THE METAPHYSICAL BASIS FOR NEW PROPOSALS IN ETHICS - ETHICS ACROSS CULTURES
Dalfovo, Albert T. - Makere University, Department of Philosophy, P.O. Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda.
Metaphysics is professedly concerned with the whys rather than the hows of life. As human beings increase their expertise in the hows, they intensify their search for the whys which point to some basic questions. These whys constitute the existential datum from which the metaphysical inquiry begins and to which it remains related
The new proposals in ethics envisaged by the topic of this workshop come up against "the current inflation of publications on ethics having an existential impact inversely proportional to their rhetoric." (G. S. Sala) Do further proposals make sense? The mul-tiplicity of these publications is most probably due also to the absence of a common pur-pose for them. Some proposals in favour of a unifying reference to the said contribut-ions on ethics would reduce their inflation and intensify their impact. Such common reference would ultimately bear on the foundations of ethics. Hence, the current multi-plicity and irrelevancy of works on ethics is actually demanding renewed proposals for basic agreements on ethics.
The issue of the foundations of ethics is being considered here in its comparative dimension (i.e. Ethics across Cultures). The terms of comparison are Western and African ethics. The discussion on the foundations of ethics in Western philosophy has produced the natural, supernatural and social theories related to such foundations, a paradigm that has entered into the discussions over the same topic also in African philosophy and ethics.
Now, natural law theory has little support in African philosophy. "It appears to make little sense to graft the natural law upon the African model of thought. (The African model of ethics) is not oriented towards natural law." (B. Bujo) Thinkers who uphold such position are generally motivated by a mental framework derived from the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition.
Many African scholars assert that African ethics is theocentric (reference here is generally to African traditional religions) and they subscribe to the supernatural theory. But this is debateable. Other African philosophers deny this theocentrism, stressing that its assertion renders a disservice to genuine African thinking.
What generally all Africans uphold is the anthropocentric dimension of their ethics, dimension that prompts the relevant understanding of person. In Western philosophy, the definition of person has stressed individuality and rationality to which the social component has been recently added (e.g. by Buber and Levinas). In the African understanding, person "is defined by reference to the environing community. The reality of the community takes precedence over the reality of individual life histories. Persons become persons only after a process of incorporation." (I. Menkiti)
The widely asserted anthropocentric dimension of African ethics may lead to think that the social theory of ethics is equally supported with it. The social theory in its pure form (making human consensus the foundation of ethics) is generally accepted only by the African scholars who deny the theocentric dimension of ethics.
"Another of our best resources emerges when we think clearly about the peoples who have the alterative answers to the questions that are not answered by our society." (J. Mohawk) If philosophy is to be universal (and ethics with it), then there is no ignoring other cultures. The proposal here is for a multicultural approach to ethics. This implies recognizing differences and similarities, particulars and universals, not only in concepts but also in norms. This epistemological and ethical approach could open the way to some metaphysical understanding and to an agreed foundation of ethics.