Ethics & Life


As lecturers of applied ethics it is easy to reduce the entire exercise to an academic level of abstracts. The outcome of such a shoddy view among faculty is students who only think about obtaining a pass mark. It is for a particular reason the subject area has been referred to as applied ethics – it ought to deal with real issues of life in order to give it practical value.

While the study of applied ethics requires an academic mastery of various theoretical concepts, it can only make sense when we deliberately animate it in our lecture rooms. The study of ethics ought to transform the way we think and feel about issues, it should help reinforce certain values that will cause us to be concern with the meaning of the good life. If philosophy asks ultimate questions, it should be taught in such a way that it provides value to life and not only as an academic exercise.

The idea of seeing philosophy as just a mental exercise defeats the purpose of teaching applied ethics. The conceptualisation provides us with a framework but the framework ought to lead us to contribute to real life. Especially, living on a continent swarmed by various social issues e.g. corruption, poverty, tribalism, exploitation etc; ethics should be taught in such a way as to alert our students to take a stand against practices that disadvantage or dehumanise others or destroy the environment.

The study of ethics ought to improve life, therefore, to reduce it to an esoteric exercise is to make it of no practical value to students and the society in which we serve as teachers of ethics. And our students should look forward to our lectures because they want to learn valuable lessons which they can apply to real life situations. Philosophy students and educators aren’t to be seen as glorified thinkers but as practitioners i.e. mind and hands engaging simultaneously to transform society.


Rethinking the Place of Philosophy in Theology

Philosophy-and-TheologyMany modern African schools of theology, particularly seminaries have removed philosophy from their curriculums. This stems from the mentality that Africans in general are not geared towards abstract thinking and courses in philosophy hamper their learning. Whether this assumption is valid or invalid has often not been given a fair debate and the decision to remove philosophy from the curriculum has been forced by educational models propagated by Western theological educators who think that this field of study isn’t necessary for African schools.
Over the last decade many schools of theology have successfully gotten rid of philosophy in their curriculums or have superficially integrated it into systematic theology, church history etc. But has this change contributed positively to the cultivation of African theological academics? While philosophy does not necessarily determine a person’s intellectual capabilities it surely helps in being able to process and develop their conceptual framework. Removing a course that would help students with their thinking abilities is in a sense doing injustice to the academic formation of students who would like to become specialists in systematic theology, biblical studies, public theology and ethics etc which require a mastery of abstract thinking.
Rather than scrapping philosophy from the curriculum, it should be encouraged and students who would like to pursue an academic track in theology could take it as an elective. The idea of seeing philosophy as opposed to African way of thinking, is itself an unAfrican idea. In my opinion, this idea is encouraging academic laziness in those being trained for theology and is not helping in raising people who are academically competent when we don’t provide them the course that will give them the needed skill to do critical and analytical thinking.
I do not imply just Christian philosophy, I mean teaching our students of theology to think about thinking by engaging them to think about the main issues and ideas that are amongst academics and their societies. Philosophy is to grant our students the opportunity to question everything and to have a rational basis for their theology, beside their faith in their theology. Without this component, I feel as if we are simply training theological fundamentalists i.e. people who have no logical capability to present their beliefs to those who may agree or disagree with them.

Faith and Revival of Consumerism

It’s been nearly seven years now since the economy of the world has been hard hit and continues to limp. While corporations and individuals around the world are continuously facing obliteration from the market place, religion is begining to make a strong comeback. It is growingly becoming the latest dollar making business around the globe, creating a new line of consumerism in the midst of a limping global economy. Am I just making this up? What do I imply? Well, I’m not making up stories and I’m referring to the growing plethora of spiritual books, amulets, anointed water/oil, religious television etc which have become selling points to desperate people around the globe.

Consumerism, more than ever has a clearly defined religious appearance that continues to attract millions of people who are buying religious products with the hope to become successful. Billions of dollars are globally being spend to fill the pockets of charlatans and religious profiteers who are selling quick fixes to masses. In Africa, the outbreak of tele-evangelists like TB Joshua, Angel etc have replaced the local witchdoctors and in Western countries the likes of Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes, Creflo Dollar etc have replaced the pop motivational speakers with spiritualised lies.

While shopping malls are continuously improving on their selling strategies, religion and spirituality on the other hand is busy raising a new breed of consumers. The latter is serving as fuel to enable seekers to achieve the former e.g. ‘if you apply this water/oil or read and practice what this book has to say, your dreams will come true and nothing will be impossible and all your problems will be gone’. We are to pray and warn the millions who are caught up in this trap of deceit and greed.

Philosophy and God

It is practically impossible to think of philosophy without coming to think about God. The “God-question” in my opinion is a central one in the discussion of philosophy and one that every philosopher will have to settle in his/her mind if they are to move on in their philosophising. At least in ancient philosophy, philosophers made the ‘God-question’ central to their discussions even for those philosophers who rejected faith in the gods. However, many modern philosophers have rejected the God discussion and are not willing to discuss the ‘God-questions’.

It’s a discussion many are unwilling to give thought to but are willing to reject without clear reasons. For example, some modern philosophers think that the discussion of God is of no use because it’s the same as discussing the existence of the ether.

Whichever position one may take on the relationship between philosophy and God, I do not think that it is just for theists to be considered as not being genuinely philosophical. For starters, there is no universal law within the field of humanities that one can’t be a theist and be a true philosopher. There are some philosophers who see philsophical dialogue as something that should only be applied to discussing certain issues which they rule as important and are not willing to explore the ‘God-question’. However, to do so, they need to do away with dismissive tendencies and listen. If philosophy is a field of ideological tolerance then to be true to the field’s own principles of engagement, philosophers need to allow the ‘God-question’ to be dealt with adequately.

There is no sufficient philosophical evidence that so far has pursuaded the world to think that we no longer need the ‘God-discussion’. I’m deeply convinced that the ‘God-question’ and ‘God-discussion’ remain to be of great importance in the field of philosophy and those who aren’t willing to listen to it, are but deceiving themselves because this is the subject will always find a way to bite every philosopher and demand an answer from him/her.

Assessments and Justice

Assessments in education are central and have been used to justify the awarding of grades and qualifications. The normal forms of assessments have been summative or grade awarding assessments e.g. tests, exams, essays etc. For many university or college educators, this is purely an academic exercise often awarded at the whim of the marker and his assistant tutors. Students are awarded grades but often with no clear understanding of how their grades were awarded and if they fail, they are not provided with any feedback on what has resulted to their failure.

However, we need to ask, are assessment just the awarding of grades? Or is there something worth considering as educators? If education is needed for social change, particularly in the African context. But if grading is simply the awarding of assessments at the whim of the educators, then institutions of higher learning are becoming instruments of injustice. I’m of the conviction that institutions of higher learning are under obligation to ensure that there are clear criteria that clearly outline the awarding of grades in institutions. That is, students should be made aware of the procedures involved in awarding them grades. For example, awarding a student 60% in an essay without any clarification of what brought about that result, does not inspire confidence in the assessment procedure.

Assessment is highly an issue of justice, lecturers cannot award grades to students just off the top of their heads without clear guidance. Thus the need for developing assessment criteria for various assessment tasks and these criteria should be communicated to the students. Educators, especially in Africa cannot afford to take the grading of student papers for granted, for many students in our universities do not have so many opportunities to make it in life unless they have education. We cannot afford to deprive students the chance to live simply because we are lazy to provide thorough evaluation processes. Education is by nature meant to be that which weeds out social injustice to a certain degree and educators should embrace that view whenever they grade student papers.

Not Good Enough

We are daily confronted by the reality of our shortcomings as human beings. Unfortunately, we tend to think that the person next door much more capable, gifted and advantaged than we are. Not realising that the sense of inadequacy haunts every one of us – regardless of education, race, colour, language, social standing, gender. However, we need to watch that our sense of inadequacy does not become a tool of forging envy in our lives. That you feel not good enough should in a sense remind you that you are just human, and you can only do that much. This should help us find people who are strong in areas we aren’t rather than envying them, we should embrace them.

The sense of inadequacy is an ancient human phenomenon, a confirmation that no one is perfect. Does life make you feel as if you are simply a spect of disturbance when everyone else is meaningfully contributing to the progress of society? Well, you aren’t the only one feeling that way. It is a human thing.

Human Nature

Thomas Hobbes “described the ‘natural condition of mankind’ without political rule as one of ferocious competition for the necessities of life, leaving people in constant fear in case they should be robbed or attacked, and constantly inclined, therefore, to strike at others first” (David Miller). However, I do not think that the absence of political rule is the cause of any of that. I think it primarily happens because of the absence of love for one’s neighbour and man’s deeply seated insatiable need to be above others.

The things we do to others do not come from outside motivation. All out actions and thoughts are internally generated. When we do evil it is because there is something inwardly wrong with the human soul. Politics cannot rectify that error, philosophy cannot outthink it and education cannot alter it. If any of these things had the power to change our societies, then from the time of Plato to today’s advanced methods of thinking and education systems, our world would have been a paradise – but it is not.