Colonialism in Africa, Culturally Induced Moral Ignorance, and the Scope of Responsibility

Publication Title

Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour

Publication Date


Document Type



colonialism, Africa, 'colonial situation'




This paper analyzes colonialism in Africa to show a plausible connection between culture and human agency and to highlight the conceptual problem of ascribing responsibility in the context of the notion of culturally induced moral ignorance. It argues for the plausibility of the inability thesis, which states that people can be rendered morally ignorant by their culture, using as a backdrop, Moody-Adams’ account of the connection between culture and agency. It shows that Moody-Adams’ account, and her criteria for ascribing responsibility, cannot handle the problem identified with the colonial situation or culture in Africa, with respect to responsibility of corrupt African leaders. Her arguments do not fully appreciate the real force of the inability thesis and the substantial problem of delimiting the scope of responsibility, which is involved in ascribing responsibility in the context of cultural impediments. This paper does not draw any specific practical conclusion with respect to the responsibility of African leaders. It leaves such a practical conclusion open. However, given the analysis of the colonial situation, the nature and complexity of the problem, it suggests that it is conceptually problematic to blame entirely, without qualification, the specter of corruption in Africa on African leaders.