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WESTERN CULTURE AND YORUBA ETHICS: A PHILOSOPHICAL ANALYSIS

PHILOSOPHY UNDERGRADUATE PROJECT TOPICS, RESEARCH WORKS AND MATERIALS

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CHAPTER ONE

YOURBA AND WESTERN ETHICS

1.1. ETHICS

There are many actions which we will condemn as morally wrong and ought not to be done by anybody, for example, stealing, murder, bribery aimed robbery and corruption e.t.c there are also certain actions which everybody considers as morally good e.g kindness, honesty, respect for elders, hospitality e.t.c. Now, why do we say that certain actions are good or right and we see others as bad or wrong­­? How do we determine the badness or wrongness and goodness or rightness of certain actions?.

To answer these questions and the likes, we need a science, which deals with human conduct. The science which deals with human conduct is regarded as ethics1. Ethics is therefore a yardstick used for measuring the goodness or rightness and wrongness or badness of certain actions or conducts.

1.2. ETHICAL UNIVERSALISM

Ethical universalism states that ethical judgment no matter the degree ought to be universalisable. Thus ethical universalism states that one single ethical standard of judgment ought to be held throughout the world.

        With ethical Universalist, all actions are to be taken as common to all. This theory or concept claims that for example, an action which is judged “right” or “wrong” “good” or “bad”, “praise worthy” or “blame worthy” in Western countries, ought to be able to accept the same claim among the Yoruba people here in Nigeria.

1.3   ETHICAL RELATIVISIM

        “ Ethical relativism shows diversity or variation of a group or an individual morality. Judgment on mortality in this case depends on individual human conduct”2. However, it is important to know that ethical relativism is contingent on some other basic factors. These include cultural historical and class distinction of an individual or a society. Ethical universalism claims that one single ethical or moral standard of judgment ought to be upheld throughout the universe, while ethical relativism claims, that on the other hand, that whatever action is judged to be praise worthy or blame worthy is relative to individual or a society in a period of time or circumstance.

1.4 CULTURAL UNIVERSALISM.

The term cultural has been defined in various ways, for example, culture has been defined as; ‘’Every broad general principle of selectivity and ordering --- “highest common factor” ---- in terms of patterns of and for and about behaviour in every various areas of culture content are reducible to parsimonious generalization’’3.

From the above definition, its quiet clear that culture can emerge not only from tradition and customs of a given society. It could also be acquired and incorporated into ones existing culture in many other different ways. These other ways include the process by which a person acquires from or a group of persons acquire from contact with other person or group of persons. Like ethical universalism, this theory says that all cultures must be universalizable. What cultural universalism emphasizes is, that if a country ‘’A’’ claims that it is justified to practice culture ‘’Y’. Then if country ‘’A’’s or society ‘’A’’s claim were consistent, it must be agreed upon that other societies or countries ‘’A1’, ‘’A2’’, ‘’A3’’,  ----, ‘’An; would be similarly justified to practice culture ‘’Y’’ in situation ‘’R’’. To do otherwise, would be to make an odd claim.

1.5 CULTURAL RELATIVISM

Cultural relativism affirms that all values are a functions or product of their culture and reflect the interest of their society and culture. It is a fact of human experience as conditioned by culture.

When we study society that is different from one another. For example, in some of the Eskimos group, they think that it is better to take their aged people to waste lands to be left to die rather than keeping them alive in their old age to suffer.

This is parricide, others are abortion, euthanasia, human –sacrifice and cannibalism. These examples so given shows that, the rightness or wrongness of human actions means different things to different societies or even between individuals. That is, there can be no set of moral codes or ethical codes. Everyone ought to accept as universally valid or individual.

1.6 A BRIEF GENEOLOGY OF THE YORUBAS

The Yoruba society or kingdom covers the present day Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Ogun and some other parts of kwara – state and Lagos- state and also extends to the present day republic of Benin. Yoruba society is usually taken together as one entity because of the homogenous traces in their language. Despite it’s many dialects, this language provides the main evidence of a common origin and cultural heritage.  

   A second point to a common origin of the Yoruba society is the existence over the whole country of a cycle of myths and its people and the foundations at ‘’Ile-Ife, the worlds center of the first kingdom.

1.7 THE YORUBA POLITICAL CULTURE.

The key political unit on which government was based in all Yoruba kingdoms was the ‘’Town’’, ‘’Ilu’’ Each kingdom is consisted of many towns, but that did not mean that there were many independent governments in each town or kingdom’’4. The government of the capital served as the central government of the kingdoms, while those of the subordinate towns served as the local government units. Both at the central or local levels, the system of government were monarchical, that, it was headed by an Oba (king) who was entitled to wear a crown.

The Oba was divined and was the political and religious head of his town. As head of the government, the Oba was regarded as a divine king, and in theory he had absolute powers of life and death over his people. His attribute was ‘’Oba, alase, ekeji Orisa’’ --- king the ruler and companion of the gods. He was also addressed as ‘’kabiyesi’’ an expression which is said to be contracted from of the sentence ‘’ki-a-bi-o-ko-si’’. That is, there is no question of anyone challenging or querying your authority.

In a nutshell, the Oba, in theory, had the power of life and death over his subjects and was as, a divine king not accountable to them for any of his deeds.

When the Westerners came, the whole old Yoruba political ethics changed and was viewed in different was. Some people believed that the powers of these divine kings were withdrawn bit by bit under the pretence of indifferent rule system, and that the king’s powers were eroded completely after the western Europeans granted the Yoruba people independence by the politicians who took over the chair of leadership from them.

The former role of Obas and chiefs were alternated and decline loyalty of all sorts. The moral or ethical implication of this was obvious and still felt in the present political rulers and Obas relationship among the contemporary Yoruba society. Other observers saw these changes not as obstructive or a complete distortion in the old system but as a sort of political re-organization which still revered the old system and placed the Obas in post which they, by tradition ought to occupy.

After all, they said, Obas throughout the Yoruba land are still recognized as the chief priest in all religious and ritual ceremonies.

1.8 RELIGIOUS CULTURE

        The western missionaries did not bring the idea of God to Yoruba people. They believed in the existence of one ‘’Great God’’ as an integral member of the society as distinct from the western Christian conception of God staying a loof in heaven, in the community of good Angels.

     The Yoruba people believed in the existence and power of Deities (spirit) headed by an omnipotent God. Where ever you find a Yoruba man, there also is his religion. Although Yoruba religion is not written down like the sacred’’ Bible’’ of the western Christians, yet all the chapter of the Yoruba religions are written everywhere in the life of the Yoruba people. Among the Yoruba, there are no irreligious people.

According to professor John Mbiti, for a Yoruba man to be without religion or not to live a religious life amounts to a self-communication from the entire life of the societ,’’5 and Yoruba people do not know how to exist without religion.’ to the Yoruba’s, man’s character is of supreme importance vand it is this which Oludumare (God) judges.6n, Man’s well-being here  on earth depends upon his character, so also his place in the afterlife is determined by Oludumare. The ethics of the Yoruba’s is a transcendental ethics. This is so because it is ultimately but on an objective transcendental moral order.  Order which is beyond man and is not within his power to alter

        Although, Yoruba religion is not written down like the sacred ‘’Bible’’, yet unlike the westerners, Yoruba peoples belief is that, it is not enough to embrace a faith which is confined to church building which is locked up six days and opened only once or twice a week.

        Through education the western missionaries were able to produce catechists, pastors, teachers, priests, church- wardens and converts. As a result, Yoruba traditional religion was particularly looked up with disfavour as the missionaries associated it with ‘’idol’’-worship and considered it as hindrance to Christian evangelism and conversion without any consideration for moral values the people attached to it.

        This is according to some Yoruba people was the beginning of moral laxity among the contemporary Yoruba’s. Yet others give western religion a positive took, as the big hammer that destroyed immoral practices like human sacrifices killing of twins, euthanasia, cannibalism e.t.c which culminated Yoruba traditional religion and ethics without or with little consideration for ethical relativism.

      Furthermore, some see western religion as a tool used to re-integrate the Yoruba youths, which fell prey to social destabilization and eventually became socially designated as a result of rural-urban flux. Finally, the universal moral attitude of western religion has so much transcendental moral or ethical values over and above the Yoruba tradition in such a way that it creates and maintains social solidarity among the Yoruba’s.

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