Review of Kwasi Wiredu’s philosophy through the Akan cultural lenses

Philosophers emerge in time and space and so has Prof. Kwasi Wiredu of Ghana. Wiredu remains one of the most renowned and prolific African philosophy pioneers to date alongside others such as Mogobe Ramose, Paulin J. Hountondji, Odera Oruka, V.Y. Mudimbe and so on.

Wiredu and my father Odera Oruka first met through their work when Wiredu came across Oruka’s article on “Philosophy and other disciplines” in 1974 in the first issue of “Thought and Practice”.

Around the same time Wiredu’s article on “What is philosophy?” appeared in Universitas.

Soon Wiredu’s article “Truth as Opinion” came to the surface. In this article, Wiredu argued that Truth is nothing categorically other than opinion. Oruka immediately wrote a response to this under the title “Truth and Belief” which was published in 1975 in Universitas.

Oruka’s contention was that if truth were opinion, discourse would be vitiated by subjectivity and consequently, anarchy and chaos.

Anybody would believe whatever caught their fancy and all beliefs or opinions would have the same standing in so far as they would all be true damn any incompatibilities.

Wiredu responded the following year with an article titled “On behalf of opinion”, Wiredu argued that not just any opinion is truth.

Truth is only that opinion in which something is judged to be warranted. In the normal case it is rational inquiry that provides that warrant.

Wiredu pointed out further that it is because the canons of rational inquiry are humanly universal that human discourse need not degenerate into subjectivity, anarchy or relativistic chaos.

Perhaps in an ‘objectivist’ train of thought one might simply have argued that a proposition true in all possible worlds cannot be one which is affirmed or accepted in all possible worlds since some possible worlds will not contain any cognitive beings in the first place.

When my father OderaOruka passed on in 1995, Wiredu in his typical fashion invoked an Akan funeral dirge which says “what human beings want is what death also wants and we must live” and if I may translate to my own mother tongue of Luo “gima dhano duaro ema tho be duaro, to ngima nyaka dhi nyime”.

Wiredu has through his contributions to African philosophy repeatedly demonstrated the core role that culture and more so the Akan culture has in philosophizing for even as NgugiwaThiong’o once challenged me in a paper he sent me titled ” Rurimina karamu” which in Kikuyu means the tongue and the pen,it was a challenge to philosophers to philosophize in their own mother tongues. Ali Mazrui tells us in his article

‘The Written word and Collective identity’, which Africa must have had great philosophers trying out new ideas,much of which seems to be lost and we rely on oral tradition.

But oral tradition tends overwhelmingly to be the transmission of consensus rather than heresy of accepted ideas rather than innovative intellectual heresies.

The responsibility to ponder further on the works of Kwasi Wiredu, V.Y. Mudimbe, Odera Oruka, Paulin J. Hountondji, Mogobe Ramose and so on remains on young African and Africanist scholars of the 21st century.

By Peter Oruka Odera

Show More
Back to top button