BY Nkosazana Ngwadla
Dr Motsamai Molefe, a senior researcher at the Centre for Leadership in Ethics [CLEA] at the University of Fort Hare walked away with the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Book Award for his book titled: Partiality and Impartiality in African Philosophy.
This new category was introduced during the VC’s Research and Excellence Awards held recently. The intention is to recognise and showcase excellent books published by UFH researchers as part of the University’s efforts to encourage researchers to write scholarly books.
Published by Lexington Books, an imprint of the prestigious US-based publisher Rowman and Littlefield, Dr Molefe’s book provides an innovative contribution to an enduring debate in the discipline of philosophy involving the tension between the requirements of fairness (or, impartiality/equality) and special obligations (or, partiality/reasonable favouritism).
According to him, the debate on which the book centres hangs on two moral intuitions that appear to pull in two different directions. “On the one hand, we have the moral intuition that we owe all human beings equal consideration. On the other, we sense that we owe ‘reasonable favouritism’ to family and friends with whom we enjoy special ties.”
The book is original in three crucial ways. Firstly, it is the first book-length effort that systematically reflects on the debate between impartiality (fairness) and partiality (reasonable favouritism) in African philosophy. Until now, books on this subject have tended to be authored by scholars located in the Western philosophical tradition.
Secondly, by drawing on the work of, amongst others, the Ghanaian philosophers Kwame Gyekye and Kwasi Wiredu, and the Nigerian philosopher Ifeanyi Menkiti, the book contributes to the debate on the tension between partiality and impartiality in a way that recognises scholars in Africa as intellectuals who can contribute to serious debates in philosophy. Until now, the work of these prominent African intellectuals has not been used to reflect on this particular debate.
Finally, the book also relies on the indigenous intellectual and values-driven resource of Ubuntu, or personhood, to reflect on, and possibly resolve the tension between partiality and impartiality in African philosophy. Until now, the concept of Ubuntu and/or personhood had not been deployed as resource to study values and value judgements in the debate on partiality and impartiality.
The maiden recipient, Dr Molefe, is a member of the African Liberation Heritage in Citizenship and Society Research Niche Area at the University of Fort Hare and is also a fellow of the prestigious Ubuntu Dialogues Exchange Fellowship Programme jointly hosted by Stellenbosch University and Michigan University. He is also the editor-in-chief of the South African Journal of Philosophy.
He has published articles in highly regarded journals of philosophy and politics, such as the Journal of Value Inquiry, Cultura, Monist, Politikon, and African Studies, and co-edited a collection entitled Human Dignity in an African Context, which appeared in 2023 and which was published by Palgrave Macmillan.
To date, he has written six monographs including African Ethics and Death: Moral Status and Human Dignity in Ubuntu Thinking, to be published shortly by Routledge, and Human Dignity in African Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, published in 2022 by Springer.
Commenting on his award Dr Molefe said: “This award is important to me. Writing is a lonely process and to win this award means that someone finds value in my ideas, it means I am writing things that matter to someone.”