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Moving Beyond Dehumanisation and Greed in the Light of African Economic Ethics – A Statement

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This article argues that the popular term self-interest which is used in economic and political discourses can be used interchangeably with greed. Tracing the origins of the term greed from antiquity through the early Christian era, it is also argued that classical modern economic and political theorists justified and absolved greed when they replaced it with the word self-interest. It was argued by modern economists and political philosophers that the pursuit of self-interest was integral to human nature, and also indispensable to the attainment and increase of wealth. Contemporary economists have also absolved greed when they constructed an ideal homo economicus as solely a utility maximiser who is only concerned with his or her well-being without taking into account the well-being of others. In an African society where greed is primarily seen as dehumanising, I argue that egalitarian economic programmes that have been implemented by many postcolonial African governments should be seen as an expression of moral protest against greed.

Affiliations: 1: Unilever Ethics Centre, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville 3209, Republic of South Africa


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