Kwasi Wiredu, 1931-2022
Dr. Kwasi Wiredu, beloved and revered Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of South Florida, who also taught courses for the Department of Africana Studies, and widely known as “one of the greatest of African philosophers,” died Thursday, January 6, 2022, at the age of 90. Arriving at the university in 1987 and retiring in 2010, Dr. Wiredu was an undergraduate at the University of Ghana (B.A. 1958) and did his graduate studies at Oxford University under Gilbert Ryle (B.Phil. 1960). Although he worked in logic and epistemology, his greatest impact was in African philosophy. He also taught at the University of Ghana for 23 years. In addition, he was visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (1979-1980), University of Ibadan, Nigeria (1984), University of Richmond, Virginia (N.E.H. Distinguished Professor, Spring 1985), Carleton College, Minnesota (Donald J. Cowling Visiting Professor, Fall 1986) and Duke University, North Carolina (1994-95 and 1999-2001) and held fellowships at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (1985) and the National Humanities Center, North Carolina (Spring 1986).
His influential publications included Philosophy and an African Culture, published by Cambridge University Press in 1980. Person and Community: Ghanaian Philosophical Studies (edited with Kwame Gyekye, 1992 by the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, and Cultural Universals and Particulars: An African Perspective, Indiana University Press) in 1996, and he edited A Companion to African Philosophy, (Blackwell) in 2004.
Dr. Wiredu argued for an understanding of African concepts of the person and mind that respected them as genuinely philosophical ideas and alternatives to Western ones rather than anthropological curiosities. At the same time, he urged African philosophers to use the resources of this kind of indigenous philosophy to provide means of dealing with problems with concepts in the Western tradition and in technical philosophy itself. But he always understood work as part of a common intellectual project rather than a mere reaction to conventional philosophy. He wished to improve African philosophical thinking by critical analysis and preserve the valuable parts of the African heritage. He called this project “conceptual decolonization,” by which he meant problematizing aspects of the Western philosophical tradition that were themselves ethnocentric and in the African context were unhelpful dogmas, but also making African thinking more rational and freeing it from its harmful elements.
The innovative results that follow this strategy are exemplified by his discussion of the Ashanti concept of consensus, which involved not merely a formal agreement or a sharing of opinions but resolving grievances. Similar contrasts could be found with the Akan concept of truth and the Akan concept of mind. He realized that the Akan concept of mind was of capacity dependent on the functioning of the brain, rather than the mysterious “substance” that was the source of the mind-body problem in the Cartesian tradition. He considered that such alternative concepts could be used as resources to improve and critique the Western concept and reveal their ethnocentric aspects in the quest for improved philosophical understanding. Although Dr. Wiredu appreciated the depth and pervasiveness of conceptual differences between cultures, he was always aware of the pull of universality and the particularity of traditions. He thus rejected any simple relativism about these ideas.
Dr. Wiredu was happily married for 60 years. He is survived by his widow, Mary and 5 children, 11 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending. Tributes and expressions of sympathy may be sent to Bankergifty@gmail.com.
A memorial for Professor Wiredu will take place on in the Cooper Hall Breezeway Saturday, March 26, 2022, from 11:00-2:00.