Aristotle many years ago asserted that it is the nature of man to know: in other words, every man seeks to know. In fact, philosophical activity started out of the spirit of wonder when men were no longer satisfied with the mythological explanation of reality. It was their curiosity that sparked off this enormous discipline man is awed by the stand back of mystery of the universe. Man stand back and ask himself question in order to understand the universe.  Man has ever been in search of the knowledge of the world. What is knowledge, what is its nature and scope, are questions that have attracted philosophers from various orientation or schools of thought.

The western philosophical tradition has been divided sharply on what constitutes the source of knowledge namely: Rationalism and Empiricism. Unfortunately, this controversy has led to dualism in knowledge and consequence a bi-fraction of man should be considered as a metaphysical unit. Against this extremism in knowledge, African proposes another criterion of acquiring knowledge. Anyanwu has correctly observed that:

……any appeal to empirical and rational methods has no meaning and relevance unless we know the basic assumption about the African cultural reality we want to know1

The Africans as human being following the metaphysical imperative of human nature equally want to know, what is the nature of this knowledge? How do we come to know the things we claim to know? Does consciousness constitute a philosophical data, without which his life cannot begin in the first place?

It is in light of the above question that we have decided to carry out a research titled “knowledge in Traditional African Perspective”.


From time immemorial, knowledge and what ever constitutes its nature have been a topical issue and a problematic one in philosophical circle. The problem of knowledge arose in the past, more often than not, as a result of philosophers. Inability to seek for the unity of experience. This in no doubt led to the unfortunate controversy between Empiricism and Rationalism.

Since the advent of African professional mode of philosophizing. The African philosopher must get ready to examine the old controversy of epistemology. Rationalism  and Empirical; one of the most recent problems that seem to be militating against  progress  in African philosophy today is the ontological status of African Epistemology. K.C. Anyanwu has argued that “the basic problem of any philosophy is epistemology or the theory of knowledge, that is the method which the mind must follow in order to arrive at the trust worthy knowledge of reality. Epistemology provides the basic premises with which other problems, namely metaphysics, religion, moral political and aesthetic doctrines can be approached”.2 Anyanwu therefore places knowledge as prior to being.

This is however a centesian way of philosophizing which has randomly been condemned by Ukagba in his unpublished doctoral dissertation (1993)3.  For Ukagba, being is always  prior to knowledge or else we fall into Reductio Absandum, knowledge is the knowledge of somebody, a being. The being who must cognize must exist first before the act of cognition and this is why Ukagba asserts that ontology  or metaphysics comes before Epistemology. We shall examine the premises of these different positions in this research in order to find where the truth lies.


In the scope of this study, we shall seek to limit ourselves to those areas, which will enable ‘en bloc’ give the research a justifiable treatment. Since the research concerns Africans, it should be limited to how the African conceives the nature of his knowledge, his community knowledge and in the last analysis the ultimate knowledge. However, when necessary reference can also be made to western knowledge as ways of comparing and contrasting


The first purpose here is to bring stability in the various conceptions and notion about how the African knows the things he clams to know.

Secondly, it is also our intention to show that any attempt to approach African theory of knowledge from the ambit of western Rationalism and Emperialism, will be a fruitless exercise.

Finally, it is also our intention to emphasis once again the relevance of metaphysics albeit African ontology as the only condition sine quo non for African Epistemology. With these three purposes in mind, it will become easier to focus properly on the nature of African theory of knowledge.


The importance of this research centers on the present need to put the perception of the African man in proper perspective. Having been beaten out of ontological psychological and economic shapes, due to centuries of colonialism, exploitation and humiliation. It becomes necessary to recover the authentic African, the basis of his knowledge.4 The inter­­-relatedness and limit of this knowledge will go a long way towards understanding the ‘being’ of the African.


Our methodology  shall follow a gradually  unfolding of ‘being’ through exposing, analyzing  classifying, synthesizing and evaluating its part in its entire ramification  since the nature of African epistemology is not yet clear to all and sundry. It therefore becomes imperative that it should be exposed first before analyzing. The analytical method will enable us to clarify the various concepts like truth. We shall be making us of such concepts truth, wisdom, e.t.c in this research essay.

Equally through the synthetic method, we shall seek together the various views expressed so far with regards to the nature of African Epistemology. In the last analysis, we shall evaluate the nature of African Epistemology and other theories. These various methodologies will help in presenting our research in scientific light.


The researchers’ scope is going to be African conception of knowledge. We will however, limit ourselves to the conception of truth, wisdom, what is knowable and that which is not knowable, amongst others in the African context. One major limitation of this essay is the non-viability of recent literature on the issue under discourse.


  1. E.A. Ruch and K.C. Anyanwu,  African Philosophy; An Introduction to the Main Philosophical Trends in Contemporary Africa,(Rome: catholic Book Agency 1981) p.82.
  2. G.U .Ukagba,   “A philosophical Examination of African concept of man with Reference to the Igbo of south-East of Nigeria” (unpublished doctoral thesis Department of Philosophy, Catholic University of Louvain, 1993), P. 98

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