Volume 5, Issue 2, December 2013
Babalola Joseph Balogun
The Consequentialist Foundations of Traditional Yoruba Ethics: an Exposition
Several treatises have been written on the foundations of African moral systems. A significant number of them favours the claim that these systems are founded on religion, with the latter providing a justification for the former. Others have taken a contrary position, denying the supposed necessary causal connection between religion and African moral systems. This paper neither seeks to support nor rebut any of the foundations proposed, but rather to argue for the thesis that from whichever perspective it is viewed - religious, humanistic or rationalist - the Yoruba moral system has strictly consequentialist foundations, and is hence subsumable under the general consequentialist ethical programme. However, the paper notes that Yoruba consequentialism diverges significantly from its western counterpart on the claim that “the end justifies the means”; for whereas this is true of western consequentialism, according to Yoruba consequentialism no evil, however well-intended, can bring about a good end. The Yoruba oral tradition, and particularly the Yoruba language as currently spoken and written among the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria, supplies tools of analysis, while ethical consequentialism provides the theoretical framework.