Matolino’s misunderstanding of Menkiti’s African moral view of the person and community

Published in: South African Journal of Philosophy
Volume 36, issue 4, 2017 , pages: 553–567
DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2017.1387994
Author(s): Polycarp IkuenobeDepartment of Philosophy, USA


I provide an exposition of Ifeanyi Menkiti’s view of communal ethics in terms of his conception of moral personhood vis-à-vis community, in order to defend him specifically against Bernard Matolino’s criticisms. Matolino argues that Menkiti’s view of communitarianism is a metaphysical thesis about the essential ontological nature of the community as ontologically constitutive of personhood. He argues that this view is false because it cannot explain changes in modern Africa. I argue that Matolino has misunderstood Menkiti’s view; it is not a factually true description of all African traditions, but a normative moral conception of how personhood, community, and their relations ought to be understood in African traditions. I provide a more plausible interpretation of Menkiti’s view in order to undercut Matolino’s criticisms and indicate that these criticisms, which are based on a misinterpretation, involve a straw man.

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