October 5, 2012

Philosopher Quayshawn Spencer on "How to Be a Biological Racial Realist"

Philosophy is a field that moves slowly, but tends to have some long term impact on the climate of thought because philosophers eventually get around to thinking very carefully about questions. 

On the other hand, philosophers tend to be limited by not knowing -- or at least not caring to know -- a lot of facts. Personally, for example, I find that having a big mental grab bag of facts and noticed tendencies that I can juxtapose into novel analogies is useful to the way I like to think, but that's too anarchic for philosophy.

Philosophers like to discuss the logical paradoxes of, say, "The present king of France is bald," but that just gets me thinking about, I dunno, can you measure hereditary patterns of baldness from royal portraits? Or what kind of personality traits are linked to baldness? We have first rate psychological descriptions of many of the kings of France and other European countries written by Venetian ambassadors and other contemporary observers, so perhaps that data can be merged with the data from royal portraits. But this turn of mind is why I'm not a philosopher. 

So far, the quality of philosophical thinking about race has been mediocre, with lots of credulous Race Does Not Exist jabber. Fortunately, a young African American philosophy professor at USF named Quayshawn Spencer is setting out to improve it. Here's an invitation to a talk he's giving at UCSD:
Dear Friends of Philosophy,

You are invited to the next Friday, October 12th, colloquium with Professor Quayshawn Spencer, University of San Francisco, who will be giving a talk entitled "How to Be a Biological Racial Realist ." His colloquium will take place from 4:00 – 6:00p in the Seminar Room, H&SS 7077. Reception to follow.  
Abstract: 
In this talk, I will show that the case for biological racial realism is more formidable than philosophers have thought, provided that one adopts the right semantic, metaphysical, and biological assumptions.  Specifically, I will argue that given a referentialist account of the meaning of ‘race’, a genuine kind account of biologically real kindhood, a fuzzy graph-theoretic account of populations, and the landmark results from Noah Rosenberg et al. (2002; 2005) on human population substructure, one can fashion a respectable account of race as the “B-partition” of metapopulations in a species (or “BPM race theory”).  After developing this nuanced biological theory of race, I defend it against popular criticisms, such as semantic objections (e.g. Feldman 2008), metaphysical objections (Gannett 2003; Kaplan and Winther 2012), and sampling and other methodological objections (Kittles and Weiss 2003; Kalinowski 2011).  I finish by discussing how BPM race theory fares with racial constructivism, and how it might inform issues that social and political philosophers care about.

Keep in mind that "realism" in philosophy isn't used the way I use "realism" (i.e., urbane impatience with lies, ignorance, spin, and wishful thinking). In philosophy, "realism" just means you are arguing that something is real.

But, this looks to be an important starting point. Here's Dr. Spencer's home page.

Personally, I've long argued that the usual race realist standpoint of thinking of races as subspecies in the Linnaean framework has reached diminishing returns. Instead, there is much to be gained by my new framework where we think of racial groups as big extended families given more and longer-lasting coherence by some degree of inbreeding.

Here's a short article demonstrating that bettors at the Kentucky Derby think more like I do than they think like the great Linnaeus.

62 comments:

helene edwards said...

a genuine kind account of biologically real kindhood

Nobody who speaks like this will ever have any impact on real life.
Even Freud used real words.

Anonymous said...

Good man, a fellow Cornellian!

Colin Laney said...

In philosophy, "realism" just means you are arguing that something is real.

Actually, no.

In philosophy, "realism" argues for the reality of groups, categories , Forms, categories, and archetypes. It is diametrically, and sometimes militarily, opposed to "nominalism", basically the position that the above named entities are so "in name only". Nominal from the Latin nomine, name.

Everyone in the HBD sphere, and many other right-allied areas of the web, is arguing realism v. nominalism literally every day, making hash of it, and usually crippling themselves in debates because Anglo-American thought - not just philosophy but the every day thinking of ordinary people - is almost wholly empirical/nominalistic, a part of the cultural fallout of the English Civil War. Nothing is untouched by it.

That race and nation cannot exist except "in name only" is a perfect example. There is no France, it has no real or causal existance and is composed only of fungible human beings - this is perfect nominalism. Nothing but empirical, individual things exist. All "abstraction" - Frenchmen, Europeans, even mathematical entities are unreal to the Nominalist.

Most rightists, unknowingly are Realists, but in Anglo-American circles are twice crippled. Firstly, by not understanding this line of analysis and secondly, by being consequently unaware that English and American culture are almost psychopathically Nominalistic (every nonempirical and nonphysical existent is a heuristic abstraction at best and nonsense at worst) in every department of thought - and even in character! From the shrieking nation-wrecker/ immigration advocate angrily denouncing "stupid lines on a map" to the hippie couple saying that marriage is "just a piece of paper", rightists are always on the defensive because at the philosophical level, the rightness of our enemies' complaints have been broadly affirmed at the highest theological levels and disseminated to the culture at large.

The reason that the defense of every cause or idea dear to us is like walking uphill both ways to school is because almost all of them are against our religion. I know, I know - all of you think that you're atheists or Catholics or whatever, but that's not true. We're all Anglo-Saxon Low Church under the skin, and if our minds are sopisticated enough to recognize the reality of the universal "race", our Taliban hearts know that to acknowledge one Universal is, in principle, to. restore Popery in all its Satanic glory, and behind the Satanic majesty of the Church, the demonic teachings of Plato and others of the pagan brood. And the thing is, our inner Low Church Protestant is perfectly correct.

Steve Sailer said...

Dear Colin:

Thanks. The English Civil War was a really big deal, and we Americans tend to overlook it because we want to claim credit for the originality of ideas that we're being argued over at Putney in 1647.

Steve Sailer said...

An argument I've long made is that one thing you can say for sure about every single human being is that he or she has a family tree. And family trees can be analyzed in various useful ways.

But the reality of family trees is something that modern Americans seem to have a terrible time grasping. It just never ever comes up, and then it immediately slips out of the mind.

Perhaps getting rid of the hereditary King in the 1640s and the 1770s somehow served as symbolic triumphs over the tyranny of the existence of family trees?

Rowan_Keen said...

Can we just talk about how awesome this guy is? He is a black guy—named Quayshawn—who is into analytic philosophy. That is sufficient to make him awesome. However, he is also willing to defend heterodox opinions, and he is gifted enough to be a visiting scholar at Stanford.

The Nominalist said...

That race and nation cannot exist except "in name only" is a perfect example. There is no France, it has no real or causal existance and is composed only of fungible human beings - this is perfect nominalism. Nothing but empirical, individual things exist. All "abstraction" - Frenchmen, Europeans, even mathematical entities are unreal to the Nominalist.


I don't feel forced to regard Frenchmen or Europeans as unreal abstractions any more than I am compelled to believe that there are no Great Danes and Alsatians, only dogs. Or any more than I am compelled to be believe that there are no dogs, only mammals.

Steve Sailer said...

Philosophically, I find family trees to be fascinating, but almost nobody else does. A Family Tree sounds at first blush a lot like Plato's Chair -- a faintly absurd philosophical gimmick. And yet, they must exist, and they are the most fundamental and inalterable things about any human being.

But, at least in the Anglosphere, family trees are thought of as merely the playthings of elderly hobbyists.

A SoCal philosopher said...

I don't think Colin Laney is correct about how philosophers use "realism". The nominalism/universals debate is, indeed, one debate that philosophers have, and a very important one at that. That said, there are lots of other debates that are not about whether kinds exist as opposed to there existing no kinds; for instance, the moral realism/noncognitivism debate is about whether there are any true moral statements; the theological realism/non-realism debate is about whether "God" refers to a concrete being as opposed to a mere way of life; and there are other such debates (e.g., the modal realism/anti-realism debate).

Anonymous said...

I defend it against popular criticisms, such as semantic objections (e.g. Feldman 2008), metaphysical objections (Gannett 2003; Kaplan and Winther 2012), and sampling and other methodological objections (Kittles and Weiss 2003; Kalinowski 2011).

Basically since he's black, he's able to argue against the academic authorities on this topic and not only get away with it but appear respectable doing so, giving a talk in a respectable venue instead of something like an Amren conference.

If he were white, and especially if he were a WASP, he wouldn't be able to get away with this. He wouldn't have had the pheromonal protection, as it were.

TH said...

Colin, that's a nice theory but I don't think it accords with reality. For example, such nebulous, decidedly unempirical concepts as 'racism' and 'diversity' are at the front and center of Anglo-American political discourse. No one is ever expected to define them in any meaningful way, but their central importance is never questioned by any respectable person.

JayMan said...

Hmmm, just when I though I was the only Black person who talked about the reality of race—even if it isn't exactly in the same sense of "reality".

DougRisk said...

"Specifically, I will argue that given a referentialist account of the meaning of ‘race’, a genuine kind account of biologically real kindhood, a fuzzy graph-theoretic account of populations, and the landmark results from Noah Rosenberg et al. (2002; 2005) on human population substructure, one can fashion a respectable account of race as the “B-partition” of metapopulations in a species (or “BPM race theory”)."

Huh?

Anonymous said...

"But, at least in the Anglosphere, family trees are thought of as merely the playthings of elderly hobbyists."

And Oprah and Henry Louis Gates and Obama, etc.
And Jews are into family trees.

chucho said...

Americans don't care much about family trees (with the exception of old New Englanders and some other cliques) because the very act of coming to America by their forebears was partly an attempt to leave the old tree behind and plant anew. Thus for the offspring of ethnics like myself, the tree stops abruptly at the Atlantic.

Eric said...

Philosophy is a field that moves slowly, but tends to have some long term impact on the climate of thought because philosophers eventually get around to thinking very carefully about questions.

Eh? Name one since Marx.

Anonymous said...

re: Eric

WVO Quine

stari_momak said...

If anyone deserves affirmative action, it's guys whose parent gives them a name like "Quayshawn'.

That said, the abstract seems somewhat unpolished. Hope the talk is a success.

Anonymous said...

http://english.ruvr.ru/2012_08_20/Andrei-Konchalovsky-Life-is-about-experimenting/

Luke Lea said...

"Nothing but empirical, individual things exist."

Not even them, perhaps. Each of us is an abstraction, even in our own mind: a shifting collection of half-remembered experiences in a decaying container of neurons. But, then, I'm an old man.

Luke Lea said...

Noah Rosenberg, et al:

Previously, we observed that without using prior information about individual sampling locations, a clustering algorithm applied to multilocus genotypes from worldwide human populations produced genetic clusters largely coincident with major geographic regions. It has been argued, however, that the degree of clustering is diminished by use of samples with greater uniformity in geographic distribution, and that the clusters we identified were a consequence of uneven sampling along genetic clines. Expanding our earlier dataset from 377 to 993 markers, we systematically examine the influence of several study design variables—sample size, number of loci, number of clusters, assumptions about correlations in allele frequencies across populations, and the geographic dispersion of the sample—on the “clusteredness” of individuals. With all other variables held constant, geographic dispersion is seen to have comparatively little effect on the degree of clustering. Examination of the relationship between genetic and geographic distance supports a view in which the clusters arise not as an artifact of the sampling scheme, but from small discontinuous jumps in genetic distance for most population pairs on opposite sides of geographic barriers, in comparison with genetic distance for pairs on the same side. Thus, analysis of the 993-locus dataset corroborates our earlier results: if enough markers are used with a sufficiently large worldwide sample, individuals can be partitioned into genetic clusters that match major geographic subdivisions of the globe, with some individuals from intermediate geographic locations having mixed membership in the clusters that correspond to neighboring regions.

Luke Lea said...

Lubos Motl has interesting discussions on realism in the field of particle physics. If I have it right, he maintains that only observed events are real, not the particles themselves (or at least their states) when they are not being observed. I think he thinks the mathematical equations which describe the patterns of probability for repeated observations are somehow real, too, but in a different sense.

http://motls.blogspot.com/2011/01/hardys-paradox-kills-all-realistic.html

Aaron in Israel said...

I think there have been good philosophical articles on race for a long time. Here is one by Michael Levin.

Sailer's "race as extended family" metaphor is useful in about the same way that "Acme Corporation is one big family!" is useful. It explains why whites care about whites and Acme workers care about Acme workers. It can be used to make whites and Acme workers more loyal to their race/corporation.

The family metaphor fits both race and for-profit corporation inexactly, which is one reason it's so useful. On race, the most obvious bad fit concerns adoption and marriage, two elements that are essential - at least marriage is essential - to most family institutions. In a family, some of one's strongest loyalties are to people who are unrelated by blood, who are genetically distant (and might even belong to another race). No extended family is so inbred as to make that false. I'm referring to Western families today; traditionally, "family" included also live-in servants and slaves, so the fit back then was even worse.

Another usefully bad fit is the family tree. Families have myths of common ancestry. Races, as opposed to ethnies, typically don't. (Ethnies have been compared to extended families; as far as I know, Sailer is the only one who's done that with races in general.) There's no Japanese/Korean/Chinese myth of our great East Asian ancestry. And of course corporations don't even try to pretend common ancestry; they just try to appropriate kinship loyalty with phrases like "the Acme family" - as do ethnies/nations, for whom "family" is much more accurate than for races or corporations.

So "race is an extended family" and "Acme is an extended family" should not be taken too seriously. They explain things, except when they don't. They can drum up loyalty. Family is so basic that it's comparable to practically any group.

Anonymous said...

"Philosophy is a field that moves slowly.."

Steve, LOL... you are the master of understatement.

Most of them are still debating Plato.

The dialogues, are what, over two thousand years old for Heaven's sake.

Not that there hasn't been some brilliant philosophers since then (there has) but being speedy or topical is usually not one of the strengths of that discipline.

Regarding the Realism verus Nominalism issue. The idea that only particulars exist and not universals is the Nominalist contention which gives rise to the idea that universal things, such as races, don't exist apart from how they are described by us.

Hence, from this academic idea we get the notion that "race is a social construct" and that races have no existence apart from how we descibe them. From there you get the argument that such descriptions are arbitrary and capricious, etc ..

The problem with denying race for Whites, of course, is that we are then left with only foolish White "racism" as the only explanation for why Blacks (who are no different from Whites and Asians because race is an artificial construct) perform cognitively and socially less well than Whites and Asians.

The tragic part of this is that Whites have to pay for something that is not their fault and are being punished for being born with a condition, not unlike Gays, they could do nothing about, namely ---higher levels on average relative to Blacks of intelligence.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

Lubos Motl has interesting discussions on realism in the field of particle physics. If I have it right, he maintains that only observed events are real, not the particles themselves (or at least their states) when they are not being observed.
My impression of Motls (and I could be projecting my own beliefs) is that he thinks that physics, particularly quantum mechanics only purports to be predictive, not explanatory. That leaves a lot of room for what is "real".

Master Dogen said...

Couple of comments already on the fact this man's name is "Quayshawn," but I'll chime in too. I've not read his stuff nor seen his presentation, obviously, but he sounds like a reasonable, and reasonably intelligent, person.

The bar has sunk so low for black Americans in the last 20 years that there are more loser blacks than ever, and winner blacks are empty ciphers like the President. (Of course, there are plenty of empty cipher whites too).

It's refreshing to read about a black intellectual doing something (at least a little bit) brave, like this. Blacks might never be an intellectual race on the whole, but there have been serious, honest black intellectuals and artists in the past, and there's no hard reason there can't be more today and in the future.

Neo-Marxian hacks like Cornell West, Toni Morrison, and Obama depress the hell out of me. Obviously functional, disciplined black people with at least above-average smarts ... consigning themselves to the lowest possible intellectual achievements based on ideological grounds. Even if Quayshawn Spencer only turns out to be a minor intellectual (as almost all intellectuals of whatever race are destined to be minor), at least he's trying, and he's black. Good on him.

I realize that all he's probably claiming here is that yes, race does kinda sorta exist. But that's still WAY outside the box for any intellectual, and especially for a black intellectual who's not in the AA racket.

Anonymous said...

Instead, there is much to be gained by my new framework where we think of racial groups as big extended families given more and longer-lasting coherence by some degree of inbreeding.

The problem with this definition for the term "race" is that it's too general and could apply to ethnic groups, tribes, clans, etc. as well. Sort of like how it was used in the past (e.g. "German race", "Polish race", "Irish race", etc.).

eah said...

Abstract

And how -- it's been a long time since I've seen so much jargon in a single paragraph. Social scientists seem prone to that in order to seem ... more scientific, I guess. Not buyin' it. There may be some interesting insights in there somewhere, but I couldn't make them out.

wren said...

I've been out of the academy for a while and thought that that invitation must surely be some kind of joke to prove (to fellow academics) that the only way to be a race realist is under some impossible circumstance.

I really don't understand that abstract. Oh well.

He got his start in the hard sciences.

Professor Spencer received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford University. He also holds an M.S. in biology from Stanford, and a B.A. in chemistry from Cornell University. He has been an MLK Visiting Professor at M.I.T. and will be a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford during 2012-13. His research interests lie in philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, and race theory. His teaching interests lie in his research interests plus logic and ethics.

Spike Gomes said...

So is anyone in the vicinity going to attend and report back?

Anonymous said...

England's greates ever man of letters, Dr. Samuel Johnson was once engaged in a 'philosophical debate' with several learned companions whilst walking through a park. The subject of the discussion was 'Is life but an illusion and all we see around us a dream-like illusion?' , or something along those lines.
Anyhow, during the course of the argument, Dr. Johnson came across a large stone and kicked it swifly along the path. 'I refute it thus!' said Dr. Johnson triumphantly.

Cail Corishev said...

Colin,

"Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter."

But seriously, could you suggest a good online Philosophy 101 resource for a curious person with no academic grounding in the subject?

Anonymous said...

Talking of 'family trees' I'm a big fan of the various genetics blogs on the internet,and I freely confess to not being a trained biologist.
Anyhow, one recent paper by Messrs. Ralph and Coop surprised me. Ralph and Coop looked at the genetic relationship by IBD of various European ethnicities (a measure of common ancestry), and came to the astonishing conclusion that a'typical' Pole was more closely related to a 'typical' German than another 'typical' German!
What the actual implication of this is I hazard to guess.
But on passing I'd like to mention that Poles never see Germans as kin and Germans never see Poles as kin.

Anonymous said...

Here is a guy on MSNBC that says race doesn't exist. The guy says science supports the idea that race doesn't exist.


They are talking about alleles in the comments to support it. I don't know anything about alleles so it would be hard for me to argue against them even though I think race exists.

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/toure-race-has-no-biological-basis-science-rejects-the-concept/

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia has an article on "natural kinds", that might shed some light what the philosopher talks about when he mentions "genuine kinds" and "kindhood".

For instance the meteorologists classify different cloud formations, but in what sense are "cumulus clouds" real?

Then there are problems with the concept of "species" - it's less clear cut than one might suppose.


One philosophical idea that I suggest has relevance to the discussion on race as a kind or an universal is Wittgenstein's "Family resemblance" - race can be real even if it lacks an "essence".


Writing about games, Wittgenstein notes:

"And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; we can see how similarities crop up and disappear.

And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of
similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities.

--

I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than "family resemblances"; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way. – And I shall say: "games" form a family."


One could say races are fuzzy clusters based on family resemblances, real but lacking a sine qua non essence.

Steve Sailer said...

Re: Wittgenstein's family resemblance ... I've thought about using this famous idea, but I always end up with some lowbrow sounding Occamism, such as: Race actually is family, which is why we see family resemblances.

Big Bill said...

"Anyhow, one recent paper by Messrs. Ralph and Coop surprised me. Ralph and Coop looked at the genetic relationship by IBD of various European ethnicities (a measure of common ancestry), and came to the astonishing conclusion that a'typical' Pole was more closely related to a 'typical' German than another 'typical' German!"

Sounds like Lewontin's Fallacy: variations within a group being greater than the mean differences between groups.

Conatus said...

The thing with Philosophy is it purports to analyze stuff(how about those philosophical words? 'thing' and 'stuff?') to show you the truth but really the emphasis is on the aesthetics of rhetoric. The old systems like Descartes and Spinoza were all about the the aesthetics of a huge verbal edifice, the beauty being, can it be defended from attack? The philosophy of race would not lend itself to this aesthetic since it would have all these pimples called exceptions to the rule.

Anonymous said...

"Regarding the Realism verus Nominalism issue. The idea that only particulars exist and not universals is the Nominalist contention which gives rise to the idea that universal things, such as races, don't exist apart from how they are described by us.

Hence, from this academic idea we get the notion that "race is a social construct" and that races have no existence apart from how we descibe them. From there you get the argument that such descriptions are arbitrary and capricious, etc .."

and Big Bill said

"Sounds like Lewontin's Fallacy: variations within a group being greater than the mean differences between groups."


Yes, Leowontin's fallacy can be seen as an example of a failed scientific attempt to "prove" the Nominalist claim that their are no universals... and that therefore race is a purely social construct.

Not sure if Leowontin, a biologist, was aware he was attempting to do this, but academic ideas have a way of drifting across disciplines in bastardized forms.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Steve - that's a great observation about democratic revolution. Du Tocqueville apparently thought the same thing:

"Aristocracy had made a chain of all the members of the community, from the peasant to the king: democracy breaks that chain and severs every link of it...

Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart."

Alexis du Tocqueville

Anonymous said...

It is sad that such impenetrable writing should be subject to praise and not damnation. But considering the types who work at US colleges it probably is a ray of light in a sea o pc darkness.

Truth said...

"but he sounds like a reasonable, and reasonably intelligent, person."

Yes he's "reasonably" intelligent, if you really believe that he didn't get his fake, A.A., Masters in Biology, and B.S. in Chemistry because they had an Asian guy give him the answers!

carol said...

Cail, it took year of a a regular philosophy survey course to get me to the same result as colin...Thales to Kant or so.

OTOH the intro 101 at my college was devoted to Rawls and redistribution. So beware. Also, I confirmed much later that the prof of the survey was conservative, and that of the intro course was quite liberal.

so YMMV

c said...

oh, Cail said 'resource' not course.

NM.

Anonymous said...


Can we just talk about how awesome this guy is? He is a black guy—named Quayshawn—who is into analytic philosophy. That is sufficient to make him awesome. However, he is also willing to defend heterodox opinions, and he is gifted enough to be a visiting scholar at Stanford.


Hey, let's nominate him for President in 2016. Maybe he is the real deal.

nsam said...

The idea of family resemblances has been used in the 70s in Rosch's theory of natural categories and there is a vast literature on the topic (on core members with high typicality) in cognitive psychology of concepts (this was also the time that Zadeh's fuzzy set theory was propounded; all this happened in Berkeley). Of concepts are not just about family resemblances, they also include ad-hoc constructions and theories.

NOTA said...

Anon 1118:

That's a feature, not a bug. Race is fuzzy but useful, at whatever level of granularity--white/black, German/Italian, different castes of Indians, etc.

Planetary Archon said...

"Talking of 'family trees' I'm a big fan of the various genetics blogs on the internet,and I freely confess to not being a trained biologist.
Anyhow, one recent paper by Messrs. Ralph and Coop surprised me. Ralph and Coop looked at the genetic relationship by IBD of various European ethnicities (a measure of common ancestry), and came to the astonishing conclusion that a'typical' Pole was more closely related to a 'typical' German than another 'typical' German!
What the actual implication of this is I hazard to guess.
But on passing I'd like to mention that Poles never see Germans as kin and Germans never see Poles as kin."

Probably that Germany is more diverse genetically, whereas Poland is more uniform and closer to one of the German subgroups than the other German subgroups are to that particular subgroup.

The borders of Poland have moved around quite a bit over the years.

Anonymous said...

Steve seems to be unaware of Hull,!Kitcher, Sober, osenberg, Ruse, and several dozen other philosophers of biology & genetics ....

Ron Woo said...

" The subject of the discussion was 'Is life but an illusion and all we see around us a dream-like illusion?' , or something along those lines.
Anyhow, during the course of the argument, Dr. Johnson came across a large stone and kicked it swifly along the path. 'I refute it thus!' said Dr. Johnson triumphantly."


They were discussing Bishop George Berkeley. You nailed the quote precisely though.

Billy Chav said...

Colin, that's a nice theory but I don't think it accords with reality. For example, such nebulous, decidedly unempirical concepts as 'racism' and 'diversity' are at the front and center of Anglo-American political discourse. No one is ever expected to define them in any meaningful way, but their central importance is never questioned by any respectable person.

No, Colin is right--the larger point here is that nominalism is wrong, which is proved by the fact that unwitting nominalists, for instance the "race is a social construct" folks, cannot make their arguments without referring to generalities like "racism."

America's greatest philosopher, Charles Peirce, demonstrated conclusively that generalising--which includes "stereotyping"-- is at the root of all thought, and in fact at the root of reality (which I can't go into here obviously). To attempt to think without generalising is the hallmark of a fool.

A SoCal philosopher said...

"Regarding the Realism verus Nominalism issue. The idea that only particulars exist and not universals is the Nominalist contention which gives rise to the idea that universal things, such as races, don't exist apart from how they are described by us."

The debate about particulars and universals is not exactly the same as the debate abut whether race is real. It's perfectly possible to deny that race is a natural kind while maintaining belief in universals (although if you deny the existence of universals, it seems to me that you won't be able to assert the existence of natural kinds).

Here's the idea of a natural kind: do our descriptions of things "carve out nature at the joints" -- do they really refer to some really existing kind of thing that would exist independently of our social use for them -- or are they mere shorthand for sets of individual things? If they refer to a really existing kind of thing, then they're referring to a natural kind.

What's an example of a natural kind? You might think that something like "squirrel" or "human being" is an uncontroversial example of a natural kind, but it's not. Thanks to evolution, it's possible that there are all sorts of intermediary stages between squirrels and -- well, whatever it is that is closest to squirrels (let's call them, "schmirrels"). We may even find examples of animals that are impossible to categorize as either squirrels or schmirrels. Even genetically they might be in-between them. So what kind of animal are they -- squirrel or schmirrel? There may be no fact of the matter, in which case, there may be no such natural kind as either "squirrel" or "schmirrel".

By contrast, something like "charge" or "mass" or "spin" -- fundamental features of the smallest kinds of thing -- are quite possibly natural kinds, because there is no ambiguity about them. We can very precisely specify them.

From what I can tell about the "is race real" debate, it has a lot more to do with "how precisely can we specify what a race is in a way that's relevant to the way people actually use the term" than it does with "are the only existing things particulars, or do there exist kinds of things as well".

By the way, I'm no expert about this, so (1) everything I wrote above may be wrong, and (2) I think the above reasoning against natural kinds isn't very good. I mean, if half the hair on your head is gone, it's not clear whether you're bald or not bald, but that doesn't mean there's no such thing as bald people or non-bald people. Same with race, it seems to me.

pat said...

Your mistake here is to assume that there something called "philosphy" that still exists. That's rather like assuming that all of the books, articles, and TV shows about the Loch Ness Monster comprises some sort of argument for its existance.

First there was philosophy. Old men talking about sophomoric questions like stepping in a stream. Later "natural philosohy" split off to deal with real items in the world. By necessity this meant that the remaining corpus of philosophy was then less about real things and more about silly talk.

Natural philosophers split into chemistry and biology etc. With each split the residual subject matter of philosophy became smaller and smaller.

Russel, Whitehead, Quine, Carnap and Ayre have been called philosophers but are also considered mathematicians or logicians. If a subject matter can be defined and it yields useful insights it ceases to be a part of philosophy. Philosophy is now the term for the residuum left after all the substance has been extracted.

Albertosaurus

not a hacker said...

Konchalovsky - Life-is-about-experimenting


"I'll try anthing once, except homosexuality."

-John Huston

mel belli said...

The problem with denying race for Whites, of course, is that we are then left with only foolish White "racism" as the only explanation for why Blacks ... perform ... socially less well ...

You don't meet this obstacle until you can control for Uncle Tom syndrome. Unless you define 'performing well' as matching the white percentage of brain surgeons, attitude is everything. Baffles me why no one wants to acknowledge this.

Anonymous said...

Quayshawn? Why do blacks have such ridiculous names?

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

Here is a guy on MSNBC that says race doesn't exist. The guy says science supports the idea that race doesn't exist.

They are talking about alleles in the comments to support it. I don't know anything about alleles so it would be hard for me to argue against them even though I think race exists."

This fellow Toure doesn't know what he is talking about. He is a pompous self-important fool, as evidenced by his self-branding with a one-name moniker like "Toure".

An allele is simply the particular expression of a gene or set of genes. Consider this analogy drawn from grammar: A chromosome is a written work. Groups of related genes are sentences, and individual genes are words (actually, the parts of speech - noun, verb, adjective, etc.) that are formed from groups of base pairs. A particular allele is the set of actual, particular words that fills that particular arrangement of parts of speech. So, for example (and within this analogy) "The mottled pig runs wild." and "The brown dog runs free." would be different alleles of the same gene.

Racial differences are quite real and consist, not of particular differences in any one gene, but in statistical differences in a whole collection of genes between different groups. For those who are familiar with a little statistical mechanics, I gave a little example of this several years ago, which Steve mentioned in a discussion along similar lines:

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2005/09/overlapping-bell-curves-can-obscure.html

MQ said...

Here is Spencer's entire paper on biological race realism:

http://repository.usfca.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1010&context=phil

It is a free pdf. Much clearer and more informative then the abstract, although very dense to work through.

He is approaching this problem as a technical issue in the philosophy of science, quite distant from the racist view of 'race realism'.

Anonymous said...

"a young African American philosophy professor at USF named *Quayshawn* Spencer"

Score for Fryer and Levitt. Hope all three collaborate on a paper in the future.

Anonymous said...

Uh, the Komment Kontrol is in overdrive mode on this post! It is sometimes interesting to see what triggers Steve's desire to sound respectable (and what does not).

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

Peirce on Fraser on Berkeley (realism, nominalism, etc)

Anonymous said...

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/realism/