Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Omoluabi: Re-Thinking the Concept of Virtue in Yoruba Culture and Moral System

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Omoluabi: Re-Thinking the Concept of Virtue in Yoruba Culture and Moral System

Article excerpt


The questions such as; "how should I live?" and "what kind of person should I be?" are essential normative questions for the ethicists as well as social and political philosophers. One fundamental concern in ethics is the issue of the way human beings think or believe they should conduct their lives. Coming from the background that morality is irreducibly social, the question is that, are some ways of life better than others? If yes, on what basis can this be determined? If no, can everybody be correct in the choices of life style? These are questions about one's entire life or the kind of person one ought to be in order to get it right morally all the time.

This is unlike the question such as, "What is the right action?" which is the concern of the consequentialist and the non-consequentialist theories. Scholars at different epochs have attempted to answer the question of "what kind of person should I be?" by appealing to the notion of virtue. Aristotle for instance proposed virtue as central to good living. That is, one ought to be virtuous or live a virtuous life. Lynne McFall also considers virtue (integrity), as important for the modern individual. Aristotle's answer to these questions falls in line with the Yoruba's beliefs about how one should or ought to live and the kind of person one should strive to be. My view is that, Aristotelian treatment of virtue is akin to Yoruba's view that ki eniyan gbe gege bi omoluabi1 (i.e one should live virtuously). This in Yoruba2 moral system means one should be an omoluabi (virtuous person). Worthy of note is Aristotle's conception of the study of ethics as a practical endeavour, aimed not at theoretical knowledge, but at improving human lives. In his view, ethics is properly conceived, not as a separate inquiry, but as part of political theory. This work argues that Aristotle's3 conception of virtue can be treated in the like manner with the Yoruba's conception of omoluabi with slight modification.

The presentation is divided into four main sections. The first section presents a clarification of some ethical concepts in Yoruba moral philosophy. The second section examines the moral decadence in Africa: the trend, the magnitude, and the consequences. The third considers Aristotelian notion of virtue as well as the concept of omoluabi and its relation to the West. Meanwhile, the last section focuses on the place of culture and religion in reviving the omoluabi virtues in contemporary African societies.

Clarifying Some Ethical Concepts in Yoruba Moral Philosophy

In Yoruba language, according to Bewaji, ethical behaviour and morally approved conduct is called, variously, "iwa rere (good character), iwa pele/ iwa tutu(gentleness) and iwa irele/iteriba(respect)"4. One terminology that captures all these various names is called iwa omoluabi. Also, other attributes or qualities of an omoluabi are: Oro Siso (Spoken word, the Yoruba accord great respect for intelligent and expert use of language); Inu Rere (Goodwill, Having a good mind towards others); Otito (Truth); Iwa (Character/behaviour); Akinkanju (Bravery); Ise (Hardwork); Opolo Pipe (Intelligence); and Iwa Rere (Good character/behaviour).

Meanwhile, unethical behaviours and morally disapproved conducts are iwa buburu, aidaa (evil or lawlessness), and iwa ibaje (bad characters) Imele/ole (laziness), ole jija (act of slealing), iro (lies), ainiteriba (disrespectful attitude) and ojukokoro (covetousness). Arguably, some of the qualities mentioned above could be categorised as either personal virtues or social virtues or both depending on the manner of appraisal.

The Concept of "Omoluabi": What is it?

Yoruba people of Western-Nigeria have a long tradition and a cherished culture that must not be allowed to pass into oblivion. Yoruba consider the issue of ethics or morality as one of the most essential issues of life for any human being on this planet earth. One moral concept that is highly valued is the concept of omoluabi. …

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