In a remarkable achievement, a student at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has become the first African woman from South Africa to be awarded a doctoral degree in Philosophy.
Dr Mpho Tshivhase graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy at UJ on Thursday, 12 April.
She focuses on advancing a theory of what it means for persons to be unique.
The title of her thesis was entitled: ‘Towards a Normative Theory of Uniqueness of Persons.’
Her research project was completed under the supervision of Prof. Thaddeus Metz, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Philosophy at UJ.
Prof. Metz explains that Dr Tshivhase’s Doctoral thesis is the first systematic treatment of uniqueness as something valuable that can be manifested in a person’s life. In it, Dr Tshivhase distinguishes the value of uniqueness from other values such as happiness and morality, arguing that it merits attention as something worth having in its own right. She also points out that existing philosophical accounts of uniqueness all share the counterintuitive implication that everyone is always already unique.”
“This topic is extremely fascinating for me, particularly because I think we live in a society that generally moves people to prioritise who (and perhaps even what) other people think they should become. Our societal interactions in general seem to prize group identities that seem to require one to give up their personal identities in order assimilate into a group identity, whether it be race, gender, class, political or religious assimilation, to name a few. I think even in instances where people do create what they consider to be an original identity, they seem to still look to society for some form of affirmation from those who are around them,” says Dr Tshivhase.
“When I looked around me I found that uniqueness is something that is truly prized by society but it is not quite examined in a systematic way. For instance, the work of artists is judged based on its level of uniqueness. Painters, singers or dancers have to produce something unique in order to be appreciated and appraised. Some people secure jobs in the workplace by being perceived as unique. Our romantic relationships can also be a matter of thinking there is something unique about our partners that sets them apart from all other potential partners.”
According to Prof Metz, “amongst other remarks from the examiners were that Dr Tshivhase’s Doctorate is ‘consistently original, interesting, and insightful’ and ‘absolutely brilliant’.”