What Race Terms Do: Du Bois, Biology, and Psychology on the Meanings of "Race"

Southwest Philosophy Review 34 (1):235-247 (2018)
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This paper does two things. First, it interprets the work of W. E. B. Du Bois to reveal that the meanings of race terms are grounded by both a historical and an aspirational component. Race terms refer to a backward-looking component that traces the history of the group to its present time, as well as a forward-looking component that sets out values and goals for the group. Race terms thus refer to a complex cluster of concepts that involve biological, sociological, historical, moral, and political properties. Second, the paper defends W. E. B. Du Bois’s conservationist thesis about races, which holds that we should maintain race talk and racial distinctions. But instead of offering philosophical evidence, this paper defends the plausibility of the conservationist thesis with evidence from contemporary biology and psychology. It argues that, instead of eliminating race terms or concepts, we should conserve and revise them.
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