Volume 7, Issue 2, 2018
African Communalism, Persons, and the case of Non- Human Animals
“I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am”, generally regarded as the guiding principle of African humanism, expresses the view that a person is a person through other persons and is closely associated but not identical with African communitarianism, or communalism. Against Ifeanyi Menkiti’s “unrestricted or radical or excessive communitarianism” Kwame Gyekye has proposed a “restricted or moderate communitarianism”. Whereas personhood, for Menkiti, is acquired over time, with increasing moral maturation, seniority and agency, Gyekye considers it to arise automatically with being born human. The problem with Menkiti’s account of personhood is that it is at once too wide and too narrow. On the other hand, it remains unclear to what extent Gyekye’s is a communitarian view – and to what extent it is distinctly ‘African’. I conclude with a critical reflection on the implications of African communalism and personhood for non-human animals.