Crash Course: Metaphysics & Epistemology of Race


Welcome to another installment of the “Crash Course” series, this time on the metaphysics and epistemology of race. 

Jacob Lawrence, “The Library”

As with other installments in the crash course series, the idea is to come up with a set of primary readings a person could reasonably complete in 1-3 weeks that provides a sense of the central developments and matters of dispute in the selected area, as background to further study in it.

The key here is to provide a set of readings that makes sense together, not to just make one-off suggestions. Here’s a great example of the kind of answer we’re looking for, from our crash course on the epistemology of disagreement; note that it contains several works, organized in a particular order. Additionally, while resources like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy are very useful, please refrain from including reference materials in your list.

As an additional source of information, I’m happy to share this schematic of current debates in the metaphysics and epistemology of race put together by Quayshawn Spencer (University of Pennsylvania). You are welcome to suggest sets of readings on the M&E of race in general, or on any significant debate within this area.

Thank you.


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Raza
Raza
2 years ago

These would offer a good way into the field:

The metaphysics of race as a biological category:

1. Naomi Zack’s “Philosophical Aspects of the ‘AAA Statement on “Race”’
2. Quayshawn Spencer’s “The Unnatural Racial Naturalism”
3. Adam Hochman’s response “Unnaturalised Racial Naturalism”

The metaphysics of race as a social category:

1. Ronald Sundstrom’s “Race as a Human Kind”
2. Sally Haslanger’s “A Social Constructionist Analysis of Race”
3. Adam Hochman’s “Replacing Race: Interactive Constructionism About Racialized Groups”Report

Matt
2 years ago

In addition to the paper by Naomi Zack mentioned in Spencer’s contribution, I’d include her 2002 book _Philosophy of Science and Race_. A lot has been published in the field since then, so it’s obviously not the last word, but I found it to be a useful and interesting book, and it’s relatively short, so would fit with the goal here.Report

Matt LaVine
Matt LaVine
2 years ago

I second the suggestions that have been made already. To those I would add:

(1) Lionel McPherson’s “Deflating ‘Race'” from the 2015 Journal of the APA (pp. 674-693)
(2) Michael Hardimon’s 2017 book, “Rethinking Race: The Case for Deflationary Realism” (Harvard University Press).

Both of them do a very good job of giving overviews of various parts of the literature (McPherson more historical and Hardimon more conceptual) as a way of motivating their own quite interesting contributions.Report

Rob Wilson
2 years ago

I have found a subunit in my history of modern philosophy course that focuses on Kant on race and racism a good way to provoke discussion of the metaphysics of race in contemporary philosophy. Here the readings were: (1) Kant, Immanuel, 1777, “Of the Different Human Races”, translated by Jon Mark Mikkelsen, in Robert Bernasconi and Tommy Lott (eds), The Idea of Race (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000), pp.8-22; (2) Bernasconi, Robert, 2001, “Who Invented the Concept of Race? Kant’s Role in the Enlightenment Construction of Race”, in Robert Bernasconi (ed.), Race (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001), pp.11-36; (3) Eze, Emmanuel Chukwudi, 1995, “The Color of Reason: The Idea of ‘Race’ in Kant’s Anthropology”, The Bucknell Review (Jan 1 1995) 38(2), pp.200-241; (4) Bernasconi, Robert, 2002, “Kant as an Unfamiliar Source of Racism”, in Julie K. Ward and Tommy L. Lott (eds.), Philosophers on Race: Critical Essays. (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers), pp.145-166. (5) Mills, Charles, 2005, “Kant’s Untermenschen”, in Andrew Valls (ed.), Race and Racism in Modern Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), pp.169-191. I also added Chris Meyns, Why Don’t Philosophers Talk About Slavery? https://www.philosophersmag.com/essays/173-why-don-t-philosophers-talk-about-slavery which I found only mid-stream in teaching the course.Report

Kevin Harrelson
Kevin Harrelson
Reply to  Rob Wilson
2 years ago

I do something similar, but less ambitious. The historical approach is an important one that gets lost in some of these discussions of the metaphysics and epistemology of race. If we take a certain type of thesis – such as ‘race was invented in modern Europe’ or even Appiah’s ‘race concepts are the detritus of debunked science’ – seriously, then something like the Kant essay takes on a special importance.Report

Matt
Reply to  Rob Wilson
2 years ago

Should probably include Pauline Kleingeld’s “Kant’s Second Thoughts on Race”, too. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9213.2007.498.x Kleingeld is an excellent scholar, and the way she shows Kant’s views changing – and why – is both important in itself, for seeing how ideas about race developed at the time, and as a corrective to some scholarship on Kant that is too narrow in focus.Report

Matt LaVine
Matt LaVine
2 years ago

Since Charles Mills was mentioned and the discussion has mostly been about metaphysics so far, I’d suggest some of Mills’ work on epistemology and race. In particular,

(1) Chapter 2 of “Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race” (1998, Cornell University Press) entitled “Alternative Epistemologies”.
(2) Chapter 4 of “Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism” (2017, Oxford University Press) entitled “White Ignorance”.

Of course, Mills does brilliant work on the metaphysics of race as well. Somebody looking for a good read for the crash course setting might start with Chapter 3 of “Blackness Visible” entitled “”But What Are You Really?” The Metaphysics of Race”.Report

Rasmus Rosenberg Larsen
Rasmus Rosenberg Larsen
2 years ago

I have found Jonathan Marks’ (short) book, “Is science racist? debating race” (2017), extremely helpful for undergraduates as well as graduate students. Roughly, it surveys a range of scientific, metaphysical, and epistemological claims about race, of course, with the aim of demonstrating why claims about race are unscientific.Report