Metz and Ubuntu
When coming up with similarities between Western Philosophy and Ubuntu, Metz claims that discriminating “on a racial basis when allocating opportunities” (Metz 324) is seen as something uncontroversially wrong. This is something I have a hard time with because this is a claim he provides no other evidence for. While some may believe that everyone disagrees with racism, there are many who openly practice discrimination and those who are bystanders when that discrimination happens. For instance, more people will try to defend the actions of a racist rather than defend robbery. Looking at the treatment of Kyle Rittenhouse, a man who shot and killed two Black Lives Matter activists and was then bailed out of jail by other white nationalists, proves that racism is not something uncontroversial and in fact something that some people praise.
Metz decided that Ubuntu means “An action is right just insofar as it produces harmony and reduces discord; an act is wrong to the extent that it fails to develop community” (Metz 334). This leads Metz to decide what harmony means. One definition of harmony is a “shared identity”. There are four categories of shared identity: a person must self-identify in the group, the group as a whole must agree that the person is a part of the group, the group must have a common end or goal, and the people in the group must take action to achieve that common end or goal (335). While this may seem like it promotes harmony, certain identities can be created specifically to create disruption and be divisive.
Another aspect of harmony is good-will. In a general sense, good-will means wishing others well and promoting a sense of good onto other people. In this section, Metz gives an example of people without shared identity promoting good-will for each other. This example does not hold up in the real world. There will be virtually no instances where someone is locked in a room and forced to press a button in order to help someone else. This is an example that only exists to prove a point, and would not actually be seen in the real world. Is it possible that if this experiment was run it would result in what Metz is describing? Of course. However, it is a specific example that would never happen in the real world.
After defining harmony and self-identity, Metz decided that Ubuntu means “An action is right just insofar as it promotes shared identity among people grounded on good-will; an act is wrong to the extent that it fails to do so and tends to encourage the opposites of division and ill-will” (Metz 338). By adding what harmony means it allows the argument to be stronger and more specific. Metz’s theory accounts for the previously stated important aspects of African philosophy.
When this reading was assigned, I became very excited at the prospect of reading an African Philosopher. In a white male-dominated field, I was excited to read a different perspective just as I was last week when we read the Mencius. Then I researched the author and found that he is a white male and not from Africa. This is not something I would normally critique, but in this paper, I think that it is necessary. When Metz clarifies the essay, he makes it clear that he is not trying to prove whether his theory should be followed, but rather a philosophical principle that can stand up next to Western philosophies (Metz 322–323). This essay is written through the perspective of a white American lens, and as a result, seems to be slanted towards Western philosophy as the golden standard. While it is not impossible to write about matters outside of a person’s own experiences, it is much more authentic to write about one’s own experiences. Someone who is African and grew up learning these principles would have made this more credible. Reading Mencius’s work shows us how an ancient Chinese philosopher believed people in ancient China should live, and Aristotle’s work showed us how an ancient Grecian philosopher thought ancient Grecian people should live. Metz is speaking on culture and philosophy that he has only studied and not something that he necessarily believes or grew up immersed in. While this may not be a legitimate criticism of Metz’s work, I would be remiss in not including it considering it is a complaint that I had while reading.
Metz, Thaddeus. “Toward an African Moral Theory.” The Journal of Political Philosophy, vol. 15, no. 3, 2007, pp. 321–341., doi:file:///C:/Users/jadah/Downloads/Metz%20-%20Toward%20an%20African%20Moral%20Theory%20.pdf.