- BACKGROUND OF STUDY
The ethics of a society is embedded in the ideas and beliefs about what is right or wrong, what is a good or bad character; it is also embedded in the conceptions of satisfactory social relations and attitudes held by the members of the society; it is embedded, furthermore, in the forms or patterns of behavior that are considered by the members of the society to bring about social harmony and cooperative living, justice, and fairness. The ideas and beliefs about moral conduct are articulated, analyzed, and interpreted by the moral thinkers of the society.
African societies, as organized and functioning human communities, have undoubtedly evolved ethical systems—ethical values, principles, rules—intended to guide social and moral behavior. But, like African philosophy itself, the ideas and beliefs of the African society that bear on ethical conduct have not been given elaborate investigation and clarification and, thus, stand in real need of profound and extensive analysis and interpretation. In the last three decades or so, attempts have been made by contemporary African philosophers to give sustained reflective attention to African moral ideas. This entry is intended to make some contribution to the understanding of African ethical thinking.
The entry makes the African moral language its point of departure, for the language of morality gives insight into the moral thinking or ideas of the society. The centrality of the notions of character and moral personhood, which are inspired by the African moral language, is given a prominent place. The entry points up the social character of African ethics and highlights its affiliated notions of the ethics of duty (not of rights) and of the common good.
In Africa, the study of earlier features of moral understanding is exceedingly important. Knowledge of morality, in addition to satisfying our curiosity regarding the past, gives us a clear understanding of the nature of morality. This is because people who have evolved a culture would be expected to have a distinguishable epistemological or conceptual knowledge of the basic components of their culture, including their ethics (Claude, Sumner, 2002). It is a matter of fact that morality is universal to humanity. This means that morality is essential to all human being no matter where they live or no matter what kind of life they lead. Morality is what makes man a man. In this case, Wiredu (1998) said that “any society without medium of morality must collapse.” This being the case, however, many foreigners have erroneous understanding of African morality. Some even tend to regard Africans as devoid of morality and moral consciousness. For instance, they asserted that “Africans do not distinguish between good and evil…they are devoid of moral content or of universally accepted ethical norms” (Temple, 1952).
There are two dichotomous views, says James Kikongo (2002), among the scholars of African concerning the African traditional concept of the basis of foundation of morality. The first, and which seems to be most predominant and shared by majority of the critics, is that African morality is founded on African concept of the spiritual reality (religion). The second is that African morality is fundamentally determined by the conception of human well fare. In addition Africans devotions to their ancestor and taboo have taken as the characteristics of African moral awareness. Reverence for their ancestors regarded as so typical of the indigenous African culture that some African morality as “ancestor worship”. Relevantly, taboos are cultural and religious phenomena that maintain order, cohesion, and integration in traditional African society (Ibid, 2002).
Many writers have made the observation that despite the indisputable cultural diversity that arises from Africa's ethnic pluralism, there are underlying affinities in many areas of the African life; this is surely true in the African religious and moral outlook. There are some features of the moral life and thought of various African societies that, according to the cited sources, are common or shared features. There are other features that can be seen as common on conceptual or logical grounds. For instance, the claim that the values and principles of African morality are not founded on religion simply derives from the characterization of traditional African religion as a non-revealed religion. (In the history of the indigenous religion in African, it does not seem that anyone in any African community, has ever claimed to have received a revelation from the Supreme Being intended either for the people of the community or for all humanity). This characterization makes African ethics independent of religion and, thus, underlines the notion of the autonomy of ethics in regard to African ethics. If a religion is a non-revealed religion, then it is independent of religious prescriptions and commands. The characterization of traditional African religion would, thus, lead me to assert—to generalize on logical grounds—that the moral system of each African society—in the traditional setting—does not derive from religion: thus, it is an autonomous moral system. Similarly, the claim about the social (non-individualistic) morality of the African society is closely related to the community and shared life of the African people. And so on.
Thus, while Akan ethics is not a microcosm of African ethics, there is nevertheless evidence, both empirical and conceptual, that indicates that the values, beliefs, and principles of Akan ethics reverberate mutatis mutandis on the moral terrains of other African societies. Based on the qualifying expression mutatis mutandis (‘allowing for necessary variations and adjustments’), it would be correct to say that the term ‘African ethics’ is appropriate. With all this said, however, neither Akan nor African ethics would be unique among the ethical systems evolved by the various non-African cultures of the world.
The relation between religion and morality has attracted the attention of philosophers since the inception of philosophy and the act of philosophizing. Theists argued that the link between morality and religion is indubitable. Some scholars are arguing that religion is foundational with respect to African traditional morality and others denying it (J.N. Kudadjie, 1976 and Kwame Gyekye, 1987). For many philosophers, African ethical system is based on religion since both the former and latter are concerned with the values of human life. In the same way, Wiredu (1998) asserts that “in traditional Africa what is morally good is conceived to be what is decent for man-what brings dignity, respect, contentment, prosperity and joy to man and his community. And what is morally bad is what brings misery and misfortune and disgrace.” Furthermore, as Udeani (2008) figures out, within the traditional African societies there is no differentiation between life, religion and, morality rather, an intrinsic unity between them. In similar vein, Heidi Verhoef and Claudine M. ( 1997) precisely state that in African vantage point: the relationship between philosophy, religion and morality as lived by the people is one of unity .there is no distinction between these disciplines as they are not perceived as entities in themselves but as dynamic elements which cannot be separated from life processes. Philosophy is life; religion is life; morality is life; community is life. There is no room for separation within the African worldview, but only complex interdependence.
Moreover, from the African tradition, morality or ethics are merged with religion. This confirms John Mbiti’ (1969) and other scholars’ view of religious foundation of African morality. This clearly implies that the moral beliefs and principles of the African people are derived from their religion and that religion provides the necessary justification for moral values and beliefs. Moral concepts, such as good, bad right and wrong, are defined in terms of religious prescriptions or commands James Kikongo (2002). To these scholars religion is surely a foundational theory of morals in African societies. Accordingly, Africans lives and practice their religion, as one and the same and morality within Africa is that which evolves from the process of living and is grounded in the context of communal life in which religion can be considered as the presupposition of the moral life Heidi Verhoef and Claudine M. (1997).
As Mbiti (1969) argues, there is no separation between concerns of a religious and philosophical nature, but complex interdependence. Everything within the universe is interconnected, existing within a unified whole experiencing certain supernatural force from which life and moral character emerges Benezet Bujo (2001). Accordingly, African traditional ethics entails a supernatural dimension. According to Ekwenife (1990) African traditional religion refers to: those institutionalized beliefs and practices of indigenous religion of Africa which are rooted in the past African religious culture, transmitted to the present rotaries by successive African forbears mainly through oral traditions… sacred specialists and persons, sacred places and objects and religious work of art, a religion which is slowly but constantly updates by each generation in the light of new experiences through the dialectical process of continuities and discontinuities.”
It is on this background that the study will determine and research on the true foundation of morality in African ethics.
- STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Many researchers argue that there is a relation between religion and morality and this thought has attracted the attention of philosophers since the inception of philosophy and the act of philosophizing. Theists argued that the link between morality and religion is indubitable. Some scholars are arguing that religion is foundational with respect to African traditional morality and others denying it. As a result of various opinions, there has not been a definite research on the true foundation of morality in African ethics. Therefore, this study will be on the foundation of morality in African ethics putting both various opinions into consideration to arrive a definite conclusion.
- AIM AND OBJECTIVES
The main aim of the study is to determine the foundation of morality in African ethics. Other specific objectives include:
- To determine the relationship between morality and African ethics.
- To determine the foundation of morality in Africa.
- To examine the influence of African traditional religion on African ethics.
- To determine the factors behind the African ethics.
- RESEARCH QUESTION
- What is the relationship between morality and African ethics?
- What is the foundation of morality in Africa?
- What influence has the African traditional religion on African ethics?
- What are the factors behind the African ethics?
- SIGNIFICANCE OF STUDY
the study will serve as tool to understanding the foundation of African ethics, and what influences the African ethics. It will remind Africans of their root and morality came to be in Africa ethics.
Finally, it will help us appreciate the beauty of the African ethics.
- SCOPE OF STUDY
The study will cover the foundation of morality in African ethics.
- LIMITATIONS OF STUDY
- Financial constraint- Insufficient fund tends to impede the efficiency of the researcher in sourcing for the relevant materials, literature or information and in the process of data collection (internet, questionnaire and interview).
- Time constraint- The researcher will simultaneously engage in this study with other academic work. This consequently will cut down on the time devoted for the research work.
- DEFINITION OF TERMS
In terms of the Oxford Dictionary, this refers to the moral principles pertaining to a distinction between right and wrong or good and evil. Morality is the sense and view of what is right and wrong and that which constitutes an absolute reference for character and behaviour. It is an authoritative code of conduct in matters of right and wrong. It is usually seen in a broader sense than “ethics”, although the margins are diffused. Even in this sense, however, varied traditions occur, for example the “Catholic” tradition of moral philosophy includes what other people would call ethics.
Ethics refers to the acts of human behaviour informed by moral principles of good and evil (right and wrong). However, ethical principles of conduct relate to absolute values that condition human behaviour, and in this sense it may correlate with moral assumptions of good and evil. If “ethos” denotes the categories and system of recommendable conduct, “ethos” and “morality” are interchangeable. In philosophical discourse, “ethics” is often included as a category of reflection on the fundamental nature of morality and moral values.
An underlying basis, principle or groundwork of anything.