Of Witches and White Folks

Wiley: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 104 (3):587-605 (2021)
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A central debate in philosophy of race is between eliminativists and conservationists about what we ought do with ‘race’ talk. ‘Eliminativism’ is often defined such that it’s committed to holding that (a) ‘race’ is vacuous and races don’t exist, so (b) we should eliminate the term ‘race’ from our vocabulary. As a stipulative definition, that’s fine. But as an account of one of the main theoretical options in the debate, it’s a serious mistake. I offer three arguments for why eliminativism should not be tethered to vacuity or error theory, and three arguments for why the view shouldn’t be understood in terms of eliminating the term ‘race’ from our vocabulary. Instead, I propose we understand the debate as concerning whether certain uses of ordinary race terms are typically wrong. This proposal is quite simple, and naturally suggested by the common gloss that eliminativism about ‘race’ is akin to a commonsensical view about 'witch' talk. But nonetheless, I argue that it offers a significant recharacterization of this core debate in philosophy of race.

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Daniel Wodak
University of Pennsylvania


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