On “Participation as a Christian Ethic: Wojtyla’s Phenomenology of Subject-in-Community, Ubuntu, and the Trinity” by Neil Pembroke

Defining Wojtylan-Buberian Participation

Participation, the intersubjective virtue of being-with and acting-for others towards the common good, is present in the three main topics of the reading of the same title; namely Wojtyla’s philosophy, Ubuntu, and Trinitarian theology. Both Wojtyla and the Ubuntu ethic approach it by incorporating the interpersonal and social dimensions, especially the “I-thou” and “We” relations under them. For Wojtyla, participation goes beyond the element of interaction as it extends to the concept of being a neighbor, wherein a fellow member of a community undergoes the process of self-transcendence towards the recognition of the “humanness,” personhood, or humanity of other human persons. Moreover, for him, it is what binds the community because, without it, there is no community; and without the community, there is no society. In conclusion, the absence of participation alienates the human person from society and self-realization.

Rectifying his philosophy regarding community, Wojtyla worked with Buber’s “I-thou” dimension and his “We-attitude” dimension. First, he extended the concept of the former by relating it to embodied subjectivity which is achieved through agency or self-determination; and introducing the concept of reflexivity and reciprocity. On the other hand, the “We” dimension is more communal in nature. Hence, it is often aligned with Ubuntu, which can be defined as an ethic, a philosophy, or a worldview.

Defining Ubuntu

First, according to Desmond Tutu, Ubuntu is possessed by people who affirm their belongingness in the community and assure their availability to others. It is also used by locals as a form of praise directed to hospitable and friendly individuals. Second, Ubuntu is related to the concept of being a neighbor. For Ramose, it is affirming one’s humanity through the recognition of others’ humanness, which in turn becomes a basis for humane relationships. Similarly, for Venter, Ubuntu promotes the vitality of the common good and humanness in the growth of the community and its members. Lastly, Shutte argued that Ubuntu as a worldview believes that a human self only exists in relation to others, contrary to the belief that it exists first on its own before it enters a relationship.

Extending Ubuntu via Wojtylan and Trinitarian Thought

It is evident that both Wojtyla’s philosophy and Ubuntu are centered around positive participation behaviors and their role in the achievement of the common good. Highlighting the contrasts of the two, the latter is focused on communal and harmonious values which are common cultural traits in countries in the Global South where Ubuntu originated. The former, on the other hand, is founded upon self-determination and embodied subjectivity which are manifestations of the West’s extreme individualism. However, according to Louw, Ubuntu’s collectivism has the tendency to become tyrannical and oppressive of the individuality of the members of the community. Thus, it must “incorporate” relation and distance with the help of Wojtyla and Trinitarian theology’s corrective stances.

As stated by Gunton, too much space leads to individualism while the lack of it likewise denotes a lack of respect for otherness and freedom. He then used the Holy Trinity’s perichoresis union as the perfect example of relation and distance. According to McHall, the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “I-thou” in nature but for Moltmann, this view of the Holy Trinity is grounded on individualism. In support of Moltmann, Muhlen’s theology reinstates the Father as the “I” and the Son as the “Thou” due to their mutuality, and the Holy Spirit as the “We” due to it being the agent of divine self-love.


Considering the belief that we are created in the image of the Holy Trinity and the commonalities of the three discussed topics regarding their view regarding participation, it can be said that Wojtyla’s philosophy and Ubuntu correlate with Christian theology. And that our participation as a community of believers is a reflection of the Holy Trinity’s perichoresis dwelling, and a verification of its theological alignment to Trinitarian ethic.

Written by Allen John Dela Cruz on March 2021 for Philosophy





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