AN EXPOSITORY DISCUSSION ON WIREDU’S EPISTEMOLOGY AND HIS CRITICAL SUGGESTION ON SOME “EPISTEMOLOGICAL” MATTERS

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INTRODUCTION

In the intellectual scene or arena, generally speaking, it is commonly believed that all  intellectuals, scientists, and other practitioners of several fields of study are concerned with knowledge but only philosophers are concerned with knowledge as such.

In this contention I am not, obviously speaking, saying that the practitioners in question  are people who do not care about, and hence, are less concerned with the production  and  transmission of knowledge. But my point rather is that even though they claim to  know  something about the world that surrounds us, and even beyond that, it can  be  certainly  enunciated that it is primarily the business of philosophers to question and attempt to offer an answer to such fundamental epistemological problems as  the meaning of knowledge, its source   or how we acquire knowledge of certain things, etc.

Subsequently, this is a moment in which one fundamental field of philosophical study, namely epistemology, has to be invited to our attention for it has mainly made its business such issues related to knowledge. All the issues I raised above somehow are meant to elucidate why I have become interested in the study of epistemological issues and also serve as a background of my further studies. The discussions made, moreover, lay the foundation for my thesis designated as ‘An Expository Discussion on Wiredu’s Epistemology and His Critical Suggestions on Some “Epistemological” Matters.’

Therefore, particularly speaking, in the course of my entire exposition and critical reflection, one will hopefully note that I am primarily concerned with the epistemological aspects of Wiredu’s philosophy, and hence it is in the light of his view of knowledge that I would like to treat the epistemological concerns of other philosophers such as St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Rene Descartes regarding God’s existence, and George Berkeley’s doctrine of ‘esse est percipi.’

This study has three main parts or chapters, and concluding remarks. Chapter one of the study chiefly devotes itself to one central preoccupation, namely the concept of truth in Wiredu. However, before I directly get down to see Wiredu’s view of truth, I wish to begin my exposition with problematising the concept of truth (i.e., its nature or determining its meaning or what its

definition is all about) and the general and sure or sufficient criterion of truth ( i.e., the determination of its criterion).

In connection to this, I would like to consider various scholars or schools of thought that have developed their own positions in relation to defining the notion of truth and determining its criterion. Here I will discuss some of the central arguments of, among others, the three most accredited philosophical theories of truth, namely the correspondence, the coherence, and the pragmatic theories. In a course of the discussions of these theories, I will try to depict Wiredu’s critical reviews on some ideas of them,  particularly that of the correspondence theory of  truth. My kernel point here is that an exposition of these theories will serve as a background for my further studies of Wiredu’s view of truth.

Now, let us come back to Wiredu’s view of truth, which is the central preoccupation of chapter one of my research. A Ghanaian philosopher, Kwasi Wiredu (1931- ), clearly states that truth is nothing over and beyond opinion. This thesis indicates, it seems to me, that there is nothing   called truth as distinct from opinion. Because our conventional understanding of  the  two  concepts (i.e., truth and opinion) in philosophy is that they are essentially different, at least in terms of their degrees of certainty, and thus, since Wiredu’s notion of truth seems to  stand opposed to our usual, conventional conception of the concepts in question, it sounds very unique to our knowledge. In this regard, Wiredu himself is very much aware of such difficulty and subsequently states it is a highly controversial view as he knows from experience. Therefore, having realized that this view will appear so difficult and controversial to many, Wiredu devotes, Part III of his work Philosophy and an African Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1980), to the clarification of his view of truth. Consequently, chapter one  of my study chiefly aims at the exposition, discussion, and defense of his advanced thesis that ‘truth is nothing but opinion.’

Furthermore, Wiredu is not oblivious to the connection between language and truth, and subsequently, he calls for the need to consider  a significant connection between questions of   truth and meaning in the philosophical analysis. For him, truth presupposes meaningfulness. Likewise, Jurgen Habermas focuses upon the existence of an inextricably intertwined connection between language and truth. Thus, ‘a pragmatic theory of meaning’ is one of the chief

philosophical achievements of Habermas, in which he tries to demonstrate the availability of a connection between the concepts of truth and meaning. I can thus claim that both Wiredu and Habermas emphasize an inescapably intimate connection between the two notions. Therefore, in this paper I wish to expose and compare the two philosophers’ conceptions of meaning with particular reference to truth.

In chapter two, my discussions will be mainly directed towards the questions pertinent to knowledge of God’s existence. Thus, this section shall contain issues that can be possibly posed  in the philosophy of religion. The questions, among other things, of knowing whether God exists have become very central in the philosophy of religion. In this connection, there have been  a  good number of philosophers who put forward their own arguments for the conception of God’s existence. These include St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Pascal, Berkeley, and many other philosophers.

However, though there have been so many philosophers who have developed their own  arguments to prove the existence of God, I have decided to select only some of them, namely St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Rene Descartes whom I consider to be  useful for the purpose of my discussion. Here, what I primarily intend to do will be to expose the arguments advanced  by these philosophers, and finally I would like to critically react to their conceptions of  knowledge of God’s existence by using the implications of Wiredu’s conception of knowledge of existence in general.

In this regard, Wiredu himself pointed out that St. Anselm, and later, Descartes had argued that  the existence of God is logically bound up with the correct conception of God. Furthermore, St. Thomas Aquinas, who attempted to provide five proofs or ways for God’s existence, would seem to consider or view the issue of understanding the existence of God in  reference  to  God’s sensible effects, things we can observe. Here we can note that Aquinas is different from both Anselm and Descartes in his conception of proving God’s existence in that the former believes that the existence of God is not self-evident to us (though it is self-evident to God Himself), since we cannot know the essence of God.

Meanwhile, according to Wiredu, to claim to know that God exists has logically nothing to do with the correct conception of God or, in my view, with reference to God’s sensible, physical

effects. And thus, in this respect, I would like to employ the implications of Wiredu’s idea of existence to critically evaluate the arguments formulated by Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Descartes because for Wiredu, unlike these philosophers, to assert the existence of God is to  assert that the term God has a reference or refers to a certain object. This position will therefore  be developed in my study.

In chapter three, I will devote my study primarily to an expository discussion on Wiredu’s epistemology. This section thus shall partly cover the central objective of the research. Accordingly, in this respect, the main purpose of the thesis will be to explicate Wiredu’s conception of knowledge of the existence, particularly of a material object or  thing.  In  connection to this conception, I would like to critically evaluate George Berkeley’s famous doctrine of ‘esse est percipi’ or ‘to be is to be perceived’ in the light of Wiredu’s epistemological thesis that ‘to be is to be known.’

In his major epistemological thesis ‘to be is to be known’, Wiredu attempts to show the relation between knowledge and existence. Consequently, for him, existence is not logically bound up  with the correct conception or knowledge of the attributes of an object or a thing. So, for him, to assert that an object exists is to assert that a given term refers to an object. This notion of the relation between the concepts of knowledge and existence will therefore be expanded and briefly discussed in this section.

As I have already pointed out, after I have briefly explained  Wiredu’s conception of existence,  the task that immediately follows will be to treat Berkeley’s philosophical doctrine of ‘to be is to be perceived’ in the light of Wiredu’s epistemological position. Here, the main task of this study will therefore be an attempt to demonstrate or show Wiredu’s effort to make critical suggestions on Berkeley’s doctrine because, according to Wiredu, in the questions of the  existence  of  sensible objects, Berkeley would seem to conflate the epistemological thesis and the ontological one when he states that ‘to be is to be perceived.’ Hence for Wiredu these theses need to be separated. Finally, I would like to recapitulate my study by providing some major concluding remarks.

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