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The controversy about how best to do African philosophy has now gone at least four decades and these controversies is sometimes misconstrued to be about whether there is such a thing as philosophical thinking among Africans as a people. Kwasi Wiredu was among the first orientationist in African philosophy. His contribution to the African philosophical discourse is important. First, he has been able to appropriate the major signposts of Western philosophy which is a feat that has hardly been accomplished by many Western-trained African philosophers. Secondly, he is very aware of the need for a desirable African mode of selfhood within a broadly modern framework.

Wiredu restrict his work to the language of scholarly philosophical discourse, a restriction which one would think makes his task rather more difficult. One of his work titled “Conceptual Decolonization in African Philosophy” which has an illuminating introduction by Olusegun Oladipo, who is himself a prominent Nigerian philosopher, is an appropriate summation of Wiredu’s philosophical interests to date. It has historically been confirmed that the colonial interaction of westerners within African continent has brought a radical change and imbalance and loss of identification to the philosophical thinking of African people in the colonial period, there was a mixture and acculturation, diffusion and integration of western language into the traditional African value that result in the position of loss of our indigenous language as an African.

The inception of the development of the corpus of African philosophy has been written exclusively in European languages, especially in English, French, Portuguese, German and Latin.1 If we may include the non-African authors who made substantial contributions to African philosophy and the languages into which the major works of African philosophy were translated, we would arrive at a large number of European languages, but very few, if any, African ones.2

However, there are authors among African writers, who stress the importance of a renaissance of the traditional thought systems. These authors stress the view that European languages are very much inadequate to express African realities and that African languages structure and circumscribe distinctly Africa’s perception of reality. In this connection, Wiredu in his book Philosophy and an African Culture, advances the idea that African philosophers might bring an added dimension to their theoretical consideration by taking philosophical cognizance of their indigenous language. While Wiredu in many of his later works further defends his call and argument for doing African philosophy in African languages,3 ever since, there have been heated controversies and debates among African philosophers on its plausibility or impossibility.

In this case, the basic preoccupation of philosophy of language is conceptual clarifications, grammatical forms, their functions, and so on. The question arises as to what extent trans-cultural transfer of meanings could take place without distorting the original meaning of ideas expressed in a particular language. The dilemma is embedded within a case whereby the philosopher is expected to live within the African context and thought system while he/she writes with the English, French or Portuguese mindset. In other words, the contention lies in the question of whether it is plausible to undertake authentic African philosophy in a language other than an African language. For instance, Igbo Philosophy (Nwala) was not written in Igbo language; Bantu Philosophy (Tempels) was not in Bantu language; Akan Philosophy (Wiredu) was not done in Akan language, etc. Such philosophies were often written in foreign languages, it is either English, French or Portuguese, as the case may be, which are languages of the colonial masters of the various territories. The immediate corollary to the first question is whether such works done in alien languages could actually qualify as African Philosophy. Furthermore, there is also the question of whether such philosophies in foreign languages could sincerely express African ideas and sentiments which they profess to represent.

In the course of the attempt to proffer solution to such linguistic problems, some scholars like Wiredu in his second essay have also discovered the need to decolonize the African mind is a palpable one. It is argued that language is culture bound and as such African Philosophy ought to really portray its unique identity, feelings and empathy. According to Wiredu “we should try to think them through in your own African language and, on the basis of the result, review the intelligibility of the associated problem or the plausibility of the apparent solution that have tempted you when you have pondered them in western language”.4

Other scholars who are in support of Wiredu are Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Ogunmodede Francis, Oluwole S, Uroh Chris. They advocated the essence of employing African language in order to authenticate African Philosophy. To this group “a philosophy is a philology”5. In this case, the problem of language is considered central, since “it is the vehicle of the philosophers’ thought and it plays an important role in the way people know and understand”.6 On the other hand, scholars such as Chinua Achebe, Kwasi Wiredu, Oladipo Segun, Njoku Francis, Afolayan Adesina, Azenabor Godwin and a host of others are of the view that though the use of African languages is of obvious necessity, a lot of other factors have to be taken into consideration. There are therefore, apparently two sides of the divide, namely, those who outrightly argue for African Philosophy in African language here and now and those who are on the side of caution, at least for now.

According to Rettova, propagating African languages is only possible if there are means to do it.7 But even at then, there are a large number of African languages. Thus, the fundamental question is: which one of these indigenous African languages are we to choose or project? What are the likely problems and limitations besetting those that argue for using African language to write African philosophy? How can they be overcome? Of what philosophical relevance is this language problem to the development of African philosophy?


This essay attempts to proffer solution to the problem of language in African philosophy.


The research work adopt the method of analytic, clarification, exposition and critical analysis.


The essay states that indigenous languages of Africa should be given a pride of place over and above foreign languages.


The research shall cover and will be limited to the second essays “The Need for Conceptual Decolonization in African Philosophy” in Kwasi Wiredu’s four essays.


This research work shall seek out materials needed through secondary source and relevant textbook, journals of philosophy shall be sought out from different libraries especially Olabisi Onabanjo University, including the internet will also be useful in this work and also information gathered from my project supervisor.

However, since this work central on Kwasi Wiredu, Conceptual Decolonization in African Philosophy, 4 essays. The essay will be a primary source for this study.


This essay will consist of four chapters as follows:

CHAPTER ONE: Introduction

CHAPTER TWO:  A Critique of the Language Problem in Kwasi Wiredu’s 4 essay on Conceptual Decolonization.

CHAPTER THREE: Analysis of Language Usage in African Philosophy

CHAPTER FOUR: The Relevance of Linguistic Expression in African Literary Study



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