In memoriam: Prof. Kwasi Wiredu – the thinker’s thinker

On 6 January, Africa misplaced one other of its nice thinkers when Ghana’s Professor Kwasi Wiredu died on the age of 90. He was amongst a really small quantity who made a serious mark within the discipline of philosophy – a topic thought-about too superior for Africans throughout the colonial days. He succeeded in lifting African conventional thought to the best world ranges throughout an impressive profession. Cameron Duodu pays tribute to an amazing son of Africa.

Kwasi Wiredu was certainly one of a duo of good philosophers who impressed President Kwame Nkrumah a lot that he despatched them to Germany to analysis the works of William Anton Amo (1703–c. 1759), a Ghanaian who turned a widely known thinker in Germany within the 18th century. The opposite half of the duo was William Abraham, the primary African to be elected a Fellow of All Souls School, Oxford College, the place he studied for a B.Phil.

Abraham and Wiredu had been classmates at Adisadel School, Cape Coast, and went to Oxford collectively after graduating from the College of Ghana, Legon.

Though outsiders assumed they had been rivals, they remained intimate mates all through their scholar days and continued their friendship after they each returned house to lecture in philosophy on the College of Ghana.

Ultimately, they each ended up based mostly within the US, the place they turned the touchstone of Africa’s philosophical prowess and have become Visiting Professors at a few of the most prestigious academic establishments on the earth.

Kwasi Wiredu was born in Kumasi, Ghana, in 1931 and taught for 23 years on the College of Ghana – turning into head of its Division of Philosophy – earlier than he took up an appointment as Professor of Philosophy on the College of South Florida.

His publications embrace Philosophy and an African Tradition (1980) and Cultural Universals and Particulars: An African Perspective (1996). Nobody appreciated his brilliance greater than his buddy, William Abraham, who stated of him: “I have no idea anybody, in particular person or by reputation, whose pondering is as penetrating or as complete. He’s the one African named among the many world’s best ‘One Hundred Philosophers’.”

Prof. Abraham added: “Let it’s additionally stated that I personally by no means met a extra upright particular person. If this man thought {that a} plan of action could be improper, he could be merely incapable of pursuing it. If you happen to [had] him for a buddy, you [had] a buddy for all times… I’ve by no means heard anybody, or heard of anybody, who had something ailing to say of him. He turned a ‘thinker’s thinker’, as Stuart Hampshire was to explain him in graduate faculty at Oxford.” (Sir Stuart Newton Hampshire FBA was an English thinker, literary critic and college administrator.)

I met Wiredu for the primary time in Kumasi within the early Nineteen Sixties, while I used to be the editor of the Ghana version of Drum journal. I had gone there to interview the most well-liked guitarist in Ghana on the time, Kwabena Onyina, ‘King of Excessive-life’. Onyina’s music was distinct in that his chords had been advanced and jazzy, whereas he sang in a wonderful tenor. However greater than that, he eloquently used well-known Akan proverbs to make his lyrics memorable. Apparently, Onyina mentioned life’s issues with – Wiredu! And he impressed Onyina to compose lyrics that comforted those that wanted to shore up their psyches!

Elevating African philosophy

Wiredu’s principal achievement in life was to assist get African philosophy (as soon as disregarded as ‘inferior’ or ‘non-existent’) recognised worldwide because the equal of all different philosophies. Professor Martin Ajei of the College of Ghana summed up Wiredu’s work as follows:

“Between the Nineteen Seventies and Nineties, technical debates on the character of African philosophy, as a sub-discipline of philosophy, had been rife. Two questions that decisively formed these discussions had been: what’s the distinguishing characteristic of an African philosophical work, and who counts as an African thinker? Two central factors of view on these questions emerged – the ‘universalist’ and ‘particularist’….

“Particularists had been deemed to contemplate collective methods of thought, notably in conventional African cultural settings, as important to African philosophy; whereas universalists thought-about philosophy as a observe that has the identical methodology and questions all over the place, and insisted African philosophy is an exercise that conforms to such common philosophical observe.

“Kwasi Wiredu was pivotal in discussing these questions, and is often thought-about to be a universalist. He prescribed for African philosophy an orientation that includes constructive self-criticism; i.e., examination of the mental foundations of conventional life, to establish the inelegant options of conventional thought and observe (inelegant within the sense of standing in the way in which of human wellbeing: of their being anachronistic, superstitious or authoritarian). [He advocated the charting of] new conceptual instructions as guides for addressing these options within the modern world.

“However his was not a simplistic model of universalism that adopts as universally relevant, with out due deliberation, customs of thought and observe which have morphed into hegemonic conceptions and values, due to the course of mental historical past.

“With out under-estimating the significance of difficult the pejorative assessments of indigenous African thought in philosophical historical past, he was extra excited by evaluating the worth that such thought can doubtlessly have for establishing an African future.

“He elaborated an method, conceptual decolonisation, for this constructive work, to information African philosophers as they attempt to affirm themselves as mills of data within the social, scientific and humanistic disciplines, and as educators of a brand new era of residents.

“Wiredu’s work spans a number of key areas of philosophy: logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy and meta-philosophical issues. He argued throughout millennia, together with his contemporaries, and he’ll proceed to argue with future students. Therefore, he won’t be forgotten within the historical past of philosophy.”

African people thought

That is how Wiredu outlined the “decolonisation of African philosophy” in a paper entitled: “How To not Examine African Conventional Thought with Western Thought”:

“The African thinker has good purpose to check African people thought. Africans are a a lot oppressed and disparaged individuals; some foreigners haven’t even conceded that Africans, as a standard individuals, had been able to a coherent worldview.

“Many colonial anthropologists sought to render the actions and attitudes of our forefathers intelligible to their colonial rulers, in order to facilitate governance. Whereas some good insights resulted, there have been misinterpretations and factual errors as effectively. Africans can’t depart the duty of correction to international researchers alone.

“Furthermore, there are, notably within the discipline of morality, conceptions not based mostly on superstition; the Westerner might effectively have one thing to be taught from them. The exposition of those points of African conventional thought particularly befits the modern African thinker.

“However African philosophers ought to method this materials critically: all peoples who’ve made any breakthrough within the quest for modernisation, have achieved so by going past people pondering. Sifting via the weather of our conventional thought and tradition would require measure of analytical circumspection. In any other case, we would trade the great, in addition to the dangerous, in our conventional methods of life, for doubtful cultural imports.”

How very true as we ask ourselves if we’ve certainly exchanged the great and dangerous of our conventional lifestyle for doubtful cultural imports. Wiredu the thinker is gone however his concepts dwell on and are discovering expression, typically in faraway locations because the seek for the distinctive African lifestyle and thought continues.


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