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This paper offers an African perspective on moral status grounded on an understanding of personhood. These concepts are key to understanding the differences in emphasis and the values at play when global ethical issues are analysed within the African context. Drawing from African philosophical reflections on the descriptive and normative concepts of personhood, I propose a dual notion of subject and object moral status. I explain how object moral status, duties owed to persons, is differently grounded with respect to subject moral status, which refers to communally directed agency. This distinction influences the African way of conceptualising and addressing ethical issues, where, without ignoring rights of persons, moral consideration about the agency of right bearers is often factored into ethical deliberation. As a practical example, I look at the debate surrounding legal access to safe abortion on the African continent. I suggest a Gadamerian approach to diffuse the tensions that sometimes arise between universalist advocates of rights and cultural decolonisationists.

Original publication





Medical humanities

Publication Date





238 - 245


Philosophy and Classics, University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana


Humans, Morals, Pregnancy, Bioethical Issues, Bioethics, Moral Obligations, Personhood, Female, Moral Status