Questions of Race in Leibniz's Logic

Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics (forthcoming)
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This essay is part of larger project in which I attempt to show that Western formal logic, from its inception in Aristotle onward, has both been partially constituted by, and partially constitutive of, what has become known as racism. More specifically, (a) racist/quasi-racist/proto-racist political forces were part of the impetus for logic’s attempt to classify the world into mutually exclusive, hierarchically-valued categories in the first place; and (b) these classifications, in turn, have been deployed throughout history to justify and empower racism/quasi-racism/proto-racism. In other words, (a) an important part of the chaos and messiness that so troubles logic has been the natural bio-cultural diversity of human beings as described by concepts such as race and ethnicity; and (b) once these concepts were historically in place, taken for granted, buttressed with pseudo-science, and had their origins forgotten, they became tools for the oppression of diverse human groups. The central thesis of this essay is that close readings of a variety of Leibniz’s writings (including several essays and one letter) will reveal a pattern of mutual dependency and creation in regard to logic and racism in Leibniz. My conclusion will be that there is a meaningful connection between logic and racism (or at least between logic and politics in general) in Leibniz such that one should be skeptical of his logic’s claim to offer transparent and neutral descriptions of the world as well as imperatives for action. Put differently, I want to ask the following specific question: how do Leibniz’s own racially-informed political goals, along with the emergence of race-centric European colonialism, both invest and disguise themselves within Leibniz’s mathematizing of logic?

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Joshua M. Hall
University of Alabama, Birmingham


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