Ubuntu: “I am because you are”

Special Issue. Rediscovering the Ubuntu paradigm in Education, Journal of Lifelong Learning 62, No 1, 2016, Springer

“There could hardly be a greater contrast than between Decartes’contextless mentalist individualism in Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) and the African contextually pregnant, social constructivist relationalism of umuntu umuntu babantu (I am because you are) (Avenstrup 1997. p. 4).”

“Although writing from an African (and more specifically a South African) perspective, Letseka stresses that the ubuntu ethic of caring and sharing can also be found in various Eurasian philosophies. He finds similarities between ubuntu and the German concept “Bildung”2 , whose key advocate was the German philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). For Humboldt, Bildung requires interchange between individuals. Bildung starts with the individual embedded in a world that is at the same time that of the differentiated other (Lovlie and Standish 2002, p. 380).

In a paper presented at the conference of the Comparative and International Education Society (C1ES) in Washington DC in March 2015, Thomas Luschei (2015)3 introduced the concept of “convivencia” (peaceful coexistence) as a framework for re-centring education as a moral enterprise. In his paper he discusses convivencia within the context of education and society in Colombia, paying special attention to the Colombian rural school model Escuela Nueva (New School). He discusses several facets of convivencia and finds a number of parallels with the ideas and ideals of ubuntu.

Letseka (2012) points out that the Manifesto on Values, Education and Democracy of the South African Department of Education (DoE 2001, p. 12) identifies ten fundamental values in the South African constitution that pertain to education. These are: democracy, social justice and equity, equality, non-racism and non-sexism, ubuntu (here defined as human dignity), an open society, accountability, the rule of law, respect and reconciliation. The report states that ubuntu denotes mutual understanding and the active appreciation of the value of human difference (DoE 2001, p. 14).

2 There is no good English translation of the German word “Bildung“. Often the word is therefore used in its German original form even in texts otherwise in English. Bildung is something more than and different from “education”. While the word “education” normally leads our thoughts in the direction of formal schooling, this is not the case with Bildung. A person with Bildung may be self-educated and not have any formal education; but she or he is likely to have refined manners, knowledge and generosity. According to Wilhelm von Humboldt, the purpose of Bildung is to unite the individual and culture in a rich, free and harmonious interplay.”

See :

Nietzsche et la critique de la Bildung

1870-72 : les enjeux métaphysiques de la question de la formation de l’homme


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