ChapterPDF Available

Ancient African Ethics and the African Union: An African Model for Sustainable Development in Unite or Perish: Africa Fifty Years after the Founding of the OAU, 3-25. Pretoria, SA: African Institute for South Africa, 2014.

Chapter 1 Ancient African Ethics and the African Union: An African Model for
Sustainable Development
Charles Verharen
With the passing of Ronald Dworkin, eminent philosopher of law, we are reminded of the need
to connect legal theory with ethical or moral considerations.2 With the 50th anniversary of the
founding of the Organisation of African Unity, we are reminded of the need to connect legal
theory with political theory. With the re-colonisation of African states, such as Ethiopia, through
Arab and Chinese expropriation of natural resources, we are reminded of the need to connect
political theory to practical action. And with the disruption of northern African states through
unconstitutional succession, state dissolution in Somalia, interstate conflict in the Sudans, and
catastrophic loss of life in the Eastern Congo due to conflict over natural resources, we are
reminded of the need for the African Union to address the problems of its member states through
urgent solutions that are at once ethical and practical.
The founding documents of both the Organisation of African Unity and the African Union rely in
some measure on the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights.3 Such a
declaration in turn bases itself on ethical, legal and political theories emerging in large measure
from non-African contexts. This chapter aims to stimulate research into ancient African ethical
traditions that might serve as legal and political foundations for the African Union’s pursuit of
solutions to its member states’ problems. The logical progression of such a research programme
would be to link ancient African ethical principles to models derived from contemporary
reflection on such African Bantu principles as ubuntu (South Africa, Rwanda, Burundi), unhu
(Zimbabwe), botho (Botswana), uMunthu (Malawi), obuntu (Uganda) and utu (Kenya,
The long-range objective would be to find African ethical models that might be substituted for
Eurasian models that have accompanied the world’s march to the threshold of global threats to
life that are, for the first time, caused by human action.5
The recent meteorite crash in Russia, the asteroid Apophis’ (named after an ancient African
expression of chaos) projected near miss, and the dinosaurs’ extinction through an Apophis-
magnitude event, remind us that human life has always been at risk in its millions of years of
evolution. However, we now face possible extinction through our own action. It is fitting that
we turn away from Europe and Asia to return to our African origins to remind ourselves of the
fragile nature of life and our ethical obligations to sustain life for future generations.
The fifty years since the Organisation of African Unity’s birth have seen provocative additions to
its founding language. Particularly dramatic are the Maputo amendments of 2003 and the
Constitutive Act (2000) pertaining to the rights of women and the right of the African Union to
interfere in its member states’ affairs in extreme cases, such as war crimes, crimes against
humanity, genocide or unconstitutional succession.6 This right may foreshadow an African
Union that embodies a common currency (the Afro), a military force and an equitable
distribution of political and economic power between the African Union, as an integral polity,
and its member states.
Intellectual inertia decrees that reflections on the future of the African Union follow models
already established in older unions that have demonstrated some success. Examples might be the
United States, whose Union endured through the catastrophic Civil War, or newer unions, like
the European Union, which currently suffers economic crises that endanger its own common
This chapter advocates resistance to that kind of inertia by calling attention to models indigenous
to the global south, rather than the global north. What is missing in both the United Nations
Declaration and the African Union’s constitutive principles is the recognition that humanity
cannot be separated from its environment.7 The first indigenous president of a continental
American nation, the Bolivian, Evo Morales, spearheads the movement to enjoin the United
Nations to enact a declaration on the right of the earth to moral standing. Morales takes the
moral foundation for this movement from the ancient South American tradition that the earth, as
Pachamama, is the mother of us all.8
The origins of this radical political movement in the global south may help allay the fear that
ecological philosophy is a Euro-American export, poised above Africa like such predecessors as
capitalism and communism, Christianity and Islam, seeking to force her in directions inimical to
her own spirit.
However, this chapter will show the seeds of an ecological philosophy in the soil of the earliest
African philosophies. Ancient Egyptian philosophy brooks no separation between humans and
the earth, and indeed no separation between the spiritual and the physical. The chapter will also
show how an ancient Ethiopian philosophy that unites humanity with the earth may ground
contemporary African political practice.9
The conclusion will argue for an African philosophical ground for the future of the African
Union, springing from ancient African principles. In the words of the organisers of the 50 Years
after the Founding of the African Union Conference, the path to African unity and renaissance
must be guided by Africa’s ‘own wisdom, united policy and resources.’10 The chapter’s most
ambitious aim is to encourage research that will link African principles to the global
philosophical heritage in search of a sustainable global future grounded in respect for cultural
difference and social justice.11
I begin with a brief summary of Eurasian ethics in order to demonstrate their distance from
ancient African ethics. The world’s second oldest written ethical system emerges in India some
3,500 years ago.12 Its foundation must be startling to those accustomed to west Asian and
European systems, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Like those, Hindu ethics take their
rise from a belief in god. And like those, the Hindu ontology is monotheistic. However, Hindu
philosophy holds that only god exists and that all else that we experience is an illusion called
maya. While god has many faces, such as Shiva or Vishnu or Kali, they are merely reflections
that mirror the one true god, Brahman. The human mission is to realise that our true self, called
Atman, is identical to god. The term yoga, meaning yoke or union, refers to the spiritual
exercises used to awaken the self to its true nature as the godhead. The method is to divert
attention away from illusion to focus attention on the self through a process of meditation or
mindfulness. Learning to focus the mind on itself takes thousands of lifetimes, made possible
through a process of reincarnation.
Hindu ethics are grounded in the tranquillity necessary for the practice of meditation. Since life
as we experience it is an illusion, what we do in our lives is but the stuff of dreams. An act of
murder is simply a bad dream. The dream’s evil nature springs from its consequences. The guilt
that may attend the act or the fear of consequences destroys the peace of mind necessary for
meditation and prolongs the number of lifetimes required for release from the cycle of life and
death. Evil actions have consequences, called karma, that make liberation from illusion
impossible. That liberation is called moksha.
Buddhist ethics arise from a much more practical focus.13 While it would be difficult to reach
consensus on the Hindu claim that we are ignorant of our divine nature, it is manifest that life is
filled with suffering. The Buddha’s very practical promise is to provide a path to eliminate
suffering. Suffering, he notes, arises from desire. We desire to seek pleasure, to avoid pain.
Desires emerge out of the self, and the Buddha is convinced that the self is an illusion. His
rejection of Hinduism stops at this point, since his projected path to realise the non-existence of
the self is through the Hindu practice of meditation. While Hinduism and Buddhism have
radically different systems of belief about ontology or the study of what exists, they both agree
on the importance of meditation to achieve liberation from illusion (moksha) or from desire
East and west Asian and south-eastern European ethical thinkers focused on community as the
ground of ethics. Christ famously announced that universal, unconditional love must be the
objective of all ethical conduct. However, around 300 years before Christ, the Chinese
philosopher Mo Di (also spelt Mo Ti or Mo-Tzu) proclaimed a doctrine of chien ai or universal
care.14 Greek Stoic philosophers and Indian sages like Nagarjuna also emphasised the
importance of community bonding.
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle led the parade of European thinkers who claimed that the human
capacity for rationality must serve as foundation for all ethical considerations. Plato holds that
our mission – to the degree possible – is to remain in school for our entire lives. Our word
school comes from the Greek word schole, meaning leisure. In Plato’s school, students learn the
art of performing abstractions, generalising from particular cases to reach the perfect forms or
ideas that are imperfectly mirrored in the universe’s structure.
Aristotle insists that the peak of human happiness is reached in imitating God, whose only
function is to think about his thinking. Ancient Greek thinkers privileged reasoning or the
process of connecting experiences by means of increasingly abstract concepts. Reason became a
primary force in the development of European science and ethics. Kant famously claims that
only a good will can be truly good. Such a will must be directed by reason alone, freed from any
emotional or self-serving taint. A universal law must direct all ethical reflections. If a course of
action is good for one individual, it must be good for all rational agents. The United States
philosopher John Rawls achieved fame by using Kant’s reliance on reason to articulate a theory
of justice as fairness.
A quite different set of early Greek thinkers insisted that pleasure must be the measure of what is
truly good. Styled hedonists after the Greek word for pleasure, their philosophy resonated in
particular with 19th century English thinkers like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Their
claim is that not only are we motivated to do that which gives us pleasure, but that pleasure is in
fact our primary human objective. The utility of an act for producing pleasure dictates its ethical
status. This philosophy came to be called utilitarianism. Its foundation is the conviction that all
humans have the moral obligation to act for the greatest good for the greatest number. That good
is ultimately pleasure.
Perhaps influenced by the power that the privileging of reason had conferred on European
peoples – the power to enslave millions of Africans and colonise virtually the whole world –
European thinkers like Hegel and Marx imagined that freedom must be the ethical objective of
every thinking human being. Reason and freedom go hand in hand. Through its task of linking
experiences through abstract patterns or concepts, reason gives us the power to predict and
thereby control the future. Power, whether intellectual, political, economic or military, is the
ground of freedom. Viewing humanity as the dialectical product of nature, Hegel defined spirit
or the expression of freedom as the ‘infinite capacity of nature to change its form.’15 The
measure of our freedom is our capacity to imitate nature by constantly changing her own forms
as well as our own.
The global history of ethics is a history of contestation about the nature of life and how it is to be
lived. The proponents of the ethical systems we have reviewed imagined that their distinct
ethical objectives had to be the only possible final goals for all humans. From our perspective, at
the pinnacle of 5,000 years of recorded experience, we can try to amass arguments for the virtues
of our own favourites. However, we might have some sense that our favouritism may be the
accidental product of our cultural circumstances.
A less ethnocentric approach might examine the emergence of these ethical systems with an eye
toward their evolutionary fitness, their capacity to contribute to human flourishing. Under the
lens of this kind of examination, each system appears to be indispensable. We are, after all,
rational animals who use reason to select appropriate methods to achieve our goals, as Plato and
Aristotle insisted. Pleasure and pain are, as Aristotle claimed, the twin rudders of human
existence. We seek the one and run from the other. As social animals, we are completely
dependent on our communities. Their size, binding principles and the excellence of their
members dictate the quality of our lives. Unlike animals, with their powerful jaws and claws,
their keen senses and lightning reflexes, we live by our imagination and our power to predict and
control the future. In short, we live by our creations. Our creations are the measure of our
freedom. And, finally, our success depends on rational, rather than random, control of our
attention through acts of introspection or meditation.
Under an even tighter focus of our evolutionary lens, these quite different ethical objectives are
indispensable to our survival. They have reflected the lives of billions as the human community
has grown from a small handful, some 200,000 years ago, to over 7 billion strong today. Our
bare survival is a function of clean air, adequate temperature control, through clothing and
shelter, potable water, nutritious food, basic healthcare and education. However, the best
guarantee of survival is our capacity to flourish. And flourishing is best defined through
rationality, community bonding, the rational pursuit of pleasure, freedom (measured through
creativity), and the rational control of the attention. Rationality is most practically defined as the
pursuit of objectives with appropriate means. Our capacity for reason, emotion and (perhaps
most importantly) imagination dictate both our objectives and our judgment about the means to
reach our objectives.
We cannot claim that our primary ethical objective is survival. And we would be foolish to
claim that one of the conditions for flourishing must take precedence over others. Figures we
admire most, like Socrates, Christ, Gandhi, King and Biko, have sacrificed their lives for what
they take to be higher goals – truth, love or justice. Exaggerated emphasis on one of the
conditions for flourishing to the exclusion of others might lead to the self-destruction of
humanity. The hypertrophy of rationality in Euro-American cultures has led to the development
of weapons of mass destruction that might, in the future, have the capacity to terminate all
human life. Technology as the offspring of rationality may produce life-threatening global
climate change. The dystrophy of global community bonding has led to the misery of billions in
the global south, with Africa being the hardest hit.
What we require is ethics that recognise the co-evolutionary relation of survival and flourishing
with a commitment to the principle that our most important ethical objective is to pass life on to
our progeny in a condition better than we have received it from our ancestors. Ironically, we
may look to the oldest recorded ethical system for “new” ethics to help us carry out our mission.
Unlike the global ethical systems reviewed above, ancient Egyptian ethics do not privilege a
single ethical good over competitors. Furthermore, Egyptians held that no good is so pure that it
does not contain some trace of evil. The converse is true as well. In fact, Egyptians believed
that the source of good may in fact be considered the essence of evil. Erik Hornung, one of the
most influential contemporary Egyptologists, holds that ancient Egyptian thought must, in many
ways, be incomprehensible to us because of our reliance on a two-valued system of logic.16
Propositions, we think, must be either true or false. And actions must be either good or bad.
Hornung insists that our only hope of understanding Egyptian thought is to embrace the multi-
valued logic we now use to understand quantum or sub-atomic phenomena in physics. Actions
may be considered to be good or bad, or both good and bad.
Early Egyptologists who read the first deciphered hieroglyphs believed that the texts revealed a
mythological naïveté that could not distinguish prior from consequent in causal sequence, or
truth from falsity, or good from bad. The ancient Egyptian text, Book of the Dead (sometimes
called the Book of Coming Forth by Day) in some texts (called spells), designates Ra or the sun
as the father of all the gods.17 In other texts, an anthropomorphic figure, Osiris, becomes the
father of Ra.18 The perfect figure of evil in Egyptian thought is Seth, the brother of Osiris, who
murders Osiris in a pre-meditated frenzy of jealous rage. Yet Seth is the perfect figure of good,
inasmuch as Seth is responsible for the sun being able to complete its circle around the earth.
The very essence of evil, the god Apophis or Ouroboros, attempts to drink up the water
surrounding the earth to stop the sun’s daily circle of the earth in its heavenly barge. Each night,
Seth successfully attacks Apophis with a spear to prevent him from drinking the celestial water.19
Apparent confusion in Egyptian texts over causal sequence and the distinction of good from evil
might seem to relegate Egyptian thought to a jejune mythological status unworthy of
philosophical reflection in pursuit of an ethical platform for the African Union. However, the
complete context of Egyptian thought on questions of what exists (ontology) and what is
valuable (ethics) must give us pause.
To make a judgment call about the viability of ancient African thought for contemporary African
political practice, we must reconsider contemporary definitions of what counts as philosophy.20
Like all other intellectual activities, philosophy is a product of the brain at work. Aldous Huxley
famously proclaims that the brain is a reducing valve. One of its primary functions is to divide
the immense complexity of experience into separate categories that we designate by means of
concepts. By interpreting experience through the lens of concepts or ideas, we are able to
anticipate patterns that core through our experience. Our concepts determine what kinds of things
we think exist in our experience. Our familiarity with these patterns allows us to predict what
will happen in our experience. Our extraordinary capacity for imagination allows us to create
new patterns that we may impose on experience in order to control it. Our emotions, tempered by
reason or the ability to connect experience by concepts, dictate what kinds of patterns we wish to
impose on experience. Our emotions, expressed as desires, decide what kinds of things we want
to exist in our experience. Of course these desires may be subjected to reasoned criticism.
However, that criticism cannot commence without an initiating desire.
By reason of its function as a reducing valve, the brain strains to gather all the same kinds of
experience under a single concept. The term concept comes from two Latin words meaning to
grab together. At the extreme limits of its gathering capacity, the brain attempts to gather all
experience under single concepts such as god or the universe. At the same time, the brain judges
the worth or value of all experience under single concepts such as pleasure or happiness, love or
freedom. In this chapter I define philosophy as the brain’s operations at the extreme limits of
Over time, the brain develops greater and greater capacity for generalisation. The first
philosophy, one that still persists in cultures uncontaminated by ‘civilisation,’ is called animism.
This philosophy holds that everything that happens in human experience must be caused or
controlled by a spirit (from the Latin word anima). Just as our ‘spirit’ or ‘mind’ or ‘thinking’
causes our bodily actions, so comparable ‘spirits’ must drive all possible actions. Because the
cause cannot be directly perceived, the essential nature of the spirit must remain undefined.
Spirit can only be defined through its effects.
The second philosophy is called polytheism. The brain’s reductive force singles out causal
agents for the same kinds of experience or phenomena. A single spirit or god must be
responsible for all phenomena of the same kind. One god might control the rain, another the sun,
a third fertility, a fourth fate.
The third philosophy is called henotheism. Here the brain’s natural movement of reduction
imagines a single spirit that must exert control over all other spirits. We find examples of
henotheism in virtually all the ancient civilisations.
The fourth philosophy is called monotheism. Here the brain banishes all gods, except for the
single god that must be the source of all that exists (in philosophies that embody creation, such as
Judaism, Christianity and Islam) or the source of all that moves (in philosophies such as those of
Plato and Aristotle, which do not require creation). However, both types of monotheism insist
on a rigid distinction between god and the creation or movement that is god’s responsibility.
The fifth philosophy is called pantheism. Here the brain collapses the unknown, originating
source of creation or movement into that which is created or moved. In Spinoza’s famous
phrasing, god may be conceived both as nature in the process of creating itself (natura naturans)
or nature in the process of being created (natura naturata).21
The sixth philosophy is called atheism. Here the physical universe, as comprised of matter and
energy, is taken to be its own self-caused cause. The details of this process are of course far
from being worked out in the annals of contemporary science, although some consensus still
exists on a big bang origin evolving from a chaotic hydrogen cloud.
The seventh philosophy, for lack of a better term, might be called brainism. In this
contemporary stage of the evolution of thinking, we imagine that the intellectual movement from
animism to atheism is a reflection of the brain’s reductive function. We now know that our
experience of the world as a sea of colour, sound, smell, taste and touch is the result of the
brain’s production of a virtual reality that has evolved over millions of years to promote our
survival and flourishing.22 What lies beyond the brain’s screen of virtual reality must be the
subject of endless speculation. Physicists working in the field of string theory now go so far as
to speculate that our experience of reality may be a computer simulation generated by a species
far more advanced than ours. Descartes’ universal doubt and Hume’s scepticism are graphically
revivified in the film, The Matrix.23
What is important to note in this seven-fold reductive progression is the comfort zone of the
brain. In the face of total ignorance, the brain simply cannot accept its ignorance. It must
imagine that, through its reductive concepts, it has captured the explanation for what it cannot
possibly know with any degree of certainty or even consensus. The reason is not far to seek. A
confession of ignorance is at the same time a confession of powerlessness, given that our power
as humans is by and large dependent on our knowledge.
Like mythologies and religions, our philosophies are imaginative schemes we invoke in order to
mask our ignorance. The difference between the two groups? Mythologies or religions are
imagined to be irrevocably ‘true’. As such, they stand as final solutions to our most obdurate
problems. Philosophies, at their most critical heights, are scaffolds we climb to escape from our
ignorance, though we are uncertain of their safety or the directions they force us to take. All
three subjects furnish rules or guidelines for the conduct of life.
Only philosophy subjects these guidelines to unrelenting rational criticism. In fact, philosophical
criticism historically gives birth to new religions. Two prominent examples are the Buddha’s
transformation of Hinduism into Buddhism and Martin Luther’s reconstitution of Roman
Catholicism as Protestantism. The Buddha renounced Hindu metaphysical speculation, but kept
Hindu meditation as the proper path to relieve suffering. Luther retained the metaphysical
structure of Catholicism’s divine trinity, but rejected the Pope and the Church of Rome as the
intermediary between man and god.
Philosophies, as the answers to the deepest questions we can ask about our origins and those of
the universe of our experience, might seem to be the amusements of mere children or
intellectuals who enjoy lives of leisure untrammelled by the struggle for survival or flourishing.
We cannot, with any certainty, answer the questions that most disturb us: where do we come
from, why are we here, is there any hope for a life after death? Unfortunately, there is one
question that we must answer in the face of total ignorance about the answers to these questions.
That question is: How should we live? We have waited for millennia to find out how the
universe came into existence. We now have some answers to that question that may achieve
consensus. We can wait millennia more to find out if our universe is an island or a continent
among a host of other universes. We can wait to find out if intelligent beings like ourselves
people the universe we know or other universes we cannot now know.24
What we cannot wait for is consensual answers to the question as to how we should live.
Unfortunately, our answers to that question have, historically, depended on our answers to the
question about where we come from. Our judgments about how we should live must, in the end,
exhibit the same uncertainty as our answers to the question about where we come from.
Philosophy begins with cultures that bring these two questions to self-consciousness. The
ancient Egyptians were the first to record their response to these questions in a self-conscious
way. Philosophy reaches its contemporary self-conscious pitch by subjecting all possible
answers to the two questions to incessant criticism: How can we know that our claims to
knowing what exists and what is valuable are unimpeachable? That question has no hope of
resolution in the foreseeable future, if the past is a prologue to the future.
Ancient Egyptian philosophy does not separate questions about existence and value. On this
count, it follows the rule of reduction strictly. On the other hand, it does not provide explicit
reasons as to why its particular reductions are more satisfactory than possible alternatives. While
their literary dialogues show a keen awareness of the give and take of explicit argument, ancient
Egyptians do not apply this technique to their philosophy as a whole. Self-conscious point-by-
point criticism arises much later in the historical record with the extraordinary efflorescence of
philosophy in Greece, Hellenised Egypt,25 India and China around 2,500 years ago.26
The Egyptian exercise of the art of reduction assigns the origins of our world to a primordial
water-like chaos called Nun. While the Egyptians call this principle the father of all gods, it is
purely physical. Like the spiritual gods of south and west Asians, Nun is self-causing. The
ordered universe emerges from this chaos through an evolutionary process called Khepera which
produces the familiar sun god, Ra. Through a metaphorical sexual act, Ra creates two physical
principles analogous to air and moisture. Through sexual copulation, these principles create two
others, analogous to the earth and the sky. Through the same process, the principles create four
anthropomorphic gods who are, in turn, responsible for earthly affairs.27
I call this clearly mythological account of the origins of the universe philosophical precisely
because of its reduction of all existence to a single primordial principle. It expresses a
mythological character, because of its use of anthropomorphism: gods create through sexual
activity and gods exhibit human traits like love and jealousy, just as we do. However, unlike
many of our most ancient origin myths, the Egyptian account does not reduce all of existence to
an anthropomorphic figure, but rather to a single physical principle – Nun.28 As the account
dates back 5,000 years, it is the first origin story that exhibits the trait of decentering, or
removing itself from a purely human-based explanation of what, to date, cannot possibly be
explained.29 Comparable decentering techniques are evident in early Greek thought, with the
principles of chaos in Hesiod, and water, fire, atoms and numbers in pre-Socratic philosophers
like Thales, Heraclitus, Democritus and Pythagoras. However, these Greek thinkers follow the
Egyptians by more than 2,000 years.30
The logical structure of the Egyptian origin account is analogous to our contemporary scientific
account. The simplest building block of the universe, the hydrogen atom, exists in a state of
chaos. Over time, gravitational attraction assembles these atoms into a singularity, called the big
bang, through a process of fusing hydrogen into helium. The rise and fall of stars fusing
hydrogen into helium produce all the other atomic elements. Gravitational, electromagnetic,
nuclear weak and strong forces govern the evolution of these 100-plus elements that finally
produce stable, self-reproducing patterns that we call life. The decentering function of the mind
eliminates all anthropomorphic principles in this narration, but the theme of movement from
chaos to order is retained.
Ancient Egyptian ethics emerge precisely from that movement from chaos to order. In its
earliest states, chaos is the appropriate state for the universe. In later stages, order takes the place
of chaos. The oppositional movement results in the harmony of the universe. The Egyptian term
for that harmony, Maat, is variously translated as peace, order, justice or a number of
comparable terms.31 What counts as harmony varies through different stages of the evolution,
both of the universe as a whole and of its constituent elements. In its primordial state, chaos or
disorder is the appropriate ‘order’ for the universe. In its developed state, disorder becomes evil.
However, after millions upon millions of years, the universe will revert back to a chaotic state.32
On the micro-level of living forms, harmonious interaction of cells is what is good. However, at
some point, those principles of harmony decay and death follows. If organisms have lived out
their proper life-span, then the disintegration of harmony at its proper time is not an evil event.
Two points make Egyptian ethics remarkable. First, ethics is embedded in the universe as the
structure of the universe. Ethics is not a divine creation. What is good is the harmony of what
exists at its appropriate time. What is evil is the rupture of harmony at an inappropriate time.
The organised universe is constantly assaulted by the chaos from which it springs. Chaos can
erupt in harmony from time to time. The human mission is to restore harmony where chaos is
Second, ethics is not a human creation. As products of the universe shaped by the harmonious
structure of the universe, humans are ethical by nature. Humans who act on behalf of chaos,
rather than harmony, are reflections of the primordial chaos that constantly threatens the
harmony of the universe. The ancient Egyptians are the first to condemn vengeance as an
inappropriate response to humans who commit evil.33 Justice cannot be a matter of retribution or
punishment. Rather, the harmonious community, honouring the principle of Maat, has the moral
obligation to restore the evil-doer to the community. Where that is impossible, imprisonment,
exile or execution may be appropriate, but only as a last resort.
The Egyptian commitment to Maat finds its apotheosis in the pharaoh Akhenaten’s (~1380-1334
BCE) Hymns To Aten.34 He is the first recorded thinker to move past the narrow limits of
egocentric and anthropocentric ethics to a vision of ethics embodied in the universe itself. He is
also the first recorded thinker to nearly escape the limits of anthropocentrism in a more general
sense. Like his predecessors, Akhenaten held that only one physical principle must be the source
of all existence. Unlike his predecessors, he claimed that that principle must be light, which he
called Aten. Aten manifests itself to us through the portal of the sun disk. Also unlike his
predecessors, he insisted that only one principle, Aten, must be responsible for the origin of the
universe. Akhenaten did not imagine that human-like gods had any role in the creation process.
However, like his predecessors, he believed that the universe emerges from that first principle
through a process of emanation or evolution. Through that process, Aten becomes the billions
and billions of beings that make up the universe: ‘You [Aten] create millions of forms from
yourself alone – cities, towns, and fields, roads and river.’35
While Akhenaten freed himself from the anthropocentrism that makes the first creative principles
into human-like figures, he was unable to resist anthropocentrism entirely. As the powerful
pharaoh of the two lands of Egypt, Akhenaten claimed that he alone was able to divine the mind
of Aten for the Egyptian people. While more ancient Egyptians could claim to know right from
wrong, through the principles of Maat embedded in their very being through the universe,
Akhenaten claimed that only he could judge right and wrong through his relationship to Aten.36
He imagined himself to be the son of Aten, and he imagined that his beloved wife, Nefertiti, was
Aten’s daughter.
In spite of this regression to bald anthropocentrism, Akhenaten inaugurates the first revolution in
ethics through his claim that the universe is in fact a transformation of the being of Aten. Aten is
responsible not simply for the creation of Egyptians, but of all peoples, regardless of their
language or skin colour. Earlier Egyptian ethics moved past anthropocentrism to give moral
standing to other life forms and to the natural features of the earth. However, the perilous
condition of the early Egyptian empires did not permit granting equal moral stature to non-
Egyptians. Early Egyptian texts are filled with references to barbarous sand-dwellers – nomads
incapable of building monumental structures for themselves.37
Akhenaten, however, does not privilege the Egyptians over other peoples. Aten’s creative force
is embodied in all peoples and all nations. Unlike others who imagined that their gods privileged
them as a ‘chosen people’, who are morally superior to all other peoples, Akhenaten is the first
thinker to move beyond both ethnocentrism and anthropocentrism to recognise that the universe
itself and all it contains have moral standing. Judgment of moral worth cannot emanate from the
self, the group, or even from humanity as a whole.
Akhenaten reigned for only a few brief years (~1353-1334 BCE). His philosophy was so
abhorrent to his contemporaries that they destroyed his images, writings and temples, both in
Egypt and Nubia.38 However, his basic understanding of creation is one we tend toward today in
our contemporary science, and his stance against ethnocentric and anthropocentric ethics is one
we must adopt today in the face of the shrinking and ravaged planet that we now inhabit.
Research into ancient Ethiopian philosophy is problematic for two reasons. First, Ethiopia’s
north is home to the second culture in Africa which created monuments that have endured
through the centuries. The ruins of the Axumite temple in Yeha, near the Eritrean border, date
back to 500 CE. The famous stelae in Axum, the largest carved monoliths in the world, date to
the early CE centuries. However, funding for archaeological research into Axumite culture, like
that into most African cultures outside of Egypt, is quite limited. And warfare between Ethiopia
and Eritrea has made thorough research in the border areas impossible. To date, no discovery of
Axumite texts has made philosophical speculation possible.39
Second, the absence of ancient texts from more southern Ethiopia means that philosophical
speculation in that area must be based on the work of cultural anthropologists. Fortunately, the
Oromo group, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, has attracted the attention of missionaries,
sociologists and anthropologists over the past several hundred years. Claude Sumner, a long-
term philosophy professor at the University of Addis Ababa, began extensive research on Oromo
philosophy with the publication of three volumes of original Oromo thought.40 Sumner’s
colleagues at the University have continued his research.41
The philosophical reflections presented here are based on anthropological studies of Oromo
thought by Gemetchu Megerssa, long-term professor of social anthropology at the University.42
While he and other colleagues claim that Oromo traditions may extend as far back as 3,000
years, his conclusions are based on anthropological fieldwork, rather than textual analysis.43
Nevertheless, his work provides a foundation for a philosophical analysis of traditional Oromo
thought. My hope is that the controversial nature of his claims will inspire further investigation
of traditional cultures in Ethiopia.
What is most provocative about Megerssa’s research is the comparability of Oromo to ancient
Egyptian thought. Scholars who imagine that ancient Egyptian culture spread from Egypt to
more southerly Africa will not find the similarities to be remarkable. Ancient Egyptian texts
speak of Red Sea navigation from Egypt toward what is now called Eritrea and Ethiopia.44
However, no current research methods can be used to argue for cultural diffusion from Egypt to
Ethiopia or vice versa. If we are able to secure funding for extensive research into other cultures
proximate to the Nile or connected to the Nile through demonstrated trade routes, then we might
have grounds for authoritative speculation about cultural diffusion in northern and middle Africa.
Principles of massive reduction characterise Oromo thought, both in the areas of ontology and
speculation about what exists and ethics. The origin of all existence is a single principle called
Waaqa. The term is often translated as sky god, but this translation imposes an
anthropomorphism on Oromo thought that may not be indigenous. Megerssa suggests that the
original principle of creation is a sky god – not in any literal sense, but in the metaphorical sense
of a principle that is utterly beyond our comprehension.45 His interpretation lends a decided
sophistication to Oromo thought. Knowing the limits of physics, particularly in the area of
cosmology or the study of the origins and nature of the universe, we can safely say that we have
no idea as to how the universe might have arisen. Citing the big bang as its point of origin does
nothing to explain the source of the hydrogen atoms that constituted the big bang. Could the
Oromo have been so sophisticated as to recognise the fact that they could not begin to explain
the origin of the universe?
Megerssa notes that the term guracha is often attached to the term for the first principle, Waaqa.
Guracha literally means that which is black or hidden. The nature of this first principle is left
completely unspecified. However, Waaqa transforms itself (no gender is specified for the
creative principle) through the agency of a watery principle (called Wallabu) and formative
principles (called Ayanna) that are associated with fire.46 The analogy with ancient Egyptian
creation is striking, particularly in the face of a strong disanalogy. Both cosmologies rely on
principles of primitive or chaotic water – Nun for the Egyptians and Wallabu for the Oromo.
Both rely on the principle of the sun or fire – Ra for the Egyptians and Ayanna for the Oromo. If
Megerssa is correct about the antiquity of Oromo thought, both cosmologies anticipate the first
principles of fire and water in the pre-Socratic natural philosophies.
The disanalogy between the two cosmologies is that the Oromo push back beyond the first
principles of water and fire to a principle that is completely unknown. This reductive move
speaks of a high degree of sophistication. Nevertheless, whatever that unknown principle may
be, it becomes the universe as we know it through self-transformation, using the agency of
Wallabu and Ayanna. As with the ancient Egyptians, there can be no principle of separation
between the first creative principle and the universe as an emanation or evolution from that
principle. Such massive reduction of all reality to a single principle is reason enough to call
ancient Egyptian and Oromo thought philosophy, provided their thought is coupled to a
decentering process.
As we saw above, the Egyptians began the arduous trek away from anthropocentrism by
claiming that a natural (rather than a super-human) principle had to be the source of the universe.
However, they lapsed from their original intention by assigning human traits to the gods that
emerged from these natural principles. More than the Egyptians, the Oromo escape the charge of
anthropocentrism inasmuch as their first principle does not exhibit human characteristics, such as
sexual activity, rage, love or mass slaughter.
Like the ancient Egyptians, the Oromo make no distinction between their reflections on what
exists and their ethical principles. Neither commanded by an anthropocentric god, nor decreed
by humans, ethics is embedded in the very structure of the universe. The Oromo ethical principle
is called Naaga, translated as peace, harmony, justice, truth or a number of other terms.47 Like
ancient Egyptian ethics, Naaga is neither ethnocentric nor anthropocentric. The principle of
peace dictates that the Oromo live in harmony with other peoples, with other life forms, as well
as with the inorganic features of the earth.
The Oromo achieve Naaga by following a moral code called Saffu. The moral code governs
social behaviour, but it emerges from organic biological development, called finna. The first
stage of that development is called guddina, which literally means an increase in what is given.
Growth in accord with the harmony of nature leads to a state of well-being called gabbina. The
term denotes a process of ‘growing fat’, a desideratum in areas where food production depends
upon a fickle climate. Organisms in a state of well-being express their nature through a process
of harmonious growth called ballina. Where that growth is in harmony with its environment, a
state called badhaadhaa ensues. Badhaadha is a constellation of the earlier stages of guddina,
gabbina and ballina.
Organisms in perfect harmony with their environment naturally reproduce themselves through
reproductive acts called hormatta. These organisms embrace changes appropriate to the
environment, while sustaining their identities. The rounds of changes that link identity with
difference are called dagaaga, after the spiral growth of a ram’s horn. Organisms that
successfully pass through previous stages have the power to launch themselves into new
territories in a process called daga-horaa.48 Further research is required to determine whether
the expansion takes the mode of assimilation or conquest. My research to date indicates that the
Oromo believe that their ethical system is so well developed that it deserves exportation beyond
Oromia. Texts from the research of Tenna Dewo indicate that Naaga (defined as peace) must be
a governing principle for all peoples, not simply the Oromo. The Oromo undertake warfare
reluctantly. In the words of an Oromo elder, ‘We Oromo go fighting only if we do not have any
other means to protect our peace. Just as we know how to make peace, fortunately we also know
how to do war.’49
What deeply separates Oromo from ancient Egyptian ethics is the former’s development of a
democratic system of government. Egypt was, after all, an empire, and hierarchical structures
constitute the essence of empire. The rise and fall of the Egyptian empires and their conquest by
the Hyksos, Nubians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans reflected the evolution of political
structures from tribes to city states to nations to empires constantly at war with one another.
The Oromo were primarily a pastoral people, who practised small-scale farming. Their
environment and means of production did not permit a big population growth, or a surplus of
food or leisure that could enable the development of writing and other large-scale technologies.50
While environmental determinists might argue that their political system arose out of their means
of production, that is a matter for another chapter.51
Their democratic political system was grounded in the ethical principle of Naaga. Peace or
harmony was their primary objective. Disputes were resolved through mediation, where
possible, rather than by judgment of right and wrong. The Jaarssummaa or council of elders
had, as its primary task, the mediation of disputes. The Gadaa was an age-graded political
structure that prepared young people to assume the tasks of legislation and executive activities.
Asmarom Legesse defines the system as a ‘system of generation classes that succeed each other
every eight years in assuming political, military, judicial, legislative and ritual responsibilities’.52
Every eight years, councils (variously called Gumii Gaayyoo, Mee’Bookku, Caffee) brought
together large numbers of communities to deliberate on changes to be made to laws.
The legislative, executive and judicial functions embodied in the Oromo political system are key
to democratic government on any scale, including the African movement toward continental
The Oromo principles of democracy did not embrace the participation of women. The ancient
Egyptians had a better record in this area, as queen Hatshepsut served as pharaoh for many years,
although she wore a false beard to emphasise her role as an honorary male in the office of
pharaoh.53 Nonetheless, neither the Oromo nor the ancient Egyptians can be faulted for the
sexism that is virtually a universal trait of human cultures up to the present moment.
What we must not forget in this global survey of ethics is a basic maxim: To be good is first to
be. We cannot be good unless we first exist. If survival cannot be assured, then it is pointless to
pursue questions of ethics. Eurasian ethics have singled out ethical goods that may challenge
survival, if they are pursued past the point of moderation. The European hyper-focus on
rationality through the pursuit of mathematics and science has yielded extraordinary power.
Einstein’s E=mc2 is perhaps the single most powerful practical statement ever uttered by a
human being, inasmuch as it served as the imaginative key to nuclear weapons. The force of
those weapons has helped to stave off global warfare for more than fifty years, although local
wars and genocide have multiplied. Nevertheless, the proliferation of nuclear weapons poses a
grave threat to life. While chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction do not yet have
the destructive power of nuclear weapons, they may pose an even greater threat to life in the near
future. The global north’s focus on freedom as a primary ethical goal has led to a globalised
economic model that does not address the misery of billions in the global south.
The wisdom of both the ancient Egyptians and Ethiopians is to pursue a comprehensive approach
to ethics. While Eurasian ethics tended to single out particular ethical objectives, ancient African
ethics sought ways to harmonise sometimes conflicting aims. A hedonist who does not get
pleasure out of seeking to maximise the greatest good for the greatest number will pay scant
attention to the ethics of caring or community bonding. A Buddhist dedicating her life to
meditation in pursuit of nirvana might find little time for the pursuit of rationality in the form of
mathematics or science.
Cultures differentiate themselves by reason of their divergent emphases on basic ethical goods.
Historical India, like China, might stand apart from European cultures by reason of its emphasis
on meditation. However, India found herself to be defenceless when assaulted with the
technological tools generated, in part, by the European commitment to rationality. A culture’s
survival depends on its capacity to harmonise competing ethical goods. Principles of
harmonisation must be based on a culture’s environmental circumstances, as well as its own
idiosyncratic considerations. Cultural difference is key to the survival of the species. Rather
than being the spice of life, variety is in fact the very engine of life.
Ancient African ethics stand out by not ranking a single ethical good over all others. The
principles of Maat and Naaga require the harmonisation of all ethical goods. It may appear that
African ethics are closest to Aristotle’s virtue ethics. Like the Oromo, Aristotle chose a
biological model for his ethics. However, Aristotle’s principle of Eudaimonia does not exhibit
the comprehensive quality of Naaga. Aristotle’s term is poorly translated as happiness. The
etymology of happiness in the sense of luck does not begin to capture Aristotle’s idea that the
primary human good is virtue or activity in accord with excellence. A better translation might be
flourishing, if that term is given a biological connotation. The capacity of an organism for
flourishing depends on both its nature and its circumstances. Aristotle finds that humans are
rational animals. What is unique about humans is their capacity for thinking and choosing.
Aristotle’s concept of flourishing is inferior to the ancient African concepts of Maat and Naaga
in two respects. First, Aristotle sets up irreducible distinctions among kinds of humans. Only
males are capable of both thinking and choosing. Females are certainly capable of thinking, but
they do not have the strength of will to carry out their choices. Slaves, whether male or female,
are characterised by their incapacity to either think or choose. They must live their lives under
the direction of intelligent males.
Second, Aristotle privileges thinking over all other human activities. In doing philosophy,
humans imitate God, who causes all motion in the universe by the act of thinking about his
Aristotle’s ethics is not only anthropocentric, but also androcentric, privileging males above all
other forms of earthly existence. By reason of his higher nature, the thinking man, who has
attained wisdom, has the obligation to guide the activities of all others. Women, slaves, animals,
the earth itself, all are instruments to carry out the will of the thinking man. Aristotle’s
philosophy stands in direct opposition to ancient African ethics that grant moral standing to non-
human life forms and the inorganic earth itself.
The ancient Egyptian concept of flourishing does not privilege men over women. And the
empire’s embrace of slavery did not rest upon a philosophical dehumanisation of the slave.
Oromo democracy cannot condone the separation of males into the free and the slave.
Nevertheless, the Oromo exclusion of women from democratic processes means that only a
combined Egyptian/Oromo ethics can serve as a foundation for contemporary African ethics.
However, this foundation requires a superstructure comprised of research on the full spectrum of
African ethics. African philosophers with PhDs from Euro-American institutions, like Kwame
Gyekye, Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Appiah and Segun Gbadegesin, have done extensive research
on Akan and Yoruba ethical models. Researchers too numerous to mention have published work
on other middle and southern African ethical concepts, such as ubuntu.54 The ancient African
emphasis on harmony is compatible with the more recent African emphasis on the networks of
mutuality expressed across Bantu ethics. In the best case, research into African ethics will be
complemented with that of Africana scholars, like Frantz Fanon, Aimé Cesaire, W.E.B. Du Bois
and Alain Locke. Martin Luther King, Jr. presents perhaps the best intimation of what ethics for
the African Union’s next fifty years should embody: ‘All mankind is tied together; all life is
interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single
garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’55
Finally, ancient Egyptian and Ethiopian ethics might inspire researchers to examine ethical
principles through scientific as well as philosophical lenses.56 Both these ancient African
philosophies found ethics to be inseparable from the structure of the universe. Contemporary
psychologists and biologists imagine that our capacity to be ethical is comparable to our capacity
to learn languages and to be rational.57 Virtually every human is born with the capacity to learn
any of the ~7,000 languages still spoken on the planet. Virtually every human is born with the
capacity to be rational. The capacity to exercise ethical, linguistic and rational behaviour is
innate, conveyed from our ancestors through our genes. The particular expression of these
capacities is a function of the social environment into which we are born. Failure to develop
these capacities is not to be explained by ‘falls from grace’ or ‘ill will’ or ‘evil spirit possession’,
but rather through variant genetic development or blunt-force head trauma (psychopathy) or self-
destructive socialisation (sociopathy).
Humans have been extraordinarily successful in their dramatic rise from a bare handful some
200,000 years ago to over 7 billion strong today. In The Social Conquest of the Earth, E.O.
Wilson attributes our advance in part to an altruism that is essential to our biological nature.
Humans are ‘eusocial’, like very few other species on the planet.58 This term indicates that, in the
very best of circumstances, we are capable of sacrificing our own self-interest for the sake of our
group. In The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Stephen Pinker claims
that humans have exhibited continual moral progress.59 Violence has declined dramatically, he
argues, as our definitions of ‘our group’ have grown to include all humans, not simply those to
whom we are most closely connected through genes, language and culture.
Ancient African thinkers speculated that ‘doing the right thing’ was something that comes
naturally to humans. And what comes naturally is in turn a gift of nature. Contemporary
research efforts to merge ethics with the sciences of nature may give us an extraordinary impetus
to re-examine the experience of our African ancestors in searching for new ways to ensure that
we pass the gift of life on to our children’s children.
1Notes and References
Portions of this chapter are adapted from Verharen, C.C., 2012. Ancient Africa and the Structure of
Revolutions in Ethics: A Prolegomenon for Contemporary African Political Philosophy,
Philosophia Africana, 14(1), pp.1-21.
22 Dworkin, R., 2013. Justice for Hedgehogs. Cambridge, MA: Belknap; Dworkin, R., 2002.
Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.
3 African Union, n.d. [Accessed 23 February 2013]; Organization of African
Union Charter, n.d. Available at [Accessed 23
February 2013]; The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, n.d. Available at [Accessed 23 February 2013].
44 Gade, C.B.N., 2012. What is Ubuntu? Different Interpretations among South Africans of African
Descent. South African Journal of Philosophy, 31(3), pp.484-503; Gade, C.B.N., 2011. The
Historical Development of the Written Discourses on Ubuntu. South African Journal of Philosophy,
30(3), pp.303–329; Eze, M.O., 2010. Intellectual History in Contemporary South Africa. New
York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan; Ramose, M.B., 2003. The Philosophy of Ubuntu and Ubuntu as a
Philosophy. In Coetzee, P.H. & Roux, A.P.J., (eds), The African Philosophy Reader. New York:
5 Verharen, 2012.
6 The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in
Africa, 2003. Available at
%20on%20the%20Rights%20of%20Women.pdf [Accessed 23 February 2013]; The Constitutive
Act, n.d. Available at
[Accessed 23 February 2013].
7 Note that the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 2003
refers to nature as capital, rather than an entity with moral standing. Available at
[Accessed 23 February 2013].
8 Morales, E.A., et al, 2011. The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the
Rights of Mother Earth. San Francisco, CA: Council of Canadians, Fundación Pachamama, and
Global Exchange.
9 Verharen, C.C., 2012. Comparing Ancient Egyptian and Oromo Philosophy. Philosophy in Africa
Now: African Philosophy in Ethiopia; Gutema, B. & Verharen, C., (eds), n.d. Washington, DC:
Council on Research in Values and Philosophy. Available at
http// [Accessed 24 February 2013].
10 50 Years after the Founding of the Organization of African Unity, n.d. Available at of African Unity50/home [Accessed 23 February 2013].
11 Verharen, C.C., et al, 2012. Survival Ethics in the Real World: A Global Model for Experimental
Ethics. Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Appropriate
Technology. Pretoria, South Africa: Department of Science and Technology, pp.276-283.
12 Radhakrishnan, R. & Moore, C., 1967. A sourcebook in Indian philosophy. Princeton: Princeton
University Press.
13 Ibid.
14 Chan, W., 1963. A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
15 Hegel, G.W.F., 1956/1837. The Philosophy of History. (Trans. by Sibree, J.) Mineola, NY:
16 Hornung, E., 1990/1982. Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many. (Trans.
by Baines, J.) Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp.237-243.
17 Faulkner, R.O., trans., 2005/1972. Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. New York:
Barnes and Noble.
18 Lichtheim, M. & Lopriano, A., 2006. Ancient Egyptian Literature: The Old and Middle
Kingdoms. Vol. I. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; Lichtheim, M. & Fischer-Elfert,
H.-W., 2006. Ancient Egyptian Literature: The New Kingdom. Vol. II. Berkeley, CA: University of
California Press; Lichtheim, M. & Manning, J.G., 2006. Ancient Egyptian Literature: The Late
Period. Vol. III. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
19 Assmann, J., 1996. The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs. (Trans.
by Jenkins, A.) New York, NY: Henry Holt.
20 Verharen, C.C., Sage, 2012. Philosophy, Rationality and Science: The Case of Ethiopia.
Philosophy in Africa Now: African Philosophy in Ethiopia; Gutema & Verharen, Washington, DC:
Council on Research in Values and Philosophy.
21 Spinoza, B., 2000/1667. Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.
22 Gazzaniga, M.S., 2011. Who’s in Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. New York,
NY: Ecco.
23 Greene, B., 2011. The Hidden Universe. New York, NY: Vintage.
24 Ibid.
25 Verharen, 2012, Comparing ancient Egyptian and Oromo philosophy; Gutema, & Verharen,
Washington, DC: Council on Research in Values and Philosophy.
26 Collins, R., 1998. The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change.
Cambridge, MA: Belknap.
27 Hornung, E., 1982/1971. The Valley of the Kings: Horizon of Eternity. (Trans. by Warburton, D.)
New York: Timken.
28 Ibid.
29 Hornung, E., 2001/1999. The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West. (Trans. by Lorton, D.)
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
30 Thomas McEvilley speculates that Greek reductionism was influenced by earlier Indian reduction
of all reality to a single metaphysical principle, Brahman. Cf. McEvilley, T., 2001. The Shape of
Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. New York, NY:
31 Assmann, J., 1996. The mind of Egypt: History and meaning in the time of the pharaohs. (Trans.
by Jenkins, A.) New York, NY: Henry Holt.
32 Faulkner, 2005/1972.
33 Lichtheim, Ibid. [Which?]
34 Hornung, E., 1999/1995. Akhenaten and the Religion of Light. (Trans. by Lorton, D.) Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press.
35 Ibid., p.82.
36 Assmann, 1996.
37 Lichtheim, Ibid. [Which?]
38 Adams, W.Y., 1977. Nubia: Corridor to Africa. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
39 Marcus, H.G., 2003. A History of Ethiopia. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
40 Sumner, C., 1996a. Oromo Wisdom Literature: Songs, Collection and Analysis. Addis Ababa:
Gudina Tumsa Foundation; Sumner, C., 1996b. Oromo Wisdom literature: Folktales, Collection
and Analysis. Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation; Sumner, C., 1995. Oromo Wisdom
Literature: Proverbs, Collection and Analysis. Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation.
41 Gutema, B. & Verharen, C., (eds), 2012. African Philosophy in Ethiopia. Washington, DC:
Council on Research in Values and Philosophy.
42 Megerssa, G., 1993. Knowledge, Identity and the Colonizing Structure: The Case of the Oromo of
East and Northeast Africa. Revised Version of an Unpublished PhD Dissertation, London:
University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies.
43 Megerssa, G., 1995. Booran. New York: Rosen Publishing. See also Kassam, A., 1995. Gabra.
New York: Rosen Publishing.
44 Casson, L., 1989. The Periplus Maris Erythraei. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
45 Megerssa, 1995. See also Kassam, 1995.
46 Ibid.
47 Dewo, T., 2008. The Concept of Peace in the Oromo Gadaa System: Its Mechanisms and Moral
Dimension. Journal of Oromo Studies, 15(1), March, pp.139-179.
48 Megerssa, 1995. See also Kassam, 1995.
49 Dewo, 2008.
50 Hassen, M., 1990. The Oromo of Ethiopia: A History 1570-1860. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
51 Diamond, J., 1997. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: Norton.
52 Legesse, A., 2001. Oromo Democracy: An Indigenous African Political System. Trenton: NJ: Red
Sea Press, p.168. See also Legesse, A., 1973. Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of African
Society. New York: Free Press.
53 Keller, C.A. et al,. (eds), 2005. Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. New York, NY:
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
54 African Union, n.d.; Organization of African Union Charter, n.d.; The Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, n.d.
55 King, Jr., M.L., 1965. Running Awake Through a Great Revolution. Oberlin College
Commencement Address. Available at [Accessed 24
February 2013].
56 Verharen, C.C., et al, 2013. Survival Ethics in the Real World: Research Universities and
Sustainable Development. Science and Engineering Ethics, DOI 10.1007/s11948-
57 Verharen, C.C., et al, 2011. Introducing Survival Ethics into Engineering Education.
Science and Engineering Ethics, DOI 10.1007/s11948-011-9332-9; Joyce, R., 2006. The Evolution
of Morality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; Joyce, R., 2001. The Myth of Morality. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press; Haidt, J., 2007. The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology. Science, 18,
pp.998-1002; Hauser, M., 2006. Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right
and Wrong. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
58 Wilson, E.O., 2012. The Social Conquest of the Earth. New York, NY: Liveright. See also Staub,
E., 1989. The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
59 Pinker, S., 2011. The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York:
Viking. See also Wrangham, R., 2004. Killer Species. Daedalus, 133(4), pp.25-35.
Public health disasters reflect a class of global problems that generate moral quandaries and challenges. As such, they demand a global bioethical response involving an approach that is sufficiently nuanced at the local, trans-national, and global domains. Using the overlapping ethical issues engendered by Ebola and pandemic influenza outbreaks, atypical drug-resistant tuberculosis, and earthquakes, this chapter develops a global ethical framework for engaging PHDs. This framework exhibits sufficient responsiveness to local, global, microbial, and metaphysical realities as well as scientific concerns.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.