Title page for ETD etd-11092006-161825

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Eze, Michael Onyebuchi
URN etd-11092006-161825
Document Title Ubuntu : a communitarian response to liberal individualism?
Degree Master of Arts
Department Philosophy
Advisor Name Title
Dr E Wolff Committee Chair
Ms L Mabille Committee Co-Chair
  • realist perspectivism
  • common good
  • utilitarianism
  • consensus
  • virtue ethics
  • communitarianism
  • community
  • deontology
  • individuals
  • ethics
  • individualism
  • liberalism
  • rights
  • rationality
  • ubuntu
Date 2006-05-02
Availability restricted

This dissertation addresses a crucial question central to contemporary political philosophy: Does the priority of individual rights guarantee a genuine healthy communal life and democratic vision of politics? Alternatively, does a vision of moral and political philosophy that emphasizes primacy of rights of individuals undermine the significance of community with a concomitant negation of an ideal of the good life that is to be shared in common among individuals? This debate, otherwise termed the ‘communitarian-liberal’ debate, forms the background of this dissertation and my intention was to find resources in both Western communitarianism and Ubuntu philosophy that challenged the liberal project.

According to liberal thinkers, individual rights and autonomy are prioritized over the common good, which is to say that liberalism is predicated upon a doctrine of individualism, which states that the individual right is a primary reality whereas the community or the common good is a second-order or an artificial construct. This specific conception of what it is to be an individual is presupposed by liberal understandings of morality. Besides advocating an atomistic conception of what it is to be a subject, liberal thinkers also tend to advocate a universal – impartial – ethics and a politics that gives priority to individual rights and State neutrality over principles of communal harmony and responsibility. In this dissertation, I have explored an extended in-depth analysis of two alternatives to liberal individualism: Western communitarianism and Ubuntu Philosophy.

Communitarians challenge the primacy of the individual good and the picture of the free-choosing individual it embodies because it is premised on the mistaken form of individualism that views humans as individualized, solitary, ‘atomistic’ beings that exist prior to society and remain unencumbered by social identity or communal ethics. Western communitarians defend the view that we derive our identity through our participation in community. Communitarians argue that the basic principles embodied in liberal individualism lead to morally unsatisfactory consequences such as the impossibility of living a genuinely healthy communal life insofar as living a genuinely healthy communal life presupposes a certain degree of identification with one’s community, and the identification in question is one that involves understanding that one’s identity is constituted by the specific conduct in which one engages with one’s community.

Ubuntu philosophy is derived from the African conception of the human person and his/her relationship with the community. In general terms, it embodies the ethics that defines Africans. Africans are social beings that are in constant communion with one another where a human being is a human being only through his or her relationships to other human beings (umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.) As a people-centred philosophy, Ubuntu states that the worth of the human person is dependent on social, cultural and spiritual criterion. It is a life dependent on the normative engagement with the community, a substantive appreciation of the common good and a constitutive engagement with one another in a rational ethical community. In this way, community and communality become central to the African identity. And, contrary to most African communitarian writers, common good in African value system is not achieved through consensus but through realist perspectivism. However, the extent that Ubuntu philosophical ethics remains a criterion that defines the African identity has been undermined by forces of liberal individualism. An appeal is made to virtue ethics for the moral reconstruction of Ubuntu philosophy in challenging liberal individualism.

©2005, University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Eze, MO 2005, Ubuntu : a communitarian response to liberal individualism?, MA dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-11092006-161825/ >


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