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Christian B.N. Gade

What is Ubuntu? Different Interpretations among South Africans of African Descent

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In this article, I describe and systematize the different answers to the question 'What is Ubuntu?' that I have been able to identify among South Africans of African descent (SAADs). I show that it is possible to distinguish between two clusters of answers. The answers of the first cluster all define ubuntu as a moral quality of a person, while the answers of the second cluster all define ubuntu as a phenomenon (for instance a philosophy, an ethic, African humanism, or, a wordview) according to which persons are interconnected. The concept of a person is of central importance to all the answers of both clusters, which means that to understand these answers, it is decisive to raise the question of who counts as a person according to SAADs. I show that some SAADs define all Homo sapiens as persons, whereas others hold the view that only some Homo sapiens count as persons: only those who are black, only those who have been incorporated into personhood, or only those who behave in a morally acceptable manner.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSouth African Journal of Philosophy
Volume31
Issue3
Pages (from-to)484-503
Number of pages20
ISSN0258-0136
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012

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