Personhood and the Practical: A Narrative-Based Conception


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships


Philosophy & Ethics


It is commonly assumed in African philosophical discourse that metaphysical conceptions of personhood have important practical implications particularly on moral, social and political questions. Yet, the widely cited normative conceptions of personhood emerging from traditional African cultures and couched in terms of a communitarian ethic has turned out to be problematic, yielding counterintuitive judgments that require a sharp distinction between metaphysical and practical questions about personhood. However, given that the articulation and resolution of such issues depend heavily on assumptions about personhood, the breakdown in the link between the two deserves to be interrogated. This study argues that the African discourse on personhood suffers from an overly narrow set of concerns and thus fails to appreciate a wider range of issues that adequately explain why it is that personhood matters. An alternative and substantive narrative-based conception, that avoids the major pitfalls of existing conceptions and can account for a wide range of practical issues, is articulated and defended.