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The Common Good and a Teleological Conception of Rights

An Article on the African Philosophy of Rights

Sabelo Ndwandwe

A common communitarian criticism of rights discourse picks at the individualistic picture of rights which is said to presuppose a society where persons are conscious of their separateness. In contrast, an African communitarian society is said to put less emphasis on individual interests; it encourages harmony, not divergence of interests, competition, and conflict. Thus, preoccupation with rights would be incompatible with and even hostile to the possibility of community. This article argues the opposite; it submits that rights and community are mutually constitutive. To this end, I explore T. H. Green’s social recognition thesis which reconceptualises rights and obligations in a teleological framework. When conceived in this fashion, rights transcend antithetical relations between individuals and society as typified by classical natural rights thinkers. I argue that, considering a normative significance of the common good, a compelling account of rights in African philosophy is better conceived in a teleological framework.

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Motsamai Molefe

In this article, I motivate for the view that the best account of the foundations of morality in the African tradition should be grounded on some relevant spiritual property – a view that I call 'ethical supernaturalism'. In contrast to this position, the literature has been dominated by humanism as the best interpretation of African ethics, which typically is accompanied by a direct rejection of 'ethical supernaturalism' and a veiled rejection of non-naturalism (Gyekye 1995: 129–43; Metz 2007: 328; Wiredu 1992: 194–6). Here primarily, by appeal to methods of analytic philosophy, which privileges analysis and (moral) argumentation, I set out to challenge and repudiate humanism as the best interpretation of African ethics; I leave it for a future project to develop a fully fledged African spiritual meta-ethical theory.