In a significant page 78 statement of definition in Sékou Touré’s Revolution, Culture and Pan-Africanism, culture is defined as the totality of a society’s accumulated material and immaterial equipment for a people’s liberation and mastery of nature in the process of building a better society. In the elaboration of that statement, Sékou Touré itemizes the components of the said equipment as ‘works and constructive works, knowledge and know-how, languages, behaviours and experiences’.
The accumulation process is explained to exhibit stages. At page 70 Sékou Touré designates that ‘instinct … is a stage of culture’. Instinct is then seen on the same page as capable of changing into a higher stage; thus suggesting it to be a lower stage in the process of culture’s development. That higher stage is asserted as ‘conscience’. In the words of Sékou Touré: ‘The change of instinct into conscience, in the course of history, has marked and sanctioned the accession to a higher stage, corresponding to a qualitative bound.’
The process of how this change occurs might be found at pages 164 and 88. Whereas the poem that is captioned ‘Revolution’ at page 164 dramatizes the process as ‘from the instinct suddenly appears … conscience’, page 88 explains that ‘In the stage of development of life, conscience substitutes itself to the instinct…’ This act of substitution could be appreciated within the context of a statement at pages 56-57 to the effect that instinct and conscience co-exist in man from the level of the cells that determine his/her form and capacities; but that in the course of time conscience develops at the expense of instinct due to the fact that experience (the past) feeds it and more. Read:
… right from the cells which give him his form and his various capacities, man is the mixture of the infinitely small and the infinitely great, the dynamic synthesis of two beings identical by nature, while different. He is at the same time instinct and conscience, the one developing at the expense of the other. The past is the source which feeds conscience, and that conscience has the role of actualising in the present a portion of that past, in view of making it converge towards the future. This indicates that conscience is the sum of experience (past) and knowledge (the present projected towards the future). Pp.56-57
Certainly, there is a difficulty in reconciling ‘substitution’ with ‘sudden (appearance)’ if our understanding is that there is a time sequence between the emergence of both ‘instinct’ and ‘conscience’. This understanding is reinforced by the statement at page 55 in reference to ‘the creation of … conscience by a qualitative change of the instinct’ which implies the emergence of conscience from instinct. The assertion, however, that man ‘is at the same time instinct and conscience’ rather suggests otherwise with the implication that the two emerge simultaneously in the process of foetal development. Furthermore, Touré distinguishes instinct (from conscience) as ‘an undefined cultural stock’ (page 69) or ‘the natural cultural stock’ (page 129) that involves all animal categories but independent of space, time and the environment. These are his words at page 69:
For us … instinct represents an undefined cultural stock including all categories of animals but excluding space and time as well as the surrounding creatures and natural phenomena affecting the course of life. This distinction would not be of the order of conscience, because it proceeds neither from analysis, nor from a synthesis, nor even from a value judgement. But in fact, a dog that avoids a danger has certainly analysed it before ‘taking the decision’ to keep away from it.
Hence, with Sékou Touré, as indicated by our italics in the citation immediately above, instinct is not actually a stage of conscience as some philosophers affirm. It is a stage of culture. That stage is overtaken by the stage of conscience which, unlike instinct, is susceptible to the influence of the environment as well as space and time; but which, like instinct, as indicated by the analytical dog, has always been present. In fact, he is impatient with philosophers who take contradictory positions on the issue and thus declares: ‘We will not go into futile philosophical discussions taking instinct at one time as conscience of the lowest degree, at another time admitting it as totally different in nature from conscience.’
At this new stage, the stage of conscience, Sékou Touré concludes at page 72 that conscience is ‘the prime mover of culture’. He also refers to this stage at page 88 as ‘the stage of development of life’. He characterizes the previous stage as ‘a biophysical stage’ where people protect their life first and where ‘instinctively imposed behaviour’ dominates (page 87). The instinct that is said to dominate here is also, at page 70, said to have been endowed. This forcefully explains the position above that instinct is independent of the environment as well as space and time. Doesn’t endowment imply innateness here? This requires clarification; for, how can a ‘cultural stock’ be innate? We’ll be back.
Another point that also requires clarification is the origin of conscience. In stating above that man is at the same time instinct and conscience Sékou Touré gives us an impression of the co-existence and simultaneous origination of both instinct and conscience in man. With respect to conscience, however, page 125 states that ‘The conscience, contrary to what the idealists try to say, is not entirely in man as such, in a perfect, completed state and the genesis of which would be inexplicable by its own nature’. That appears to be a partial reiteration that conscience originates (has its genesis) in man. But at page 124 we see ‘intelligence’ interchangeably used with ‘conscience’.
In itself, intelligence could be understood to be part of the capacities that at pages 56-57 Sékou Touré talks about when he refers to ‘the cells which give (man) his form and his various capacities’. If this were so then the equivalence expressed between ‘intelligence’ and ‘conscience’ should enable us understand conscience in terms of intelligence. This is justified within the appreciation of how Sékou Touré at page 126 apprehends the process of the evolution of conscience: ‘In order for man to raise the level of conscience he must as well continually perfect his theoretical knowledge, accumulate and develop his experience, learn to analyse and select, to act concretely and express what he feels and knows…’ That is how intelligence also develops.
All this suggests that conscience, in Sékou Touré’s terms, is a capacity of the brain susceptible to development from the exigencies of the environment. As the prime mover of culture, therefore, conscience is the seat of culture. In this sense, the usage of conscience here has no connotation of ethical or moral suggestions. It rather suggests the presence of mind and it is mind. It suggests consciousness and it is consciousness. It is, therefore, interchangeably used with ‘mind’ or as ‘consciousness’. These usages are in conformity with usages in philosophy where mind, conscience and consciousness are employed in the same sense. This is, however, without prejudice to the ethical or moral connotations of ‘conscience’ where it is variously stated to mean:
- Conformity to one’s own sense of right conduct.
- A feeling of shame when you do something immoral.
- Motivation deriving logically from ethical or moral principles that govern a person’s thoughts and actions. (The Sage’s English Dictionary)
Hence, within the philosophical context, conscience connotes understanding in terms of knowledge acquisition and morality or ethics in terms of value judgement. These are more or less explicitly stated at page 129. Regarding the understanding and knowledge it is therein stated that ‘Conscience that man gets and which the beast lacks is the only factor which distinguishes him more and more from the beast, that reinforces his power on nature by knowing the laws of the latter, knowledge that makes him more and more man thanks to natural philosophy, natural sciences, techniques and technology.’
In respect of morality or ethics, Sékou Touré observes that ‘An unperspicacious thinker affirms simply: there is always a man comparable with himself. But actually, the analysis, to be complete, must distinguish two forms of conscience corresponding to two forms of culture, two ways of opposed, differentiated and antagonistic life, thought and behaviour owing to contradictory interests: class conscience which regards man as an object or subject of history and for which human progress is the end assigned to all social activities, and class conscience which considers man as equal to instrument, a tool, a means to be used by others.’ He then explains this by the assertion that:
The history of Humanity then tends to be the history of the struggle of class consciences, class cultures, characterized by class interests, the struggle opposing justice to injustice, right to wrong, progress to stagnation and to regression, finally Revolution to counter-revolution on the permanent basis of antagonism between interests, objectives and cultures making groups of men different.
It is instructive to observe in these citations that the moral or ethical dimension of conscience is not only asserted as class conscience but also that this class conscience is of two forms generated by contradictory interests in correspondence with two cultures. These two cultures are then described as class cultures. In dialectical terms, Sékou Touré states this in this sophisticated way: ‘Culture, being the secretion of the conscience and the generator of the supreme conscience, becomes then a culture of a social class’.
Having identified what we may now call the epistemological and ethical dimensions of conscience – one dealing with knowledge and understanding (truth search) and the other dealing with morality (interests pursuit) – Sékou Touré shows how they are connected: the one makes use of the other. At pages 104-106 he explains that one of the two class cultures utilizes the knowledge resources (truth) generated by the epistemological dimension of conscience for the advancement of the people while the other utilizes them for their exploitation. This universal access to knowledge to the classes is stated thus:
The Man of Culture is … somebody who obeys the conscience of the right, the truth and the individual who obeys the instinct of evil, cupidity and uses the resources of knowledge against the People, and man in order to exploit them…
Among men of culture loyal to the People, translating the deep aspirations of the People, there are some who know how to handle marvellously a pen and know how to speak; but there are also and mainly those who act courageously, with lucidity and abnegation without knowing how to write while getting brilliant and noble ideas.
Men of Culture are undeniably masters of Arts; also, just as the first, they do register events in the register of history which demands for its perenniality neither paper nor pen: the immortal memory of the immortal People…
The P.D.G. congratulates all the artists of all disciplines and urges them to continue to produce and to make constant use of Revolutionary Culture in order to accelerate the liberation of our People from mystification, from all ideological and economic deficiencies.
It is on the basis of this interconnectedness between the two dimensions of conscience, which Sékou Touré sees as the prime mover of culture, that he makes this final statement to encapsulate the entire idea of a culture thus: ‘Well then, what is culture if not the sum of experiences of knowledge, allowing the human being to regulate his own behaviour, his relation with external nature?’ But these, as required of a materialist philosophy, do not yet comprehensively explain the origins of instinct and conscience. The assertion of man being endowed with ‘instinct’ and by a certain extension ‘conscience’ is not enough. As it is, it lends itself to claims of innateness which is the arsenal of idealist philosophy for the mystification of life through the introduction of objective spirit entities into the philosophical discourse by the mistaken route.
That explanation is found in Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s Consciencism at pages 23-24. Firstly, let us note that Dr. Nkrumah treats ‘mind’ and ‘conscience’ as category equivalents and therefore uses them interchangeably as, for instance, in the page 23 assertion that ‘philosophical materialism accepts mind or conscience only as a derivative of matter’. Secondly, the idea of mind as a derivative of matter is biologically explained at page 24; that is, the origin of mind or conscience is located in a biological source but not in any process of mysterious endowment or innateness externally conferred. The suggestion at page 24 is that mind or conscience is not inborn but the result of developing matter or the nervous system attaining a critical point. Intelligent activity cannot, therefore, be observed in the foetus before that critical point. Read:
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 presence of mind. The presence of mind and the attainment of this critical minimum of organization of matter are one and the same thing … That is to say, notwithstanding that the meaning of … ‘mind’, is not ‘a critical organization of nervous matter’, as the meaning of ‘submarine’ is ‘a ship capable of moving under water’, mind is nothing but the upshot of matter with a critical nervous arrangement.
Hence, once again, we find that ‘intelligence’ ‘conscience’ and ‘mind’ are used in the same sense by African philosophical materialists of the Pan-African Revolutionary Tendency who locate ‘them’ in the process of the biological evolution of the human foetus. It is within that process that ‘instinct’ also emerges through the accumulative experiences that the foetus acquires from the environment within the womb. (At page 129, Sékou Touré talks about ‘instinctual culture which is accumulated’)
The reactions of the foetus to change of conditions within the womb, which conditions are the primary sources of experiences of pain and pleasure for the foetus, constitute ‘the natural cultural stock’ that the born baby emerges from the womb with as ‘instinct’. The use of the adjectival ‘natural’ only refers to the biological environment of the womb as opposed to the material environment into which the baby is later born. There is no implication of ‘innateness’ which by itself suggests a presence even at the very minute that the spermatozoic cell fuses with the ovular cell.
All of us now know that kind of presence to be a mistaken claim. If it were not then Sékou Touré would not talk about the possibility of getting rid of the instinct and advocate such riddance. The possibility of this riddance is tangentially acknowledged at page 138 thus: ‘The more man acquires by his scientific knowledge, intellectual, technical, ideological and moral capabilities and the more he gets power in order to get rid of the instinctual orders, conscience evolution is therefore related to cultural efficient, historic and rate value.’
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