ON PHILOSOPHY AND SOCIETY
“By multiplying examples to show how there is a social contention, implicit or explicit, in the thought of the philosophers, the history of philosophy, as I sketched it earlier on, suddenly enjoys a transfusion of blood and springs back to life. These philosophies appear in situ not as abstract ethereal systems but as intellectual weapons implying social purpose.” See page 53.
We stated in the last paragraph of the last chapter that this chapter, like subsequent ones, elaborates on the positions of the former chapter. The citation above shows Nkrumah in stating how he undertakes the task of elaboration. That is to say that he uses many examples to show that philosophy, in its history, was not considered by philosophers in their days past as mere abstract systems but as intellectual weapons used to attain social purposes. While doing this, Nkrumah develops his world outlook which he later refers to as philosophical consciencism. Hence, in following the discussion on how Nkrumah sees social contention in the philosopher’s apparently abstract system we need to also follow the development of the various aspects of his philosophical consciencism. That philosophy is at the centre of the ideology of Nkrumaism.
To begin with, as usual, let us look at the structure of Chapter Two captioned Philosophy and Society. On the whole this chapter is easier to understand as it is generally without the difficulties encountered in Chapter One. In the first place, there is a constant reminder in the chapter of the author’s theme on the social contention of philosophical systems as he discusses illustrative examples. That discussion is not just a statement of the philosophical systems but a critical one as well. He points out the weaknesses of those systems while he shows the social purposes that inspired them. It is from his criticism that we can see the development of philosophical consciencism. Hence, we need to pay attention to this structure of the chapter if we are to understand it. In the second place, there are occasions when apparent digressions occur as in his discussion of Revolution on pages 33 and 34 but he quickly returns to his theme. Such apparent digressions appear to betray just an anxiety to state a position on subjects yet to be handled.
In the very first paragraph of the chapter, Kwame Nkrumah states the connection between the previous chapter and the current. He sees the discussion in Chapter One as so abstract that it could easily divorce the philosopher from the rest of human activity. In certain modern Western universities, he says, philosophy is pursued in such a manner that its practitioners could be seen as doing nothing but preserving dead concepts by giving them the appearance of being active. Thus, he continues to say in the last paragraph of page 54, many twentieth-century philosophers in the West quietly settle down with this work of compiling a dictionary of sentences as opposed to a dictionary of words. They are preoccupied with finding ‘the exact sense of the word’. They are just not interested in what social irritants and urges make the philosopher, whose works they are reflecting on, say what he says. They are just not interested in that. Their concern is the reason he gives for saying what he says. While thus preoccupied all authority passes to the politician.
Kwame Nkrumah frowns upon such an attitude and contrasts it with that of the early great philosophical titans of the same West who were passionately interested in social reality and the welfare of man. The relevance of their thoughts to their social situation, social reality, sometimes exposed them to political persecution and physical death. In fact, some of them, for fear of persecution, did not publish their thoughts which were published only posthumously. He comes up with many examples to illustrate this fact. The main philosophers he cites are Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, John Stuart Mill and John Locke as well as Rene Descartes. Whether in trying to modify or support a modification of society or pursued a reaction to this, these philosophers, in their thoughts, were responding to social urges and social conditions. See page 40, paragraph 2. Hence, Nkrumah says that, genuinely speaking, their philosophies were intellectual reflections of contemporary social conditions.
In thus connecting the two chapters he puts the flesh in the second on the bones of the first. Beginning from the second paragraph of page 29, Nkrumah traces the origin of Philosophy to theological speculation. Stating in paragraph 5 of the same page that when the primary concerns of human life are differently defined philosophy shows a different bias, he traces the origin of theology to those days when man’s preoccupation, primary concern, was the cultivation of the gods at the same time as his crops. At page 31 he says that those were the days when prosperity was conceived to depend in a crucial way on doing things to please the gods to avoid their anger in connection with agriculture. Nkrumah says that religion and worship were then the day-to-day preoccupations of man both in his private and public life. From this social situation of life emerged theological speculations which were then a collection of thoughts that moved purposelessly (milled) around the great ideas of God, Soul, Destiny and Law.
In those ancient times, therefore, explanation of the world was by reference to the gods, as Nkrumah implies at page 31 in the last paragraph. He even says that where gods are used to explain nature a certain degree of priestly (sacerdotal) power becomes inevitable. Where such priests wield political power it is not only the explanation of nature that is confused or bewildered (bemused) by theology but as well theological explanation of social reality is also encouraged. And with the priests established as the only persons to interpret the will of the gods this exclusive role becomes fortified by the resultant social inequalities. As recently as the Middle Ages the clergy could tyrannically subject other concerns of life, including economic concerns without which the clergy themselves could not have survived, to the religious concern. Thus, the main concern of philosophy still remained the theological clarification of the nature of God, of the human soul, of human freedom and of kindred concepts. See page 29, paragraphs 3 and 4.
Kwame Nkrumah explains that all this had to change when prosperity came to depend on commerce and not agriculture together with its need to propitiate gods. The new situation displaced the gods and placed man at the centre of the scheme of things. The focus of philosophy consequently changed: man, as the centre of the universe, became the subject of philosophy. The human mind and the ways in which it might determine the limits of reality became the main topics of philosophy. Reality was firmly kept within the light of human reasoning as opposed to divine revelation. Nkrumah is quick to observe that this change did not involve the departure of philosophy from its early character. It was still firmly geared on to what were now conceived as the primary concerns of life. The days of the Renaissance, so to speak, did not divorce philosophy from the primary concerns of society. The Renaissance, in dispensing with the gods and replacing them with man, was mainly concerned with man’s personal and individual dignity and freedom. See page 30.
Kwame Nkrumah illustrates the process of change with Thales. According to him, this Greek philosopher lived at a time when the rise of the mercantile class tended to reduce the social relevance of the priest. Rather than depending on religious ritual this class was dependent on mechanical arts for its prosperity. Greek religion had been congregational and this had helped to consolidate priestly power. The communal performance of rites vested power in the priest to come down heavily on any individual whose irreligion might endanger the entire small farming community. An individual performance of such rites would not have the community insured by the gods against drought and famine. Since the mercantile class did not depend on gods in this context it encouraged individualization of Greek religion. This progressively undermined the priestly power structure. The growing loss of priestly power also rendered the priest increasingly irrelevant. Nkrumah says that Thales emphasized this growing irrelevance by totally dispensing with the gods as source of explanation of natural and social phenomenon. It was an intellectual revolution.
Thales spearheaded this intellectual revolution which, Nkrumah says, was a reflection of a social revolution. See pages 32 and 33. It was a social revolution because, according to him, Thales’ intellectual revolution undermined the social effectiveness of the Greek aristocratic priesthood which represented the theocratic and crypto-theocratic manifestations of Greek society. In so saying, Nkrumah disputes the view that Greek society was without theocratic manifestations. That priesthood, he contends, had the power of passing and executing sentence at their discretion. With respect to the process and substance of the intellectual revolution, Thales’ revolution was two-fold and consisted in, one, the explanation of nature in terms of nature, and, two, in his contention that the unity of nature consisted in its materiality rather than in its being. Hitherto, explanation of nature and social phenomenon had been made in supernatural terms. If previously gods were the devices in all explanations now man takes that position. This, Nkrumah says, knocked the bottom out of Greek theocratic and crypto-theocratic life.
Let us now closely look at those two aspects of the Thalian revolution. One, at page 35 Nkrumah traces Thales’ first revolution, that is, the explanation of nature in terms of nature, to his quest to destroy the allegedly heaven-sanctioned aristocratic society. To achieve this, Thales had to assert the irrelevance of gods. This, according to Nkrumah, was what Thales did in his attempt to bring all explanation of nature within the ambit of nature itself. At page 33, paragraph 3 he says partly that Thales neutralized the gods when he destroyed them as explanatory devices. This destruction was a total rejection (page 35) and not cosmetic which would have meant some compromise here and there. Two, as one of the monist school, that is, those who assert the unity of nature and of different kinds of things as only different manifestations of the same thing (page 35), Thales asserted not just the unity of nature but also that this unity consists in nature’s materiality. Some other monists found this unity in nature’s spirituality, its being.
Kwame Nkrumah identifies this assertion of the unity of nature being in its materiality with a sort of bourgeois democratic revolution (page 34). Thales asserted that water is the primary substance from which everything else manifests. Nkrumah finds this choice of water significant. He finds it even more significant that Thales maintained that everything was derived from one and the same substance. This insistence implied the fundamental identity of man as a totally natural being but not as being partly natural and partly supernatural. On the social plain this meant the fundamental equality and brotherhood of man: egalitarianism – the assertion of the intrinsic worth of each. He comments further that this assertion of the fundamental equality and brotherhood of man does not amount to asserting social equality. Thales’ choice of a form of matter, water specifically, as primary, placed a premium on it and remains compatible with a class structure on the social plain. His philosophy, then, in a sense, supported a sort of bourgeois democratic revolution and not socialist revolution since the element of social equality was missing.
At this point let us relax before we proceed to the next illustration in Anaximander. While we relax let us reflect on a few moments of criticism in Nkrumah’s treatment of Thales even if such criticisms are only implied. Firstly, at page 33 Nkrumah describes Thales’ act of bringing all explanation of nature within the ambit of nature itself as an attempt. It is significant. For, if he finds the attempt a successful one he will not have still described it as such. Does that mean that Nkrumah finds Thales’ effort an unsuccessful one or that he considers it as being insufficient only and so requires fulfilment? Let us leave it there for the meantime. Secondly, Nkrumah accuses Thales of asserting a fundamental equality and brotherhood of man without a commitment to social equality. This means that while Thales sought to destroy the Grecian aristocratic order in favour of the mercantile class he also sought to maintain a class structure for the society. Clearly, Nkrumah is out of favours with a class-structured society. Our third consideration deals with the concept of revolution that Nkrumah expounds not as a criticism of but in commentary on Thales.
After explaining that Thales’ choice of water as that from which everything else derives originates from the mercantilist belief that all goods were exchangeable in terms of a common denominator, Nkrumah quickly inserts an exposition on revolution. He explains that this change (alteration) of the content of consciousness (the emergence of Thales’ philosophy in replacement of the preceding philosophy) by the social circumstances (mercantilist belief and practice) of the times is not a single-directional (one-sided) interaction. But that the content of consciousness also changes the social circumstances through men acting as thinkers. Such men, although are produced as some particular thinkers by their social circumstances (historical circumstances), are not chaff just floating in the direction of the wind of change; but are men acting from a solid basis in ideology. Nkrumah describes such men as revolutionaries and revolution is their action. In his own words: … circumstances can be changed by revolution and revolutions are brought about by men, by men who think as men of action and act as men of thought.
That is in the closing paragraph of page 33. At page 34 Nkrumah displays an anxiety not to be thought of as contradicting the Marxist assertion that emphasizes the determining force of material circumstances. He is in agreement with that; only that in consonance with Engels’ explanation, quoted at the the head of the Introduction to Consciencism, he emphasizes the determining power of ideology (consciousness). For him, a revolutionary ideology is a double-edged sword that does not only demolish (refute) the concepts of a dying social order but also serves positively as the guiding light of the emerging social order. Hence, he concludes that a revolution has two aspects: one, it is an action against an old order, and, two, it is also a contest for a new order. The idea that a revolution, in its second aspect, is a contest needs to arrest our special attention. It connotes the idea of a process. It also suggests a contention of opposed forces each seeking to predominate over the other(s). For the revolutionary involved in this contest the effort is not to reduce the pains or injustice of the old order but one of a total rejection of injustice (social inequality).
Returning from our relaxation and before we consider Anaximander let us further explore the issue of social equality in Thales’ philosophy. Nkrumah says at page 34 that Thales’ conception of the fundamental equality and brotherhood of man does not amount to an assertion of social equality. In paragraph 1 of page 35, reference to ‘basic equality’ is the same as reference to ‘fundamental equality’ but not ‘social equality’. At page 36 in the second paragraph, Nkrumah reiterates the monist philosopher’s limitation with respect to the concept of fundamental equality (egalitarianism); that is, not asserting it as inclusive of social equality. He says there that however revolutionary a monist might be once he had claimed the fundamental equality of all he gets stuck. And this is in spite of the fact that in his effort against the aristocracy he was fighting against the social inequality of aristocratic society. The second paragraph of page 49 says that this egalitarianism of early Greek philosophy was what was pitted against the aristocratic order. This initial form of egalitarianism, Nkrumah says, can be perverted into a barbaric free-for-all in which each is said to be for himself and God for us all. See page 46, paragraph 1.
Anaximander, Thales’ friend and successor, according to Nkrumah at page 36, paragraph 2, can be admittedly regarded as having had an awareness of the stagnating limitation in the monist assertion of fundamental equality. For, in his consideration of social equality he did not envisage it in static and immobile terms. At all times he applied to it the principle of justice. Anaximander could not see an egalitarian society as one in which inequalities remained as they were, undisturbed. His principle of justice called for change. Nkrumah says he is not a lotus-eater. That means that he did not forget the problems of society to go to sleep. He felt the need for the principle of justice to illuminate and sanction the social structure since, for him, the assertion of the unity of nature with its egalitarian implications could not by itself guarantee social equality and impartiality. In this respect, he formulated a philosophy in which rather than the Thalian water, an item of the world, he conceived the primary substance as a stock of undifferentiated, boundless, featureless and eternal expanse of neutral material from which the things of this world emerged due to its restlessness. Measured out according to the principle of justice, these things live for a while and return to the neutral material, giving place to other things. In this assertion of fundamental equality, social equality and justice are installed. Egalitarianism now involves social equality and justice.
But, according to Nkrumah, these early Greek philosophers were so preoccupied with destroying the foundations of the priestly aristocratic power that they paid little attention to social growth. Here enters Heraclitus. But what is the relevance of social growth to this discussion of egalitarianism? At page 46, paragraph1Nkrumah is to explain that by itself initial egalitarianism does not predetermine its own future course of development but that this development depends on the development of production and the emergent social-economic relations resulting from that development. Therein lays the issue and necessity of social growth in the concept of egalitarianism. And that was what Heraclitus’ predecessors neglected. His days saw eruptions shake Greek society during which the aristocrats had overthrown the monarchies after which Greek colonies were established on the lip of the Mediterranean basin. With the introduction of coinage in the colonies, the value of landed property as an instrument of economic transaction declined; together with other such economic developments the aristocracy became decadent as the new merchant force sought political gains from it. But the redeemed society was still plagued with dissentions out of which a temporary harmony or responsive relationship emerged only to be upset and repeated for yet another such relationship.
Nkrumah explains that this situation of strife, emergent pattern and apparent harmony that served as a period of rest for the contending forces until they once again started their contentions gave birth in Heraclitus’ mind to the idea that the universe itself is a harmony or a responsive relationship (attunement) of forces perpetually in strife. See pages 37 and 38. Hence, according to Heraclitus, all things are one but that the fundamental thing is fire from which the other things emerged as its transformations. This suggests a potential instability in everything. Such instability is permanent and it is that which makes the transformations possible. Everything, all objects, are deceptively stable (serene). They are actually representations of delicate balances of opposing forces. This opposition of forces is fundamental such that without it nothing would exist, they would pass away. Thus, an object is a harmonized set of opposite tensions without which tensions there could be no object. Similarly, Heraclitus conceived society as a dynamism in which there is strife of opposites out of which emerges harmony; and without which there can be no growth.
For Heraclitus, therefore, the strife of opposites is indispensable to growth and creation both in nature and society. And, as such, growth or creation is nothing but that balance or harmony which emerges from the strife of opposites. Nkrumah concludes from this that for Heraclitus, therefore, society is permanently in revolution and that evolution by revolution is the standard (touchstone) by which growth (progress) is determined. With this introduction of the strife of opposites the dialectic of history was born. The idea of a finite history, whereby the world was conceived as given with no prospect of essential change in any other way, was killed. If, we understand, the history of democracy via the development of the egalitarian principle must be really traced to Thales and the concepts of social equality and justice to Anaximander then the introduction of the notion of social growth with its dialectic principle by Heraclitus enriched and advanced the idea of egalitarianism. Nkrumah says at page 38 that these were materialists of the monist type whose materialist philosophy derived from social phenomena which they in turn inspired.
This far we can see that although Nkrumah’s explicit objective has been the illustration of the social content in the early philosophical systems he also implicitly pursues this other objective of tracing the history of the development of the principle of egalitarianism. This is emphasized by his next illustration in Anaxagoras. He is quick to point out at page 38 that Anaxagoras can be exhibited as supporting an egalitarianism. Yes, an egalitarianism. As will be shown shortly Anaxagoras’ egalitarianism differed in some detail from that of the preceding philosophers. Before then let us look at the metaphysics that Anaxagoras enunciated, according to Nkrumah. He also, like the monists, asserted the unity of nature but one in which an object emerged from seeds. Each seed contains the whole range of different things found in the universe at large (the macro-cosmic universe). Such a seed represented a minute universe within the macro-cosmic universe. An object was nothing, therefore, but an accretion of seeds; that is, made up of an increasing number of seeds. It is suggested here that some object could have more seeds than some other object. Hence, objects were different from each other. But each kind of object participated in every other kind of object: meaning that as a particular object participated in every other object they also participated in that object. Unlike the preceding philosophers, Anaxagoras found the principle of motion that apportioned the different quantities of seeds to all objects not inside the seeds but externally; that is, external to the entire collection of seeds that make up the universe and, therefore, outside the universe. He called that principle reason, mind.
Clearly then, Anaxagoras’ philosophy was an idealist philosophy. Despite that its version of the unity of nature, in some respects, was more rigorous. It was a closed one. Whereas the monists affirm a mere egalitarianism whereby only the identity of things in their basic make-up was asserted Anaxagoras saw a nature that was more firmly united. Nkrumah sees this distinction between Anaxagoras and the monists as an expression, in social terms, of the distinction between socialism and democracy. He says that while it is, in democracy, sufficient to affirm a mere egalitarianism – fundamental and social equality – socialism affirms a mutual involvement of each in all and all in each. See pages 38 to 39 up to the first sentence of the first paragraph. Let us notice that Nkrumah’s inclusion among those monists of the person who introduced social equality into egalitarianism, Anaximander, suggests that for him even though the assertion of social equality is necessary in the definition of socialism (see page 34 paragraph 2) it is not sufficient. It is only when the affirmation as well of the mutual involvement of each in each is asserted that socialism comes into its rights as an enhanced egalitarianism. But in both cases the possible corruption of the intrinsic worth of the individual begged to be addressed.
At page 49, paragraph 2, Nkrumah asserts that the egalitarianism which early Greek philosophy introduced could be formulated in terms of individualism. He says that to the extent that individualism asserts the initial (fundamental) equal value of the individual, egalitarianism can be formulated in terms of it. Where individualism is conceived as the equal right of the individual to dominate and exploit each other it heads society towards capitalism; whereas a conception of it that imposes a duty on each to support each other so as to make the happiness of others the condition for one’s own happiness heads society towards socialism (paragraph 4). Hence, egalitarianism, when it is formulated in terms of individualism, could lead to either capitalism or socialism. Likewise, the extremes of the egalitarian principle, its corruption, could respectively express in either anarchism or fascism. Whereas in anarchism the subjective will of the individual together with minimal or no governmental regulation is asserted, in fascism the dimming (suppression) of individual values with maximum governmental regulation is affirmed. In these cases, respectively, the intrinsic worth of the individual is either inflated or suppressed.
Consciencism does not discuss fascist corruption of egalitarianism. It discusses anarchist corruption of it. It states that once Anaxagoras had emphasized socialistic responsibility of each for all and all for each the next issue was to emphasize the intrinsic worth of the individual. The social progressive movement in the development of egalitarianism had a setback in the appearance of the Sophists who held that only oneself existed and all other things existed as one’s experiences. Hence, the cult of the individual. A view that is close to the sophist position is that corruption of the Protagoran maxim that man was the measure of all things and that the universe had passed from the hands of the gods to the hands of men. By that corruption, reality became an accurate copy (a replica) of the will of man, that is, the subjective will. That was subjective idealism which Nkrumah condemns as the perversion of lesser minds: what there is was the product of the will of man. This, according to Nkrumah, made social reality dependent on the subjective will. Such a view did not only damage the possibility of science as well as the public and objective positioning of truth but also undermined the foundations of society which the original attempt via the assertion of egalitarianism had sought to unite. In this respect, egalitarianism needed to be distinguished from anarchism, the political expression of subjective idealism. Anarchism inflates the intrinsic worth of man. Enter Socrates.
Socrates stood up against the perversion of the Protagoran maxim noted above. Concern for the restoration of the objectivity of society, which the said perversion had damaged and undermined with regard to its foundations, made Socrates dedicate himself to the destruction of that perversion. He advanced a fundamental egalitarianism. This belief in the common and equal nature of man he sought to prove in his choice of a slave-boy for the demonstration of the equal endowment of all with innate ideas and the equal ability of all to lead a good life. For him, knowledge was innate as an engraving upon the individual soul; a soul that he conceived as a tenet of philosophy, not as conceived in religion. Learning was only a way of remembering that which had been engraved on the soul. See pages 39, 40 and 37 in that order. Socrates’ fundamental egalitarianism could be seen as an emphasis on the intrinsic worth of the individual in his/her nature. It did not however assert social equality although it explained differences between men in terms of education and, therefore, only affirmed what Nkrumah calls mere egalitarianism. Socrates was a firm theoretical believer in egalitarianism (page 39, last paragraph) and his egalitarianism remained as a theoretical construct as it could not be traced to an existing social situation (an established fact of life). See page 40 paragraph 1.
It is difficult to see in the pages of Consciencism how Socrates constructed his destruction of subjective idealism. If, as we observed above, Socrates did not assert social equality in his attempt to restore the objectivity of society (i.e. the possibility of science and the public as well as the objective grounding of truth) then how could he achieve his aim? The subjective idealist position was disruptive of the firm united foundation that we had seen Anaxagoras provide. The restoration of that foundation could be expected to affirm social equality in the first instance, the participation of each in each in the second and the rescue of the intrinsic worth of the individual (fundamental equality) from its inflation or exaggeration in the third instance. We rather see in Socrates an emphasis, through elaboration, on the fundamental equality of man only. How that focus stands in defence against the anarchist implications of subjective idealism is a difficulty the reader will have in following what Nkrumah calls the egalitarian development. Sure, Socrates’ elaboration of the content of fundamental equality enhanced egalitarianism deeply but as a defence against subjective idealism in its anarchist implications we might perhaps find that elsewhere, not in the pages of Consciencism. Certainly, Socrates, by his rescued of fundamental equality from the subjective idealist attack on it, restored it. In that sense, he defended it.
But if subjective idealism was destructive of the egalitarian development so was Plato who rejected it with a fundamental attack on fundamental equality. He did not believe in it. He rather affirmed original inequality. Nkrumah calls him a reactionary philosopher. He explains that Plato pursued a private vendetta in reaction to the execution of his master, Socrates, who had fallen victim to Athenian democracy. But in so doing he rather betrayed Socrates in his elaboration of the principles of his book, The Republic. Whereas Socrates had affirmed fundamental equality, Plato affirmed such fundamental inequality that not even education, which Socrates had as the leveller, could eradicate. See pages 40 and 41. For Plato, education would rather reveal an original inequality even if at some stage it concealed the differences that showed that some men had higher reason than others. The intellectual differences implied a natural division and hierarchy of labour such that the less intelligent only qualified for menial forms of labour and social-political power was concentrated in the hands of those with higher intelligence, the intellectuals. To harden the intellectual group into a class he suggested how men and women could be mated so that by birth there would be a succession of intellectuals to hold power in trust.
According to Nkrumah, apart from Plato’s betrayal of Socrates in his denunciation of the fundamental equality of man he also betrayed him in his failure to appreciate a particular distinction between the theory and practice of Athenian democracy. We need to pay real attention to what Nkrumah says here. He says that theory and practice are connected but that practice can fall short of the demands of theory and that this failure is common. Every social system has a supporting ideology, he continues. A revolutionary ideology seeks to introduce a new social system, he concludes. On the basis of these assertions he faults Plato for his failure to separate the condemnation of Athenian political practice from the condemnation of democratic theory. It is necessary here for us to draw attention to Nkrumah’s interchangeable use of ‘theory’ and ‘ideology’ in this discussion. See page 42, paragraph 1. Some modern day revisionists of Consciencism try to impose on it a difference in its use of the two terms. Hence, for them Consciencism asserts socialism, which it contrasts first with democracy and then with capitalism, as a theory but not as an ideology. From that misinterpretation they draw some misleading revisionist conclusions. We shall come back to this issue. Meanwhile let us return to Plato’s betrayal.
Socrates, whom Plato sought to avenge, acknowledged the Athenian political system which was a limited democracy in the sense that not all adults were included in it and women in particular were entirely excluded. As an emerging system Athenian democracy was still dependent on slave and other exploited labour for the creation of wealth and did not aim, even as an ideal, at the redistribution of this wealth. See last paragraph of page 41. It is clear that it exhibited certain initial excesses including the execution of Socrates himself. His acknowledgement of the newly emerging political system was so steadfast that when his life was threatened and given the opportunity to flee he refused. He was defending the infant democracy with his life. That was an example of a revolution being watered with the blood of martyrs. This was the infant revolution that Plato betrayed. That betrayal encouraged a new oligarchy in the Dark and Middle ages. It found allies in the Christian intellectuals who developed Plato’s reactionary philosophy (page 42) in a re-hash of the old familiar arguments that re-encumbered the world with a theological explanation of the cosmos (page 43). Thus, Plato established Socrates’ complete overthrow in his attempt to avenge his death. Fundamental or human equality (page 43) was to Socrates what original inequality was to Plato.
The history of philosophy this far has observed not only the social determinants inspiring the changing content of philosophy and philosophy’s impact on changing social condition but also the difficult if not tortuous development of egalitarianism in the ideologies – that is, democracy or capitalism and socialism – that sought to redefine social-political relation in early Greek society. Nkrumah’s characterization of this history is better quoted than re-stated. We quote it at length from pages 42 to 43 thus:
‘It is important to see clearly the nature of the swing that had thus taken place. I started this sketch of Western philosophical thought from a time in the history of its Greek founders when aristocratic class, assisted by a priestly oligarchy, held the sum total of social-political power. The earliest philosophers, rebelling against the social order which a theological explanation of natural phenomena encouraged, went to the root of the matter by introducing a different kind of explanation for social and natural phenomena. The social implication of their metaphysics was a certain egalitarianism which theoretically implied democracy and socialism.
As the secular metaphysics with its concern for the fundamental identity of man suffered corruption, it tended towards a subjective idealism, a change which was complete by the time of the Sophists. And the political image of subjective idealism is anarchism. Socrates and some of his students were largely instrumental in checking the rise of anarchism which the Sophists both by their precept and by their moral neutrality were already fostering. But that egalitarianism which Socrates was in a limited way endeavouring to save in its objective form, had by this time accommodated elements of the Sophists’ teaching. It had bred a rapacious individualism which could not take correction lightly. The system destroyed Socrates. And Socrates’ soi–disant avenger, Plato, sought in turn to destroy even this limited democracy. In this attempt he only succeeded in adumbrating a philosophy which could be used in supporting a society in which one class sat on the neck of another. It encouraged a new oligarchy. And this new oligarchy of the dark and middle ages, like the one from which we started, sought its sacerdotal ally. So it is that Plato, in trying to avenge the defender of human equality, the man who always said that men did not differ as men, any more than bees differed as bees, helped ironically in instituting his more complete overthrow.’
That did not mark the end of the development of egalitarianism as Aristotle became a telling critic of Plato. Enter Aristotle.
Unlike Plato, Aristotle advocated a form of egalitarianism or democracy which concepts Nkrumah uses interchangeably. See pages 44 to 49. Plato had rejected egalitarianism on the grounds of different levels in human intelligence. For him, consequently, truth finding belonged to those with the highest level of thinking or intelligence. Hence, accessibility to truth was open to just a few people, an intellectual oligarchy, who, only, were capable of perceiving and appreciating it (the truth). To ensure that truth was out of the reach of many he called it ‘form’ and projected it as resident in a very light and delicate heaven. It was the duty of Aristotle to return such ‘forms’ to earth from the heavens and restore them to nature where they would be accessible to all. This was what he did with a denial that the ‘forms’ were capable of existence outside natural objects. (Do you remember the issue of the universe and its outside?) Aristotle denied such an outside and located truth inside the universe. So far as he was concerned anyone capable of observing natural objects was capable of finding or discovering truths, the so-called forms. Thus, he did not only demystify truth by making it accessible to all but also did assert its possible common appreciation by all. See page 46, paragraph 2.
This rejection of the Platonic hypothesis that restricted the perception and appreciation of political and social truth to an intellectual oligarchy and placing knowledge within the reach of all needed qualification; hence, Aristotle includes in the ‘all’ only those who were capable of observing nature and implicitly excludes the mentally infirm. Thus, the Aristotelian restoration connected egalitarianism or democracy with knowledge. See page 44. According to Aristotle, although the perception and appreciation of social-political truths are within the capability of all no one person could see in their individual gaze all aspects of them. In other words, each truth had so many parts that one person alone could not see them all in an individual observation. To attain the whole truth each individual would have to contribute their portion in collaboration with others. For Aristotle, thus, the State was not just a collection of men but a union, an interdependence, of individuals dedicated to a common ultimate goal through co-operative action. This undermined not only the oligarchic conception of Plato but as well the anarchist implications of subjective-idealism. See pages 44 to 45.
In spite of the above, Aristotle believed that there were differences among men such that it is not everybody who could contribute to the truth. Nkrumah explains what Aristotle meant by his assertion that there were differences among men against the criticism of others. According to him, egalitarianism could not mean the absence of difference and that at the functional level egalitarianism recognized and accepted difference; but only at that level and never at the level of the intrinsic worth of the individual. He contends that Aristotle’s writings about slavery have been distorted. Aristotle’s definition of a slave as someone who by nature was not his own but another’s, that is, a human being who was at the same time a possession, according to Nkrumah, means that if someone is a slave then he is not his own but belonged to another person, a human being alright but also a property, a possession. A man cannot be discovered to be a slave by way of examining his nature just as, if we may add, a man cannot be discovered to be a father through an examination of his nature; if he is a father then he is somebody’s relative. See page 46. In spite of this explanation, Nkrumah criticizes Aristotle for not criticizing the institution of slavery in a co-operative society where co-operation can only be free, not tyrannical.
By the assertion that not everyone could contribute to the truth, Aristotle was reflecting the social reality of slavery which he thought to be justified if the slave was naturally inferior to his master (page 44). He recognized the fact of slavery with, what Nkrumah describes as, supernatural reverence that prevented him from a full appreciation of egalitarianism (page 45). Nkrumah says that Aristotle’s recognition that there were slaves was not enough; reverence for facts does not mean being intoxicated with them and leaving them in the dark, not criticized and not undermined. He should have appraised, criticized and undermined them. A slave, as a property, had no say. Aristotle could have underscored the necessity of education to undermine slavery as he did with how co-operation might be made spontaneous.
In all of this criticism of Aristotle, Nkrumah does not suggest that Aristotle, like Thales, was motivated by his bourgeois circumstances. He criticizes him from an epistemological or, if you like, analytical perspective with respect to the handling of facts. At page 48, he says that Aristotle conceived society in static terms, that is, a society that did not permit of revision. It is the perfect society. With it we have the final stage of the evolution of society. It represented an attempt to arrest the dialectic of society. To achieve this, we see Aristotle analysing the nature of a democratic constitution which he then declared as natural. See page 47. Preceding this, he had attempted to arrest the dialectic of thought. To achieve this, he laid down some categories like quantity, quality, rest, motion, time and place which he conceived as the most general concepts under which the world could be thought of. Every conceivable object or process in nature fell under one or more of these categories. All that the philosopher did was to identify those categories and explain them. A subsequent philosopher only needed to build on this so-called final foundation under the guidance of rules that the previous philosopher had dictated in his preface: an end to the process of thought, the dialectic of thought. And what is this dialectic?
Let us turn to the first lines of page 49. Nkrumah explains here that in the dialectic of thought a very important (cardinal) idea is introduced and its details are considerably worked out. After a certain point, an opposing idea to it appears in the discussion. In the attempt to reconcile the two a new idea emerges. This new idea starts a similar process which comes up with its opposite (antithesis), a reconciliation and yet another new idea. This goes on and on. To conceive an idea and declare it as being perfect is to stop (arrest) the dialectic. The dialectic operates likewise in the history of society which initially exhibits a stage that is operated considerably. At a certain point a stage opposed to the current one emerges alongside it in contention. In the attempt to reconcile them a new stage is given birth to. A new process is then initiated with the new stage as the starting point. To declare any particular stage as perfect and therefore incapable of revision is to arrest the social dialectic or the dialectic of society. Aristotle, Nkrumah says, violated the dialectic principle in his attempt to create his fixed categories.
Aristotle demystified the Platonic mystification of thought and by asserting the co-operative nature of the process of attaining truth he did not only undermine subjective idealism but as well rejected anarchism. With him came the first renaissance and humanism. But the form of democracy or egalitarianism that he consequently promoted did not question social inequality. His philosophy reflected the social reality of his days. So that if Nkrumah does not trace the motivation of Aristotle’s philosophy to personal or class reactions, as in the case of Plato and Thales, he shows that it was an endorsement of the state of society in his days albeit with this correction of the Platonic hypothesis. The social contention in that philosophy is thus illustrated.
From here to the end of the chapter, Nkrumah completes his illustrations with the Renaissance which, together with the humanism that it fortified, actually became the second renaissance and humanism after Aristotle. Aristotle had saved thought from the mystic vapours with which Plato had surrounded it. The Renaissance freed thought from the mysticism of the Middle Ages. See page 51. Aristotle had also represented man as the centre of the universe. So did the Renaissance represent man as the centre of the universe and was non-religious. The assertion of man as the centre of the universe thus appeared simultaneously with the assertion of man as the source of knowledge. Knowledge was no longer considered as a matter of divine revelation but one of human mental activity. Also, the reference point of political organization ceased to be God but man. This threatened the social power of the Church and placed it in opposition to the philosophers. And since the power of the Church could still be felt some philosophers like Descartes and Leibnitz, for fear of the Church’s reaction, had to hide their definitive works until after their death when they were published. See page 52. On its part, the Church was subtle in seeming to endorse these philosophies while retaining God at the centre. See page 51. In all this, we see the development of egalitarianism into democratic capitalism and co-operative socialism. Nkrumah gives some details of this encounter up to the eruption of the French Revolution that resolved it and advises on the study of philosophy by the non-Westerner.
Descartes affirmed egalitarianism in a more profound manner than Aristotle did. He also believed in the attainment of truth as a co-operative human endeavour. Intelligence (reason), he believed, was the same in all and that all shared fundamental equality in the perception and appreciation of the same truths which were public objective truths and not private truths which did not exist. All men pursued these objective truths. Truth was not a matter of divine revelation but a human act of mathematical and public demonstration. Men had to co-operate in support of social stability and order even when they had not yet come to the truth due to their inadequate attention to the matter at hand. That is, while we are in search for the truth we must support, in co-operation with others, the demands of order as those others had conceived those demands. See pages 52 and 53. This conception of egalitarianism was more inclusive than the Aristotelian version which excluded at least the slaves from democratic practice. It contrasted with the oligarchic philosophy of the Church. Its spread in the form of free-thinking generated competing philosophies that brought forth very deep social and ideological conflict. In its social-political manifestation Cartesian (Descartes’) egalitarianism gave support to co-operative socialism.
Leibniz, on the contrary, came out with a humanist philosophy that also undermined the social power of the Church but in contribution to democratic capitalism. He conceived the universe as made up of innumerable units called monads. The monads were spirits with different levels of consciousness. Each of them was completely self-contained with its own law of development. This law was such that a particular monad could enjoy prosperity while other monads suffered. The entire arrangement was held together by means of a principle called Pre-established Harmony. The social implication of this line of thinking was that each individual had an inalienable right to develop according to their own nature even if that development required the suffering and economic or political subordination of others. See page 52. That was Leibniz’s contribution to democratic capitalism. It linked the emancipation of thought from religious shackles to strengthening of capitalism. For, it was nothing but the elevation of the brutal competition and drive for supremacy that featured in capitalism to the level of a philosophical concept. It was this same concept that featured in the political philosophy of John Locke which largely inspired the American Constitution. See page 50. The chequered history of egalitarianism had brought it this far in the dialectic of society.
In that history the Church had her supporters among the philosophers in her attempts to negate the emancipation that the humanist movement involved. Her theologians shiftily modified her position here and accepted a compromise there. In that manner, the Church avoided a head-on collision and thus preserved herself. One such philosopher, Berkeley, had seemed to embrace empiricism in his assertion that material objects were a collection of ideas of sense. In the process he shied away from sense as avenue or route for ideas and said that in fact it was God who put the ideas in the mind. So that sense was not at all necessary in his philosophy; it served no useful purpose in it. Empiricism had no place in his philosophy. For this double-speak the grateful Church rewarded him with a bishopric. Berkeley was the very personification of the dilemma of the Church. See pages 51 and 52. His philosophy was inspired by the shaky social position of the Church. That was the social contention in his philosophy.
By the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the social contention in the works of the philosophers had become explicit. Law, politics, economics and ethics were then publicly founded on philosophy. Modern Western philosophers, however, have denied themselves of this inheritance and rather display some snobbish unconcern over the social realities of the day. For them, social irritants and urges to the content of philosophy are irrelevant to the philosopher’s task. That task is the consideration of the philosopher’s reasons for saying what they say but not why they say it. Thus preoccupied, many Western philosophers excuse themselves from philosophical comments on social developments, positive or negative. The reactionary Plato saw such persons as those in whose hands social and political power should naturally and permanently be placed. No, in our days they do not even want to touch, not to talk about hold it. In fact, these are mere academics. They are not intellectuals. Intellectuals apply their academic learning to the resolution of social problems. They use and must use their learning in furtherance of cultural development and strengthening of human society. They do not just sit there pursuing the ‘exact sense of the word’, Nkrumah says.
[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.]