African recognition of dignity as a basis for universal human rights
Keywords:dignity, human rights, African philosophy, rights recognition, common good
I present a typically African account of human dignity, which I derive from Ifeanyi Menkiti’s influential strongly normative view of traditional African practices of recognition respect (2004). I explain how this implies a suitable basis for a common good criterion for human rights. I develop this account against (a) the claims of Tshepo Madlingozi (2017) and Vincent Lloyd that the struggle against anti-Black racist domination does not depend on recognition; (b) the claim by David Boucher (2011) that human dignity is a convenient fiction for human rights recognition; and (c) the claims of Kwame Gyekye (2002) and Motsamai Molefe (2020) that Menkiti’s view on human dignity does not provide adequate warrant for the universality of human rights. I draw on Menkiti’s account of recognition respect for human dignity and on arguments for the authority of actual rights recognition by Gerald Gaus (2006) and Rex Martin (2013). In doing so, I present a comprehensive theory of human rights recognition that does not depend on any intrinsic, transcendental human capacity but locates the universality of human rights in the mutually recognised common good, which is implicit in extant African communal normative social practices that are oriented toward the recognition of dignity.
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