Students beginning their study of philosophy are standardly taught that the worth of an argument does not depend on the person who proposes it. Indeed, attempts to undermine an argument by pointing to features of the arguer are usually regarded as a basic error in reasoning, an argumentum ad hominem.

            By contrast, some writers and activists in South Africa and elsewhere have recently denied legitimacy to certain views and arguments because of the race, gender, or affluence of the person who makes them.

            Are facts about the speaker irrelevant to discerning the worth of an argument, or are they crucial? In this paper I offer a contribution to this issue, paying special attention to South African circumstances.

            I argue that the rebuttable presumption should be that where an argument or opinion is legitimate, it is universally so; it does not gain or lose legitimacy according to the speaker. I then consider arguments for the selective legitimacy of opinion, including appeals to the ignorance and moral taintedness of some groups, the stifling influence of long-established actors, and the importance of autonomous expression by people traditionally sidelined.

            I argue that these views do not succeed in justifying the selective legitimacy of opinion and argument. However, they can be adapted to support a more moderate conclusion about selectiveness: that those who attend to arguments and opinions in the public domain should make efforts not to do so selectively, but rather to discover and consider the range of approaches that are on offer.

 

Mba: FRANTZ FANON: DECOLONISING THE DISCOURSE ON GLOBAL JUSTICE

 

When in 2008 Thomas Pogge, et al published the twin tomes: Global Ethics: Seminal Essays and Global Justice: Seminal Essays, no single title by an African author, or indeed any author from the Global South (not even H. Odera Oruka or K.A. Appiah) working in that field appeared in those volumes. “Experts” purporting to be working hard to find solutions to the problem of global poverty and inequality routinely hold ideas and scholars originating from the Global South beneath contempt. And yet, the general understanding is that global justice, if realised, would mainly favour citizens and countries in that region. More disconcertingly, dominant western writers in the field of global justice have demonstrated great unwillingness to demand a restructuring of the current global order, which is clearly the only way to begin to effectively countermand systemic global injustice.

            This work is a self-conscious counter discourse on global justice that systematically undercuts the structures (neoliberalism, for example) that undergird the current global order while challenging the dominant theoretical perspectives. Undercutting and challenging unjust global structures, via Fanon’s political aesthetics, must begin from decolonising the discourse on global justice. In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon urges those “willing to get rid of the worm-eaten roots of the [global] structure” to look beyond restrictive European humanism to urgently develop what in The Wretched of the Earth, he calls the new humanity that treasures, in the absence of marginality, human dignity, freedom and justice. The idea here is to create a decolonial platform for telling multiple stories about global injustice, especially from the point of view of those whose views have always-already been excluded.

 

Bamford: DECOLONIZING BIOETHICS VIA AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY

 

Contemporary bioethics has been criticized for incorporating a form of ethical neocolonialism by virtue of its domination by the history and practice of medicine and ethics in the West, its neglect of diverse intellectual traditions, and its imposition of Western discourse and values on former colonies through education and funding programs (Campbell 1999; Alora & Lumitao 2001; Chadwick & Schuklenk 2004). These issues are compounded by multiple translations of health educational materials across languages and African contexts (Rennie & Mupenda 2011) and by lack of attention to African philosophical perspectives (Gbadegesin 1993; Garcia 2003; Metz 2010; Fayemi 2015).

Such criticisms have been challenged for making bioethics inconsistent with the biomedical sciences, treating cultural phenomena too selectively and descriptively for effective normative work, and instituting further discrimination (Bracanovic 2013). Widdows suggests that differences between Western and diverse indigenous ethics may have been overstated, especially when examined from a virtue-based analytic perspective, and that we can set aside the concern that bioethics incorporates a form of ethical neocolonialism while pursuing better dialogue between ethical traditions (2007).

I challenge skepticism of a distinctively African bioethics (Gbadegesin 2013) and a recent call for an alternative focus on African healthcare ethics (Fayemi 2015). I use recent discussion of the ethical significance of ubuntu (Metz 2010, 2014; Chuwa 2014; Gouws & van Zyl 2015) alongside work on epistemic injustice (Dotson 2012), universalism in philosophy (Matolino 2015), and whiteness (Alcoff 2015), to more carefully define, and to identify principled reasons to support, a bioethics decolonization project.

 

Wareham: EXPLORING DIVERSE ETHICS

 

Western moral concepts are over-represented in ethical thinking. In deliberating on ethical issues of global importance, arguments are typically put forward on the basis of a limited range of moral theories, values and principles, particularly utilitarian and deontological ones. I argue that this is a serious problem, epistemologically and ethically. It is an epistemological problem since western moral theories are propagated by a relatively small percentage of the world’s population. As such they may represent only a small subset of the world’s attractive moral viewpoints. The sample for plausible moral theories employed by ethicists is thus unscientifically skewed towards the west. The under-representation of non-western accounts in bioethics is also an ethical problem for three reasons. First, it denudes the ‘marketplace of ideas’ that Mill argues would increase utility. Second, it potentially alienates non-Western students and academics. Third, under-representation of non-Western theories is a case of epistemic injustice. Having justified a project to explore greater moral diversity, I sketch a mixed methods project to discover and evaluate potential competitor moral theories in Africa. This method, I suggest, allows us to explore the exciting likelihood of novel moral concepts that can guide ethical decision-making.

 

Alloggio & Dyantyi: BLACK AUTARCHY/WHITE DOMINATION: 

FRACTURED LANGUAGE AND RACIAL POLITICS DURING APARTHEID AND BEYOND VIA BIKO AND LYOTARD

In this paper we engage with two thinkers, two philosophers, one from South Africa and the other one from France, Steven Bantu Biko and Jean-François Lyotard. Biko died in detention because of his activism against apartheid. But one of his major contributions to a post-apartheid South Africa is his philosophy of black consciousness. Lyotard is well known for his famous book The Postmodern Condition, but here we want to focus on his philosophical masterpiece The Differend. The notion of differend (différend) signals a political conflict between at least two parties that cannot be resolved. Each one of them is fighting to make its claim legitimate. A differend takes place every time the suffering party has to prove the injustice she suffered in the language of the dominant. If that happens, the injustice, instead of being addressed as a wrong, it becomes a damage always-already written in the language of the dominant. At the time of his death, we argue that the notion of the differend captures the conflict between Biko and his allies. Biko was arguing that Apartheid is a wrong; Biko’s allies, though, were arguing that Apartheid is a damage.

 

Mukandi: MADNESS, FAITH, ROOTS: GROUNDING PHILOSOPHY IN, OF AND FOR AFRICA

 

This paper begins with Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera, who I take to have been mad. I argue that this madness, which I distinguish from the struggles with mental illness which permeate Marechera’s body of work, results from what Simone Weil called ‘a need for roots’. That is, while I affirm a universal struggle for the emergence of subjectivity against the backdrop of what Emmanuel Levinas termed the ‘there is’, I claim that this process, and the subsequent, or as Levinas conceives it, the paradoxically antecedent transcendence in the face-to-face relation with the other, is occluded in the case of the colonised. Madness, I will argue, is the lot of the colonised who examine and reflect upon their condition, save those who by faith, those who, following Søren Kierkegaard we can call knights of infinite resignation, are able to leap backwards or forwards in order to conjure some ground in ‘African tradition’ or ‘Western modernity’ in which they are able to plant themselves. In light of that, Marechera poses both an example and a challenge to the idea of African philosophy and the African philosopher. The example is in having the courage to examine and reflect upon the post-colonial condition beyond the gates of madness. The challenge that we face is to find and elaborate a path out of that realm of madness, and I claim that Kierkegaard’s concept of the knight of faith as well as the madman in Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science are useful resources in that endeavour. I conclude by suggesting that whatever African philosophy or philosophy in Africa may be, it ought to be a practice governed by the imperative to address the madness of the postcolonial African condition.

 

Metz: MAKING SENSE OF SURVIVOR’S GUILT: WHY IT IS JUSTIFIED BY AN AFRICAN ETHIC

 

The default position in Western ethics is that survivor’s guilt is either irrational or not rational, i.e., that while survivor’s guilt might be understandable, it is not justified in the sense of there being good reason for a person to exhibit it. From a widely held perspective, for example, one ought to feel guilty only for having done wrong, and in a culpable way, which, by hypothesis, a mere survivor has not done. Typical is the following: ‘Strictly speaking, survivor guilt is not rational guilt, for surviving the Holocaust, or surviving battle….is not typically because a person has deliberately let another take his place in harm’ (N Sherman, ‘Guilt in War’). However, I find in the African tradition resources that promise to entail and plausibly explain why it would be reasonable for a person to feel survivor’s guilt. The core idea that I take from this tradition is that a person is virtuous insofar as she is communal in her actions and attitudes. In my contribution I develop the hypothesis that feeling guilty upon the dumb luck of survival can be apt as a virtuous form of one’s attitudes being positively bound up with others’ lives.

 

Angier: AFRICAN ETHICS, GREEK ETHICS AND METZ

“The great thing about you is that you’re like me.”

            This would be an odd compliment to pay someone, if it is a compliment at all. Yet it is, in effect, the compliment Thaddeus Metz pays to ‘African ethics’. Metz analyses ‘African virtues’ as, at root, promoting two key ends or goods: ‘liveliness’ and community (see ‘The virtues of African ethics’, Metz 2014). But he construes these ends or goods in terms so elastic that they mirror, or are at least consistent with the mainstream, Western liberal and individualistic norms which have become dominant over the last fifty years.

            Contra Metz, I shall argue that, if we take characteristically African virtues on their own terms, they attest to norms that are notable precisely because they tend, boldly, to impugn and repudiate liberal individualism. In fact, they are far closer to the anti-liberal and anti-individualistic norms that prevailed in Ancient Greek (and later, Judaeo-Christian) ethics.

            African ethics is notable also, I shall argue, insofar as it can remedy problems with specifically Aristotelian virtue ethics. The latter is too accepting of slavery, too friendly to strong intellectualism, and too vague about rules of conduct. African ethics shows none of these faults. If it can, in addition, supply cogent arguments for its own norms, it has every chance of becoming a robust challenger to the moral theoretical status quo.

 

Epstein: BIKO ON BLACK VERSUS NON-WHITE: SOME USES AND RISKS OF CONCEPTUAL ETHICS

 

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This paper examines Steve Biko’s distinction between black and non-white as a project in “conceptual ethics” or “ameliorative conceptual analysis.” I explore the difference between descriptive and ameliorative conceptual analysis, as introduced by Sally Haslanger, and show how Biko’s distinction illuminates these approaches to concepts. I also work to clarify the relations among social kinds, our concepts, and words in our language to help explain what ameliorative conceptual analysis can accomplish, and consider some notable differences between Biko’s proposal and other recent ameliorative analyses. The paper builds on George Hull’s argument that the elements of the black consciousness movement make successful moves in addressing hermeneutical injustice.