Psychological Essentialism and Dehumanization

In Routledge Handbook of Dehumanization. London, New York: Routledge (2021)
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In this Chapter, Maria Kronfeldner discusses whether psychological essentialism is a necessary part of dehumanization. This involves different elements of essentialism, and a narrow and a broad way of conceptualizing psychological essentialism, the first akin to natural kind thinking, the second based on entitativity. She first presents authors that have connected essentialism with dehumanization. She then introduces the error theory of psychological essentialism regarding the category of the human, and distinguishes different elements of psychological essentialism. On that basis, Kronfeldner connects historical, socio-psychological, and philosophical insights in order to show that although essentialism can act as a catalyst for dehumanization, it is not necessary for it. Examples relate to dehumanization in the context of colonialism and evolutionary thinking, to the history of dehumanizing women from Aristotle to 19th-century craniology, and to contemporary self-dehumanization and ‘lesser mind’ attribution.

Author's Profile

Maria Kronfeldner
Central European University


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