This article is a critical inquiry into Thaddeus Metz's African ethical theory of modal relationalism (MR). Central to the theory of MR is the claim that something (X) has moral status by virtue of its capacity for communal relationship, where X
Olusegun Steven Samuel and Ademola Kazeem Fayemi
A Critique of Thad Metz’s ‘Towards an African Moral Theory’
Thad Metz (2007a) in his ground breaking article ‘Towards an African Moral Theory’ defends an African relational moral theory. 1 By ‘moral theory’ he refers to a principle of right action or ‘normative theorisation’, which involves invoking a
Relationality and Relationship as Grounds of Beneficence
I contend that there are important moral reasons for individuals, organisations and states to aid others that have gone largely unrecognised in the literature. Most of the acknowledged reasons for acting beneficently in the absence of a promise to do so are either impartial and intrinsic, on the one hand, being grounded in properties internal to and universal among individuals, such as their pleasure or autonomy, or partial and extrinsic, on the other, being grounded in non-universal properties regarding an actual relation to the agent, such as common membership in a family or culture. In contrast, I articulate and defend the existence of two unrecognised reasons for beneficence that can take the form of being impartial and extrinsic. One is that a being's capacity to be part of a sharing relationship with us can provide some reason to help it, and another is that a sharing relationship qua relationship is an end-in-itself that can provide some reason to help another. I differentiate these considerations from one another and from the more standard reasons for beneficence, provide arguments for thinking that they are central to beneficence, and rebut objections that are likely to be offered by friends of the more standard reasons.
In Cosmopolitan Justice1 Darrel Moellendorf defends several substantive theses about justice by appealing to the Kantian principle of respect for persons. He claims that respect for persons has the following rough implications (among others): it requires states to enact liberal legislation; it permits them to interfere with religious or otherwise perfectionist regimes; it forbids them from restricting immigration for perfectionist ends; and it requires them to permit secession. In this article, I do not question Moellendorf’s Kantian foundation; I accept that it is of the utmost importance not to degrade the dignity of rational agents. What I do here is question the inferences from this principle to the above conclusions.
The Case of South Africa
The Kantian principle that persons must be treated with respect is the most widely accepted normative foundation of a constitutional democracy. Because the state must treat citizens as free and equal persons or in a way consistent with their dignity, it is obligated to abide by majority rule but to ensure that a constitution prevents a majority from violating minority rights to civil liberty and due process. My broad purpose in this article is to explore the implications of the principle of respect for criminal justice in South Africa.
The Dreyfus Affair in the Notebooks of Henri Vever
Willa Z. Silverman
This article analyzes representations of the Dreyfus Affair in the private diaries written between 1898 and 1901 by Henri Vever, a prominent Art Nouveau jeweler, art collector, and small-town mayor. The important place accorded the Affair in these “ordinary writings“ by an individual with no direct engagement in it offers an opportunity to assess how historical events become enmeshed with private life, mentalités, and sociability. Further, Vever's notebooks reveal position taking during the Affair as a complex phenomenon, in Vever's case influenced by circumstances encompassing his identity as both a native of Lorraine, marked by France's defeat in 1870, and a Republican notable and Parisian businessman. While Vever's notebooks corroborate some standard themes of Dreyfus Affair historiography, including the importance of the press and the eclipsing of the Affair by the 1900 World's Fair, they also nuance the idea of a rigid ideological division between Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards.
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.
Sartre's recollection, in Les Mots, of his first visit to the cinema is a multi-layered and ambivalent text through which Sartre proposes a number of interlocking arguments: concerning the contrast between the 'sacred' space of the theatre and the non-ceremonial space of the cinema, between the theatre as associated with paternal authority, and the cinema as associated with a clandestine bond with the mother. But the text also sets up a quasi-sociological account of the public Sartre encounters in the cinema itself as revealing to him the truth of the social bond, a truth he expresses with the term 'adherence', and which he says he only rediscovered in his experience of being a prisoner in the Stalag in 1940. Rather than the basis of a sociological account of the social bond, which would seem at odds with Sartre's social philosophy, I read this as the expression of a desire for physical proximity. The space of the cinema thus develops a fantasy, and this is in continuity with the role of the cinema in the evolution traced in Les Mots, in which it is described as instigating a withdrawal into imaginary life and an indulgence in daydreaming. Through reference to Christian Metz and to Roland Barthes, whose essay 'En sortant du cinéma' is proposed as a parallel and a response to Sartre, I suggest that the 'true bond' of adherence which Sartre encounters is an unconscious rather than an epistemological truth.
Freedom, without Power
This article attributes the conception of 'freedom-without-power' which dominates contemporary Western political philosophy to a reification of social agency that mystifies contexts of human capacities and achievements. It suggests that Plato's analogy between the structure of the soul and the polis shows how freedom is a consequence, rather than a condition, of political relations, mediated by inter-subjective contestation. From this basis, the article draws on the work of Raymond Geuss to argue against pre-political ethical frameworks in political philosophy, in favour of a more contextually sensitive, self-critical approach to ethics. Such reciprocal ethical-political integration addresses problems of ideological complicity that may arise if freedom is discretely abstracted from history and power in political philosophy. Finally, the article roughly reconstructs a critical account of African identity from writings of Steven Biko to illuminate symptoms of 'meritocratic apartheid' in South Africa today which Thad Metz's influential pre-political conception of ubuntu obscures, by abstracting the figure of African personhood from politically significant historical conditions.
A celebration of humanity’s place in the world
should be approximately 500 words in length. Images should be submitted in a JPEG format at a resolution of approximately 1900 × 1600 pixels. All materials must be original. Figure 1 Fetching water—Port au Prince, Haiti by Doug Metz Figure 2