Ontological and Ethical Inhibitions to the Dignity of the Other: Disability and Xenophobia Experiences in Africa

Particular worlds or specific communities of selves develop, sustain and enculturate in its individual members a representation of the other, of difference that is both ontological and social. Such re-presentation of the other in specific places may not be factual or true, but they do have real consequences for the other. Such representation of difference is also essential in understanding the moral obligation of the self toward the other within such communities. Hume, Moore and their friends may be skeptical in bridging the gap between the is (ontological representations of the other) and the ought (moral obligations toward the other) this way, but as I will show, the much cherished is-ought gap in Western philosophy doesn’t exist in many communities of selves. Hence, dignifying or not dignifying the other in particular societies cannot be understood outside of the ontological commitments of persons within such societies. In buttressing this line of argument, I draw evidences from two experiences of the other in African societies: albinism and xenophobia. I argue that the ill-treatment, humiliation, stigmatization and disdain for persons with albinism and foreign residents in a particular African community essentially stem from the ontological representation of the otherness of such persons within such communities. Unless such representations are challenged and subjected to rigorous critique and rational evaluation, the dignity of the other will be elusive within such communities. Since the representation of the other are often assimilated by persons within a community without questioning, I argue that the basic principle of the enlightenment project as theorized by Kant — sapere aude — is a fundamental attitude that persons in a community must develop in order to bridge the gap between facts and representations of the other so that the dignity of the other can flourish.