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Freedom, philosophical and political : do philosophers and politicians want the same thing?

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Two ethical currents have been dominant during the past three centuries in moral philosophy, namely utilitarianism and Kantian ethics. As a number of moralists have observed, the contemporary moral disorder provides clear evidence of the failure of these two theories. In fact, they have left our societies in a moral crisis with social and political consequences. We may not lay the entire blame for this crisis at the feet of these theories. In any case, they are unable to resolve it. African society is not preserved from this crisis. The problem of Utilitarian and Kantian ethics lies in the fact that they are impersonal and alienating, because they commit themselves to utility and duty for their own sakes. Thus they cannot provide us with any ground on which we can base the reconstruction of the African society which is undergoing a social and political crisis. The alternative I propose is Aristotelian virtue ethics viewed from a communitarian perspective. While Utilitarianism and Kantianism emphasize doing (act-based ethics), virtue ethics is concerned with being (agent-based ethics), and flourishes mostly in the context of the community. As a result I argue that virtue ethics could be a solution to the moral and sociopolitical crisis which African society is experiencing today, in that it could help us to relocate the individual in the community as a being-with-self and a being-with-others, that is, an individual endowed with the overall virtue of Ubuntu (humanity). It is this kind of individual we expect in African humanism thought to be socio-ethical. However, Aristotelian virtue ethics is far from being an automatic panacea. In fact, it faces three major problems which social and political philosophy is wrestling with at present, namely: the complexity of our contemporary society, the current problems of nationalism and democracy, and the problem of global ethics and cosmopolitan citizenship. Nevertheless, there is reason to hope. This hope lies in our being human which entails being moral. I believe that morality implies that the human person cannot be reduced to a seIf-interested calculator whose social ties originate in a contract as Kantian thinkers might - make us believe. Instead, a virtuous life is suggested as a relevant tool that would help us to perceive and appreciate the circumstances in which one lives and act accordingly. The solution to African society's problem is at this price.


Theses (M.A.)-(University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1999.


Political Ethics., Theses--Ethics.