The (Mal) Function of “it” in Ifeanyi Menkiti’s Normative Account of Person

by Bernard Matolino


The prominent African philosopher Ifeanyi Menkiti is of the view that the African conception of personhood is decidedly communitarian. He argues, however, that although there are various ways of conceiving the communitarian concept of personhood, some of these ways are erroneous. He claims that his conception of personhood, which privileges epistemological growth, is the most accurate account of personhood in African thinking. In his view ontological progression is marked by a successful induction into society at various stages of the individual’s life. The main aim of this paper is to argue against Menkiti’s articulation of the concept of personhood through epistemological growth particularly through his use of the word “it” to denote different stages of epistemic stations. The paper seeks to show that his use of the word “it” is not helpful in his argument and that a conception of personhood that articulates itself in terms of epistemological advancement as espoused by Menkiti complicates the communitarian view of personhood.

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Bernard Matolino is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.