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Fourth Term Seminars

Philosophy in Africa, Africa in Philosophy

 

 

A series of academic research seminars hosted jointly by the Philosophy Department and the Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town, Tuesdays 1-2.30pm

 

Convenors: Prof Lungisile Ntsebeza & Dr George Hull

 

Fourth term, 2016

 

Tues 13th September, 1pm Dr Elisa Galgut, Philosophy, UCT

CULTURE AND ANIMAL RIGHTS

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

 

Tues 20th September, 1pm Dr Dean Chapman, Philosophy, UCT

PERSONS AS COMMUNITIES

Philosophy Seminar Room, Neville Alexander Building Level 3

 

Tues 27th September, 1pm Ndumiso Dladla, Philosophy, UNISA

RACISM AND THE MARGINALITY OF AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY IN SOUTH AFRICA

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

 

Tues 4th October, 1pm Assoc Prof Julie Maybee, Philosophy, CUNY

PERSONS AND DISABILITY IN AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY

Classroom 3A, Neville Alexander Building Level 3

 

Tues 11th October, 1pm Dr George Hull, Philosophy, UCT

NEVILLE ALEXANDER AND THE NON-RACIALISM OF THE UNITY MOVEMENT

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

 

Tues 18th October, 1pm Dr Dorothea Gädeke, Political Studies, Frankfurt

RELATIONAL POLITICAL THOUGHT

Classroom 3A, Neville Alexander Building Level 3

 

Tues 25th October, 1pm Prof. Francis Nyamnjoh, Anthropology, UCT

AMOS TUTUOLA AND THE ELUSIVENESS OF COMPLETENESS

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:

 

Galgut: CULTURE AND ANIMAL RIGHTS

Are cultural and religious practices that harm animals morally defensible?  I shall argue that harming animals in cultural/religious practices—even where such practices are firmly entrenched or considered important to the adherents of that cultural or religious group—is not morally defensible.  I’ll present some arguments in support of this claim. 

 

Chapman: PERSONS AS COMMUNITIES

In this paper I develop an account of personhood inspired and informed by some African conceptions of the person, including, among others, the account in Ifeanyi Menkiti’s ‘Person and Community in African Traditional Thought’. The theory is also inspired and informed by Mark Johnston’s recent theory of personhood and the afterlife in his Surviving Death.

The account offers, I believe:

(a)    a new way in which persons could be persons necessarily ‘through’ other persons;

(b)   a new way in which personhood could come in degrees; and

(c)    a new way in which (according to the view) many of us will have a literal but completely naturalistic afterlife.

On this view a real person is never an individual human (neo-Lockean) person. But an individual human person can identify with the members of a community; and sometimes they thereby unite, in whole or in part, with the community itself. This is a real person, a community itself. So if you are a real person then the death of any single human being is not your death.

 

Dladla: RACISM AND THE MARGINALITY OF AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY IN SOUTH AFRICA

We will begin the presentation with a brief discussion about the historical continuity of white supremacy in South Africa despite wide attempts by the institutions of opinion (public discourse, media and academe) to represent the present time as an era of the “non-racial”. We examine the history of philosophy education and practice in South Africa with attention to the continued marginality of the philosophy of the indigenous peoples conquered in the unjust wars of colonisation (who also constitute a considerable majority of the population). We conclude that the marginality of African philosophy is hardly accidental but is a result of a sustained and deliberate commitment to ignorance which is no more or less than a symptom of the systemicity of racism. We conclude the paper with a sketch of minimum conditions for liberation of philosophy which is at the same time a philosophy of liberation for South Africa.

 

Maybee: PERSONS AND DISABILITY IN AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY

One important debate in African philosophy has focused on the question about whether—or to what degree—individual people are defined by their communities. A number of African philosophers have defended some version of a social conception of the self, or of the view that individual human beings’ identities are constructed by their social communities—a view deeply rooted in many traditional, African cultures. Because Western philosophy has tended to deny or underplay the role that social communities play in defining individuals, it has often either neglected any engagement with this topic, or, worse, has presupposed some version of individualism, according to which individuals can have identities independently of their communities. African traditions and philosophy not only have much to contribute to philosophical debates about this issue, but also provide an important angle for criticizing many, Western philosophical positions to which the social conception of the self is relevant. In this paper, I explore both the social conception of the self in African thought as well as some philosophical debates to which the view is relevant. In my own work, for instance, I have used the social conception of the self in African thought to critique one, overly individualistic (I argue) political philosophy, to explore the effects that social roles have on knowledge, and to criticize strictly biological definitions of “disability.” Because our perceptions and experiences—of both ourselves and the world—I argue, are irreducibly social, the reality or materiality of “disability” cannot be defined outside of the social.

 

Hull: NEVILLE ALEXANDER AND THE NON-RACIALISM OF THE UNITY MOVEMENT

The Non-European Unity Movement in South Africa is notable for its early insistence on the unreality of race. Its intellectuals (Kies, Jordaan, Tabata) criticised calls from the Congress Youth League, and soon the Communist Party, for mobilisation against apartheid in separate “national groups”, claiming they promoted the same counterproductive illusions as liberal pluralists and the National Party. By the late 1970s the scholar, activist, and former Robben Island-detainee Neville Alexander had emerged as the most accomplished theorist within this current of anti-apartheid thought. With the coming of democracy he employed ideas from the Unity Movement tradition to criticise the African National Congress-led government’s use of apartheid-era population categories for data-gathering and redress. Alexander’s analysis of apartheid South Africa using the concept colour-caste is illuminating, as it highlights the fact that “African”, “Indian”, “Coloured” and “White” primarily denote places in an imposed social hierarchy, rather than biological, national or ethno-cultural groups. However, I argue that this analysis does not support the conclusion Alexander draws, which is that neither mobilisation in campaigns for justice nor redress for injustice should take place along colour-caste lines. An imposed colour-caste identity need not be mistaken for a more primordial or all-encompassing form of identity—though we should also grant that it can give rise to common cultural points of reference. Moreover, Alexander’s view that solidarity along lines of colour-caste is more open than class, language-group or national solidarity to self-interested manipulation by the ruling class or a sectional elite (“ethnic entrepreneurs”) is under-motivated. I end by suggesting we employ the colour-caste analysis to theorise about justice in a way different from Alexander’s.

 

Gädeke: RELATIONAL POLITICAL THOUGHT

African philosophy is often characterized as being relational in nature. While this feature might not be shared amongst African philosophers generally speaking, some form of relational thought is certainly more prevalent in the African context than in the European. In fact, with its emphasis on the fundamental importance of social relationships, relational thought might provide a stimulating challenge to the individualist liberal paradigm currently predominant in Western political philosophy.

But what exactly does it mean to pursue a relational theory? How do social relationships matter - and on what level of philosophical thought: on the ontological, the epistemological, the moral or the political – or on all of them? What kind of social relationships matter and for what reasons? Are social relationships a pre-given social fact that needs to be preserved or an ideal that calls for realization? And in how far are these claims context-dependent?

The paper aims to clarify the notion of relationality and in order to bring out the distinctive contribution it may offer to wider debates in political philosophy. I will do so by confronting relational African approaches with Western neorepublicanism, a decidedly political theory that has equally been classified as relational so as to set it apart from both, Western liberalism and Western communitarianism of a stronger kind.

Drawing on the work of authors such as Kwame Gyekye, Bénézet Bujo, Thaddeus Metz and Chisanga Siame I will reconstruct relational arguments brought forward in African moral and political philosophy, with regard to their ontological and epistemological underpinnings and as well as their normative, moral and political content. In a second step I will compare this notion of relationality with relational arguments within neorepublicanism. While they share some basic commitments to the fundamental role of social relationships, especially on the ontological and epistemological level, there are important differences when it comes to the moral and political ideals articulated against this background. The aim of this dialogue is to show how relational arguments are brought to bear within different fields of philosophical inquiry, how they relate to one another and what political implications are drawn from them. I thus conclude by sketching some preliminary thoughts on what this implies for a relational political philosophy.

 

Nyamnjoh: AMOS TUTOLA AND THE ELUSIVENESS OF COMPLETENESS

This paper is a contribution to the unfinished business of transformation of colonial and apartheid ideologies on being human and being African that continue to shape how research is conceptualized, taught and practiced in universities across Africa. Endogenous epistemologies such as depicted by Amos Tutuola in his writings, despite their popularity with ordinary Africans and with elite Africans especially in settings away from the scrutinising prescriptive gaze of their western and westernised counterparts, are mainly dormant or invisible in scholarly circles where they are often ignored, caricatured or misrepresented through problematic categories that are actively and uncritically internalised and reproduced by a Eurocentric modern intellectual elite. Africans immersed in popular traditions of meaning-making are denied the right to think and represent their realities in accordance with the civilisations and universes they know best. Often, the ways of life they cherish are labelled and dismissed too eagerly as traditional knowledge by some of the very African intellectual elite they look up to for protection. The paper makes a case for space to be created for such sidestepped traditions of knowledge. It draws attention to Africa’s possibilities, prospects and emergent capacities for being and becoming in tune with its creativity and imagination. It speaks to the ‘frontier African’ at the crossroads and junctions of encounters, facilitating creative conversations and challenging regressive logics of exclusionary identities. The paper uses Tutuola’s stories to question dualistic assumptions about reality and scholarship, and to call for conviviality, interconnections and interdependence between competing knowledge traditions in Africa.