Original Articles

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

Published in: South African Journal of Philosophy
Volume 31, issue 3, 2012 , pages: 484–503
DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2012.10751789
Author(s): Christian B.N. GadeDepartment of Culture and Society, Denmark


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 worldview) 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.

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