© 2020

An African Ethics of Personhood and Bioethics

A Reflection on Abortion and Euthanasia

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiii
  2. Motsamai Molefe
    Pages 69-102
  3. Motsamai Molefe
    Pages 103-130
  4. Back Matter
    Pages 131-136

About this book


This book articulates an African conception of dignity in light of the salient axiological category of personhood in African cultures. The idea of personhood embodies a moral system for evaluating human lives exuding with virtue or ones that are morally excellent. This book argues that this idea of personhood embodies an under-explored conception of dignity, which accounts for it in terms of our capacity for the virtue of sympathy. It then proceeds to apply this personhood-based conception of dignity to bioethical questions, specifically, those of abortion and euthanasia. Regarding abortion, it concludes that it is impermissible since foetuses possess partial moral status. Regarding euthanasia, it argues that it is permissible for reasons revolving around avoiding the reversing of personhood. It also, though, minimally, touches on the questions regarding the mentally disabled and animals, to which it assigns lower moral status.


Personhood Dignity African Philosophy morality applied philosophy women

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.University of Fort HareEast LondonSouth Africa

About the authors

Motsamai Molefe is a senior researcher at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title An African Ethics of Personhood and Bioethics
  • Book Subtitle A Reflection on Abortion and Euthanasia
  • Authors Motsamai Molefe
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
  • eBook Packages Religion and Philosophy Philosophy and Religion (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-3-030-46518-6
  • Softcover ISBN 978-3-030-46521-6
  • eBook ISBN 978-3-030-46519-3
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XIII, 136
  • Number of Illustrations 0 b/w illustrations, 0 illustrations in colour
  • Topics Non-Western Philosophy
    Moral Philosophy
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“A welcome contribution to the literature on African Philosophy. Motsamai Molefe’s important book is an innovative approach to bioethical questions, which challenges the cognitive empire from the Global North and looks South for moral guidance on moral questions regarding abortion and euthanasia”
Luís Cordeiro Rodrigues, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Hunan University, China

"A bold inquiry into some of the ethical dilemmas at the margins of life in which Motsamai Molefe proposes a fresh and alternative perspective on dignity for those who are interested in the practical implications of an African approach to personhood." 
Oritsegbubemi Oyowe, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of the Western Cape, South Africa