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The Black Man Is As Much Reason As Emotion

"Emotion is negro, reason is Helen," (In French: “l’émotion est nègre, la raison est Héléne”) said Leopold Sédar Senghor, author of negritude, writer and first President of the Republic of Senegal. These words have been much talked about, both from a critical perspective and a philosophical perspective. In his philosophy of the civilization of the Universal, Senghor tried to invoke the Black Man as the one whose participation in the Universal and Humanity was based on emotion and less on reason, which would be the prerogative of the White Man. If Senghor takes the philosophical trajectory of Hegel, who did not recognize the Black Man as a full-fledged Human and whose essence was summed up in the "prelogical" and immediacy, he has on the contrary theorized a superiority of emotion over reason. Senghor's philosophy deconstructs the hegemony of the "Enlightenment" and of reason as the basis of humanity, and highlights culture and emotions as elements transcending the utilitarianism of the rational. This article, however, aims to analyze the Black Man through the prism of equilibrium and argues that: the Black Man is as much reason as emotion.

The Emotion: the rationalization of the Reason

Senghor wrote: "If I speak about the Revolution of 1889, it is, of course, by reference to the French Revolution of 1789. Indeed, this one had proceeded of rationalism and, more precisely, of encyclopedist rationalism. It is, on the other hand, 1889 the year when Henri Bergson published his Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. He too spoke out, not exactly against rationalism, but against its intellectualist deviation and, above all, against materialist positivism [...]. It is only that he emphasizes sensation and intuition. What he advocates, by his philosophy, is a conscious and reflected a return to the data of intuition. Like Nietzsche, he relies on the values of life and freedom and invites us to cultivate the creative activity of man. Curiously, in the years when Bergson wrote his essay, A. Rimbaud... discovered the values of the Negritude". It is not a question of making a criticism or a comment on the Senghorian thought in this article. But the philosophical angle of the Senegalese is a basis of a critical analysis of the Eurocentric hegemony of a reason not always rational.

Leopold Sédar Senghor

The philosophy of Enlightenment wanted to restrict the Human being to a capacity of utilitarian, materialistic reflection, leading even to a dehumanization of the human being. Because indeed, emotion, far from being a myth, is characteristic of Man. The thoughtless one is human, just as sensation and intuition make the Human too. The Man could not be restricted to a faculty of reflection or excessive empiricism of the perception of the world. Emotion constitutes a form of intelligence even, of the rationality of the freedom, of the freedom to think because certain things can be perceptible only by emotion. The reason is fundamentally limited to a form of the immediacy of the rational. The capacity to discern evil from good, the just from the unjust, does not always come from reason. It is often the product of the emotion which results from our interaction with the object, the fact. The White Man, in Senghorian philosophy, exempts himself from part of his essence by referring exclusively to reason. This, even determines the apology of science as the only source of knowledge, in opposition to religion and myth. The terrible consequence of this vision is the nihilism of culture, folklore, the unreal, and above all of religion, even of God. The questioning of faith is then the result of an exaggeration of rational utilitarianism and on the one hand, the nihilism of intuition, sensation, and emotion. The Black Man has been able to develop a balance between reason and emotion, between the real and the unreal, and between faith and the critical spirit.

The emotion is negro but not only...

Of course, Black Man is all the cultural aspect that Senghor attributes to him. Black Man, is sensation and intuition, it is dance and masks, it is love and carnal. Black Man, it is also to the belief of the unreal rationalized. Man is not the only reason; he can perceive and treat the unreal by the heart when the spirit stumbles on its limits. This recognition of the limit of the critical spirit is in the bandolier of the African and black civilizations. This is what explains in Africa the ability to understand the world of Spirits inaccessible to the critical mind. There is also a necessary humility of the Black Man that transcends the claim of the White Man, in the Senghorian philosophy, to know everything by the strict use of the critical spirit. Man is imperfect, his reason is as well. The Black Man seems to have understood the necessary humility to go beyond the critical spirit, and to refer to other sources like faith. There, this accessibility of the unreal, that of faith, having faith in faith, is only possible by the prioritization of emotion, intuition, and sensation. If Africa is, par excellence a society of worship of the unreal, it is because it has been able to give itself over to emotion and intuition as Bergson would have it.

But it is this faculty to establish a complementarity between emotion and reason which makes even the emotion Negro, but not only. The Black Man is not reduced to the absolute of the sensation, of the emotion, or cannot be conceived like the Man of the caves who functions only by instinct and euphoria. Just as the White Man feels, loves, is ecstatic, and can be euphoric under the culture and the cult. The Black Man participates in the civilization of the Universal by reason, but especially by emotional reason. He does not allow himself to be overwhelmed by a pretentious dictatorship of reason but also allows faith, heart, intuition, and sensation to become the safeguards of this reason, the complements of the critical mind. In reality, it is the whole that defines Man and to renounce emotions is to become subhuman.


Ouattara, Bourahima. “Senghor, lecteur de Barrès.” Études de lettres, no. 2 (September 15, 2017): 111–32.

Institut Jean Lecanuet. “Léopold Sédar Senghor ou l’émancipation de la pensée.” Accessed April 24, 2023.

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