#UPGraduation2023: UP student becomes the first African woman from Botswana to get a PhD in philosophy

Posted on September 18, 2023

Dr Doreen Sesiro, philosophy lecturer at the University of Botswana, is among the remarkable graduates who walked the stage during the University of Pretoria's (UP) spring graduations as she became the first African woman from Botswana to receive a PhD in philosophy.

Her thesis, titled: ‘An Evaluation of Biotechnological Enhancement in the Light of an African Perspective of Personhood: The Metaphysical Aspects of Botho and Human Nature’, was done under the supervision of Professor Thaddeus Metz, lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at UP.

In her doctoral thesis Dr Sesiro addressed what philosophers and ethicists call “biotechnological enhancements”, interventions that (hypothetically for now) could increase human traits such as intelligence or strength way beyond the norm. Like taking a pill so you can have a perfect memory, or if scientists manipulated your genes so you could run as fast as a cheetah.

Most reflections on enhancements have considered them in the light of Western ethical frameworks. In contrast, Dr Sesiro drew on Botho, an African philosophy indigenous to Botswana, and, in addition, focused more on metaphysics than ethics. For example, she considered which kind of enhancements would be compatible with being human or having free will, as these are specified by Botho.

Dr Doreen Sesiro on the graduation stage to receive her degree

Not only is Dr Doreen Sesiro (left on stage) the first African woman in Botswana to receive a PhD in philosophy, she is also the first metaphysician among all philosophers in Botswana.

“In particular, the Botho/Ubuntu compatibilist approach to freewill on issues of transhumanism has not been done in an African context before, therefore this research offers a Setswana view of personhood,” said Dr Sesiro.

“Many scholars have done research in the area of African knowledge but there are no studies on how transhumanism might bear on this aspect.”

The research shows that many biotechnological enhancements are consistent with the metaphysical aspects of the Botho perspective in relation to freewill, immaterial and material aspects of human nature, knowledge capability, personhood and personal identity.

“The study demonstrates that both transhumanism and the Botho/Ubuntu perspective distinguish the essence of a person from the body in such a way that a non-human can be a person and a human can be a non-person,” Dr Sesiro explained.

She hails all the way from Molepolole, Botswana, and holds a degree in humanities, a postgraduate diploma in education and master’s degree in theology and religious studies from the University of Botswana. She also has master’s degree in philosophy from St Augustine College of South Africa and a PhD in philosophy from the University of Pretoria.  Her research interests are in areas of African metaphysics and transhumanism.

“The degree is a great achievement not only to me but to my country. My aim is to contribute in improving the current philosophy programmes which may ultimately assist in introducing a philosophy department in the University of Botswana. I also aim to make Batswana cognisant of philosophy as a subject, especially girls and women, because if philosophy is introduced as a subject at lower education, it will help children to develop their inclination to do critical thinking and to become better communicators,” said Dr Sesiro.

Not only is she the first African woman in Botswana to receive a PhD in philosophy, she is also the first metaphysician among all philosophers in Botswana. “This means the world to me. The job market is wide open for me, whether for a lecturer’s position or research in organisations and institutions,” she said.

“Beyond doing clearly original work, Dr Sesiro finished her thesis quickly, having written it in less than a year and a half after the defence of her proposal. She is one of the most diligent students I have worked with,” said Prof Metz.

Dr Sesiro continues to teach Personal Identity and Professional Ethics, among others, as a lecturer at the University of Botswana. She is currently collaborating on a project called Africa and Transhumanism which aims to provide a transdisciplinary platform for conversations on transhumanism from an African perspective by African or Africanist philosophers and scholars.

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