W. E. B. Du Bois’s “Conservation of Races”: A Metaphilosophical Text

Metaphilosophy 50 (5):670-687 (2019)
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Nothing was more important for W. E. B. Du Bois than to promote the upward mobility of African Americans. This essay revisits his “The Conversation of Races” to demonstrate its general philosophical importance. Ultimately, Du Bois’s three motivations for giving the address reveal his view of the nature of philosophical inquiry: to critique earlier phenotypic conceptions of race, to show the essentiality of history, and to promote a reflexive practice. Commentators have been unduly invested in the hermeneutic readings and as a result have misunderstood it as a philosophical text. Du Bois did more than introduce the concept of race into the purview of philosophy, he provided a method for philosophical inquiry into a concept that is notoriously difficult to approach with precision. My goal here is to show why no introduction to philosophy and no discussion about the nature of philosophical inquiry is complete without consideration of “Conservation.” Certainly, it is a text about race, but it is also an important philosophical text in general.

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Kimberly Ann Harris
University of Virginia


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