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Dr Mpho Tshivhase becomes SA's first black woman to earn PhD in philosophy

With graduation season still in full swing in South Africa, a number of stand out graduates are marking their mark in big ways and Dr Mpho Tshivhase is one of them.

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) student has become the first black woman in South Africa to be awarded a doctoral degree in Philosophy - focusing on advancing a theory of what it means for people to be unique, according to the university.

Dr Mpho Tshivhase graduated at UJ on Thursday, 12 April.

Her thesis, titled: "Towards a Normative Theory of Uniqueness of Persons" was completed under the supervision of Professor Thaddeus Metz from UJ's Department of Philosophy.

According to Professor Metz, 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, she 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," Dr Tshivhase told the university's news and event team.

"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.”

Tshivhase explains that her recent graduation has exposed a glaring gap in the development of women in philosophy, particularly black women in South Africa.

“While we know the political history that has led to this gap, I believe it is important to find ways to redress this deficiency. While it is inspiring and well worth celebrating, it is also distressing that I am the first African woman from South Africa to get a Doctorate in the field of Philosophy from any institution.”

Dr Tshivhase is also working to apply for grants that will enable her to establish research projects that will fund masters and doctoral students with a particular focus on developing female students.
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