A Critique of Kwasi Wiredu’s Concept of Truth

A Critique of Kwasi Wiredu’s Concept of Truth



My essay centers especially on the epistemological conviction of Kwasi Wiredu with regards problem of truth.

My intention in this essay is to critically evaluate all the strands of Wiredu’s argument in support of his thesis that there is nothing called truth that is different from opinion. I contend that in arguing that truth is nothing but mere opinion, Wiredu fails in denying truth of its objective characters. I also submit that Wiredu fail in making truth subjective. This is in spite of his avowed attempts at clarifying the senses in which he uses such concepts as “Truth” and ‘opinion’.

Consequently, this essay has been divided into four chapters in order that I will be better placed to understand the background to Wiredu’s position and also his main thesis.

In chapter one, I shall discuss generally the notion of truth in traditional western epistemology. In this chapter, I shall try to briefly analyze the basic proposition of the main objectivistic theories of truth, that is the semantic and the correspondence theories of truth and also examine the two non objectivistic theories of truth namely, the coherence and the pragmatic theories of truth. And as we shall discover Wiredu’s position is neither wholly pragmatic nor wholly coherent. He simply affirms both theories to some extent. As we shall see in this chapter that Wiredu believe that truth is coherence, also following Deweyian pragmatic principles Kwasi Wiredu asserts that truth is “Warranted assertibility “.

In chapter two, I shall discuss in detail Wiredu’s thesis on truth h to the effect that to be true is simply to be opined. Prior to this would be consideration of his formal critique of the correspondence theory of truth, which is the most forceful representation of all objectivistic theories of truth. I shall discuss also his general thesis, which states that  “To be is to be known”.

In the third chapter, I shall begin by presenting the critique that have been  levelled against Wiredu’s position by three  contemporary  African  philosophers, Joseph Omoregbe, P.O Bodunrin, and Abdu Ghaniyi Bello, I shall then  consider Kwasi Wiredu’s replies to some of the critics.

In evaluating this essay, I will, in chapter four, point out and critically analyze the flaws which I believe in Kwasi Wiredu’s system, and then proceed to show my own conviction s on how truth is to be conceived and treated.


The word “Truth” has its equivalence on the Greek word “Alenthia” and the Latin word “Veritas”, meaning in general some kind of agreement between thought and its objects, between knowledge and that which is known.

In its most simple form truth means the accordance of conformity between what is asserted and what is. According to Aristotle Truth is primary in judgment. A true judgment is true when it attributes a predicate to or denies it of a subject according to what reality it demands.

A true account of the nature of truth can be given in terms of the condition under which a statement is said to be true or false. However, the same cannot be done for persons: truth in this case is a derivative sense of truth. Moreover, truth and falsehood are not proper candidates for sentences as such, in other words, until a statement is used to state that something is or not the case it is not a candidate for truth. Thus, it is to statements that truth and falsity are attributable, and invariably to beliefs of which these statements may be the expression.

Given that a statement is true. The following questions, at least, can be raised: what do we mean we say that a statement is true? Are we attributing a property?  What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for its truth, that is, it is true if and only if what? These questions are the ones that may be raised concerning any statement whatever, are all possible candidates for what is meant by the general question “What is truth”?

Truth can be rightly viewed as a consequential property of statement. That is to say that it might be a property that statements in virtue of the fact that other posses in virtue of the fact that other things are true of them3. In that’s case, the philosophy of truth should decide what these other things are, that are necessary concerning a statement if it is to be true.

All this has some sort of bearing with the correspondence theory of truth.

However, apart from this theory other various theories have been advocated. The absolute idealist put forward a coherence theory of truth in which the only absolute truth is “The whole” and anything less than the whole can only aspire to degrees of truth. The knowledge is confirmed by validation procedures.

Williams James argued for a “pragmatic theory of truth” according to which the problem of truth is one of the welfare economic, for a true assertion is one proves the best in the long.

Tarski attempted to avoid the problems of self – references by claiming that truth can only be defined in a meta language, thereby bringing into being the “Semantic theory of truth”.

F.P Ramsey thought that he had dissolved the problem truth by pointing out that ‘P’ and  ‘P’ is true means the same thing and therefore, that is true” is redundant; hence the redundancy theory of truth for now”, the main objectivistic theory of truth, mainly the semantic and correspondence theories shall be discussed in detail.


This theory is re presented in the vigorous works of Alfred Tarski on the problem of truth.  Going by this theory, a syntactical system ‘L’ becomes a semantical system when the rules are given in its meta language ‘M’ which determines the necessary and sufficient truth condition for every sentence of the system.

These rules, often embodied in a recursive definition, lead to a definition of truth. And a condition of adequacy for such a definition is expressed by means of what Tarski calls the “Material Criterion”. The schema gives this criterion: X is true if and only if P cover P stand, for any sentences of the given language and X for the name of that sentences.5

Also, Tarski is quick to point out that the definition of truth must not only be materially adequate but also formally correct, that is, it must not lead to contradiction.

Using Tarski’s own example, if P is taken to stand for show is white, then the equivalence schema “T’ while d is true. “The sentence show is white is true if and only if snow is white”.

In Tarski’s View, however the schema is not taken as providing a complete definition of truth. Tarski conceives of it as a given necessary condition of a truth

Viewed in this perspective, one is inclined to that Tarski semantic theory of truth is another version of the correspondence   of truth. It gives truth as objective character, pointing out that truth is an objective standard against which any sentence or statement is judge to be or not to be the case. Hence, the many criticisms that have been leveled on Tarski’s theory centre  “correspondence with fact”. Ideals, common to all objectivistic theories of truth, yet as proper observes Tarski’s theories has “Rehabilitated the correspondence theory of absolute or objective”.

Similarly, though Tarski tried no cover all his theory with the clock of a meta – language, thereby arguing that truth cannot be adequately defined in natural language, it is true as Donald Davidson observers that Tarski theory applies to English.

Generally then, then, the semantic theory have come to be regarded as ‘Objectivistic’ and taken to be a version of the correspondence theory of truth.


Kwasi Wiredu attempts to establish his thesis that truth is opinion comes by way of story rejection of the objectivistic theory of truth. According to this theory in make sense to say that a man’s opinion may change but it is meaningless nonsense to say that the truth it self may. Once a preposition is true, it is true in itself and forever. Truth in other words is timeless, eternal Kwasi Wiredu see the objectivistic theory of truth as  “An intellectualized submission of the primitive passions of the soul”. As he puts it:

“I must confess that the objectivist conception of truth of ten strives are as a intellectual submission of some what more primitive passions of the human soul10.

The term “ Correspondence” circulates among modern writers and this is largely through the influence of Bertrend Russell some forming of correspondence between belief and fact11. This is as against the absolute idealist, who holds that truth consist in coherence. The correspondence theory is an objectivist theory in that is holds that truth of a statement is independent our opinion and “Consist in a relation, according to behaviour, which holds between statements’12. For a better understanding of our subject a brief historical survey would be necessary to better.   Show how different people have understood the theory at different times.

The origin of the word “Correspondence “used to denote the relation between thought and reality in which the truth of though consists appears to be medical. Aquinas used the word in this sense when be asserted that ‘Truth is the adequation of things and the intellect”.

Other scholastics sometimes said that a preposition is true when, and only when the thing is as signified. This is the nerve of the correspondence theory of truth.

The main recommendation of this theory, according to him, lies in the fact that it does take of aid does not conflict with many millions of the most obvious fact of truth. One such obvious fact, for instance, is that the belief by my friend that I have gone away on holidays certainly will be true, if and only if, I actually have gone away. Hence, the necessary and sufficient condition for a belief to be true is simply this: “That is should correspond to fact”. This is truth  in the  secondary sense . Moore is quick to point out that it is propositions rather than acts of belief which are true of false in the primary sense.16 take often say that belief are truth of false, but this is only because the word “Belief” is often used not for an act of believing but for what is believed.

There is also a Russialian Version of the correspondence theory of truth. Starting with the notion of belief Russell argues that the truth or falsity of a belief always depend upon something which lies outsides the believe itself. And this leads us to adopt the view that “truth consists in some form of correspondence between belief and fact”.

The problem, however inherent in this theory is that if truth consists in a correspondence of thought with something outside thought then thought can never know when truth is attained.

This apparent difficulty led to concerted efforts among some philosophers to attempt and find some definition of truth, which shall not, consists in relation to something wholly outside belief. The most important attempt at a definition of this sort if the theory that truth consists in ‘coherence’. But Russell makes it a critique of this theory and settles down to defend the correspondence theory.

According to Ressell, there is a great difficulty in the view of coherence. There is no reason to suppose that only one coherent body of belief is possible. Hence, we are driven back to correspondence with fact as constituting the nature of truth.

Russell opines that we have to seek a theory of truth which allows truth to have an opposite, namely, false hood, makes a property of beliefs but s a property wholly dependent upon the relation of the beliefs to outside things.

In every act of belief, there is a mind, which believes, and then is forms concerning which is believes. Whenever a relation holds between two or more for ms, the mind unites the terms into a complex whole. Now, a belief in Russell view is true when it corresponds to a certain associated complex, and false when it does not.  The condition of the truth or a belief in something not involving beliefs or, in generals, any mind at all but only the objects of the belief.

A mind, which believes, believes truly involving the mind. Buts only its objects this correspondence ensures truth and wits absence entails false hood.


Wiredu believes that truth is coherence.18 According to Wiredu, “a statement is true if it coheres with our system of beliefs”.19 In other words, the truth of a statement depends on the degree of it’s harmoniously with a given and accepted system of beliefs. He wonder then that Wiredu is continuously echoing the coherence theorist insistence that statements are compared with other statements and not with experience the world or an independent realm of reality”. Consequently Kwasi Wiredu’s regards any attempt at such a comparison as “mysterious, metaphysical and so meaningless”.

The coherence theory of truth, which is characteristics  of the great rationalist system building metaphysicians like Leibniz, spinoza, Hegel and Bradley, further holds that a statement usually called a judgement is considered true or false to the extent that it coheres or fails to cohere with a system of other statement that it is a member  of a system whose elements are related to each other by ties of logical implication as the elements in a system of pure mathematics are related. For instance, in mathematics, the truth  of falsity of a theorem in Geometry will be dependent on its consistency with  the anxious of the  particular system in use.

They argue  that this view of truth, more than anything should not be viewed as making truth relative  to the individual perception. Rather, it continuously emphasized that truth must be constructed relative to the systems in which the Item of knowledge is perceived.

Many proponents of this theory of coherence  hold that each member of a system implies every other member. Hence, to test whether a statement is true is to test it for coherence with a system of other statements.

According to the logical positivist who supports this theory, the system with which ALL TRUE statement  must cohere of the contemporary culture. The metaphysical supporters of coherence  on the other hand, insist  that a statement cannot be properly called true unless it falls into the one comprehensive account of the universe which, it self  forms a coherent system.

In the exact and reputable  science of pure mathematics and related science, the  logical text for  truth, according to the  coherent epistemology, is a statement  cohering with some other propositions, and ultimately with the anxious of  its  own system.  In this text which is not merely  practical one, for a proposition  to cohere  with other  proposition is for it’s to be logically  deducible from them. And this coherence  is what calling a proposition true means. For instance, the metaphysical supporter  of this theory argue that we would not even understand, much less  known the truth or falsity of a  statement about something blue, if blue were divorced in our thought  from all  the colours in the spectrum to which it is related by likeness and difference, all the shades within its own  range and all  the definition it possess in virtue of being thought of as quality rather than as substances or a relation.

Further not only would we know the truth of such a statement, but it also cannot be properly said to have its meaning of truth value independently of its relation to other statement.

Still within the framework of the coherence theory of the truth, we have the notion  of the doctrine of degree of truth”. The  doctrine  states  that  if  the truth of any d given  statement is bound up with and can only be seen with the truth of all the statement of the system, and this is bound up with  the whole system, then individual statement as such, are only partly false and only the whole system is  wholly true. Hence, Bradley asserts: truth must exhibit the  mark of expansion and all inconclusiveness.

Although no conclusive evaluation of this theory is intended, I shall now proceed and attempt   to final out the amount of compatibility that obtains between this theory of truth and that of Kwasi Wiredu and then proceed to point out the  basic theory.

Given  the fact  that we are not involving in any sort  of extensive evaluation here, it will now begin to appear that thought Wiredu  may  not be rightly conceived as an absolute  coherent,  his  theory to a great  extent is sympathetic to most  of the tenets inherent in the coherence   epistemology. The  problem I shall involve myself is now would be  to point  out  the basic flows  which inhere in this  theory.

The fatal defect of the coherence theory  of truth according to Reuben Abel, is that “There is no way to locate a coherent system d of proposition to reality”25 Astrology constitute s a coherent system, so the delusions of the psychotic, so does geometry, yet we do not take them to be true. Moreover, the growth of science often shatters existing coherent system.

Newton’s geocentrism, kepler’s heliocentrism, Darwinian evolution, Eintainmean relatively, all  over threw established  systems.

Hence, the vary idea of a completely coherent system begins to appear absurd and need a radical modification. thus, although we take coherence as a requirement for truth, it does not suffice as a definition for truth. This is because of the simple reason according to Bertrand  Russell, that there  appears to be competing reason to believe that only one coherent body of belief is possible.26 as Ayer succinctly puts it: there may be any  number of systems of statements, each of which is internally consistent, but any two of which are  incompatible with one another”.


In pragmatic epistemology, truth is regarded not as absolute but relative. It is never in a perfect state. Immutable or eternal. Rather, it can change from one generation to another. According to Wiredu…” Truth there is  necessarily bind to point of view, on better truth is view from some point and there are as many truth as there are points of view”.

According to pragmatists, prominent among whom are Scanders Pierce, Williams James and John Dewey, man should concern himself with the things or events that can be perceived by the senses and not with the abstract and the speculation.

Hence the criterion of truth must be traceable to experience. According to Williams James:

Truth in our idea and beliefs means that ideas (which themselves are but party of our experience) become true is so far as they helped us to get into satisfactorily relation with other parts of our experience… Any idea that will carry us prosperously from one part of our experience linking things satisfactorily, working securely simple saving labor: true for just so much, true in so far  truth instrumentally.

This quote from James Terminate in a term which embodied the instrument essence of pragmatism and which brings some philosophers to assign the designation, instrumentalism to the general pragmatic philosophy. According  to James, the function of thought is not to copy or image reality but to form idea in order to satisfy the individual interest. Thus on pragmatic principles, if the hypothesis, for instance, of God satisfactorily in the widest sense of the world, it is true. However, it is in dewey  that we should be most interested, for Wiredu feels the strong affinity with his theory of truth.

For Dewey, ideas become true when their ”draft upon existence’ is honor by the verifying facts they promise. The notion that truth some how exists antecedent to and separate from inquiry in meaningless in Dewey’s thought for  him truth is notable. “Truth happens to be an idea” when it becomes verified or a warranted assertion.

Dewey considers truth from the point of view of verification and places it out the end of all enquiries. Hence, following Dewey, Wiredu’s  tense formulation of the Deweyan position is that’s truth is warranted assertibility.

Precisely this portion emphasizes that truth is what rational inquiry warrants us to assert. Instead of being a priori postulate, truth is here viewed an end product din practice. In “Dewey words”.

That which guides truly is true…

“the hypothesis that works is the true one and  truth is an abstract applied to the  collection of cases, actual, foreseen, and desired, that receive confirmation in their consequences”.

Consequences fore the pragmatists, then go into the very essence of meaning and truth.

In this “Essay in experimental logic”, Dewey suggests, that the term pragmatic only mean the rule of all thinking all reflective consideration to “Consequences:” for final meaning and text.

In brief formulation the pragmatist approach to truth can be stated thus: A thought is true, not because it agrees with some experimental reality as most traditionalists hold, but because it works all right. That is, it has valid consequences it is applied to some specific situations. It is false not because it misrepresents reality, bust because when it is used it fails to work out right. Truth, then consist in the usefulness of an idea in practice. And a preposition is verified or falsified by providing usable or unusable in action.

By way of general critique of pragmatism it is true, as Bernard Russell and Arthur Lukejor, among others, point out that the notion of truth as what work is unclear since the concept of “Workability” is ambiguous. A brief cans work in two different senses at the same time. Also in stating that the only common characteristics of all our true beliefs are that they “pay”. Williams seems to suggest that the consequences of entertaining such belief are better than those of rejecting them.

But also Russell point out, it is enormously difficult to know a priori the consequences of holding any belief. How are we to determine, for instance weather the effects of believing in Islamic religion are on the whole good or bad?

Also common to all pragmatic is the view that nothing  should be considered true, except that which is experienceable and empirically verifiable. However, it is  also true that to say, for instance that S is P becomes true does not mean that S is P become  verified. It can only mean that S become P.

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