ON PHILOSOPHY IN RETROSPECT
Our discussion starts with the study of the structure of the first chapter, Philosophy in Retrospect. This helps the reader’s understanding of the argument process made in the mainstream discourse and identifies points where it digresses. These points are skipped and considered later. Analyzing the text of various philosophical systems as presented in the book then follows in some detail. This analysis shows what the systems say. It also shows the basis on which the great author agrees or disagrees with the systems’ representatives. Thus, it systematically traces the development of Kwame Nkrumah’s philosophical and ideological systems. We sustain this approach in the study of subsequent chapters, where necessary.
To begin with, the chapter shows a general structure and a particular structure. The general structure is a discussion of abstract philosophy (metaphysics) as the main trend. In that discussion it occasionally digresses into social philosophy to illustrate the social content or implications of the abstract positions outlined. The particular structure deals with the issue of ‘what there is’. This has two parts: the first deals with what cosmic raw material formed the basis for constituting or constructing the universe; while the second seeks to give an explanation or cause of the cosmic raw material. These two structures merge into a whole. Within this whole the general is seen in the movement of the particular structure. The particular is then seen to develop within the context of the general.
Considering the general structure, the opening two paragraphs of the chapter tell us that the author sees abstract philosophy as founded in and extracted from real social situations. He objects to the treatment of abstract philosophy outside the particular social situation in which it was expounded. He says that when philosophy, like history, is treated outside the social situation (or milieu) that created it, it assumes a certain universal character. A person from a different social milieu may come into contact with the said philosophy as the colonial student does; but without such a person learning about their own social situation back at home they tend to be so much in love with the alien society and its philosophy and history that they become aliens to their own society, that is, alienated from their traditional or immediate society. This, Kwame Nkrumah says, inhibits that person’s grasp of the laws of development of their own society.
For this reason, Kwame Nkrumah does not divorce abstract philosophy from social real situations. In this chapter we see him, therefore, illustrating his metaphysical insights with known social situations. According to him, this is to see philosophical systems within the context of the social milieu that produced them. In our reading of the opening two paragraphs of the chapter, which are a continuation of the subject of the Introduction, we are minded to observe this concern in the text: philosophical systems as products of the social milieu. It is this general structure that gives the particular structure its form. Let us, therefore, see the form of the particular structure.
Stop! After insisting on looking for the social milieu from which the philosophical system emerges, Kwame Nkrumah concludes those opening two paragraphs saying that that is not the only way to look at philosophy. He says in paragraph 3 that it is possible to see philosophy as a series of abstract systems. Does that mean that in our reflections on such abstract systems we do not look for the social milieu that may have produced them? He insists that life is still at issue here as he objects to those philosophers who say that their primary concern has nothing to do with life, not to talk about improving it. At this point, he turns his attention to deal with the abstract systems of philosophy. He continues to do this to the end of the chapter. The third paragraph, if we look at it carefully, then serves as the introductory transition to the real issue that the chapter deals with.
Now, talking about the particular structure of the chapter we are in fact dealing with how the said real issue is presented. We have stated that the particular structure has two parts in its discourse on the question of ‘what there is’. The first part deals with what is the cosmic raw material from which the universe is constituted or constructed. This starts from page 6, paragraph 2 and temporarily stops at page 7, paragraph 1. It then continues from page 14, paragraph 1 then skips to page 15, paragraph 3 to page 28.
The second part deals with explanations of the cosmic raw material or, better still and what is the same thing, how to determine the cause or otherwise of the cosmic raw material. This starts from page 7, paragraph 2, continues to page 11, paragraph 3, proceeds from page 14, paragraph 2 and ends at page 15, paragraph 2. From page 11, paragraph 4 to page 14 before the first paragraph there is an insertion from the realm of social philosophy as a commentary on the second part. It can immediately be seen that the second part does not come after the first part is laid in its entirety but rather it breaks into it like wedges. It will, therefore, be helpful if one reads the first part in its entirety, skipping over the wedges of the second part within it, and returns to the skipped portion only after one finishes reading the entire first part. It all requires a great deal of patience … and concentration.
We are now poised to conduct an analysis of the text involving the real issue. We start with its first part where we find out how the book answers the question: what is the cosmic raw material that the universe is made of? According to Consciencism, the earliest known philosopher in the Western world, Thales, holds that water is the cosmic raw material from which everything else is made. Berkeley, another Western philosopher, on the other hand, holds that everything is either a spirit or an idea held by a spirit. That is to say that whatever you find in the world is either a spirit or an idea in the ‘head’ of a spirit. This, according to the book, is one aspect of the answer offered by philosophers. Before we consider the other aspects let us see how philosophical language expresses what we have stated as the first aspect of the answer. Consciencism puts it this way:
‘The answer to the first question has a number of aspects. It lays down a minimum number of general ideas under which every item in the world can and must be brought. It does this without naming the items themselves, without furnishing us with an inventory, a roll-call of the items, the objects of the world. It specifies, not particular objects, but the basic types of object.’ See page 6.
The next aspect shows that in this answer the variety of objects in the world is reduced to just a few that are considered basic. So that with Thales there is only one cosmic raw material which is water; while Berkeley sees at most two basic types which are spirit and their ideas. This is how Consciencism puts it:
‘The answer further implies a certain reductionism; for in naming only a few basic types as exhausting all objects in the world, it brings every object directly under one of the basic types.’ See page 6.
Kwame Nkrumah says that in answering the first question of philosophy this way the philosophers are, in fact, dealing with the question as to the origin of things. Whereas Thales holds things to originate from water, Berkeley holds them to originate from spirits and their ideas. But, in the light of what we have said in the Preface, we might ask to know what kind of spirit are we talking about here? Is it the spirit with a small ‘s’ or that with the capital ‘S’? Hold your breath for awhile.
The next aspect of the first question of philosophy is found at page 14. That is, we are skipping over pages 7-13. Here, the answers to the question ‘what there is’ are said to be either idealist or materialist. What does this mean? It means that the answers that Thales and Berkeley respectively give as to the origin of the cosmic raw material can be said to be materialist or idealist. This depends on what is held to be primary and what is held to be dependent on the other: ‘matter’ or ‘spirit’. But, up to this point we have not read anything yet about what the philosophers mean by ‘matter’ and ‘spirit’. In fact, up until this moment the word ‘matter’ never occurred once in the discourse. No definitions have been offered so far.
We can, however, help ourselves out of this difficulty… Let us go to page 15, paragraph 3. There, Berkeley’s philosophy is said to be an ‘idealist philosophy’. In that philosophy, we learn further, ‘matter is not said to be spirit, but an idea possessed by spirit’. This tells us that when we were told above that Berkeley holds ‘what there is’ to be ‘spirits and their ideas’ he also holds that an idea is not a spirit but matter which he distinguishes from spirit. So that with Berkeley, there are essentially two cosmic raw materials: spirit and matter; only that matter lives as an idea held by spirit. Here, you might be tempted to say that we are restricting the range of things that could be an idea to matter alone; that is, in the light of the statement quoted in this paragraph. That is why we need to clear this possible confusion with the observation that any such thing in the range is part of matter.
Our difficulty is not yet over although we have been able to show that when Berkeley talks about an ‘idea’ in preceding paragraphs he is indeed talking about ‘matter’. But, how does he arrive at the conclusion that equates ‘matter’ with ‘ideas’? In this respect, Nkrumah says that Berkeley relies on perception or the senses: through the senses or perception Berkeley simultaneously tastes sweetness, sees roundness and feels smoothness as well as, possibly, smells some particular scent, etc. in coming by the idea of an apple. So that, with Berkeley, when we talk about an ‘apple’ or ‘matter’ we are talking about the continual or simultaneous occurrence of a set of ideas. (See page 19 at paragraph 1).
We are now left with the kind of ‘spirit’ that he is talking about. Let us consider this statement in the last paragraph of page 15 which says that, ‘…idealism makes the existence of matter dependent on perception, or on the possession of ideas by the mind…’ We can easily see that Berkeley’s ‘spirit’ is here replaced by ‘mind’. In other words, Berkeley’s ‘spirit’ is said to be the same as ‘mind’ and the two can, therefore, be used interchangeably. That is why Nkrumah could, at page 18, paragraph 2, talk about ‘mind or spirit’ as alternatives. Hence, we see that the kind of ‘spirit’ we are concerned with in the current discourse is the one with a small ‘s’, especially when the issue of ‘perception’ comes into play as it does in the quote in this paragraph. We are not talking about an independent Spirit like God or Satan who also have their minds which is spelt with a capital ‘M’ as in ‘the Mind of God’ usually found in religious/spiritual literature.
We proceed now with the issue of answers to the first question of ‘what there is’ being said to be either idealist or materialist. Still on page 15, paragraph 3. Having agreed among themselves in general that the cosmic raw material is ‘matter’ and ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’, if you like, philosophers thereafter contend about the relations between the two. Berkeley, in this respect, argues that the relation is one of matter being like an attribute of mind. In other words, just as in the statement ‘Ngozi is intelligent’ we say that the predicate ‘intelligent’ is an attribute of ‘Ngozi’ so that if there were no Ngozi there would be nobody that can be said to be intelligent although if there were Ngozi she may not be intelligent, so is it being said that matter, according to Berkeley, is an attribute of mind: if there were no mind there would be no matter although if there were mind there may not be matter. In this respect, it is held that just as ‘intelligence’ owes its existence and continued existence to ‘Ngozi’, so does ‘matter’ owe its existence and continued existence to ‘mind’. This is what Nkrumah means when he says that, for Berkeley, matter’s ‘existence and continuance … consists in its being possessed by spirit’ or mind.
Hence, idealism of the Berkeley type sees the cosmic raw material to be primarily mind or spirit as appropriately understood above. It does not deny the existence of matter but considers it as dependent on mind for its existence. In this regard, idealism cannot but say that what we do not know does not exist (and that God who can only come to be known is also dependent on the mind for His existence; any wonder that in order to avoid such a conclusion idealists say that the idea of God is innate, originally in the mind). But there are other types of idealism one of which, that of Leibniz, holds that the world is nothing but spirit and that what others consider as matter is nothing but ‘unconscious spirit’. Nkrumah does not waste time on this other type of idealism. He concentrates on that which is based on perception.
From paragraph 4 of page 15 to the end of the last paragraph of page 19 Nkrumah refutes all types of idealism that make the existence of matter dependent on perception or, what is the same thing, possession of ideas by mind. Let us not forget that the controversy this far concerns ‘what there is’ or the determination of the nature of the cosmic raw material. Up to this point Nkrumah addresses the idealist viewpoint that shows the cosmic raw material as primarily mind upon which it asserts the dependence of matter. He sees this assertion to be fraught with problems. The immediate problem, he says, is exposed by the fact that the senses by means of which perception is possible are functions (capabilities) of matter (organic body): if matter derives its existence from being known through perception it cannot at the same time be the means by which that perception is possible. (See page 18, paragraph 3).
That was devastating. But Kwame Nkrumah does not stop there. He also takes to the cleaners those who earnestly strive to argue the external world (matter) out of existence all together. These latter, he says, indulge in what he calls ‘complete solipsism’ and ‘incipient solipsism’. Turn to page 16 from the first paragraph to page 18, paragraph 1. In complete solipsism, the philosopher is sure of only his own existence and experiences. He does not trust his senses because whatever they tell him he cannot be sure of: they deceive him in various ways. What he cannot be sceptical of is his own experiences. Hence, for him, the cosmic raw material is what the book calls ‘unattached experience’. Nkrumah says that that philosopher cannot believe in the existence of his own body because just like other bodies that he is sceptical of he must also be sceptical of the existence of his own body. In that case, what remain are experiences that are not attached to any body.
In incipient solipsism, the philosopher asserts his existence on the basis of the fact that he thinks. He can imagine himself without all parts of his body but not the fact that he thinks since he who has been doubting everything is actually thinking – doubting being a form of thinking. Nkrumah says that to declare that ‘I think; therefore I exist’ and assume that after doubting your body away there still remains something that thinks is to make an extravagant claim. There is no doubt that there is thinking. But to assume further that the presence of the pronoun ‘I’ in that statement refers to a real subject that thinks is unwarranted. That pronoun is like the pronoun in the statement ‘It is raining’; it refers to and stands for nothing. With this, Nkrumah dismisses such discourse as but a step to a full-fledged solipsism – in this case we have only unattached thinking.
This far, Kwame Nkrumah has refuted all claims from idealists as to the nature of the cosmic raw material with this single exception that he agrees with those of them who assert the reality of both matter and mind or spirit as appropriately understood. His major disagreement with the latter rests with their claim of matter being dependent on mind. Go on to the last paragraph of page 19. Here, he denies the position that what you do not know does not exist. Such predication of the existence of matter on mind suggests that whatever there is in the world is already known to the mind. But how could this be so when we talk about ‘discovery’ which suggests a previous situation when what has been discovered was not known? Nkrumah says that idealists make strong efforts to resolve their difficulty in this kind of situation by fruitlessly trying to get themselves understood in ordinary language. So far as he is concerned, therefore, matter can exist unknown to mind – thus asserting the independence but not the dependence of matter. This independence of matter, he says, should generally be seen to be obvious or true (an axiom). In his own philosophical language this is how he puts all this:
‘That matter can exist unperceived, that it has a continuance independent of mind, should really be axiomatic. Idealists themselves hanker after this independent reality when they strive so hard to reconcile their theoretical ebullience with the sobriety of ordinary language. Ordinary language is not just a vocabulary and a grammar. It also comprises a conceptual framework which is largely realist and objectivist. The idealist attempt to reconcile its theory-spinning with ordinary language must therefore be regarded as a deep-seated desire to anchor idealism in a certain measure of objectivity.’
With that edict, Consciencism seals the fate of idealism in the Consciencist environment of serious philosophical discourse as an inconsistent theory of the nature of the cosmic raw material.
It does not stop there. It then goes on to critically examine the materialist position which it describes as a serious metaphysics anchored in objectivity. Go on to the first paragraph of page 20. Here, Kwame Nkrumah holds that the materialist claim of matter being rather independent of mind is only the least that it can make and makes. It is its first thesis. The second thesis asserts matter, which is here defined as anything that has weight (and mass) and is not only active but also continues with the universe in time and space, to be primary in its relations with mind. In opposition to those who assert this primacy of matter within the materialist school are those who assert the sole reality of matter. Nkrumah rejects the latter as crude. He says that both assertions of the sole and primary reality of matter have some difficult questions (‘hard facts’) to contend with. Those difficult questions can only be successfully dealt with when the primary reality of matter is asserted but not its sole reality, he holds.
What then are the difficult questions (hard facts) to contend with if the primary existence of matter is asserted? The first centres on issues concerning consciousness and self-consciousness. The hard fact here is that the two can be distinguished insofar as the latter is an internal experience while the former is considered in terms of it being caused by an external source. The second difficult question (hard fact) also has to do with distinction between qualities and quantities. Finally, there is this other distinction between energy and matter. Nkrumah does not elaborate on how these distinctions raise problems for the assertion of the primacy of matter. Those problems, he says, however, can be solved (through the accommodation of the distinctions): the solution comes with the application of what he calls categorial conversion. He defines categorial conversion as the derivation (emergence) of, say, self-consciousness from that which is not self-conscious, or mind from matter or qualities from quantities. In all these, the former arises from the latter by way of a process. Let us see how he illustrates this regarding mind and matter.
Kwame Nkrumah has two ways of illustrating how mind derives from matter: either by way of conceptual analysis (analysis of concepts) or pointing at a model. The conceptual analysis involves the application of principles of Logic. Let us consider this: the average man. Of course, we do not see the average man as we see men and women. There is the average man all the same. Nkrumah says that, one, the average man is a derivative of living men and women; two, in order that there be an average man there must be living men and women but not vice versa; three, whatever is said to be true of the average man must first of all be true of existing men and women but not the reverse; four, what is said of the average man cannot make sense unless it is about living men and women – that is, in order for statements made about the average man to make sense there must be real men and women. Hence, it is held that the category of the average man is a derivative of the category of men and women.
Nkrumah says the same rule applies to the categories of matter and mind (spirit) when it is asserted that matter is primary and mind is derivative. So that statements about mind can only make sense if there is matter. For instance, the idea that ‘A policeman wears a black uniform in Ghana’ makes sense if there is a real policeman in Ghana. And statements about mind can be true only if there are true statements about matter. For example, the statement that ‘A policeman wears a black uniform in Ghana’ is true only if it is true that in Ghana policemen wear black uniforms.
What is the process involved in what we have described so far? Let us consider chemical and physical changes. Here, we see how increase in physical quantities results in change of chemical qualities. In science, the formula CO2 represents carbon dioxide while CO represents carbon monoxide – the C stands for carbon and O stands for oxygen. These formulae indicate to us the physical quantities of carbon and oxygen in the respective molecules or compounds. In carbon monoxide we have an atom each of carbon and oxygen. In carbon dioxide we have an atom of carbon and two atoms of oxygen. In carbon trioxide (CO3) we have an atom of carbon and three atoms of oxygen. In fact, there is even carbon tetroxide (CO4). This means that any quantitative increase of the oxygen component in carbon monoxide changes it into the qualitatively different molecules of carbon dioxide, of carbon trioxide and of carbon tetroxide respectively. With respect to dicarbon monoxide (C2O) there is an increase in the carbon component instead. If we may express these in philosophical language we would say that given a certain state of matter (CO in our current case) different qualities emerge from different quantities. In Kwame Nkrumah’s own language at page 24, ‘Quality is a surrogate of a quantitative disposition of matter: it can be altered by altering the quantitative dispositions of matter’. Hence, he concludes that
‘Mind, according to philosophical materialism, is the result of a critical organization of matter. Nervous organization has to attain a certain minimum of complexity for the display of intelligent activity, or the presence of mind. The presence of mind and the attainment of this critical minimum of organization of matter are one and the same thing.’
This is what Nkrumah calls pointing at a model provided by science to demonstrate the possibility of categorial conversion – in the issue at hand, the emergence of mind from matter. He therefore uses this example to demonstrate the process of the emergence of mind from matter.
In its demonstration of the possibility of categorial conversion, Kwame Nkrumah says that philosophy does not only have Science to its aid but also Logic. Whereas in Science, as seen above, it is models that are pointed at, in Logic it is conceptual analysis that is involved. Such an analysis involves the application of three tools of Logic: constructionism, reductionism and nominalism. What are these? Nkrumah, at page 22, explains in the first instance that constructionism involves the use of concepts that belong to the primary category to form concepts that belong to the derivative category. In reductionism, concepts belonging to a derivative category are reduced to concepts of the primary one. With nominalism, that which is concrete is upheld as primary while any other existence is seen as a surrogate of the concrete on a higher logical plane. In all these, some category is held as primary while all others are held to be ultimately derived from the primary.
It is at this point of the discourse that Kwame Nkrumah introduces dialectics as a concept to distinguish materialism from nominalism, reductionism and constructionism. He holds that these latter only help to illustrate the logical possibility of categorial conversion whereby the derivation of mind from matter is asserted. But, according to him, they fail or fall short of telling us under what condition mind is derived from matter. They, he says, only tell us that, for instance, x is really yz; that is, for instance, mind is actually a certain state of matter. However, the world is not a world of things (states) but of processes. What there is survives (endures) through process, being active. Activity then becomes the life-blood of what there is (reality). With this, materialism becomes dialectical – dialectical materialism.
More. Kwame Nkrumah asserts the dialectical process (change) in what there is as the basis (ground) on which what there is generates (evolves) different kinds of itself. He then defines this evolution of kinds as ‘the loss of a set of old properties and the acquisition of a new set through the dialectical movement of matter’ (Page 25). Hence, as an example, the change from CO2 to CO involves a loss of property through a dialectical process; or, if you like, the change from a feudalist to a capitalist society involves a loss of feudal property through a dialectical process of reforms and revolution. He is particularly anxious to make it clear that the dialectical evolution of kinds is not a linear (straight line) phenomenon that is continuous and moves in only one direction. There are breaks in the process whereby a break marks a discontinuity of one process resulting in a leap into another. Only through leaps are new kinds produced.
This far in our discussion, we understand that Consciencism asserts what there is as primarily matter in a process of change that generates different kinds of itself as its products. But once these kinds are generated they, not being static, remain active and interact with and affect the source. In chapter two, Kwame Nkrumah begins and develops this other dimension of dialectical materialism. We will come back to it later in chapter two of this manual. For now, let us consider another issue.
This involves the extremely important Consciencist assertion that considering the initial matter and its objective laws nothing else can come into it as whatever is present is in it as its product – the universe thus becomes closed to any other entity since matter is also said to be coextensive with the universe. This conclusion will inform any discourse on why Nkrumah holds that even though Consciencism is deeply rooted in philosophical materialism it is not necessarily atheistic. It is also the reason why Nkrumah thinks that all arguments about the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of the universe or the world cannot be coherently defended. But we are yet to come to this issue in our discussion of the second question of philosophy – how what there is may be explained. Here, we continue with Nkrumah’s illustration, with Logic, of how the universe is said to be closed.
In formal Logic there is what is called ‘an axiomatic formal system’. It is an arrangement of what are called ‘initial axioms’ and ‘propositions’. In that system there are also what are called ‘logical rules of inference’ which are applied to justify the deduction of a proposition from the initial axioms – the latter being understood as statements that are true. The axioms must be sufficient for the deduction process. If the rules are properly applied to all the propositions in the axiomatic system such that the deduction of the propositions from the initial axioms are thus justified the system is said to be complete and closed. No other proposition can belong to the axiomatic system if it cannot be a deduction from the initial axioms. If a parallel to this logical system is set up in such a way that initial matter stands parallel to the initial set of axioms and all items of the universe stand parallel to the propositions while the objective laws of matter also stand parallel to the rules of inference then if the axiomatic system is complete so would the construction of the items of the universe from initial matter be complete and closed. In this way, no other item can be said to have come or can come from anywhere else.
Once again it is necessary to remind ourselves that in this search for or determination of what there is, we have been confined to seeing mind as a human possession and in its relation with matter. In this way, all references to mind as spirit should not divert us from this understanding that the two terms are one and the same and thus different from Spirit when we spell it with a capital ‘S’. This, as already noted, helps us to know when we are talking about a Spirit being that is not a human possession but independent of mind just in the same way that matter is said to be independent of mind. This caution prepares us to consider the second question of philosophy – the explanation of what there is.
In his consideration of the second question of philosophy, that is, how what there is may be explained, Kwame Nkrumah sees two aspects of the answer as provided. The first offers an account of the origin of the cosmic raw material (what there is) while the second gives an account of the extent of it. Please turn back to page 7 paragraphs 2 and 3 of the book. At paragraph 4, we see that the account of the origin takes the form of cause determination; that is, finding the cause of what there is. But at page 9, paragraph 2 the account of the extent of what there is does not involve cause determination: character or property, that is, how the cosmic raw material looks like – whether little (finite) or large (infinite) – is the focus of attention. The explanation of the cosmic raw material, then, uses cause and property determinations to answer the second question of philosophy.
Let us now see how this is done. First, the question of origin or cause of what there is. In his view, Nkrumah sees the various claims as to whether the cosmic raw material is caused or not as one that revolves around a principle in philosophy – the Principle of Sufficient Reason. According to this Principle whatever there is has an explanation why it is as it is and not otherwise. That is, everything has a cause that makes it why it is as it is. From this assertion and the fact that what there is constitutes something it is deduced that the latter must have a cause. On the basis of the understanding that the cosmic raw material is the basic raw material its cause can only be either a part of it or a product of it. In case we say that what caused the cosmic raw material is part of it then, effectively, we are saying that the basic raw material caused itself. This, Nkrumah says, amounts to saying, in all honesty, that the basic raw material has no cause. The situation becomes even worse if we say that a product of the basic raw material, that is, something that emerged from or was caused by the raw material, is the cause of it. This also amounts to claiming that that which was caused, and was therefore an effect, is now the cause of what caused it. This is how the author, Kwame Nkrumah himself, puts it all:
According to the hypothesis that what we seek to explain is the basic raw material, any proposed cause for it can only itself arise from the basic raw material. Therefore, it must either be part of the basic raw material or be a product of it. If it is part of it, then the basic raw material is being said to be the cause of itself. If the cause is a product of the basic raw material, then an effect is being said paradoxically to cause its own cause. A circle of a very vicious kind is thus described. Furthermore, to say that ‘what there is’ is self-caused is, speaking without bias, to deny that it has a cause at all.’
In spite of this, there are those who neurotically insist on a cause for the cosmic raw material. But then, this brings up the question of what is the cause of the cause and also what is the cause of the cause of the cause…? There is no end to this search of the cause behind the cause! Kwame Nkrumah, at page 11, paragraph 2, argues profoundly that in order to determine the cause or causelessness of the cosmic raw material, which he equates with the universe, it would have to be placed in a situation which must not be part of the universe. But whatever situation is suggested that situation can only be part of the universe. This means that the universe cannot have an outside and therefore cannot have a cause. In the same way it is not possible to attribute the concept of being ‘uncaused’ to it. Once again let us quote what Nkrumah says thus:
In order that a situation could be coherently described as the causing or the causelessness of the world, it would have to be a situation in which the world could be placed. But any situation can only be a situation which is part of the world. The world can have no outside; and as it can have no outside it can have no cause. There can, therefore, be no material grounds on which the adjectives, ‘caused’, ‘uncaused’… can be descriptively applied to the universe… It is only left that they should be postulates.
To postulate is ‘to claim or imagine that something is true or that it exists’. We will later consider the implications of one such postulation which Nkrumah begins to discuss at pages 8 and 9, paragraphs 3 and 1, respectively, in respect of theological beliefs. But, here, let us observe that in consideration of the first aspect of the second question of philosophy we understand that the cosmic raw material has no cause and that this is the only instance whereby the Principle of Sufficient Reason does not apply. The Principle, therefore, can be said to be applicable to transformations or products of the cosmic raw material – but not from outside of it to it since it has no such an outside. Hence, only the transformational processes within the cosmic raw material can have an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’ since the Principle applies to them and are therefore causally determined.
That brings us to the second aspect of the second question of philosophy, that is, the extent of the cosmic raw material, what there is. The issue here is the determination of whether the said raw material is finite or infinite. What does this mean? It means that the issue here is to determine whether the cosmic raw material is limited or unlimited in amount over time and space. Informing this quest is an interest in sustaining the permanence of the universe: will the universe come to an end one day due to shortage of the cosmic raw material or it will continue to exist forever in the light of a superabundance of the cosmic raw material? Our reading here begins from page 9, paragraph 2 and ends at page 11, paragraph 3. Once again, Nkrumah says that the ‘finite’ or ‘infinite’ nature of the cosmic raw material or the universe cannot be determined.
In his view, for the universe to be permanent it must have no beginning and no end. But the beginning or the end of the universe, logically speaking, cannot be tested in any experiment. To test something one needs to have a model of it. This model is then placed outside or independently of what is to be tested; the model must not be part of the object. Nkrumah says that since the universe has no outside any model of it cannot be placed outside of it – it can only be a part of it. The main objection, however, is that any model of the universe, especially since the universe is said to be infinite in space and time, can only be a finish, a finitude – the universe, unlike its model, continues in motion. That is, since the universe is said to be infinite, and, therefore, is not static it cannot be captured in a model and placed outside itself for any experiment. See page 11 paragraph 1.
At page 9, paragraphs 4 and 5, Nkrumah treats the position of those who claim that the universe repeats itself infinitely in cycles of time. He says that for this to happen it is not necessary that the initial raw material should be infinite in extent since however little that it may be it has the power to regenerate itself for the simple reason given that it repeats itself. He goes on to explain that the claim that the universe repeats itself in cycles of time means that a series of such cycles is created and that each cycle either occurs before or after the other. The result is that each cycle, representing a universe, becomes part of a super-universe made up of many universes. The cycles are then like seasons in a year – resulting in their disappearance as universes, being reduced to nothing but moments in one single universe – no question of that universe repeating itself again: only changes in one and only one universe.
Going backwards to page 9, paragraph 3, he says that some other people claim that it is not possible that nothing should exist and that the statement that nothing exists cannot be conceived as true. He says that by this the claimants are satisfied that at any given time something must exist and thus the universe cannot be empty – assuring the permanence of the universe. He observes, however, that to say that something must exist does not mean that some particular thing (‘some given object’) will always exist. Thus, the existence of God, for example, as something that abides throughout the extent of time, cannot be inferred from the fact that something must exist. So also is it impossible to infer the permanence of the universe or cycles of it from the fact that something must exist. To assert that something always exists is only to postulate. Read page 9, paragraph 3 together with page 10, paragraph 3.
This takes us back to paragraph 1 of page 10. Here, Nkrumah says, even if the universe is infinite, whether in space or time, it may come to an end. Comparing this with a cut in a series of negative integers (numbers), he says that regardless of its size the universe may come to an end. For this to happen it is sufficient that the universe should have existed infinitely backwards.
At this stage we need to textually consider certain implicit positions of Consciencism on the concept of God. It is clear in the text that Nkrumah differentiates between a Spirit being and mind as a spirit although he does not do that explicitly. In the third paragraph of page 9 he says,
‘…it cannot be inferred from this non-vacuity of the universe that some given object will always exist. It is therefore impossible to infer the existence of God from the fact that something must always exist.’
Let us observe that in these two statements God is being asserted as an object or something of the universe. At paragraph 3 of page 10 he also says,
Nearly all who consider the question of the permanence of the world seek to anchor the world in a foundation of a permanent cause which they identify with God. In this way, they hope that the universe will duly be protected. But all postulate something as abiding throughout the extent of time, be it the universe itself, cycles of it, or God.
That is yet another reference to God as something or an object. At paragraph 3 of page 12 he is obviously in agreement with the African thought that sees heaven, and by extension God, as being inside (part of) the world. Once again we quote him thus:
‘Many African societies in fact forestalled this kind of perversion. The dialectical contradiction between ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ was reduced by making the visible world continuous with the invisible world. For them heaven was not outside the world but inside it.’
In all these quotations, unlike mind, God or Spirit is not asserted as a human possession.
Up until this point we have been discussing the metaphysical issues and skipping over their social implications. The metaphysical discourse expresses the world outlook of Consciencism as seeing in the universe a material entity which has no outside and which includes Spirits as some of its contents. Among such Spirits is God. The discourse also shows that mind as a human possession is derived from matter and that when it is also referred to as spirit it has nothing to do with the objective Spirit that exists independently of the human being. This concept of the materiality of Spirit, and, by implication, of God, is an inescapable conclusion and distinctive feature of Consciencism. By it the dialectical relationship between God and other Spirits on the one hand and humanity as well as all other living things on the other hand becomes comprehensible and resolvable. For, where the mind-body problem5 is conceived as a problem of Spirit-body or Spirit-matter or God-matter or God-universe we quickly see the digression since there are two different problems involved here. The mind-body problem is not the God-universe problem.
How does Nkrumah handle the social implications of such a position? Here, a discussion in the realm of the God-universe problem is engaged in. Turn to page 8, paragraph 3. In the discussion of the first question of philosophy the issues raised centred around perception within the realm of the mind-body problem where relations between the human mind and the external world were at stake. That is, the determination of what there is was undertaken as an intra-universe issue. The discussion of the explanation of what there is (that is, the cosmic raw material) in the first aspect of the second question of philosophy was, however, not undertaken as an intra-universe problem, as a mind-body problem but rather as an extra-universe problem where the cause of the universe was being sought for inside or outside the universe: we call the extra-universe problem the God-universe problem. Within the realm of the God-universe problem, Nkrumah has argued that there can be no outside of the universe and, as such, the universe can have no cause.
At the cited page above, Nkrumah considers theological beliefs and where the second question of philosophy stands with respect to them. He says that the issue here relates to the possibility of the cosmic raw material (the universe) having an origin (a cause) or its being denied an origin (a cause) in spite of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. He asserts that where one insists on an origin one such person is either a theist or a deist in which case one holds to be true the presence of a transcendental force that causes the cosmic raw material. Whereas the theist supposes that the transcendental force, in some way, continues to affect the cosmic raw material, the deist supposes that once the transcendental force made the universe it ceased to affect it. There is, however, the atheist who rejects an origin for the cosmic raw material and, consequently, any idea of a transcendental force. Thus whereas the theist and deist are committed to a universe with an ‘outside’ the atheist banishes in their thought any idea of an ‘outside’.
Move on now to the last paragraph of page 11 through pages 12 and 13 to 14. Here, Kwame Nkrumah talks about the implication of this cosmic contrast of the ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ of the universe. The said implication is the acknowledgement that there exists a process of change that begins from the ‘outside’ into the ‘inside’ of the universe and its contents. For Nkrumah, the problem arises where this process is made reversible. It creates a contradiction in society between interests outside and interests inside the universe (world). According to him, manifesting in Christian religion, for instance, this contradiction is seen in enjoining people to lay up treasures in heaven where they will not rot. (See Appendix One for another interpretation of the biblical statement). He calls this contradiction a social contradiction which takes effect when the requirements of life on earth suffer neglect while attention is constantly fixed upon things ‘outside’ the universe.
In contrast to the popular interpretation of the biblical text, Nkrumah observes that in many African societies this contradiction between the ‘outside’ and ‘inside’, which he calls a perversion, is not only forestalled but abolished. Those societies do not accept any form of transcendentalism. In fact, they see the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ as continuous (a continuum of the visible and invisible) inside the world: ‘For them heaven was not outside the world but inside it’, he declares. The important observation we need to make here is that whereas Nkrumah derogatorily refers to the concept of ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ as a perversion he is silent and sounds jubilant over the African abolition of the same. Silence, it is said, means consent. Does this rejection of the ‘outside’ render such African societies atheistic? Unlike the atheists, those societies accept an invisible world but only as a continuum with the visible world. This means that the rejection of an ‘outside’ does not necessarily lead to atheism. Any wonder that although Nkrumah himself rejects an ‘outside’ he says at page 84 that philosophical materialist Consciencism is not necessarily atheistic.
In spite of his rejection of the dialectical contradiction between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, Nkrumah insists that it must be recognized since imperialists use it as a device by which they divert a people’s energies from secular concerns while they go on to further their exploitation. Such awareness of the contradiction can help to anticipate colonial and also imperialist moves in Africa. In this direction, he sees religion being used as an instrument of bourgeois social reaction. Never should the African state, which must be secular, also use religion to make political gains as this will, in the long run, re-create a dialectical opposition between church and State. To insist that the State must be secular is not to declare a war on religion which is a fact of society. To declare a political war on religion is to treat it as if it resides in the mind where it might be easily wished away or scared out of existence. To tackle religion, the sociological connection between religious belief and poverty needs to be appreciated, he says. Nowadays, a church, like Christ Embassy, is combating religious belief in favour of Christian spirituality; and these two are not the same although the central subject is God.
In summary, Consciencism begins to unfold in its first chapter as a combative dialectical materialist philosophy using a complex narrative and polemical presentation style. It deals with some issues explicitly and a few others implicitly. In so doing, it outlines its own metaphysical and ideological world outlook. Metaphysically, it conceives the universe as a material entity without an outside. Within such a material universe it implicitly asserts the materiality of God and kindred Spirits. It dismisses all idealist and other materialist arguments that respectively assert the primary reality of mind (or spirit) and the sole reality of matter. In its own assertion of the primary reality of matter it holds mind (or spirit) as a derivative of matter, a derivative facilitated by laws of dialectics through categorial conversion. Our analysis of the text discerned a difference between ‘spirit’ as ‘mind’ as well as a human possession and ‘Spirit’ as an objective reality existing independently of man. Ideologically, it is anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist – insisting on anticipations against colonialist and imperialist devices for furthering the exploitation of Africa.
What remains of the book, Consciencism, is the elaboration of this world outlook in the subsequent chapters. Let us proceed to chapter 2 on ‘Philosophy and Society’.
[Since new forms of society emerge from but are not imposed on the old a process of evolution and revolution is always involved. It is the task of the revolutionary to discern the evolutionary moments of the newly emerging and progressive trend so as to promote its development and dominance over the old and dying trend. The decisive moment, the revolutionary moment, is when the final act is undertaken to formally assert and constitutionalize the predominance of the new and the demise of the old. Evolution is thus involved in the revolutionary process as its initial stage.]